While the addition of Ilya Kovalchuk dominated the headlines for the New Jersey Devils during the summer months, General Manager Lou Lamoriello also radically changed the look of his defense corps, adding two veteran backliners who figure to make life all the more pleasant for goalie Martin Brodeur in Anton Volchenkov and Henrik Tallinder.
"We're trying to make us harder to play against in our own end and make it more difficult on the (opposing forwards)," Lamoriello said after the signings.
As the 2010-11 season takes shape, four defensemen who earned minutes in New Jersey last season have moved on. Paul Martin signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Mike Mottau wasn't re-signed. Johnny Oduya was part of the package that went to the Atlanta Thrashers to pry Kovalchuk away, and veteran Martin Skoula signed in Europe.
The loss of Martin, a longtime Devil, had the potential to be a real stinger, but Lamoriello jumped into the free-agent market in a big way, coming away with the physical game of Volchenkov and the all-around skills of Tallinder.
"We made a decision coming into this period and we were going to set some priorities, and that's to get our defense better," Lamoriello said, "and I believe our defense is better than where it was last year."
Those two veterans, with 896 regular-season games between them, will add plenty to the New Jersey defense, which returns Bryce Salvador, Andy Greene, Colin White and Mark Fraser.
"With 'Volchy,' he may sometimes have more saves than Marty the way he plays the game," Kovalchuk told reporters when asked to describe Volchenkov's strong defensive game. "He blocks all the shots. He reminds me a little of Scotty (Stevens), so I think he can play the same style of hockey and that's maybe what Jersey was missing."
Lamoriello agrees with the Stevens' comparison, which is huge in New Jersey where the Hall of Fame defenseman and captain of the Devils' three Stanley Cup teams remains a revered figure.
"He's going to do something in our zone that we haven't done since Scott Stevens left," Lamoriello told reporters after signing Volchenkov, "and that's make it very hard to play in our zone."
Volchenkov, 28, is known as the "A Train," but at 6-foot-1, 226 pounds, he also could be called a truck, a tank, an earth-mover -- take your pick. He devours shots, as evidence by his 172 blocks in 64 games last season, good for 8th overall. Volchenkov also had 154 hits, so he is pretty active in his zone. He also scored 4 goals and 10 assists in 64 games, but any offensive contributions are a bonus.
"Scotty (Stevens) was a great shot-blocker," Devils coach John MacLean told reporters. "Kenny Daneyko was a great shot-blocker. They were great shot blockers, but they weren't sliding all over. They were always in position to play. He's a positional D. When he gets in front, he knows how to get in front of shots, which is a great thing."
"I think Tallinder is a very good pickup," MacLean told reporters. "He moves the puck really well. He skates well. He's a veteran, big and a good defenseman. In this league, it's about turning the puck back up and getting it up the ice and he makes the good first pass."
Last season, Tallinder, 31, scored 4 goals and 16 assists and was a plus-13 for the Buffalo Sabres and spent eight seasons in Buffalo.
"We've got three young Swedish players coming in (Jacob Josefson, Mattias Tedenby and Alexander Urbom)," Lamoriello said. "He's 31 years old. He's in his prime. He's a mature guy."
"I'm more of a Swedish-oriented defenseman," Tallinder told Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record. "You play the angles. You try to be in the right position. I have decent mobility, decent puck skills. I'm kind of all-around, not too good at anything and not too bad at anything."