When the NHLs free agency window opened July 1, Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman wasted no time reaching through it and grabbing a player who could be just what the young Bolts defense needs.
Among a flurry of high-profile recent moves, Yzerman signed Sami Salo, the longtime defenseman for the Vancouver Canucks and Ottawa Senators with a resume that speaks for itself: 761 NHL games with 93 goals and 310 points, 100 career Stanley Cup Playoff games and three Olympic appearances for Finland.
Even at 37, the 6-3, 212-pounder could make an instant impact this season for Tampa Bays blue line both in his puck-handling ability and ability to energize power plays with his blazing right-handed slapshot.
Salo, signed at 3.75-million for each of the next two seasons, shows no signs of slowing down. He played in 69 games last year with Vancouver his team since 2002-03 and scored nine goals with 25 points, while leading all Canucks defensemen in power-play goals with seven. And he ranked fourth on the team in average ice time per game at 20:26.
I was obviously looking for new challenges after nine long years in Vancouver, good years and great people, he said at his official introduction Wednesday at the Forum. I wanted to get on a team that was going to compete for the Stanley Cup thats obviously every hockey players ultimate dream. After talking with Steve Yzerman, Mattias Ohlund and a few other people about Tampa, it seems like a great place for hockey and a great chance to win and a great city for me and my family.
They have a great core group of guys and younger players and I think theres a lot of potential with this team, he added. Its a really tight group and seems like a really good fit for me.
In assessing his own game, Salo remarked, I think my backbone is playing really well defensively but also helping the team offensively by shooting the puck. Thats been my go-to (style of) play always shooting the puck a lot and hopefully I can help the team that way.
The addition of Salo, however, is just one of the significant moves Yzerman has made in the off-season to help the Lightning rebound from a disappointing 2011-2012 showing.
Among the other acquisitions of note:
In addition to Salo, Yzerman brought back bruising defenseman Matt Carle a member of the Bolts in 2008 gives the team some much-needed muscle. Signed to a six-year, 33-million deal, the 27-year-old is regarded as one of the leagues best defensemen during the past four seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers. Hes averaged 21-plus minutes per game since Tampa Bay traded after only eight games to Philly for the 2008-09 season. And hes totaled 15 goals with 122 assists in that span.
All told, the second-round pick of the San Jose Sharks has 32 goals, 172 assists and 202 points in 471 regular-season games. He also has amassed five goals, 30 assists and 35 points in 84 Stanley Cup Playoff games. Getting Salo and Carle is especially important given the uncertain future of Mattias Ohlund, who missed all of last season with a knee injury.
We went into July 1 with two holes that we hoped to plug and we feel weve done that, Yzerman said. We had a short list of defensemen we felt could fit into that hole and we were able to get two of the guys who were on that list.
Goalie Anders Lindback, the 6-foot-6, 200-pound Swede who could eventually become the long-term answer at the net for Tampa Bay, though hell have to compete with incumbent Mathieu Garon for the starting job. Inked to a two-year deal (1.4-million this season and 2.3-million next year), Lindback was obtained from the Nashville Predators for goaltender Sebastien Caron and three draft choices (two second-rounders in 2012 and a third-rounder in 2013). In his first full season last year, the 24-year-old went only 5-8 but sported a 2.42 goals-against average and a .912 save percentage in 16 games. Yzermans assessment: He has the potential to develop into the No. 1 goaltender we covet."
Left wing Ben Pouliet, a 6-3, 200-pounder heading into his fourth NHL season. After spending two seasons with Montreal from 2009-11, Pouliet, signed to a one-year deal with 1.8-million, enjoyed his best showing last year with 16 goals and 16 assists in 74 games played. Yzerman gave up a 2012 fifth-round selection and minor leaguer Michel Ouellet to get him, hoping that the former No. 1 pick of the Minnesota Wild will emerge as a productive member of the front lines top six.
Right wing B.J. Crombeen isnt a scoring machine by any means but the Lightning could benefit from his hard-hitting style of play. Yzerman dealt a 2014 fifth-round pick and two fourth-round selections in 2013 and 2014 to St. Louis to get him. He could fill the enforcer role previously played by Steve Downie, traded to Colorado in February.
Yzerman also made sure he re-signed standout right wing Teddy Purcell to a three-year contract extension. The 26-year-old skated in 81 games last year, notching 24 goals and 65 points and is a key component in the attack. The GM also secured the services of several promising young players re-signing defenseman Evan Oberg, 24, a standout with the Norfolk Admirals who looked good in limited duty with Tampa Bay; and signing 19-year-old Arteem Sergeev to a three-year entry-level pact.
All of the moves underscore the Lightnings intention to get back on track, after finishing third in the Southeast Division with a record of 38-36 and falling short of the post-season. Yzerman did it all while managing to stay 7-million under the 70.2-million salary cap, giving him the option of making more moves if needed.
Meanwhile, one of Salos first moves will be to score points with his 9-year-old son, an avid hockey player and big fan of Lightning goals-machine Steven Stamkos.
Itll be nice to meet him and then tell my son that I met him, Salo said. Hell be really happy about that.