Can Sundin, Forsberg really make a difference this season?

The news broke yesterday that free agent forward Mats Sundin has narrowed his choices to the New York Rangers and the Vancouver Canucks. Sundin's agent J.P. Barry denied a report by FAN 590's Bob McCown that Sundin had agreed in principle with the Rangers, as Barry is actually meeting with Canucks GM Mike Gillis today.

Besides, why say no to Vancouver when you can still play a gazillion-dollar offer from the ‘Nucks against whatever the Rangers' "framework" is?

Meanwhile, that other Messianic Swede, Peter Forsberg, told the Denver Post that he's committed to returning to the NHL this season; and that if his body holds up to training and he successful avoids snowblowers for the next several weeks, it'll be with the Colorado Avalanche.

The Forsberg comeback is obviously in its early stages, and the odds seem long that the 35-year-old will return this season. He had yet another recent surgery on his foot, and told Adrian Dater of the Post that he was basically Frankenstein's monster last season for the Avs:

Forsberg revealed he wore electrodes on his troublesome right foot for some games with the Avs after his late-season return. "(I had) a battery package hidden in my pants. When I turned it on, the foot straightened in the skates. It was kind of funny," Forsberg said.

(An aside: "[I had] a battery package hidden in my pants" could be a contender for hockey quote of the year, right next to "I just want to comment on how it's become like a common thing in the NHL for guys to fall in love with my sloppy seconds" and "It wasn't by accident that it was dildos.")

If he's healthy, there's no question that Forsberg is a difference-maker. He had 14 points in nine games -- 12 of them coming in the last five games of the season -- and five in seven playoff games last season for the Avs. He averaged 4.45 points per 60 minutes of ice time, 5-on-5. Colorado's good enough to hang around the playoff picture; Forsberg could make them dangerous.

Dangerous is what Rangers fans hope Sundin makes their sputtering offense, should he sign with the Blueshirts. But can he actually make a difference on this team?

There are differing opinions on his impact on Broadway, that's for sure. Ryan Eshleman of the Bleacher Report makes the experience argument, claiming that Sundin will help the Rangers get more in line with the veteran experience of other Eastern Conference contenders.

Patrick Hoffman of the Blue Line Report spells out what Mats brings to the Rangers:

- He can provide more scoring

- He can help out the power play (that's an understatement)

- He makes the Rangers a legitimate contender

- Has lots of experience as a leader

- Like everyone else on the Rangers, is looking to advance further into the playoffs rather than fall in the first or second round

But Steven Ovadia of Puck Update really, really disagrees with the idea of Sundin on the Rangers, scoring a few interesting points in the debate:

It doesn't make any sense for the Rangers, who are deep down the middle. In fact, they're so deep, Chris Drury has spent some time out of position on the wing, where he just isn't effective.

The Rangers are great at center. What they need is a finisher. Rangers coach Tom Renney tried to obviate that need by spreading out his two goal-scoring wings (Nikolai Zherdev and Markus Naslund) over different lines, but logic dictated putting them together with Scott Gomez when the Rangers suddenly stopped scoring. But beyond that line, the Rangers don't really have any kind of offense.

And obviously, defense has been a huge problem for the Rangers. Dmitri Kalinin and Michal Rozsival are a combined -29 and the Rangers have given up 10 short-handed goals despite having the league's best penalty kill, indicating this is a team that plays better with less players than with more.

Sundin won't help with any of this. He's a big body and a talented player, but he addresses no need for a very flawed Ranger team.

Is he an ill-fit? Yes. Buying Chris Drury, Scott Gomez and Mats Sundin in the span of two seasons is like renting "Iron Man" three times in the same month from Netflix: you'll have fun each time, but it doesn't change the fact that you haven't seen "Tropic Thunder" yet.

Does Sundin address the team's systemic problems on defense? Not at all, but there's no cure-all for Glen Sather's personnel mismanagement and the apparent failure of Tom Renney's system to hide the flaws on the blue line this season, unlike in seasons past.

But for all of our bellyaching about his attitude and posturing during this free-agent ordeal, it doesn't take away from the fact that Sundin is still a special player.

He's a playmaker who's also averaged over 30 goals a season over the last four. More importantly, he's averaged 33.5 power play points per season during that same span. Ovadia's right that the short-handed goals are a problem, and the problem is at the point; but adding Sundin to one of the League's worst power plays immediately changes its dynamics in a way that could help solve that.

If you can add a player that can move the needle on the man advantage from 23rd this season and 22nd last season to something more respectable, you have to do it.

This is a move for goals, assists and adding a little more offensive firepower to a roster than needs it. I'll disagree with Hoffman and Eshleman that this a leadership move; Steve Zipay of Newsday nails the difference between signing with Vancouver and signing with New York:

Another [player] said that the media attention would be far less than in Canada, a situation that appeals to the 37-year-old, who has said that New York was his favorite road city during his 17-year career with Quebec and Toronto.

Bingo. If the Rangers don't live up to the promise of their hot start, the blame will be shared among many. If Sundin goes to Vancouver, he becomes the most important player on the roster not named Roberto and, by far, their most critical offensive player. They're third in the conference right now; so it's pretty much a lose/lose for Sundin with the Canucks, as he'll take flack if they don't win a playoff round and he'll take flack if they drop in the standings before the postseason.

But the signs point to the Rangers, as Dr. Hockey spells out for Sportsnet:

The reasons are many: Sundin likes New York; his countrymen - and 2006 Olympic gold medalist teammates - Markus Naslund and Henrik Lundqvist play for the Rangers (though the Canucks have the Sedin twins and Mattias Ohlund when it comes to the Tre Kronor); the Rangers look to be closer to a Stanley Cup at this time than the Canucks; and the Rangers have an easy-as-pie travel schedule, like most teams in the Eastern Conference. In fact, after the Blueshirts' current West Coast road swing ends, the team leaves the eastern time zone for exactly four games out of 46 remaining.

One thing is certain: if and when Sundin signs anywhere, bloggers and readers can both breathe a huge sigh of relief that they are now liberated to talk about other things like, for example, what do you think of the new, long-awaited Guns N' Roses album?

Glad you asked, Doc: The anticipation was more intriguing than the end product.

Wait, are we talking about Axl or Mats?

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