Alternative Reality: The $20 Million Man?

What would have happened if Mats Sundin had agreed to the original two-year, $20 million contract offer from Mike Gillis and the Canucks back in July of 2008? A lot, apparently….

Mike Gillis and the Vancouver Canucks shocked the hockey world with a massive two-year, $20 million contract offer to free agent center Mats Sundin on July 1st, 2008. We all know how the next few months unfolded – Sundin took numerous fishing trips to the far reaches of Sweden, while his agent JP Barry appeared on the TEAM 1040 around the clock to discuss Sundin’s timeline for signing with a new team (spoiler alert, he never had one).

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Sundin never wanted to sign for two years, and it is very likely that Gillis knew that he made his attention-getting offer. Sundin was deciding between the Canucks and the Rangers, and he ultimately chose the Canucks. There are probably a few reasons a to why:

  • The Swedish connection
  • JP Barry and Mike Gillis’s relationship
  • Vancouver’s heavy interest from the outset

"I’m truly excited to be joining the Canucks," Sundin said. "Once I made the decision to return to play a few weeks ago, the Vancouver opportunity was simply the best overall fit."

The Canucks and Sundin eventually agreed on a one-year, prorated contract (he signed around Christmas time) that worked out to carry a cap hit of about $8.5 million. Sundin did the Canucks a huge favor by not signing the initial two-year offer, as it would have completely crippled their ability to make free agent moves or trades during the next two years.

Thankfully, my trusty crystal ball allows us to turn the clock back and see how things would have unfolded with a second $10 million man in Vancouver.

After signing Sundin on July 1st, the Canucks failed in a bit to land St. Louis forward David Backes with a three-year offer sheet. Vancouver settled on Buffalo’s Steve Bernier, sending a few picks to the Sabres in exchange for the young power forward on July 8th. Two days after that, the Canucks signed veteran winger Pavol Demitra to a two-year contract.

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Sundin reported to training camp in great shape, and he was a positive influence on the ice and in the dressing room from the outset. He pushed Ryan Kesler over to the right wing on the second line, and the Canucks had one of the most effective second offensive units in the league. In 72 games in the 2008-09 season, Sundin finished with 24 goals and 61 points. He scored an impressive 14 goals on the power play, as his big shot and ability to find open ice meshed well with the playmaking ability of the Sedin twins.

Sundin was dominant in the first round sweep of the St. Louis Blues, building off of a strong regular season. He scored three goals and added two assists in the four game sweep. He was even better in the second round against Chicago. After splitting the first two games on home ice, the Canucks stole a game on the road in Game 3 thanks to a strong performance from Sundin (a goal and an assist). However, they dropped the next two games, and headed to Chicago facing elimination in Game 6.

Sundin recorded a hat trick, but the Canucks couldn’t keep up with the high-powered Hawks, losing 7-6. The Big Swede was a bright spot during his first season with the Canucks, and his professionalism had rubbed off on numerous teammates (most notably Ryan Kesler, who in the summer of 2009 was appointed to newly-formed anti-diving committee).

Vintage Sundin:

The Sedin twins became free agents on July 1st, 2009, as the Canucks were unable to pay them what they were asking for. Sundin’s $10 million cap hit took up much of the free cap space the Canucks had to work with. Laurence Gilman’s mind-control tactics were ineffective, and the Sedins signed matching 10-year, $70 million deals with the Toronto Maple Leafs on July 1st.

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The Canucks didn’t leave free agency empty handed, though – they locked up former Mike Gillis client Mike Cammalleri to a five-year, $28 million deal. They also inked a star Slovak winger, but not the one every fan was expecting – Marian Hossa signed a six-year, $36 million deal with the Canucks, while his fellow countryman Marian Gaborik headed to Broadway. The Canucks expressed interest in free agent depth defenseman Aaron Rome, but they didn’t have the cap space to sign him. He ended up signing with the Chicago Blackhawks to supply some depth and toughness on their back end.

Without the Sedin twins, the Canucks entered 2009-10 with a new top line – Sundin centering Cammalleri and Kesler, while Kyle Wellwood centered the second scoring line with Demitra and Hossa on his wings. The Canucks had a solid season, winning the Northwest Division and defeating the Los Angeles Kings in the first round. Sundin’s production was in line with his previous season – he scored 25 goals and added 35 assists for 60 points. Kesler broke out with a 40-goal season, and Wellwood led the team with 45 assists (but he scored only three goals).

Vancouver once again found themselves up against Chicago in the second round. Chicago was an even stronger club than they were one season previous, but the Canucks pushed the series to seven games. The score was tied 2-2 through 60 minutes, and the first two overtime periods proved nothing.

Five minutes into the third OT, Chicago defenseman Aaron Rome received a delay of game penalty for failing to clear the puck off the glass and out properly. The Canucks hit three posts on the subsequent power play, and the last one came off of a Sundin slap shot. The puck was delivered with such force that it bounced off the post and all the way out to center ice, where Rome was waiting for it having just left the penalty box. He came in alone on Roberto Luongo and slid it through the five hole, sending Chicago to the Western Conference Final.

Chicago ended up losing to the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games in the Stanley Cup Final. Henrik Sedin captured the Conn Smythe, and he and Daniel received statues outside of the Air Canada Centre for their unforgettable 2009-10 seasons. Phil Kessel scored 71 goals playing on the right side with the Sedins, including goals in 31 straight games fromm December to early February.

Sundin retired in the summer of 2010, and Ryan Kesler was named captain. Kyle Wellwood’s contract demands were too high, and the Canucks cut ties with him. Vancouver was unable to find a replacement for their top six group, and they missed the playoffs in each of the next two seasons.

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Sometimes the best decisions are the one’s that aren’t made….

Other Alternative Realities:

  • “The Canucks didn’t leave free agency empty handed, though – they locked up former Mike Gillis client Mike Cammalleri to a five-year, $28 million deal. They also inked a star Slovak winger, but not the one every fan was expecting – Marian Hossa signed a six-year, $36 million deal with the Canucks”

    I know this is all fun and games and speculation, but I don’t get your logic! The Sedins signed contracts for $5.3 million each in real life, in this article you say the Canucks can’t afford to pay them what they got, but then sign two players to $5.6 and $6 million cap hits respectively? Does not compute!