Commentary

Yes, there was money, but other factors played into Sundin's decision

Updated: December 19, 2008, 1:21 AM ET
By Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com

On Thursday morning, Mattias Ohlund got a phone call from Sweden.

Mats Sundin was concerned. He was leaning toward choosing the Canucks as his new team, but wanted to make sure his impending arrival wouldn't cause problems in the Vancouver dressing room.

Ohlund apparently laughed, then emphatically told Sundin his addition would not, in any way whatsoever, be disrupting to the team.

We tell you this because the optics of Sundin's taking twice as much money from Vancouver as he would have received from the New York Rangers won't look very good for the 37-year-old Swedish center. And no matter what anybody says, that's exactly what he ended up doing.

But it's also worth noting that one of his biggest concerns in joining either team was the impact in the dressing room. In New York, two or three bodies would have had to be moved to make room for him under the cap. We're told that didn't make him feel very comfortable.

From day one this past summer, the Canucks seemed to be the most obvious choice. They were offering the most money; but, just as importantly, they had a hole in their lineup at center and loads of room under the cap to fill it.

Canucks GM Mike Gillis, a neophyte in his job after years as a player agent, deserves serious credit. He surprised Sundin with a two-year, $20 million offer in July and never let go. Days, weeks and months passed, but Gillis stayed at it like a hungry dog on a bone. He was there again on the phone Thursday with Sundin -- twice.

A dozen NHL teams had come calling since July, but the Canucks had more cap room than any of the rest. Not to be forgotten is the fact Vancouver came out of the gates flying, surprising most experts with a solid first 32 games, posting an 18-11-3 record (and that's without Roberto Luongo in net since Nov. 22). It gave Sundin enough comfort to believe the Canucks were for real. Actually, for a team apparently in such dire need of Sundin's offense, the Canucks have fooled us all so far by ranking ninth in the NHL by averaging 3.03 goals per game.

Are they Cup contenders now?

"I don't think I would be comfortable calling any team a contender other than San Jose and Detroit," Gillis told reporters in Vancouver. "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."

The Sharks and the Red Wings are indeed still the teams to beat in the Western Conference, but Vancouver improved its chances of winning the Northwest Division, which carries an automatic top-three seed in the first round of the playoffs. The Canucks are tied with the Calgary Flames for the division lead. Which do you like now?

The Canucks might not be done adding, either. One of the discussions Sundin, Gillis and agent J.P. Barry apparently had Thursday was about just that. Sources told ESPN.com that Sundin agreed to take about $700,000 less in salary so Vancouver would have a little more cap flexibility going forward. He'll earn about $5 million for the rest of the season, about $4 million through a signing bonus and $1 million in salary. The Canucks take about a $5 million cap hit and still have more than $2 million in cap room. That kind of cap room is worth a $6 million player come the March 4 trade deadline.

You also have to hand it to Barry. He kept the Sundin file alive for months and kept teams interested. He also didn't let his dealings with other clients cloud his judgment. We doubt he's happy that Ohlund and the Sedin twins -- also his clients -- don't have contract extensions yet. Then again, Sundin signed for the rest of this season only. Don't overlook that little detail.

At least for this season, the Canucks are improved. How pumped do you think Luongo is to get back in net?

But what of the Rangers? They need offensive help, ranking 27th in the NHL in goals per game at 2.46. That's surprisingly brutal for a team that has challenged for the Eastern Conference lead all season. New York would have had to move a significant asset to create enough cap room to even get closer to Vancouver's offer.

"So, at that point, you're asking yourself, 'Do we get any better if we move a top defenseman or a top forward and sign Sundin; or is it a wash?'" said an NHL executive from a Western Conference team when asked to analyze New York's choices. "Unless Sundin was going to sign for much less, the Rangers were smart not to move a major piece."

Perhaps, but they still need to add some offense before the trade deadline.

Marian Gaborik, anyone?

Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.

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