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Sundin picks Canucks over Rangers, agrees to deal @NHLdotcom

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) -Mats Sundin finally made up his mind. It was time to start playing again, and the Vancouver Canucks provided the perfect landing spot.

The former Toronto Maple Leafs captain announced his long-awaited decision Thursday and ended months of speculation about where he would end up - or if he would even return to play in North America - by signing with the Canucks.

Sundin had considered retirement following last season, but a number of teams still expressed interest in him. He narrowed his choices in recent weeks to the Canucks and New York Rangers, who didn't have nearly enough cap space to compete with Vancouver's lucrative offer.

Sundin met with the Rangers last weekend and attended a game at Madison Square Garden as part of a promotion for a poker Web site. Despite wooing from fellow Swedes on the Rangers such as goalie Henrik Lundqvist, forward Markus Naslund - the longtime Canucks captain who signed with New York in the summer - and Fredrik Sjostrom, Naslund picked Vancouver over New York.

"I am truly excited to be joining the Canucks," the 37-year-old Sundin said. "Once I made the decision to return to play a few weeks ago, the Vancouver opportunity was simply the best overall fit. I want to thank (general manager) Mike Gillis and the entire Canucks organization for their professionalism throughout this entire process."

The Canucks had offered Sundin a two-year, $20 million deal but Sundin had repeatedly stated that he was only looking for a one-year contract. Gillis confirmed that the Canucks and Sundin agreed to a one-year deal, but said there had been changes made to the original offer. He declined to elaborate.

If it was still worth $10 million for this season, Sundin would receive a prorated amount of about $5 million. He earned $5.5 million with Toronto last season.

Even with Sundin, Gillis wasn't about to proclaim that the Canucks suddenly became Stanley Cup contenders. Vancouver is still without injured top goalie Roberto Luongo.

"I don't think I would be comfortable calling any team a contender other than San Jose and Detroit," he said. "What we want to do is get in the playoffs and win round by round. For me, it's the process of how the team plays and the integrity it plays with. I know we will get results if we play that way.

"I think Mats is a great player that joins a good group of players that are committed to winning. I think we are a better team for sure."

The 6-foot-5, 230-pound forward has 555 goals and 766 assists in 17 seasons with the Quebec Nordiques and the Maple Leafs. Sundin became an unrestricted free agent at the end of last season and was courted by a half dozen teams.

"We are very excited to have Mats join the Vancouver Canucks," Gillis said. "Playing previously in two Canadian markets and consistently being among team and league leaders in scoring, Mats has proven that he can excel under pressure.

"He adds a wealth of experience, leadership and skill to the Canucks."

New Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke has only been with the team for a few weeks, but said it was time for the club to part ways with Sundin for various reasons, including salary cap restrictions. The Canucks will play at Toronto on Feb. 21.

"I have nothing but great things to say about Mats. He was a warrior for us and did some great things," Burke said. "I don't think it was the right fit for us right now. Talking to Mats, he has a soft spot for Toronto. I hope he gets a nice reception. People were disappointed for the way it ended for Mats Sundin."

Sundin was selected first overall in the 1989 draft by the Nordiques, becoming the first European hockey player to go No. 1.

The nine-time All-Star had 32 goals last season. He is the Maple Leafs' career leading scorer with 987 points (420 goals, 567 assists) and served as captain in 10 of his 13 seasons in Toronto.

"I think you'll see a big, strong center iceman who skates really well and averaged a point a game," Gillis said. "He has been the captain of a team in a market that is really challenging, and he's handled it impeccably. I think the quality we try and get from every player in terms of character and integrity are absolutely there."

Sundin is expected to join the Canucks right after Christmas, when he returns from Sweden. His agent, J.P. Barry, said Sundin should be ready to play in January.

"He has been training for several months off ice and skating almost every day this month," Barry said.

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