Sunday, July 4, 2010

Devils Replace Martin with Volchenkov, Tallinder and Sign Hedberg

By: Tim Brennan

The opening day of free agency was one of the more interesting in recent years, with a limited amount of activity and only a few big names moving elsewhere. No one expected the Devils to do much, as they always tend to make minor adjustments to keep the team competitive. The focus was on Ilya Kovalchuk and Paul Martin and whether they were coming back or flying the coup for more money.

Early on, the Penguins nabbed Martin giving him a 5 year, $25 million deal. GM Lou Lamoriello searched for the right fit in New Jersey to fill the void for the two way ability that Martin left. Instead of grabbing one defender, Lamoriello decided to pluck two defensemen from the free agency tree to fill both needs.

The Devils signed defensive defenseman Anton Volchenkov to a 6 year deal worth $25.5 million while also picking up defenseman Henrik Tallinder and handing him a 4 year, $13.5 million contract.

Volchenkov was considered one of the top defenders on the market this offseason, known for his tremendous shot blocking ability to go with vicious physical play, as shown in the picture above. This past season with Ottawa, Volchenkov tied his career high in goals with 4 to go along with 10 assists for 14 points. As his stats so evidently make it clear, Volchenkov thrives defensively, especially on shutting down the opposing teams top forwards and throwing a body into anything. The "A-Train" has been a regular in the top ten for blocked shots the past five seasons. The Devils haven't had a steady shutdown bruising defenseman since Scott Stevens so anyone who faces the Devils defense next year should be wary of what they will be going up against.

The Tallinder signing was something that Lamoriello had been looking forward to making for a while now. The Devils were impressed by Tallinder's mentoring of Buffalo stalwart Tyler Myers last season and wanted to bring him in to help some of the younger players assimilate into playing at the NHL level. Tallinder's defense is strong but many have questioned his consistency offensively and his inability to utilize his 6'3, 214 pound frame. Along with Volchenkov, Tallinder can play big minutes so don't be surprised to see the Swedish defender paired up with Finnish prospect Anssi Salmela for next season.

Along with addressing defense to make it tougher on the opposition in their zone, the Devils finally picked someone to give Martin Brodeur a breather. The Devils signed Johan Hedberg, who played for the Atlanta Thrashers last season, compiling a 21-16-6 record at the age of 37. Hedberg took over as starter for parts of the 2009-10 season and has always provided quality numbers. He might be on a one year deal, but that doesn't mean that he won't make an impact with the team. Hedberg has averaged 33 games a season over the course of his career and is the right fit as a backup in New Jersey since Martin Brodeur continues to play more than 75 games a season.

It's a no brainer that the Devils were winners thus far in free agency, bolstering their blueline with two key defenders and finally filling the void behind Brodeur.

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