On a relatively tame opening day in the free-agent market, general manager Steve Yzerman made his play to bolster the Tampa Bay Lightning's blue line.
Veteran defenseman Sami Salo agreed to terms on a two-year contract worth a reported $3.75 million per season, according to several media outlets. The 13-year veteran spent the past nine seasons with Vancouver after spending his first four with Ottawa.
Tampa Bay also signed forward Benoit Pouliot — whom they acquired via trade June 23 — to a one-year deal for $1.8 million, and re-signed restricted free agent Evan Oberg to a one-year, two-way contract. Free-agent defenseman Artem Sergeev, who will be at the team's prospect camp this week, signed a standard three-year entry-level contract.
The Lightning also were believed to be in the running for defenseman Jason Garrison, who turned his 16-goal season into a six-year contract worth a reported $27.6 million with Vancouver. Tampa Bay also reached out to prized defenseman Ryan Suter, but when the price tag started to reach talk of a front-loaded deal averaging more than $8 million per season, the Lightning shied away. Suter is not expected to make a decision until today at the earliest. Once that decision is made, it could open the market for Matt Carle, who Tampa Bay also is believed to have interest in.
Either way, Yzerman said there is still room to add more players if the right options come along as he hopes to add at least one more defenseman and perhaps a forward, although he said he is keeping one or two forward spots open for the team's prospects.
"We are talking with many of the agents for the free agents that are out there,'' Yzerman said. "We feel we are in a good position.''
But the addition of Salo brings in two things Yzerman coveted — veteran presence and a big, right-handed shot to help the power play. In 761 career games, the 37-year-old has scored 93 goals — 55 on the power play — and 305 points.
"We look at the young guys we have right now, and with Eric Brewer and now Sami, two real solid high-end character guys who are veteran players that can really help us,'' Yzerman said. "And I really like having the right shot. He's a real solid player, a real pro and he'll fit in well and be a good leader for our team.''
The big risk regarding Salo is staying healthy.
Not since before the lockout has Salo been able to play in more than 69 games in a season due to various injuries. He has suffered a torn Achilles' tendon playing floor ball during summer training in his native Finland, an MCL sprain to his right knee, a broken wrist, a broken nose from a teammate's clearing pass, groin issues, shoulder injuries, back pain and a concussion.
But Yzerman said he is not concerned.
"I have a good idea of the history of his injuries and none of these — knock on wood — are the type that are joint related or degenerative thing that may limit a player's career,'' Yzerman said. "I just think he's been banged up and missed games because of various things. To the best of our knowledge he's in good shape and we hope he's healthy and can play a majority of games for us.''
For Salo, who fielded several offers Sunday, he saw a good fit with the Lightning and knew about the situation in Tampa Bay during previous conversations with former Canucks' teammate and current Lightning defenseman Mattias Ohlund.
"I feel that they have a strong group of guys, a great nucleus of guys who are really good players,'' Salo said. "I feel there is a really good chance of making something special happen. I'm really excited.''
Making the move from a place he called home for nine years was a difficult decision, but Salo believes he landed in the right spot and figures to get plenty of opportunities to feed Steven Stamkos on the top power-play unit.
"Steven is my son's favorite player in the NHL, so he'll be excited but for sure when you have players like that on your side you will be feeding them pucks," Salo said. "And when they score 50 goals a year, you better get the puck to them.''