| Tuesday night in Denver, his goal proved to be the one that clinched the Canucks a playoff spot.|
On Thursday, despite not even being in the line-up, Sami Salo's assist may prove to be the one that makes his hockey team a Stanley Cup contender for years to come.
Without question, the defenseman, who was set to become an unrestricted free agent at season's end, left significant money on the table to re-sign in a city and with a team where feels right at home. And the hometown discount on the new four-year US $14 million deal not only solidifies the Canucks blueline for years to come, but also gives General Manager Dave Nonis a workable number to move forward with under the salary cap.
With Roberto Luongo anchoring a back end that will include Willie Mitchell, Mattias Ohlund and now Salo through the 2008-09 season (at least), it would seem the Canucks will be one of the toughest teams to score on for the foreseeable future.
Giving his wife and three young children the stability they craved by making Vancouver his long-term hockey home was Salo's primary reason for signing on the dotted line well in advance of July 1st, but the prospects of bringing the Stanley Cup here to the West Coast provided plenty of motivation, too.
Every successful team needs a Sami Salo. A quiet, unassuming, low-maintenance player who lets his actions on the ice speak for themselves. And Salo, who could easily be a #1 defenseman on many teams around the league but is content in his role on a winning team here, has quietly gone about his business at both ends of the ice.
The 32-year-old is having a career year with 13 goals, 21 assists and 34 points. He is sixth on the team in goals and seventh in overall scoring. He's second only to Daniel Sedin in both game winning goals (6) and overtime winners (3). His 13-goal total not only leads Canuck blueliners in that category, but ties Salo for eighth in the NHL for goals by defensemen. And his +19 leads the team and ranks Salo in the top 15 among rearguards league-wide. Now in his eighth full season after being a 9th round pick of the Ottawa Senators in the 1996 draft, the remarkably consistent Salo has never had a season in which he wasn't a plus hockey player.
While the Turku, Finland native's big slap shot - the Turku Torpedo? - has gained notoriety around the NHL, Sami Salo has developed into a whole lot more than a guy who simply blasts away every time he gets the puck at the point. There is a simple economy of motion to Salo's game which allows him to get the job done at both ends of the ice without looking like he's working hard. And it's that simple style that should allow him to thrive beyond the four years of his contract extension.
He skates well for a big man (he's 6'3" and 215 pounds) - the way he jumped into the play and converted Matt Cooke's centering pass in overtime in Minnesota on February 14th was evidence of that. (Salo also provided the goal celebration of the year that night with his, well let's just call them, um, active fingers'). And his 26 minutes in penalties clearly indicates how sound Salo plays in his own end of the ice and how well he has adapted to the rigid standards now in place in the new NHL.
Last year, a pectoral muscle suffered at the Olympics kept Sami Salo out of the Canucks line-up down the stretch. There is no question he was missed and his absence was certainly a contributing factor to the hockey club's inability to qualify for the playoffs. This year, Salo has missed 14 games due to minor knee, shoulder and groin problems and in those games the Canucks are 8-5-1. That means with Sami Salo in the line-up, the club is 39-18-6 and more importantly the Canucks are headed back to the post-season for the first time in three seasons.
Getting the job done in Los Angeles without Salo in the line-up on Thursday was good news for the Canucks and their fans, but the best news of the day was the announcement that Sami Salo's going to be around for years to come.
Jeff Paterson is a Team 1040 broadcaster and a regular contributor to the Georgia Straight. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org