By Derek Jory
In the first three hours after NHL Free Agency opened on Canada Day, 30 players were signed.
Of those 30 players, three went to the Vancouver Canucks, although only one has been officially announced.
Vancouver’s defence will be nearly identical to that of a year ago with Sami Salo coming back for another season.
The 36-year-old will play his ninth season with the Canucks in 2011-12; he’s coming off an injury influenced 27-game campaign in which he collected seven points (3-4-7) before making a difference in 21 playoff games with five points (3-2-5), including the game winner in Game 4 of the Western Conference Final against the San Jose Sharks.
Salo was honest when he spoke with reporters via conference call Friday morning admitting that he considered going elsewhere because were no guarantees he would fit in Vancouver’s plan.
Luckily for both sides a deal was worked out giving the Canucks eight defencemen, all of whom played in Vancouver last season. It’s a mix of guys that Salo feels comfortable and confident with, much like the organization he’s been a part of for nearly a decade.
“I had a lot of really great years and not just with the players,” said Salo, “but the team management and the ownership have put a lot of effort into the team and rebuilding. I just felt that we had a really good chance of doing something special, like we did last year with winning the Presidents’ Trophy and getting all the way to the Final.
“I feel that the team has really grown and shown that we have a lot of things going for us. It’s a long road to get where we were last year, but I felt that it’s a really good chance to do it again.”
The question Salo will now face from now until the end of his new year is if this will be his last season in the NHL. The Finnish defencemen has had trouble with injuries in his career, but perseverating through one of the worst this past year proved that he’s still got game.
“I don’t think that is going to be my last year, but you can never say never,” said Salo. “Going into last season I had no real idea if I was even going to be able to play, but since I started playing I felt really good and I knew that I was going to continue my career.
“With the way the playoffs went I knew that I was going to keep playing either in the NHL or in Europe, there was no question about that. It’s a really good that we were able to come to terms in the city that I’ve played for so many years.”
Salo has played in 12 NHL seasons with the Canucks and Ottawa Senators, collecting 280 career points (84-196-280) in 692 games.
Two more for Higgins
After locking up the serives of Salo, general manager Mike Gillis’ next priority was signing Chris Higgins
Originally thought to be a rental player when he was acquired by the Canucks at the trade deadline last year, Higgins played so well down the stretch and into the post-season that, with even more stability, it’s believed the gritty forward could flourish even more.
He now has that chance.
”We like the way he controls the puck, he can move up and down your line-up like Sturm can and that keeps pressure on other guys to play well when there’s another guy sitting and waiting on the third or fourth line who can play on your second line,” assessed Gillis.
One German for another
Vancouver lost the services of Christian Ehrhoff Thursday as he signed with the Buffalo Sabres, but Mike Gillis kept the Canucks multi-national by picking up Marco Sturm, a native of Dingolfing, Germany.
There are many things Gillis and company like about Sturm, including that he can move up and down the lineup as needed and that he was available on a short-term contract.
Gillis admitted signing the forward comes with some risk, but it's definitely worth taking for a 14-year veteran with eight 20-plus goal seasons, despite his recent injury woes. Sturm began last season on the injured reserve with torn MCL and ACL muscles missing 32 games, a left leg injury then had him sidelined for 13 games.
”It’s a bit of a gamble, but we checked it out thoroughly,” said Gillis. “He goes into tough areas, he’s a very strong skater, he’s had a couple of injuries the last year and a half that set him back, but the guys in Boston were very happy with him, we watched him play in Washington at the end of the year, he was strong again.
“He brings us size and strength, he’s a very straight forward player, up and down hard and we’re in a position now where we can take a real hard look at him and take a little risk, but it’s not risk we’re uncomfortable with.”
Sturm split last season between Los Angeles and Washington following four-and-a-half seasons with Boston. The 32-year-old was drafted 21st overall by San Jose in 1996, he then played seven seasons for the Sharks.
In 890 career NHL games, the 6-foot, 194-pound left winger has 482 points (239-243-482) and 421 penalty minutes.
On this day...
July 1, 1989: Canucks president Pat Quinn flies to Moscow and signs Soviet star centre Igor Larionov to a multi-year contract.
Larionov played 210 games with the Canucks over three seasons, scoring 51 goals and collecting 92 assists.