Hockey world awaits Sundin's decision

Dan Di Sciullo, NHL Editor

Dan Di Sciullo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The NHL's most sought-after free agents are usually snatched up soon after July 1, when the signing period begins and the league's offseason officially kicks into action.

Marian Hossa, Brian Campbell, Wade Redden, Sean Avery were among the crowd of high profile players who signed with new clubs on the first two days of free agency.

Notable names have popped up in free agency news since then, and just last week, future Hall of Famer Joe Sakic re-signed with the Colorado Avalanche. But Sakic wasn't really on the market, he was just deciding whether or not to retire or return to the Avs for another year.

Yet, there is still a huge talent potentially testing the waters of free agency, as Toronto Maple Leafs icon Mats Sundin has yet to make a decision on his future. Like Sakic, Sundin is contemplating retirement, but if he does decide to continue his NHL career there is no telling with what team the Swedish superstar could wind up playing.

Sundin could decide to change his hockey address after playing in Toronto for the last 13 of his 17 seasons in the NHL. The Maple Leafs and Sundin have not ruled out a return to Toronto, although it seems the 37-year-old's desire to win the Stanley Cup before retiring would lead him away from his rebuilding club.

Mats Sundin could decide to change his hockey address after playing in Toronto for the last 13 of his 17 seasons in the NHL.
The Swede created a media storm earlier this week by returning to Toronto, where he is scheduled to play in a charity hockey game Friday night at the Air Canada Centre.

Sundin was, of course, asked by the Toronto media whether he has made a decision on his future, and the Maple Leafs' all-time leading scorer said he's still tackling the retirement question first, and hasn't even thought about where he might go as a free agent.

Sundin isn't thinking about making a decision in time to join an NHL training camp either, as teams begin formal practice in less than two weeks. He said his arrival at any team's camp would be a "long shot," and hinted that it could be weeks or even months into the season before he made a decision.

If forced to make a wager, I'd bet that Sundin is going to return, especially since he's yet to show a serious drop in production. However, recent comments revealed that Sundin is not in any hurry to make a decision and that has many folks believing he's closer to retiring.

Either way, it's kind of surprising that Sundin is opting to take his time with this, especially after declining to waive his no-trade clause last season because he didn't want to win a championship as a rental player.

Sundin had 78 points (32 goals, 46 assists) in 74 games with the Maple Leafs last year, marking the 15th time in his NHL career that he's eclipsed the 70- point plateau. His only two campaigns with less than 70 points came as a rookie with the Quebec Nordiques in 1990-91 and in the lockout-shortened season of 1994-95, which was also his first year with Toronto.

Figuring out where Sundin will choose to skate, if he decides against retirement, is a difficult code to crack. Just about every team would be interested in signing the veteran centerman, but the list would be quickly pared down to a handful of clubs with the best shot at winning the next Stanley Cup. In fact, Sundin has said that six teams are actively pursuing him and those clubs would likely serve as the star's next destination.

Of course, the Detroit Red Wings, defending Cup champions, would be high on anyone's list, but Wings general manager Ken Holland has said that his team won't be signing Sundin, likely because of a lack of cap space.

Vancouver has a standing offer to Sundin of $20 million over two seasons, but the Canucks didn't make the playoffs last year and would have to overpay for the Swede's services. More likely would be deals with teams like Montreal or the New York Rangers, who sent slightly-less lucrative offers to Sundin and his agent.

Philadelphia Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren has expressed interest in signing Sundin, but his club, which made the Eastern Conference finals last year, would have to do some serious roster shuffling to make cap room for the legendary Leafs captain.

Sundin's waiting game isn't likely to drain interest from teams serious about acquiring his services. As soon as the season begins, teams are continuously trying to improve, and Sundin would be a great addition no matter when he decided to return.

However, while the Sundin saga is unlikely to affect owners and GMs' interest, irritating fans is a whole different story. This story could dominate the hockey news cycle, which emanates outwards from Toronto anyway, until at least the start of training camp. So the best advice for hockey fans is to get used to hearing about Sundin in the near future.

Hearing anything resembling a decision from him could take a tad bit longer.

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Dan Di Sciullo
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