Leafs agreed to US$5.5-million, one-year deal with captain Mats Sundin

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The Hockey News

The Hockey News

The US$5.5 million, one-year contract he signed with the NHL club Tuesday gives both sides the kind of leverage they need going forward.

"I think it's a good fit for everybody, just where I am at my age at this stage of my career," Sundin said Tuesday.

The 36-year-old captain threw a wrinkle into contract talks between his agent J.P. Barry and Leafs GM John Ferguson when he decided the two-year pact they were nearing agreement on should instead be a one-year deal.

"I just think I'm at the stage of my career where it feels good (to sign for one year)," Sundin told reporters on a conference call from Stockholm. "It gives me more pressure to perform, too. . . .

"I just like the frame of mind that I play one year and then I evaluate myself."

It's the kind of one-year approach fellow veteran stars Teemu Selanne in Anaheim and Joe Sakic in Colorado have taken over the past few years.

"I know Joe Sakic really well," Sundin said of his former Quebec Nordiques teammate. "I know what he's done. He's two years older than me and he played some great hockey this year. He's taken care of himself physically, he's in great shape. He signed another one-year deal. I like that idea. It does put a bit more pressure on myself. It's just something that felt right for me."

The one-year deal gives Sundin all the options he needs next summer:

-Retire if his body doesn't feel up to another season;

-Re-up for another year with the Leafs if things look promising both in terms of his level of play and Toronto's chances of winning;

-Leave for another team with a better chance at winning a Stanley Cup if the Leafs miss the playoffs again.

However, Sundin rejected the last potential option.

"I've never felt there was a bigger chance to win a Stanley Cup with a different organization," he said. "Especially with the last few years where we've seen a new organization winning every year. All the organizations are pretty evenly matched with the salary cap. . . .

"I do want to finish my career as a Toronto Maple Leaf. I don't have any urgency to go anywhere else."

From Toronto's side of things, the club doesn't get trapped into a two-year deal that could come back to haunt them. According to the collective bargaining agreement, a contract signed by any player aged 35 or older counts against the salary cap no matter if he retires or gets injured during the deal. So had Sundin called it quits next season, the second year of the deal would have still counted against the Leafs' cap.

It gives the Leafs some protection.

"It does," agreed Ferguson, who met reporters at Air Canada Centre. "And credit to Mats for being honest with himself. Really, the deal represents the mutual respect the organization and the player have for each other. And that's why it made so much sense for both sides."

The only downside for the Leafs is if Sundin does indeed sign with another club for the 2008-09 season and wins a Cup. That would be hard to digest in this marketplace. But given all the factors involved, the one-year deal is still the better risk.

The Swedish centre had 76 points (27-49) in 75 games with the Leafs this season while earning $7.6 million. Sundin has been with the Leafs since the lockout-shortened 1994-'95 season and has had no fewer than 72 points the past 11 seasons.

The Leafs were facing a Friday deadline to either exercise or decline a $4.56-million option Sundin had on his old contract. Neither the Leafs nor the Sundin camp wanted that option picked up, the Leafs because the salary cap hit would have been $6.33 million - the average of his old deal - and Sundin because the actual money paid out was less than what he wanted to earn.

So while the Leafs save $830,000 against next season's salary cap, Sundin gets $940,000 more in salary than the original option.

"That was really critical to the negotiations," said Ferguson. "There's some ability there for us to save some money against the cap and use that to surround him with better players, to maximize the available (cap) space and to use it most productively."

Sundin denied the shorter deal had anything to do with the worry over his hip, which was given the thumbs up by two specialists over the last month.

"No, not at all," said Sundin. "I had some issues in the middle of last season with my hip, it was a little sore. I think it's because I got hit once. After that, I worked out with Matt Nichol and the medical staff.

"For the last two months of the season I really didn't have any problems at all. It didn't bother me. There's nothing that bothers me now."



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