Free agent Sundin agrees to deal with Canucks Staff

12/19/2008 8:06:40 AM

After six long months, the Mats Sundin saga is finally over as the unrestricted free agent has agreed to a one-year contract with the Vancouver Canucks.

"I am truly excited to be joining the Canucks," said Sundin in a team statement. "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 Mike Gillis and the entire Canucks organization for their professionalism throughout this entire process."

The signing ended months of rumours and speculation around the coveted centre, who was undecided on whether or not he would return to the National Hockey League for an 18th season.

While the Canucks certainly become a better team with Sundin, general manager Mike Gillis stopped short of calling them a championship-calibre club.

"I don't think I would be comfortable calling any team a contender other than San Jose and Detroit," Gillis told reporters. "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. I am not going to place that label (contender) on any team."

With the NHL's holiday roster freeze beginning Friday, the earliest Sundin can join the Canucks is Dec. 27.

The Montreal Canadiens were given exclusive rights to talk to Sundin this past summer in the week leading up to the free agent signing period. The club's negotiating window passed without an agreement and as many as six NHL teams lined up to acquire his services.

Among the teams interested over the last six months were the Canadiens, Canucks, Chicago Blackhawks, Philadelphia Flyers, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Rangers.

The Canucks had the most lucrative offer for Sundin, with a two-year, $20 million contract that was never pulled off on the table.

Sundin, 37, finished with 32 goals and 46 assists for 78 points in 74 games last season with the Leafs, leading Toronto in scoring for the fourth straight year.

The franchise leader in goals and points, he has played 13 of his 17 NHL campaigns with the Maple Leafs, who acquired him from the Quebec Nordiques in 1994.

Sundin has 555 goals and 1,321 points in 1,305 career NHL games since he was drafted first overall by Quebec in 1989. He re-wrote Toronto's record book over his 13 seasons in blue and white, scoring 420 goals and a franchise-best 987 points.

In 83 playoff games, Sundin has scored 35 goals and 74 points, with all but four of those points coming in a Leafs uniform. The two-time second-team NHL All-Star also won a gold medal with Team Sweden at the Torino Olympics in 2006.