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Tampa Bay Lightning signs veteran defenseman Sami Salo; has cap space for another pricey blue-liner

Of those affected by the Lightning's signing of defenseman Sami Salo, perhaps none will be as excited than Salo's son, Oliver.

The 9-year-old is a huge fan of Tampa Bay star Steven Stamkos and patterns his game after him.

"He loves to score goals," Salo said.

But Oliver was sleeping Sunday night when his father, on the first day of free agency, signed a two-year, $7.5 million deal.

"He's going to be thrilled," Salo said by phone from his native Finland. "It will be like Christmas morning when he hears where we're going."

Salo, 37, is going to a team that has big plans for him.

General manager Steve Yzerman envisions Salo as a top-four contributor who plays 20 minutes a game and whose right-hand shot will be a formidable weapon on the power play.

"He is a good, solid player, a real pro, a high-character person," Yzerman said. "He'll be a good leader for our team."

The Lightning also signed left wing Ben Poulit, 25, to a one-year, $1.8 million deal that kept him from becoming an unrestricted free agent; defenseman Artem Sergeev, 19, from Val-d'Or of the junior Quebec league to a three-year, entry-level deal; and minor-league defenseman Evan Oberg, 24, to a one-year, two-way deal.

But for a team determined to replenish its NHL blue line, acquiring Salo, a three-time Olympian, was not only an important step, it might be just the first.

About $13 million under the $70.2 million salary cap (and with only restricted free agent goaltender Anders Lindback to re-sign), Tampa Bay is in position to acquire another high-profile defenseman.

Yzerman acknowledged he inquired about Ryan Suter, the top free agent defenseman available, but the price was too high.

Still available are Matt Carle, Carlo Colaiacovo, Bryce Salvadore and Michal Rozsival. The Lightning also would be interested in trading for Niklas Hjalmarsson if the Blackhawks make him available.

"We feel we're in a good position," Yzerman said.

The only question about Salo, 6 feet 3, 212 pounds, was his health. He has a long history of injuries. In 13 seasons with the Senators and Canucks, he has averaged just 59 games, though he played more than 60 in five of the past six seasons.

Salo has had more than 30 injuries, the Vancouver Sun reported.

"None of these injuries are really joint related or degenerative things that may limit a player's career," Yzerman said. "He's just banged up and missed games because of things. To the best of my knowledge, he's in good shape."

"I'm feeling great," said Salo, who in 69 games last season with Vancouver (he missed six for a concussion and four for a groin) had nine goals, seven power-play goals, 25 points and was plus-7 with an average 20:26 of ice time.

"Last year was probably my healthiest in a long time. I hate when everybody talks about the injuries. A lot of things have gone with bad luck."

Salo said he has "two or three or four years left in me. I feel really good."

But likely not as good as Oliver when he heard his father's new teammate is Stamkos.

"He doesn't have a Stamkos jersey yet," Salo said. "He'll get one, for sure."

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@tampabay.com.

Tampa Bay Lightning signs veteran defenseman Sami Salo; has cap space for another pricey blue-liner 07/01/12 [Last modified: Sunday, July 1, 2012 10:50pm]
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