Welcome Mats?

TERRY JONES, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:48 AM ET

Oh goodie gumdrops.

The world's most expensive hockey rental player, the subject of one of the sorriest "national" sports soap operas of all time, is going to be a major event here tonight, a feature photo-op of this entire NHL season.

Mats Sundin, after practice in Vancouver, gave himself the green light, boarded the flight and arrived here yesterday with the Canucks preparing to play in tonight's tilt against the Edmonton Oilers.

Ten months after refusing to waive the no-trade clause in his contract at the trade deadline to allow the Toronto Maple Leafs to make him a rental player and give himself a chance to join a Stanley Cup contending team in the playoffs, tonight the Canucks will officially become the firm of Sedin, Sedin & Sundin.

TURNING 38

Twenty-one days after he agreed to a contract with the Canucks for $5 million US and a mere six days before his 38th birthday, Sundin will step on the ice with his new teammates tonight for the final 41 games of the regular season. He will attempt to become the long-missing piece of the puzzle to get the Vancouver Canucks deep into the playoffs.

There was some thought that, after spending all that money, the Canucks might want to give their own fans first rights to eyeball their supposed saviour, especially with the next five games at GM Place.

But Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish called it right the night before when asked if he thought Sundin would make his entrance here.

"My sense is that he will play," said MacTavish. "I hope he does. Bring him in.

"It's good for the fans to see a player who has given that much to the game.

"We look forward to playing against him."

Sundin gave himself the "go" after the Canucks practice, telling reporters: "Unless I feel worse tomorrow morning or tonight, I think there's a good chance I'll play.

"I'll talk to the coaches and obviously we'll talk again tomorrow morning, but I felt good again today. I think I'm ready," said the big Swede who was on a line, for a second straight session, with former Maple Leafs teammate Kyle Wellwood on one wing and Mason Raymond on the other, in addition to taking power-play reps for both one-man and two-man advantages.

Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault told the Vancouver media mob he intended to restrict Sundin's minutes against the Oilers because he hadn't played an NHL game in nine months.

"We talked about a reasonable amount of ice time to get him going," Vigneault said. "I think he's fine with it. He told me at the end of practice that he's good mentally and physically."

So what will it be like here tonight in a town full of fans who, for the most part, spent the last year exasperated with the kind of attention given to the thousands of non-stories involving Sundin produced by the Toronto-based media?

MEDIA CIRCUS

On the scale of Scott Niedermayer, Teemu Selanne, Peter Forsberg and others who sat out front ends of seasons to make similar returns, it was off the dial.

But maybe that, in itself, makes it a major event.

Undeniably, as is the case in every Western Canadian city dating back to the days when the voice of Foster Hewitt was the NHL here, there are hundreds of Leafs fans here to come out of the woodwork and to whom this is, indeed, an occasion.

Will scalpers be in for a windfall?

Sundin joining the Canucks is hardly irrelevant for Oilers fans as Edmonton is just six points back of Vancouver with three games in hand going into the fifth meeting of the season between the two teams tonight.

The teams are 2-2 to this point with the only other game between the two teams here April 4.

So there's that.

But mostly a different 'Sundin Watch' begins here tonight to see if the big Swede can write a memorable final chapter to his career or if he has, as I suspect, found a comfortable place to complete his career and bank some more money without having to worry about playing too many playoff games for free.


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