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With Sundin, the timing would have to be right

9

September

Sundin Owner Oren Koules said the chances of free agent center Mats Sundin coming to the Lightning are "such a long shot it's not even funny."

But co-owner Len Barrie said, "If Mats wanted to come play with us, we would have to find a place for him to fit."

And there might be a scenario where it could work, but it requires many, many things to fall into place. But first, some background.

When we last linked the Lightning and Sundin, it was July, when his buddy, Gary Roberts, who had just signed with Tampa Bay, admitted he spoke to Sundin, 37, and talked up the Lightning a bit as a possible destination. But with Sundin not even sure he is going to play, the Lightning had to move forward.

The subject was rekindled Tuesday when Canada's Globe and Mail said the Lightning was the latest team to show interest in Sundin. That apparently was sparked when Sundin, Koules and Roberts played last weekend at a charity hockey event in Toronto. But Koules said the three never spoke about Sundin playing in Tampa, and he pointed out on Tuesday that the Lightning is flush with centers right now: Vinny Lecavalier, Steven Stamkos, Chris Gratton, Ryan Craig and Jeff Halpern, who is rehabbing after knee surgery and may not be available until December.

There also is the salary cap: The Lightning is at $55.86-million right now, very close to the $56.7-million limit. It also has 17 forwards with one-way contracts. As far as straight salary goes, the Lightning is at $50.78-million and wants to be down to $47-million by the time the season starts. Add the $7-million it likely would take to sign Sundin and you're talking about a huge effort to get the numbers back to reasonable levels. For the record, Koules said the Lightning does not have an offer on the table. "Absolutely not."

The Globe and Mail suggested Stamkos, the No. 1 draft pick whose cap hit is $3.725-million, could be sent back to juniors, but Koules said, "The kid is not going back. He doesn't get any better playing another year in juniors."

So that leaves us with this. Let's assume Sundin doesn't decide if he even wants to play until October, a scenario numerous reports have said is possible. Add about six weeks to get into real playing shape and we're in November/December. By that time the Lightning will have a pretty good idea about a number of things.

It will know how it's season is going and if Sundin would even play for the team. It will know how Lecavalier's surgically repaired right shoulder is doing. It will know how Stamkos is fairing as an 18-year-old. It will know how Gratton's surgically repaired hip is holding up as well as Craig's repaired knee. It also will know where Halpern stands in his recovery. Perhaps at that point Tampa Bay really needs a center. If you assume the team was able to get its payroll troubles under control, a pro-rated $7-million salary for Sundin might just fit.

That is a lot of ifs. Besides, no one even knows if Sundin will play or really knows his contract parameters, though Koules said, "With Mats, you know it's not about the money." There also is the matter of the other teams who want Sundin's services, namely the Maple Leafs, Canadiens, Rangers, Canucks and Flyers. So give Koules credit for calling any scenario in which Sundin lands with Tampa Bay a very long shot.

But like Barrie said of the player with 555 career goals and who has scored at least 27 in his past 12 seasons. "We've got a lot of good centers, but we would find room."

[Last modified: Sunday, August 16, 2009 4:38pm]

    

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