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Sundin's decision remains unknown

by Dan Rosen
The Mats Sundin watch continues Thursday, the day the hockey world originally expected the saga surrounding the big Swede to finally come to an end.

But now it's looking more and more like Sundin, 37, will let another soft-deadline pass without making a decision on where he will continue his NHL career this season. The likely candidates remain the New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks.

An e-mail and phone message to Sundin's North American-based agent, J.P. Barry, had gone unreturned as of 12:30 p.m. ET today.

With the NHL's holiday roster freeze going into effect Friday at midnight ET and lasting until midnight ET on Dec. 27, unless Sundin chooses the Canucks between now and then chances are he will not be signed before Christmas.

The Canucks have the salary cap room to sign him right now, but the Rangers have to clear space by making roster moves in order to fit Sundin in under the cap.

But the roster freeze does not impede Sundin from making his own decision. He still could choose the Canucks, Rangers or any other team before Christmas, but he would not be able to sign a contract until the freeze is lifted.

Sundin has reportedly sat on a two-year contract offer from the Canucks worth about $10 million annually since this summer, but apparently either the city, the organization or the offer hasn't been enticing enough for Sundin to accept it yet.

Since the cap-hit is pro-rated on a daily basis, the approximate $10 million annual salary becomes about $5 million this season. Vancouver could still raise the offer because they have around $7 million remaining under the cap for this season.

The Rangers have around a $1 million remaining under the salary cap and Sundin, who made $5.5 last season in Toronto, is reportedly seeking in the $5-6 million range from the Rangers. Pro-rated, that would be roughly a $2.5-3 million cap hit this season.

The Rangers could try to make a trade or two to get themselves the necessary cap space to sign Sundin, but they would have to do so without taking on much, if any, salary in return.

The Rangers do have options to get Sundin in under the cap without making a trade. Those options involve a plethora of roster moves, all hypothetical right now, that could leave the team with only 20 or 21 players on the NHL roster and little room left under the cap to guard against injuries.

The Rangers could operate with little maneuverability for now, but, of course, it's all contingent on what type of money Sundin is actually looking for. It's all speculation because neither Barry nor Sundin have stated a specific number to date.

If Sundin chooses New York, the roster freeze would give the Rangers more time to think about what they want to do. Even after the freeze is lifted, the Rangers could potentially have more time to figure out how to clear the room in order to sign Sundin.

Since Sundin will need time to get into game-shape he could agree to a contract in principle with the Rangers and not officially sign until he was ready to play. If he signed before he was ready to play in a game the Rangers would have to immediately clear the room to get him in and that could potentially leave them shorthanded in the short-term.

By waiting to file the contract with the League until Sundin was ready to play in a game, the Rangers would afford themselves more time to mull over their inevitable roster moves. The time also increases their odds of finding a trading partner.

Sundin has 1,321 points, including 555 goals in 1,305 career regular season games. He's Toronto's all-time leader with 987 points during his 13 seasons wearing a Maple Leafs' uniform. He also has 74 points in 83 playoff games.

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