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Sundin says he faces challenges returning to NHL to play with Vancouver @NHLdotcom

VANCOUVER, B.C. - Mats Sundin knows the challenge he's going to face joining the Vancouver Canucks midway through the NHL season and raising expectations of the city's fans about contending for the Stanley Cup.

The Swedish centre ended a five-month wait Thursday by accepting the Canucks offer of US$10-million for one year. Pro-rated for the rest of the season, he'll earn around US$5 million

"I know it's not a perfect situation as a player," Sundin said during a conference call Friday. "The players are in mid-season form and it's going to be challenging. The next few weeks I am going to push myself to make sure I'm in the best shape I can be in.

"I am happy there was no player movement because I was joining the team. I hope I can come in and be part of what the Vancouver Canucks have been doing so far this year."

Sundin, who was speaking from Sweden, said there are no guarantees about winning a Stanley Cup.

"To pick a team that is going to win the Stanley Cup is impossible," he said. "The league is too competitive. I do know Vancouver has a good enough team to compete for the Stanley Cup. I'm thrilled to be part of that team.

"Once you get to (the playoffs) who knows what is going to happen? I'm thrilled about getting the chance to play."

Sundin said he didn't decide to play again until about two weeks ago and opted to join the Canucks because he was impressed with their interest in him.

"If I didn't play this year it would have been really hard for me to compete anymore at the highest level of hockey," he said. "I think that made me decide I wanted to give it another chance to play in the NHL."

The New York Rangers also were interested in the former Toronto Maple Leaf captain but couldn't make room for him under the US$56.7-million salary cap.

Sundin is expected to arrive in Vancouver on Dec. 27. He's been skating with a professional team in Sweden but it could be early January before he plays a game with the Canucks.

The Canucks play at home Dec. 28 and Dec. 30, then go on the road for matches Jan. 1 and Jan. 2. They return home for a Jan 4 game against Dallas.

Canucks GM Mike Gillis said the players are excited about the addition of a big centre who can score, but also is strong defensively.

"I now our players are excited," said Gillis. "It adds another part of trying to win the Stanley Cup. That's what we are all here for.

"Our guys are committed to that. His impact will be big."

Gillis said he wasn't concerned about how long it took Sundin to make his decision.

"The way it was articulated to us, the last couple of years have been really challenging (for Sundin)," said Gillis. "He wanted to make sure he was completely committed to being the type of player he was used to being. He didn't want to go into a situation where he wasn't going to be able to contribute at that level.

"To me that was the best thing about this. The easiest thing for Mats to do would be to grab the money and show up and be non-committed.

"The fact he took the time he did . . . supports everything we thought about him."

Sundin, 37, brings experience and scoring ability. The six-foot-five, 231-pound forward has notched 30 or more goals five times in the last six years. In 17 seasons with Quebec and Toronto, he collected 555 goals and 766 assists.

The native of Bromma, Sweden, is a nine-time all-star. He scored 32 goals last year with Toronto but considered retirement following the end of the season. He's the Maple Leafs' all-time leading scorer with 987 points (420 goals, 567 assists) and served as the club's captain in 10 of his 13 seasons in Toronto.

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