A Ranger, in pencil only

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:13 AM ET

BUFFALO -- Tom Renney has come clean: There was a time when he informally jotted down Mats Sundin's name as part of the New York Rangers lineup.

"Sure, I did," Renney admitted yesterday. "As a coach, you think there might be a chance, especially after he paid us a visit in New York in December.

"I fiddled around with line combinations with Mats in there. Nothing serious, but, hey, it's something you have to think about."

Renney doesn't have to think about it any more. Sundin is a Vancouver Canuck.

We are standing in an empty hallway at the HSBC Arena, about 45 minutes after Renney's Rangers have completed their morning skate. The peaceful surroundings are a far cry from what is going on 150 kilometres away at the Air Canada Centre, where, at that exact moment, Sundin is holding court with dozens of reporters.

"It must be a zoo up there," the Rangers coach chuckled.

That it was.

Of course, for months leading up to Sundin's signing with the Canucks, many figured Madison Square Garden would be the site of the Sundin Circus.

Had the big Swede opted to join the Rangers -- as the majority of the so-called experts predicted -- today would have been the first time he would have faced his former club when the Leafs visited the Rangers at The World's Most Famous Arena.

But it was not to be.

According to the big Swede, the Canucks were always his first choice. Of course, we didn't hear any talk like that until he actually had signed.

Truth be told, the Rangers never could find a way to pry open enough cap space to squeeze in Sundin. Given their struggles of late, perhaps they should have made a more concerted effort.

Henrik Lundqvist certainly wishes it would have played out that way. The Rangers goalie and Sundin were teammates on the 2006 Swedish Olympic team that won the gold medal at Turin. The victory allowed Sundin to wipe out the bitter memory of the Salt Lake City Games four years earlier, when Tommy Salo's whiff allowed Belarus to upset the heavily favoured Swedes.

Last summer, when Sundin was visiting the Swedish costal city of Gothenburg, he and Lundqvist met briefly. Let the recruiting begin.

With Sundin, an unrestricted free agent at the time, and still contemplating his hockey future, Lundqvist suddenly became the top Swedish spokesperson for the Big Apple Tourist Bureau.

"Of course," Lundqvist said yesterday. "I told him all the good things about New York City."

Months later, after Sundin finally had decided to return to the NHL, he paid a visit to New York on the weekend of Dec. 12-13. Part of the junket included hosting the winner of a PokerStars contest in a private box at MSG to watch a Rangers game.

Not only did Sundin meet with Rangers general manager Glen Sather at that time, he was also taken out on the town by Lundqvist.

"I'm not going to tell you where we went," Lundqvist chuckled. "It was two weeks before he signed. We went out with a bunch of other Swedish people.

"After that night, I definitely thought we had a chance to get him. But he's got a great poker face. He's hard to read."

Days later, the Rangers were in L.A., when Lundqvist received a text message.

"Mats has signed with Vancouver," it said.

Lundqvist holds no ill will toward Sundin. In fact, he wishes him all the best.

"I just hope they don't boo him in Toronto," he added. "That would be sad."

No worries. Hours later, Sundin would get a standing ovation at the Air Canada Centre, though the boos would follow.

Down in Buffalo, meanwhile, the Sundin-less Rangers were losing 4-2 to the Sabres. And for Renney and Lundqvist, there were only dreams of what might have been.


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