Picked by many – including us, gulp – to finish near the bottom of the Western Conference this season, the Vancouver Canucks served notice Thursday they plan to be a legitimate force by finally landing Mats Sundin.
And the Canucks likely aren’t finished. According to early reports, Sundin will be paid $6 million for the rest of this season, which means that if the contract were to kick in Thursday, based on the number of days remaining this season, Sundin’s full-season salary would be prorated to $9.6 million.
With Sundin at $6 million and Roberto Luongo on the long-term injury list, that should still leave the Canucks with more than $2 million in cap room to go after another player at the trade deadline. It makes for an interesting scenario for the Canucks, who find themselves in a heated battle with the Calgary Flames for first place in the Northwest Division and at least the third seed in the Western Conference.
The Canucks haven’t struggled to score as much as many predicted they would this season and Sundin adds a dimension that should give the Canucks two legitimate scoring lines and a force on the power play. The Canucks will likely keep the Sedin twins together and there is even some talk of Sundin playing right wing alongside them.
A more likely scenario would see Sundin with Pavol Demitra on the right side and either Steve Bernier or Mason Raymond on the left.
That moves the productive Kyle Wellwood down to the third line with Ryan Kesler likely becoming the fourth line center. It also gives the Canucks a formidable group of players down the middle and will make it that much more difficult to shut them down during the playoffs.
Sundin will undoubtedly find the travel more rigorous in the west and the level of play will be higher and the speed faster than he has become accustomed to playing in the east. How quickly he adjusts to his new surroundings and lifts the level of his game will go a long way toward determining how successful he and the Canucks are this season.
But Sundin has kept himself in relatively good shape and has spent the past couple of days in high-tempo practices with a Swedish Elite League team. And players such as Peter Forsberg and Scott Niedermayer proved last year that a 30-something player can return and be effective after a long layoff.
The betting is that Sundin will likely take a couple of weeks to find his way, but once he does, he’ll be a boon to the Canucks and will be rejuvenated by the prospect of playing his first playoff games in five years.
And just so you know, the Canucks make their only appearance in Toronto Feb. 21. Those of you tempted to boo Sundin because of his dithering this season, please remember to give your heads a shake.
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