Sundin, sponsor playing their cards right

ROB LONGLEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:04 AM ET

Now that he's a Vancouver Canuck, all bets are off on whether Mats Sundin will play again and where.

But that doesn't mean wagering and Sundin can't be used in the same sentence. Aside from the daily (hourly?) updates regarding Sundin until the merciful conclusion last week, the Big Swede had been most visible as a so-called "celebrity supporter" of Pokerstars.net.

While not associated with sports wagering, the free poker website is affiliated with a play-for-cash one based in the Isle of Man, a haven for internet gaming. Sundin's link to the wildly popular poker site hasn't raised red flags with NHL brass officially, but the league is at least investigating the association.

"We need to understand the nature of the relationship and the entity it's with before we have an official position," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told Sun Media via e-mail yesterday.

"But I don't anticipate that it is inconsistent with any of our policies. Pokerstars does not accept wagers."

In that sense, Pokerstars.net was crafty in its association with Sundin. While a sister site, Pokerstars.com, is one of the most successful cash poker rooms in cyberspace, where players gamble for real, Pokerstars.net offers "free" games. However, a current promotion on the "free" site offers the opportunity to win a trip to the Stanley Cup final.

The league position Daly speaks of is quite clear: No one involved with a team can be linked to an outfit or competition that involves handicapping or predicting the scores of its games. It would appear that Sundin's relationship is safe in that regard, but the NHL has been careful in protecting its integrity as far as gambling is concerned.

Game officials aren't allowed to even enter a casino, let alone wager in one. As well, while provincial lotteries can advertise on rinkboards, they are not allowed to promote games that allow sports betting.

As for Sundin, his work has been mostly promotional, including a recent appearance at New York's Madison Square Garden where Pokerstars customers had a chance for a meet-and-greet with the then-unemployed star.

"I have always enjoyed playing poker," Sundin says in a story on the Pokerstars website. "I believe the fighting spirit I've developed as a hockey pro will help me at the tables."

BATTERED BERGERON

It was an ugly image for Bruins fans to see recovering star Patrice Bergeron out cold on the TD Banknorth Garden ice Saturday night after getting clocked by Carolina's Dennis Seidenberg.

The bad news, revealed by the team yesterday, is that Bergeron suffered a concussion. The good news, apparently, is that it is not as serious as the nasty one that kept him out of most of last season.

"I know he's a strong kid," Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli told the Boston Globe yesterday. "He'll get over this. We've seen a lot of players recover from second concussions and they're stars. There's (Simon Gagne) in Philly right now."

Here's hoping he's right, but Bergeron wasn't quite himself thus far this season with the high-flying Bruins, counting just four goals and 14 assists in 31 games.

And even though Chiarelli said that Bergeron was released from hospital and feeling better yesterday, there is at least some doubt surrounding his future.

ICE CHIPS

As if the prospect of playing at Chicago's historic Wrigley Field on New Year's Day isn't appealing enough, this year's Winter Classic could feature two of the hottest teams in the league. The defending champion Red Wings scored a big comeback win over Los Angeles on Saturday, two days after smacking around the league-leading San Jose Sharks, 6-0. The host Blackhawks, meanwhile, are on a seven-game win streak, their longest since 1981 ... Red Wings goaltender Ty Conklin will be a participant in his third NHL outdoor game. In 2003, Conklin was with the Oilers for the Edmonton game and last season he was a Pittsburgh Penguin at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo ... Hockey Night In Canada's Jim Hughson has been named Sports Illustrated's top hockey play-by-play man and as CBC's lead voice, it's difficult to argue. Working alongside Craig Simpson, the pair are as solid and informative as anyone in the business. That said, Saturday nights still seem a little odd without Bob Cole in a prominent position. Reluctant to ease into retirement, the legendary Newfoundlander with the classic voice has been shuffled away from the Leafs for all but three games this season ... SI's choice for top analyst was Anaheim Ducks broadcaster Brian Hayward.

THE WEEK AHEAD

The Pens' Sidney Crosby takes a career-high goalless streak into Buffalo tonight. The Kid hasn't scored in his past nine games ... The NHL is dark for its two-day Christmas break on Wednesday and Thursday ... Two of the hottest teams in recent weeks -- the Flyers and Blackhawks -- meet Friday in the Windy City ... After their game in Ottawa on Saturday, the Dallas Stars were to fly to Toronto to wait for the better part of three days before meeting the Leafs, who are in Atlanta tonight.


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