Return of Sundin is topic No. 1

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 1:23 PM ET

TORONTO -- Ready or not, Toronto, here comes Mats.

In just five days, Mats Sundin returns to the Air Canada Centre, this time wearing a Vancouver Canucks jersey, not the familiar blue-and-white of the Maple Leafs.

And as the Saturday night tilt creeps closer, expect the type of pre-game hype usually reserved for a Super Bowl.

Know this: Sundin certainly won't be sneaking into town -- he comes back on Hockey Day in Canada.

He comes back on the night the Leafs will honour the 10th anniversary of the Air Canada Centre by having the ceremonial opening faceoff dropped by Steve Thomas, who scored the winning goal in overtime over the Montreal Canadiens one decade ago in the first ever NHL game played in the building.

And he comes back to a city that has been polarized concerning his image, his legacy and his motives.

Some will remember him as the long-time Leaf captain who is the franchise's all-time scoring leader.

Others feel he is a hypocrite for claiming he did not want to be a "rent-a-player" at the trade deadline last year, then, in the minds of many critics, becoming exactly that by signing with the Canucks in December.

"Toronto's been my home for 13 years," Sundin said the other day. "I have a lot of friends there.

"The Leafs and the city will always have a place in my heart. Saying that, I've moved on."

Maybe Sundin has "moved on." A lot of fans haven't.

That leads to the question of the week: What will the reception be for No. 13 when he steps onto the ACC ice again?

"We'll have to wait and see," he said. "It's going to be exciting, for sure."

Sundin's honeymoon in Vancouver has been short-lived.

After struggling in his first half-dozen games as a Canuck, a headline in the Feb. 2 edition of the Vancouver Sun blared "Sorry Canucks are stuck with Sundin." The accompanying column, penned by long-time respected hockey scribe Ian MacIntyre, referred to the Canucks as "suckers."

Sundin has picked it up since then, registering seven points in five games entering action yesterday. Maybe, just maybe, he is heating up.

Just like the emotions of Leafs Nation in anticipation of his arrival.

For better or worse.

GREEN DAY

Attention, Mike Green.

The Norris Trophy voters are watching you.

And so is Steve Yzerman.

As of yesterday, the Washington Capitals defenceman had scored more goals (22) than stud forwards Sidney Crosby, Marc Savard, Ryan Getzlaf, Joe Thornton, Jarome Iginla and Martin St. Louis.

Those players all are legitimate candidates to be selected by Yzerman for the 2010 Canadian Olympic team.

And so, too, is Green. Big time.

The stats make a very compelling argument on Green's behalf.

Green, who signed a four-year, $21 million US extension during the offseason, led all NHL blue liners in goals last season with 18. Entering play yesterday, he'd already surpassed that total by four.

He also finds himself in the NHL record book, establishing a mark for most consecutive games with a goal by a defenceman at eight. Green's goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning Saturday ignited a celebration that left him covered in shaving cream, courtesy of teammate Alex Ovechkin.

The previous record of seven was held by former Boston Bruin Mike O'Connell, who accomplished the feat in the 1983-84 season.

Green has become a cult figure in Washington.

Because of his penchant for scoring important goals, his fans had t-shirts printed that said "Gang Green" on the front and "Game Over" on the back. His teammates call him "LamborGreenie" because of the white Lamborghini he drives.

Perhaps the best off-ice tale about Green concerns the condo he purchased in Arlington, Va. As the story goes, the nearby street had to be closed when a crane hoisted his new hot tub up to his penthouse.

AROUND THE RINKS

When coach-of-the-year discussions come up, Peter DeBoer's name must be mentioned prominently. Did anyone really think the Florida Panthers would be in the playoff hunt this late in the season? ... Philadelphia Flyers captain Michael Richards, who was coached by DeBoer with the OHL's Kitchener Rangers, scored his fifth short-handed goal of the season yesterday during a victory over the New York Rangers. His penalty-killing skills make him a must for the Canadian Olympic team ... Rangers coach Tom Renney is taking a lot of heat in the Big Apple. How can the addition of the troubled Sean Avery possibly help his cause? ... Campbellton, N.B. will host CBC Hockey Day in Canada festivities Saturday. The three all-Canadian matchups on the network include, in order: Ottawa at Montreal; Vancouver at Toronto; and Calgary locking horns with Edmonton.

MIKE.ZEISBERGER@SUNMEDIA.CA


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