Sundin signs with Canucks

Forward Mats Sundin signed Thursday with the Vancouver Canucks, ending months of speculation and marking a major coup for rookie general manager Mike Gillis.

It is official. Mats Sundin signed Thursday with the Vancouver Canucks, ending months of speculation and marking a major coup for rookie general manager Mike Gillis. 

Contract terms were not disclosed, but J.P. Barry, Sundin's agent, confirmed it was a one-year contract, presumably pro-rated to the remainder of the season. 

"We're still working on a couple of structures that will still be better for both Mats and the team," Barry said.

"I'm truly excited to be joining the Canucks," Sundin said. "Once I made the decision to return to play a few weeks ago, the Vancouver opportunity was simply the best overall fit."

Sundin, an unrestricted free-agent forward, is expected to join the Canucks on Dec. 27, when the NHL's holiday roster freeze expires.

"He will tell us when he is ready to play," Gillis told reporters during a media conference at General Motors Place.

"He has been training for several months off ice and skating almost every day this month," Barry said. "I think the team will have to decide when he is ready and that would be anywhere from one to two weeks."

'Character and integrity'

Sundin had spent the past nine months mulling over whether to retire or to return for an 18th NHL season, but the Canucks remained steadfast in their pursuit of him.

"I think we'll see a big, strong centre-ice man who skates really well and averages a point a game," Gillis said of Sundin. "He has been the captain of a team in a [Toronto] market that is really challenging and he has handled it impeccably.

"I think the quality we try and get from every player, in terms of character and integrity, are absolutely there."

Sundin reportedly was offered $20 million US over two years in the summer by Gillis, who acknowledged "our objective was to stay as consistent as possible in this process." 

"He did a very good job," Barry said of Gillis.

Sundin earned $5.5 million US last season, when he led the Toronto Maple Leafs with 32 goals and 78 points in 74 games.

He became an unrestricted free agent on July 1, and reportedly whittled the field of interested teams from a dozen to two — the Canucks and New York Rangers, who would have needed to clear millions in salary cap space to sign Sundin.

"I think it ended up being the Canucks because the Rangers couldn't make it happen cap wise," said Scott Morrison of Hockey Night In Canada. "Ultimately, he may never have had to decide between the two because the Rangers couldn't come back and they had everything in place.

"But Vancouver handled things well from the beginning and had a great $10-million offer on the table. It is a team that is close and now is much better."

'A top three or top six player'

Sundin has played the last 13 of his 17 NHL seasons with the Maple Leafs, who acquired him from the Quebec Nordiques in a blockbuster trade on June 28, 1994.

The former Maple Leafs captain has posted 555 goals and 766 assists for 1,321 points in 1,305 NHL games since he was drafted first overall by Quebec in 1989.

A nine-time all-star, he is Toronto's all-time leader in goals (420) and points (987).

"He, obviously, is a top three or top six player," Morrison said. "He gives them more offence, experience, leadership and options up front.

"Now they have three lines that are pretty darn good."

Good enough to make Vancouver a Stanley Cup contender?

"I do not think I would be comfortable calling any team a contender other than San Jose and Detroit," Gillis said. "What we want to do is get in the playoffs and win round-by-round.

"For me, it is 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're a better team, for sure."

The Canucks host the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday night (CBC, 10 p.m. ET).

With files from the Canadian Press