Thursday, December 14, 2017
Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning's Salo feeling younger than his 39 years

RALEIGH, N.C. — Sami Salo would like to continue playing hockey after this season.

The Lightning defenseman said he still has the passion and the game still is fun. The only question is, at 39 years old, is there still time?

"We'll see during the season how things progress and how I feel," Salo said.

Right now, though, he said, "I don't feel like I'm 39."

For the record, Salo, in his 15th NHL season, is the league's ninth-oldest player. But as coach Jon Cooper said, "I don't look at his age. It's just a number for me. You look at him and say, 'Can the guy play?' And Sami can clearly still play."

Salo has a goal and five points and is plus-2 in 11 games. He has blocked 10 shots and, perhaps most impressive, averages 20:26 of ice time, fourth on the team, while taking regular shifts on the power play and penalty kill.

The 6-foot-3, 202-pound Finn also has been durable with the Lightning, playing 46 of 48 games last season and missing only this season's opener for an unspecified upper-body injury.

That's quite different from his previous 13 seasons, split between the Senators and Canucks, which were marked by significant and frequent injuries.

Those injuries — about 40, Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper once reported, including an Achilles rupture, having his nasal and sinus cavities caved in by a shot, and a testicle bruised by a shot — have at times caused Salo to consider retiring.

That is when Salo has thought about his father, Toivo, who in 1995 died of stomach cancer at age 52 just before Salo played his first pro game in Finland.

"There have been times that's been in my mind: 'Is it really worth it to keep putting yourself out there?' " said Salo, who is in the final year of a two-year, $7.5 million deal. "But that's how I was raised by my dad, who fought cancer and died after three months of battling. That's how I learned to never quit and keep playing until you can't."

Watching Salo play makes one appreciate veteran savvy, especially in a league getting so much younger and faster.

He hardly ever is flustered with the puck, runs the power play from the blue line (though the Lightning surely would like to see more of his big slap shot) and is efficient in his skating.

Older but smarter is how Cooper described it.

"Sometimes it takes Sami less energy to do things than it takes other guys because he knows where the puck is going and what's going to happen," Cooper said. "But when we've asked him to play at pace, Sami has played at pace."

There might come a time when Cooper cuts back on Salo's minutes just to save the defenseman wear and tear, but that is not the plan tonight against the Hurricanes at PNC Arena.

"That he even keeps up with the younger guys, it's something special and unique," said 22-year-old teammate Andrej Sustr.

Said Victor Hedman, Salo's 22-year-old defensive partner: "He doesn't look 39, no way. You can see him going on like this for many more years."

That is something Salo wouldn't mind at all.

CONNOLLY RECALLED: Right wing Brett Connolly was called up from AHL Syracuse, two days after the Lightning was sluggish and outshot 22-17 in a dreary loss at New Jersey.

"We're looking at our forward group not so much to shake things up," general manager Steve Yzerman said. "We just feel Brett can help us out. It gives us a little bit more depth, a little bit more speed, a little bit more size as well."

Connolly, 21, the No. 6 overall pick of the 2010 draft, has zero goals and one assist in six games for Syracuse, but he had four goals during training camp to tie Steven Stamkos for the team lead and had 31 goals last season for the Crunch.

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