Belak wants Mats in Florida

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:06 AM ET

No sign yet of Bob Gainey, Arcade Fire or even Youppi! in a delegation of Montreal celebs winging to Stockholm to sell Mats Sundin on the city.

The Canadiens maintain exclusive rights to sign the Maple Leafs captain prior to free agency on July 1, but there is a growing feeling Sundin will let next Tuesday's deadline pass and examine offers from the NHL at large.

In that case, count the Rangers in the hunt, as well as the Red Wings, who have about $12-million US in cap space to play with, but likely won't pay Sundin more than their long-serving star Nicklas Lidstrom ($7.45 million).

A dark horse could be the Florida Panthers, who have an opening for a No. 1 centre and captain after Olli Jokinen was traded and an enthusiastic welcoming committee in ex-Leaf Wade Belak.

"Yeah, I've been working on him, bugging him at the end of the year," Belak said yesterday from South Florida.

"Both of us know that Joe Nieuwendyk liked playing down here, with the beach and stuff."

Sundin, an avid golfer and fisherman, easily could warm to the idea.

"It might only be for a year, but who knows what could happen in that year?" Belak said.

"I think we're going to be in better shape to make the playoffs than Toronto."

But Florida has been trying to distance itself from older, retirement-oriented free agents.

Sundin's agent, J.P. Barry, could not confirm media reports that Canadiens general manager Bob Gainey was going to Sweden this week, but said no other teams will be considered until after July 1.


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