Wings sign defenseman

DETROIT — The Detroit Red Wings’ ever growing roster just got a bit bigger.

The Wings signed veteran defenseman Ruslan Salei to a one-year deal worth $750,000. He could earn up to $350,000 more in bonuses, which can be applied to the 2011-12 salary cap.

This offseason Detroit has been searching for a veteran blue liner to skate with Jonathan Ericsson.

“He brings a little grit, he can skate, he can pass,” Wings general manager Ken Holland said. “He brings a lot of different dimensions. Two things attracted him to us – he thinks we have a chance to win and he really likes playing for Mike Babcock.”

Salei, 35, played for Babcock for two seasons in Anaheim. He will help provide a physical presence along the blue line.

“He plays hard, he’s a competitive guy, he can skate, he can move the puck,” Babcock said. “He’s missed some time with injuries but he’s back in shape and feeling healthy.”

Salei (6-foot-2, 205) missed most of last season with a back injury. He played just 14 games with Colorado finishing with one goal, five assists and 10 penalty minutes.

“I think it really solidifies our top six,” Babcock said. “We think it improves our team drastically. We got six (defenseman) who can play 20 minutes. We don’t have to hide anybody.”

The signing all but means Derek Meech’s days in Detroit are all but over.

Meech, who recently agreed to a one-year deal worth $500,000, was hoping to stick with the Wings as their sixth defenseman to skate with Jonathan Ericsson.

Rookies Jakub Kindl and Brendan Smith were also hoping to earn that sixth spot on the blue line, along with veteran Doug Janik.

The Wings now have 24 players under contract for this season – 14 forwards, eight defensemen and two goalies – which brings their salary cap to just about $59 million.

This year’s cap is $59.4 million. Teams are allowed to go 10-percent over the cap, but must be on it or under it by the start of the season.

Holland also plans to re-sign restricted free agent Justin Abdelkader, which is expected to be a cap hit of $750,000 or $800,000.

With Abdelkader in the fold, it would put the Wings two players over the 23-man roster limit.

“We’re going to be cap friendly on the first day of the season,” Holland said recently. “I’ll worry about it up till that time. It’s an ongoing process. There are teams over the cap in the league and they have to work their way down. You have to be cap friendly once the season starts. That’s what the rules are.”

The likely candidates to be trimmed are Meech, along with either forwards Mattias Ritola or possibly Drew Miller.

Holland has said in the past that he would like to have a cushion of between $500,000 and $800,000 just in case a rash of short-term injuries occurred during the season.

Salei has an interesting tie to another new Red Wing, Mike Modano.

Salei was suspended for 10 games in October 1999 for checking the former Dallas Star from behind into the boards face first. Modano suffered a concussion, a broken nose and strained ligaments in his neck.

Salei, a native of Belarus, was a first-round pick of the Ducks in 1996 (ninth overall). In 842 career games he has 43 goals, 151 assists and 1,017 penalty minutes.

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