Mats Sundin finally made up his mind. It was time to start playing again, and the Vancouver Canucks provided the perfect landing spot.

The former Toronto Maple Leafs captain announced his long-awaited decision yesterday and ended months of speculation about where he would end up - or if he would even return to play in North America - by signing with the Canucks.

Sundin, 37, had considered retirement following last season, but a number of teams still expressed interest in his services. He narrowed his choices in recent weeks to the Canucks and New York Rangers, who didn't have nearly enough cap space to compete with Vancouver's offer.

Sundin met with the Rangers last weekend and attended a game at Madison Square Garden as part of a promotion for a poker Web site. Despite wooing from fellow Swedes on the Rangers such as goalie Henrik Lundqvist, forward Markus Naslund - the longtime Canucks captain who signed with New York in the summer - and Fredrik Sjostrom, Naslund picked Vancouver over New York.

"I am 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."

Terms of the deal were not disclosed. The Canucks had offered Sundin a 2-year, $20 million deal but Sundin had repeatedly stated that he was only looking for a 1-year contract. He earned $5.5 million with Toronto last season.

Sundin is expected to join the Canucks right after Christmas.

In games last night

* At Detroit, Ty Conklin made 24 saves for his sixth NHL shutout and Pavel Datsyuk had two goals and two assists, lifting the Red Wings to a 6-0 win over San Jose. San Jose has the NHL's best record (25-4-3), but the Sharks lost for the second straight night.

* At Boston, David Krejci had his first NHL hat trick and Phil Kessel scored twice to extend his point streak to an NHL-high 16 games as the Bruins, who nearly blew a four-goal lead, held on to beat Toronto, 8-5.

* At Washington, Viktor Kozlov had two goals and an assist, and the Capitals extended their winning streak to five games by beating struggling St. Louis, 4-2. Tomas Fleischmann and Alex Ovechkin also scored for the Capitals.

* At Raleigh, N.C., Joe Corvo scored with 43.3 seconds left in overtime to lift Carolina past Florida, 2-1. Justin Williams scored his first goal in nearly 13 months for Carolina, which held a 37-20 shots advantage.

* At Atlanta, Evgeni Malkin, the NHL leader with 53 points, had two goals and two assists, and Marc-Andre Fleury had 28 saves in his return to the lineup as Pittsburgh beat the Thrashers, 6-3.

* At Tampa, Milan Hejduk was awarded the lone goal in a shootout when Lightning goalie Mike Smith was penalized for throwing his stick and Colorado emerged with a 2-1 win.

* At Glendale, Ariz., Kyle Turris recorded his first two-goal game, including the go-ahead score with 9:58 left, and Phoenix beat Nashville, 2-1.

* At Dallas, Brad Richards (three assists) scored in the shootout and Loui Eriksson recorded a hat trick as the Stars beat Columbus, 6-5.

Noteworthy

* Dallas defenseman Sergei Zubov will have hip surgery next month and will be out indefinitely.

* Columbus placed forward Jason Chimera on the injured list and recalled forward Alexandre Picard from Syracuse of the American Hockey League.

* St. Louis defenseman Eric Brewer will have surgery for a herniated disc in his back and will be sidelined indefinitely. *