Thanks, but no thanks

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:32 AM ET

The money is in Vancouver, the prestige in Montreal and Manhattan, but is Mats Sundin's heart still in Toronto?

The whole National Hockey League is scratching its head about that logic after Sundin went back into his contractual cocoon yesterday, stunning among others, the Vancouver Canucks, who wanted to make him the league's richest player.

There could be more Toronto complications for the Canucks -- the Leafs are one of seven teams interested in Vancouver centre Brendan Morrison, who so far is getting just a one-year offer from the Canucks for less than $2 million US.

It was thought the Maple Leafs captain couldn't possibly turn down Vancouver's two-year, $20-million offer, not without the leverage of a Cup win or a Hart Trophy, but he politely told all suitors to give him some space.

SINCERE INTEREST

"I would like to thank all the teams who have expressed such sincere interest in my services," Sundin said in a release through agent J.P. Barry of Creative Artist Agency.

"The numerous options provided to me were impressive and I have no doubt that each one presented a unique opportunity for me to finish my career in a terrific hockey environment. I spent a great deal of time (Tuesday) reflecting upon the (estimated nine) teams who stepped forward and the opportunities that each provided.

"Unfortunately, I am simply not close to being ready to make a decision about resuming my career at this time. I wish all the teams the very best and thank them for their interest."

Claes Elefalk, who represents Sundin for CAA in Sweden, told Sun Media's Mike Zeisberger not to expect a quick decision.

"It is more likely to take a month than a week before Mats knows himself what he will want to do," Elefalk said from Stockholm, where Sundin is now holed up. "Right now he simply does not know what he wants to do.

"In one month, his answer could very well be 'no' to everyone. It could go much longer. He is still uncertain whether he wants to play any more.

"He is aware the hockey world is in full spin. But he's not ready and he can't let anyone on the outside affect him."

Toronto general manager Cliff Fletcher thought the door was closing here for Sundin at least three times the past few weeks; when he turned down a $7 million, one-year deal, when Fletcher granted the Canadiens exclusive rights to get a deal up to July 1 and when the Canucks made Tuesday's eye-popping offer.

But Fletcher and Barry both have been careful not to rule out 100% that Sundin won't return.

"Well, we know that Mats is a very conservative person," Fletcher said. "At some point, our team has to move ahead and plan to open up for next year, but if something happens at a later date with Mats, we'll deal with it then."

Whether by design or not, the Leafs were not involved in yesterday's second round of free-agent bidding

Fletcher said he still will seek a forward and defenceman, but added it's possible the Leafs are done. If he doesn't commit millions to Morrison or another forward in the coming days, it might not be so much saving money for Sundin as underlining what few impact scorers remain UFAs.

"After the initial free agent frenzy, things can be fairly quiet," Fletcher said, adding he was glad most of the big names such as Marian Hossa, Brian Campbell and Sean Avery all went to the Western Conference.

After picking his jaw off the floor at Sundin's announcement yesterday, Canucks GM Mike Gillis is said to be redoubling efforts to keep Morrison, who is being pursued by the Leafs and the Columbus Blue Jackets among others. Gillis probably had visions of Markus Naslund and Sundin as the marquee first line and the Sedin Twins topping the bill on the second. But he could end up without Sundin, Naslund or Morrison.

The other GM in a jam is the Canadiens' Bob Gainey, now without Sundin or Hossa and possibly considering Naslund or Jaromir Jagr. Jagr is also mulling over an offer to return to Pittsburgh.


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