Sami Salo is perhaps the Canucks most widely beloved current player. The mild-mannered, oft-injured Finnish defenseman has earned the perpetual admiration of the fan-base, and clearly his team-mates, with his understated demeanor and solid play. But can this admiration and respect go too far and morph into preposterous hyperbole?
In the case of Chris Higgins yesterday, apparently it can. Talking to Gordon Macintyre, Chris Higgins had this to say about Sami Salo:
In fact, Higgins said, Salo’s game is similar to Nick Lidstrom’s in his calming presence, outstanding positioning and quick, pin-point break-out passes.
“The little things Lidstrom does that makes him so effective, Sami does all those things just as well as Lidstrom does,” Higgins said. “Sami never makes many thunderous bodychecks because his gap is so good he forces the guys he’s defending against to get rid of the puck before they want to.
He almost never makes a mistake, it’s pretty impressive. He’s one of the best defencemen in the league.”
Objectively there is not much that Sami Salo does "just as well" as Nicklas Lidstrom. With the exception of the velocity on Salo’s slapper, and his ability to win hearts in Vancouver, Lidstrom is a far superior defenseman in all phases of the game. Pointing this out isn’t belittling to Sami Salo, who most would agree is an exceptionally capable, under-rated defenseman, it’s just that Lidstrom is one of the greatest blueliners of all time. He’s in a different class!
Now lets not over-state what Higgins meant by this comparison. Sussing out the context behind Higgins’ exaggerated praise for his teammate, what I believe the American winger intended to communicate was that Sami Salo plays a cerebral type of two-way game that is reminiscent of what Lidstrom does in Detroit. Over the past five or so seasons, both veteran defensemen have adjusted their games to compensate for their advanced age (and in Salo’s case fragility). As their overall physicality has slowly abandoned them, they’ve both managed to maintain a superior level of play as a result of the "little things" that Higgins is pointing out: their "calming presence," the quality of their passing, and their gap control.
Before Sami Salo went down with a concussion in Boston a couple of weeks ago, he was having an incredibly good season. Many close observers believe that he’s been as essential to the team’s success this season as anyone else on the team. He’s a responsible defensive presence, plays in all situations, and his disruptive shot is a pitch-perfect compliment to the Sedins control game. Basically, Salo is totally deserving of the sort of praise Higgins lavished on him yesterday, but drawing comparisons to Nicklas Lidstrom? That’s a reach.
These sorts of comments often pass by unnoticed in mid-January, it’s the type of fumble that can quickly become bulletin board material and troll-y press fodder in the postseason. While I’d like to see the Canucks be a bit more careful when comparing teammates to all-time NHL greats who are active players on rival teams; admittedly I’m probably just leery and overly sensitive about this sort of thing after Luongo’s "easy save for me" gaffe, and the Tire Pump absurdity that followed it last June.