VANCOUVER, B.C. – The money was a factor, but what also convinced free-agent forward Mikael Samuelsson to sign with the Canucks was the team’s potential to be a Stanley Cup contender.
Samuelsson, who won a Cup with the Detroit Red Wings, agreed to a three-year deal worth US$7.5 million with Vancouver on Friday. The six-foot-one, 205-pound right-winger also expects to have an increased offensive role with the Canucks.
“It was a bunch of reasons, not only good money,” Samuelsson said during a conference call from Sweden. “Obviously that was the key, I shouldn’t lie.
“They have a good team going and I think my role can be a little different … from Detroit. It’s a good opportunity for me.”
Later Friday, the Columbus Blue Jackets announced the team had come to an agreement on an eight-year contract extension with star winger Rick Nash.
The deal kicks in after next season and runs until 2017-18.
A source told The Canadian Press the deal is worth $62.4 million. The 25-year-old Nash will make $7 million in 2009-10, the final year of his current contract.
“Rick made a significant statement to Columbus and for Columbus in terms of how he feels about playing here,” Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson said. “He loves Columbus; he never wanted to leave. That’s what made me so optimistic all along that we could sign him to an extension.”
Nash, who would have been an unrestricted free agent after next season, set career and team highs last season with his 79 points (40 goals, 39 assists) in 78 games in leading Columbus to its first trip to the playoffs in the franchise’s eighth season.
The Los Angeles Kings also got into the act, acquiring veteran left-winger Ryan Smyth from the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for defencemen Kyle Quincey and Tom Preissing and a fifth-round draft pick in 2010.
In 920 career game with the Edmonton Oilers, New York Islanders and Colorado, Smyth has scored 310 goals and added 350 assists to go along with 733 penalty minutes.
While Samuelsson decided to leave the Red Wings, Ruslan Fedotenko is returning to the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
Fedotenko, who had 16 goals and 39 points in 65 games last season, agreed to a US$1.8-million, one-year deal.
The 30-year-old joined Pittsburgh as a free agent last summer and won his second NHL championship. He also won a Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004.
In 597 career games with Philadelphia, Tampa, Pittsburgh and the Islanders, Fedotenko has 139 goals and 278 points.
Samuelsson spent the past four seasons in Detroit, winning the Stanley Cup in 2008 and falling one game short this year. He also was a member of the Swedish team that won the gold medal at the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics.
The 32-year-old has played 466 career NHL games, scoring 86 goals and 208 points.
The Canucks are a team that has won its division three times over the last five seasons played, but haven’t advanced past the second round of the playoffs since 1994.
Samuelsson likes the Canucks skill level and hopes to bring some playoff experience.
“When you play against Vancouver it’s always a hard game and a skill game too,” he said. “I like the way they play.
“You need some experience (in the playoffs). You really need to be hungry. If you haven’t won it, definitely you are hungry. I believe we can do some damage.”
Lorne Henning, Vancouver’s assistant general manager, said Samuelsson will be among the Canucks top six forwards. He can play the power play and could skate on a line with Swedish twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin.
“He is a right-handed shot which we love about him,” Henning said. “He has a familiarity with the twins. Plus, he’s great on the power play. He has a great shot.
“There are a lot of pluses we like. He’s certainly going to be on the top two lines.”
One thing Henning isn’t concerned about is Samuelsson’s age.
“He is in phenomenal shape,” said Henning. “He works hard. His conditioning is off the charts. We don’t see that as an issue at all.”
Bringing Samuelsson into the fold was the Canuck’s second major signing this week. On Wednesday, the Sedins agreed to matching US$30.5-million, five-year contract extensions just prior to becoming unrestricted free agents.
The team is also believed to be close to signing goaltender Roberto Luongo to a contract extension. He could become a free agent next summer.
Henning said Samuelsson’s history as a Stanley Cup winner and Olympic champion are a bonus.
“He knows what it takes,” Henning said. “You can never get enough guys that are winners.
“We want to build character and he certainly has a lot of that. Winning the Cup is where we want to get. You can never have enough guys that won before.”
Samuelsson laughed when asked if he will wear his Stanley Cup ring into the Canuck dressing room.
“I’m not going to do that the first day,” he said. “If they ask me, and they are serious about it, I’ll probably bring it in.”
The native of Mariefred, Sweden, had 19 goals and 40 points in 81 games last year with Detroit. He collected five goals and 10 points in 23 playoff games.
Samuelsson is the third forward to leave the Red Wings this spring. Marian Hossa and Tomas Kopecky signed with the Chicago Blackhawks earlier this week.
He said Detroit was one of several teams that made him an offer July 1.
“I liked it in Detroit, I have no hard feelings against them,” Samuelsson said. “They came up too short, too late.
“I know they have a cap issue there but that’s how it goes. You play for a team, and it gets better and better. Hopefully you win the Stanley Cup, then the guys leave. That’s how this system is built.”
Samuelsson is excited about what he can do as a Canuck.
“Hopefully I will get a little more ice time, get more opportunities offensively and hopefully defensively as well,” he said. “It’s a great city and I have never played for a Canadian team. That’s exciting for me as well. Hockey is big there.
“Everything fell into the right place in my mind.”
The Canucks still have some holes to fill. Veteran free-agent defenceman Mattias Ohlund signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Backup goaltender Jason LaBarbera also agreed to a two-year deal with the Phoenix Coyotes.
Henning said finding another backup goalie is a priority.
“We are working on that right now,” he said. “We have a lot of options. We’ve talked about a few people. Going forward that is something we are going to address.”
In other NHL moves, the New York Rangers signed Tyler Arnason to a two-way contract.
The 30-year-old spent last season with the Colorado Avalanche, scoring five goals and 22 points in 71 games.
Arnason joins his fourth NHL team after stops in Chicago, Ottawa and Colorado. In 487 career games, Arnason has 88 goals and 245 points.
The Rangers also signed free-agent forwards Corey Locke and P.A. Parenteau.
Locke is a former Canadian Hockey League player of the year who has appeared in one career NHL game – with the Montreal Canadiens in 2007-08. Parenteau suited up in five NHL games with the Blackhawks in 2006-07.
In Phoenix, the Coyotes signed defenceman Shaun Heshka to a one-year contract Friday.
The 24-year-old Heshka was acquired from Vancouver in exchange for the Coyotes’ seventh-round draft choice (187th overall) in last month’s NHL draft.
In other news, Anaheim forward Teemu Selanne told a Finnish newspaper that he will retire from the NHL after the upcoming season.
“The next season is without doubt my last,” he said. “This time my decision will be kept.”
Selanne, a 10-time all-star from Finland, turned 39 Friday.
He entered the NHL 1992 at age 22 with the Winnipeg Jets. In his first season he scored 76 goals, a record for a rookie.
Selanne has scored 614 goals in 1,237 games for Winnipeg, San Jose, Colorado and Anaheim.
-With files from The Associated Press.