Markus Naslund managed only 55 points in 82 games this season. (Photo by Kim Stallknecht/Getty Images)
Two of the NHL’s top Swedish stars could be coming to the end of their careers.
Mats Sundin of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Markus Naslund of the Vancouver Canucks could be mulling retirement this summer after failing to lead their respective teams to the 2008 NHL playoffs.
Sundin had a solid 2007-08 campaign in a losing cause, with 78 points in 74 games to lead the Maple Leafs in scoring for the 12th time in 13 seasons, leaving no doubt that at 37 years of age he can still play at a high level.
Naslund, 34, had another disappointing season, with 55 points in 82 games. It was his worst output since the 1997-98 season, as his production continued its steady decline from his career-best 104-point performance of 2002-03.
Both are eligible for unrestricted free agency and both made roughly the same money last season, Naslund earning $6 million and Sundin $5.5.
If Sundin decides to return he could easily command more than $7 million, but Naslund’s decline means his days of earning top dollar in the NHL are over.
Both players claim they’ll take some time in the coming weeks to decide if it is worthwhile to return to the NHL grind for another season.
Maple Leafs interim GM Cliff Fletcher recently said the team would love to re-sign Sundin for next season, although that could depend on who’s occupying the GM’s chair in Toronto this summer and Sundin’s asking price.
Canucks GM Dave Nonis hasn’t publicly stated if Naslund is in the team’s plans for next season, but it’s widely believed Nonis won’t re-sign his captain, allowing him to become an unrestricted free agent.
Sundin not only has to decide if he’s physically up for another season, but also if he’ll return with the Maple Leafs.
Throughout this season he said he wanted to finish his career as a Leaf, refusing to waive his no-trade clause and accept a deal to a potential Stanley Cup contender.
Conventional wisdom suggests Sundin wouldn’t want to return to a rebuilding Leafs club, preferring to sign with a possible contender. But if Sundin’s proven anything this season it’s that he doesn’t subscribe to conventional wisdom.
If he wants to return to the Leafs and was willing to once again accept a “hometown discount” salary, it could be a done deal regardless of their management situation. If not, there will be no shortage of suitors lining up for his services on the open market.
As for Naslund, it’s possible the Canucks could re-sign him if he wanted to return for another season and accepted a $3 million pay cut, but that scenario appears at best a long shot.
Naslund’s game hasn’t been the same since Todd Bertuzzi was traded from Vancouver two years ago, leading to speculation he could regain his scoring touch on a club with more offensive depth.
Despite Naslund’s offensive decline, he would attract considerable interest in this summer’s UFA market by teams seeking scoring depth, and could land a short (one or two years), incentive-laced contract worth up to $5 million per season.
It’s tempting to speculate Anaheim Ducks GM Brian Burke, whom Naslund played for in his best seasons with the Canucks, might try to reunite him with his old linemate in Bertuzzi this summer.
Burke currently lacks the cap space to pull that off, but it wouldn’t be the first time he’s done some creative cap juggling to fit a player into his lineup.
Ultimately it’s up to Sundin and Naslund to decide if they’re still capable of playing at a high level for at least one more season and if they’re not, National Hockey League fans might have seen the last of two of Sweden’s greatest NHL players.
Rumor Roundup appears Mondays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, www.spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Foxsports.com and Eishockey Magazine.