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Sami Salo passes on free agency, signs four-year extension with Canucks @NHLdotcom

VANCOUVER (CP) - He has a cannon of a shot, but what the Vancouver Canucks like most about Sami Salo is the poise and confidence the veteran defenceman brings to the NHL team's blue-line.

The Canucks signed Salo to a four-year contract extension Thursday that will pay the 32-year-old Finn US$3.5 million a season. "He has great presence out there," assistant general manager Steve Tambellini said from Los Angeles prior to the Canucks' game against the Kings. "He's so confident in his play, whether it's the most important game of the season or the way he prepares himself for training camp.

"Whether we play him with another veteran or we play him with one of our younger players, he has a way of making people better."

By agreeing to the deal Salo gave up a chance of testing the free agent market this summer. He decided to stay in Vancouver because he thinks the Canucks have a chance at winning a Stanley Cup.

"You want to win," said Salo, who sat out the game against the Kings with a groin injury. "I felt that team we have in Vancouver right now, and in the future, we have a really good chance of going far in the playoffs.

"That kind of made it an easy decision at the end."

Playing in his eighth NHL season, Salo has career highs with 13 goals and 34 points in 63 games. Six of his goals have been game-winners and he possesses a team-best plus-19 rating.

Tambellini said Salo's skill is matched by his hockey smarts.

"He has to be one of the smartest defencemen that we've had in our organization," he said. "His hockey sense is well above average.

"The way he reads the play, he's one step ahead. I think that's why people play well when they play with Sami."

It was a Salo blast on the power play Tuesday night that scored the winning goal in Vancouver's 3-0 victory over Colorado that clinched the Canucks a playoff berth.

Vancouver remains in a fight with Minnesota to finish first in the Northwest Division and claim the third seed in the Western Conference.

Salo said he was happy to sign his new deal before the playoffs started.

"You can't wait too much longer because the playoffs are knocking on the door," he said. "You don't want to have anything up in the air.

"It was a good feeling to get it done and I'm happy to stay in Vancouver."

Salo, who made $1.5 million this season, was originally selected in the ninth round, 239th overall, in the 1996 draft by the Ottawa Senators. He was acquired by the Canucks in a deal for Peter Schaefer on Sep. 21, 2002.

In 470 career NHL games, the six-foot-three, 215-pound native of Turku, Finland, has collected 192 points (58-134) and 146 penalty minutes.

The Canucks missed the playoffs last season and there were reports of tension in the Vancouver dressing room.

The team cleaned house in the off-season. Coach Marc Crawford was fired and troubled forward Todd Bertuzzi traded to Florida in a deal that brought goaltender Roberto Luongo to Vancouver.

"Last year was really tough," said Salo, who is soft spoken but straightforward in his comments. "Right from the start of (this) season you could see everybody was really putting their minds into the game and we were on the same page.

"The personnel they got over the summer changed our team a little bit. I feel we have the right people to take the team really far in the playoffs."

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