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With Sundin back, will others follow?

Dan Di Sciullo, NHL Editor

Dan Di Sciullo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Mats Sundin took the first half of the NHL season off to contemplate retirement, but ultimately, and not surprisingly, he opted to accept a lucrative offer to play with the Vancouver Canucks.

Sundin signed a one-year, $8.6 million deal with the Canucks on December 18, and will earn roughly $5 million of that salary on a pro-rated basis. The Swedish centerman had previously been offered a two-year, $20 million contract by Vancouver over the summer.

Despite signing the deal in mid-December, Sundin needed time to work his way back into playing shape, and just recently made his Canucks debut last week. Sundin was kept off the scoresheet through his first two games, but came up with a goal in his third outing.

Not long after Sundin stepped back on the ice, the New Jersey Devils announced that they had lured Brendan Shanahan to return for a 22nd NHL season.

Shanahan, who will turn 40 later this month, has agreed in principle to skate for the club that selected him with the second overall pick in the 1987 draft. An official contract will come later, and it's uncertain as to when the veteran sniper will actually see game action.

Mats Sundin's return to the NHL may pave the way for others.
Just how long has it been since Shanahan was last with New Jersey? Well, when Shanahan does don the Devils jersey again, it will be for the first time since leaving the Garden State after the 1990-91 season -- his fourth season in the NHL. He left the organization with 88 goals under his belt and now returns, 18 years later, as the highest-scoring active player with 650 career markers.

Also, Shanahan will play in Newark and not East Rutherford, the home of the Devils before they moved to Prudential Center at the start of last season.

Like Shanahan, Sundin also has Hall of Fame-caliber numbers with 1,322 points in his storied career.

The return of these players makes me wonder who else could be considering a comeback.

The obvious choice would be Peter Forsberg, the former Hart Trophy winner who seems to be perpetually considering a comeback to the NHL. The Swedish superstar was considered to be the top two-way player in the game during his prime, but injuries have taken their toll and his ailments aren't likely to go away as time passes.

Forsberg, who is 35 years old, returned to Colorado more than halfway through last season and was effective...when he was healthy enough to play, that is. He had 14 points (1 goal, 13 assists) in nine regular-season games with the Avalanche and had one goal and four assists in seven playoff games.

Forsberg missed six of Colorado's 13 playoff games in 2008, but after the season he didn't announce his retirement. Instead, Foppa hinted that he may once again rest up for the majority of the regular season before trying to put it all together for a stretch run.

If Forsberg does return, it's unlikely that he will do so for any team other than the Avalanche, with whom who he has won a pair of Stanley Cup titles.

Another NHL comeback attempt by Forsberg would hardly be surprising, but it was a shock to hear Jaromir Jagr recently throw his hat into the ring as a possible rental player for this season.

Jagr, who is one point shy of 1,600 for his NHL career, played his last four seasons with the New York Rangers before signing a lucrative two-year deal to play for Avangard Omsk in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League, which is in its first year of existence.

That league is now reportedly experiencing some serious growing pains as a result of the international financial crisis. Jagr did his best to try and keep his options open last week at the KHL's All-Star game by mentioning that he would be interested in returning to play for the Rangers or the Pittsburgh Penguins, with whom he won a pair of Stanley Cup crowns with in the early 1990s.

Now, Jagr is under contract for the rest of this season in Russia as well as next year, and considering that the KHL was created to compete with the NHL, it's doubtful that they would just let one of their marquee names simply skate away to play in North America. But if the league goes under, who knows, maybe Jagr will be back in the NHL sometime soon.

The trend of taking time off to contemplate "retirement" before making a return midway through the season has been a popular one in recent years and doesn't seem likely to go away now that players know they can get away with it. Certain players simply have displayed enough talent and built up enough esteem that they can always get teams interested in acquiring their services.

It will be surprising if this year's crop doesn't help their respective team's chances. Sundin scored 32 goals last year with Toronto and is certainly going to improve Vancouver's limited offensive attack. Shanahan, owner of 235 career power-play tallies, will at least help the Devils on the man advantage.

Trades are the best way for most teams to improve their playoff chances down the stretch, but if cap space isn't an issue, going the mercenary route isn't a bad idea either.
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Dan Di Sciullo