The Vancouver Canucks managed to re-sign some of the team's key personnel over the summer, but what excites coach Alain Vigneault the most as training camp opens is the addition of two free agents who have won Stanley Cups.
Forward Mikael Samuelsson, who won a Cup with the Detroit Red Wings, and defenceman Mathieu Schneider, a member of the 1993 Montreal Canadiens that won the NHL championship, were among the 40 players who participated in medicals and fitness testing at UBC's Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre Saturday.
"I love the fact we've signed two guys that have won the Stanley Cup," said Vigneault. "The experience, that maturity added to our group, will definitely help this team.
"We have a lot of young players that are in the developing process. When you add elements that have won, know what it takes to handle the moments and the pressure of those situations, it should help our group."
Schneider, the 40-year-old veteran who will be playing for his ninth club in 19 seasons, thinks he can provide a calm during the long, sometimes stormy season.
"I've been in every situation imaginable," said the soft-spoken New York native. "For the most part I think it's bringing a calmness to the dressing room, to an organization.
"Young guys are very emotional. You have to take your emotions out of it at times. Your highs can't be too high and your lows can't be too low. I think when you learn that, it makes playing on a day-to-day basis in this league a lot easier."
Schneider, who signed a one-year, US$1.55-million deal, may not play every night. When he does dress, he could be used to help quarterback the power play. He currently is rehabbing a torn rotator cuff and may not play until the regular season begins.
In Samuelsson, 32, the Canucks gained a six-foot-one forward who scored 19 goals and added 21 assists in 81 games for the Red Wings last year.
He comes to the Canucks hoping to have an increased offensive role.
"I wish it should be that way," said the native of Mariefred, Sweden, who agreed to a three-year, US$7.5-million contract. "Do I take it for granted? No.
"I have to play my best hockey to make that happen and hopefully I will."
Vancouver won the Northwest Division last season with a 45-27-10 record for 100 points. They swept the St. Louis Blues in the opening round of the playoffs before being defeated in six games by the Chicago Blackhawks in the second round.
When the season ended there were questions about the future makeup of the franchise. Twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin were scheduled to become free agents and all-star goaltender Roberto Luongo was entering the final year of his contract.
General manager Mike Gillis signed the twins to five-year, US$30.5-million contracts on the eve of free agency. He then gave Luongo a 12-year, US$64-million extension.
After losing veteran Mattias Ohlund as a free agent, Gillis added depth to the blue-line by acquiring defenceman Christian Ehrhoff and Brad Lukowich from the San Jose Sharks and signing Schneider.
They join a defence that already has Kevin Bieksa, Alex Edler, Willie Mitchell, Shane O'Brien and Sami Salo.
Up front, forward Alex Burrows will be hoping to improve on last season where he had 28 goals and 23 assists playing on a line with the twins.
Luongo, the Canucks' captain, said there is a positive feel as the team gets ready for the season.
"It's a big year for the team," he said. "We've added some pieces this summer. We're excited to come here and build on what we've done the last three years and take a big step forward."
Having two veterans who have sipped champagne from the Cup can't hurt, said Luongo.
"It brings the experience that they've been there and they've done it," he said. "They know what it takes to get through it.
"Just to bring a little more experience in that regard in the locker room is going to be huge, especially when we get down to being in those situations at the end of the year."
The players begin skating Sunday, and the Canucks play their first exhibition game Monday against the New York Islanders in Terrace, B.C.
"People think that we as coaches or management cut players," said Vigneault. "We don't do that. Players cut themselves or they play themselves on the team, depending on how well they do during training camp.
"We think we've got much better depth at all positions than we've had in the past. We're looking forward to see that good, internal competition that there is during training camp and we'll let the players decide."
Vigneault didn't want to comment on reports he is close to signing a three-year contract extension.
"As you know, we don't discuss contract situations," he laughed. "But at the end off the day, if I can continue my time here with the Vancouver Canucks, I would certainly consider it."
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