VANCOUVER – The Vancouver Canucks got the player they wanted for the time they like.
Free-agent forward Pavol Demitra is excited about throwing off the defensive collar he wore last year in Minnesota and hopes he can score some goals again.
The Canucks signed the 33-year-old Slovakian to a two-year, US$8-million NHL contract Thursday. Vancouver general manager Mike Gillis said Demitra’s versatility is something the Canucks need.
“We saw a premium forward who could play all three forward positions,” said Gillis, who used to be Demitra’s agent. “He’s coming off a season that wasn’t his most productive but he has been a consistent point guy through his career.
“I felt as we were moving along here we wanted a player who could play multiple positions at forward. He seems like a proper fit. He wanted to play here.”
Getting a proper length of contract was as important to Gillis as the money involved.
“One of the things that happened on July 1st that I wasn’t comfortable with was players that were getting long-term deals at premium numbers,” said the rookie GM. “We are plowing a ton of money into player development. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to do that if we have older players on long-term contracts.
“Of all the signings we saw, term was probably the most shocking element of a lot of those contracts.”
In 750 games with Ottawa, St. Louis, L.A. and Minnesota, Demitra has 699 points from 281 goals and 418 assists.
His best season was in 2002-03 when he had 36 goals and 57 assists for St. Louis. Since then his numbers have slipped.
Last year, Demitra had 15 goals and 54 points in 68 games with the Wild. He thinks his production will improve now that he’s out of Minnesota’s stifling defensive style.
“I know what I can do and I can definitely do much more than what I did in Minnesota,” Demitra said in a telephone conference call from Slovakia after a night of celebrating his wife’s birthday
“Minnesota is a special place. We play so much defence. I know I can score much more and I can get much more points.”
Demitra shifted between centre and wing last year. That was frustrating because playing defence is the first responsibility of a Wild centre.
“I like playing all over the ice and I like to make passes and score goals,” he said.
The six-foot, 210-pound Demitra was selected 227th overall by Ottawa in the 1993 NHL draft.
The Canucks also signed defenceman Rob Davison to a one-year, US$560,000 deal. The six-foot-three, 220-pound St. Catharines, Ont., native split last season between San Jose and the New York Islanders.
In 195 NHL games he has three goals, 13 assists and 270 penalty minutes.
“He’s a tough, physical big defenceman,” said Gillis. “He’s a solid guy. We had him targeted for some period of time in that spot.”
So far this summer the Canucks have added forwards Steve Bernier, Darcy Hordichuk, Ryan Johnson and Kyle Wellwood to their roster.
Vancouver is also waiting for free agent Mats Sundin to respond to a two-year, US$20-million offer.
The Canucks, who have over US$10 million of cap room left, are still willing to make some moves but it could be later in the summer.
“We’re constantly exploring as many options that are available,” Gillis said. “There are a number of teams that are talking about trades and different things that probably won’t happen until later in the summer as the cap numbers get completely sorted out.
“We are trying to be up to speed on every possibility to improve the team. We’re being patient but attempting to be as progressive as we can.”
In other moves around the NHL Thursday:
-The Tampa Bay Lightning signed free-agent centre Zenon Konopka to a two-year, US$975,000 contract.
Konopka, a native of Niagara on the Lake, Ont., has played 32 NHL games with Columbus and the Anaheim Ducks. Last year he had 24 goals and 55 points in 62 games with the AHL Syracuse Crunch.
-Former Canuck defenceman Mike Weaver signed a one-year, US$700,000 deal with St. Louis.
Weaver, 30, played 55 games for the Canucks last year, collecting one assist and 33 penalty minutes. In 204 NHL games, he has three goals and 22 assists.
-The Washington Capitals signed forward Eric Fehr to a one-year deal.
Fehr, 22, split last season between the Capitals and the AHL Hershey Bears. He played 23 games for Washington, scoring one goal and adding five assists. The Winkler, Man., native had one goal in five playoff games.
-The Edmonton Oilers signed unrestricted free agent defenceman Jason Strudwick, 33, to a $650,000, one-year contract.
The six-foot-four, 225-pound Strudwick has played 488 games with the New York Islanders, Vancouver, Chicago and the New York Rangers. He has 11 goals, 38 points and 678 career penalty minutes.
-The New York Rangers signed defenceman Vladimir Denisov to a entry level contract.
Denisov, 24, played 66 games for the Lake Erie Monsters of the AHL last year.