Sundin moving closer to decision on potential return

Darren Dreger

10/23/2008 7:09:06 PM

Mats Sundin appears to be moving closer toward making a decision on whether or not to return to the NHL, and several NHL general managers are watching with interest.

Sundin is headed to California this week and everything is arranged for him to begin working out and skating there in a week, if he chooses to do so. However, his agents Claes Elefalk and J.P. Barry, are both downplaying the significance of Sundin's expected trip to Los Angeles. 

According to Sundin's agents, the 37-year-old hasn't committed to beginning what could be a long road to a return, although some close to Sundin are encouraged and believe his intent to go to L.A. extends beyond his interest in a sunny vacation.

Sundin has previously insisted that he needs to be in top condition before opening discussions with NHL teams, so if he starts working out in Los Angeles soon, early December would be a likely target following 3-4 weeks of hard training.

Leafs general manager Cliff Fletcher was not surprised about the news.

"I don't think there is any doubt Mats would decide to play hockey this year. I think he's moving to that situation now," Fletcher told TSN.  "Like you, I'm just speculating. I hear he's going out to the west coast to work out and get in shape.  After that I assume at some time he'll decide where he wants to play hockey, but we've had no contact with him, or I haven't had directly, so I'm just speculating like everyone else is. "

Fletcher was asked if the Leafs were strongly interested in signing Sundin, should he return to the NHL.

"No, I think I've been consistant in saying, if Mats decides he would like to come back to the Leafs and finish his career off with the Leafs, we would love to have him," Fletcher said.

Canucks general manger Mike Gillis, who reportedly offered Sundin a two-year, $20 million contract in July, sounded pleased that Sundin was heading back to the ice.

"We were told that last week.  It's encouraging," Gillis told TSN. "I always felt that he was going to return and play because I think he's got a lot of hockey left in him and I think there's some goals that he expressed to me when I spoke to him a while ago that he wanted to fulfill.  So, I'm not surprised."

When asked if the Canucks were still interested in Sundin's servies, Gillis answered directly.

"Yeah, we're interested in any player that can help us win and firmly believe that Mats is in that category," Gillis said. "That's why we targeted him right from July 1st."

So is the Canucks mega-offer still on the table?

"Yeah, we haven't removed our proposal, we haven't digressed in any way in terms of our interest in trying to get him to come and play in Vancouver," Gillis said. "We're going to put our best foot forward when the time comes and he indicates that he's ready to play and hopefully we can get him to come."

As for the prospect of amending the offer to a pro-rated one-year, $10 million deal, Gillis said talking money and contracts at this point would be pre-mature.

"We'll listen to him and find out exactly what he would like to do," Gillis said.  "I think. the indications we've had (from Sundin and Barry) are that he wasn't even thinking about those things until he decided if he was going to play. 

"And I still haven't heard if he's completely decided if he's going to play," Gillis added. "He may go and begin working out and not have the type of dedication that he expects out of himself, he might not be motivated enough, I don't know. Hopefully that's not the case.

"Our interest is still the same as it was on July 1."

Vancouver is one of as many as 10 teams that are believed to be interested in the Swedish star. Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto are also in the mix.

Last season, Sundin enjoyed one of his best years on the ice, finishing with 32 goals and 46 assists for 78 points in 74 games and leading Toronto in scoring for the fourth straight year.