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Devils early winners in free agency frenzy

by Eric Marin / New Jersey Devils
Volchenkov lays out the Isles' John Tavares.
The Devils were among the busiest clubs Thursday and came away as one of the biggest winners during a frenzied first day of NHL free agency.

The defending Atlantic Division champions bolstered their blueline by signing offensive defenseman Henrik Tallinder from Buffalo and bruising shot blocker Anton Volchenkov from Ottawa. They shored up their goaltending with the addition of Johan Hedberg, who’s expected to share some of Martin Brodeur’s workload in 2010-11.

Though free agent blueliner Paul Martin departed for Pittsburgh, there was no putting a damper on what was clearly a very successful day for Devils’ President/CEO/GM Lou Lamoriello.
“The two [defensemen] that we got certainly bring two different types of dimension to our team,” Lamoriello said in a conference call. “Volchenkov, we certainly have played against enough, and he’s going to do something in our zone that we have not had recently, in fact since Scott Stevens left. He’s going to make it very difficult to play in that zone and he will complement the [Colin] Whites and the [Bryce] Salvadors.”

Volchenkov, 28, doesn’t shy away from the big hit. He collected four goals and 10 assists in 64 games last season with Ottawa while averaging 20:41 of ice time. A Russian Olympian in 2006 and 2010, the Moscow native recorded a career-best plus-37 rating in 2006-07. Volchenkov and the Senators went on to reach the Stanley Cup Final that year, losing to Anaheim in five games.

Tallinder seen as a capable mentor.
Tallinder, 31, tallied four goals and 16 assists with a plus-13 rating for the Sabres in 82 games last season, averaging 20:36 of ice time. A member of the 2010 Swedish Olympic team, Tallinder had a key role in mentoring 2010 Calder Trophy winner Tyler Myers in Buffalo. He’ll be counted on for a similar positive influence on the Devils’ crop of highly-regarded Swedish prospects.

“Tallinder, we’ve always liked him,” Lamoriello said. “We played against him enough in Buffalo. In particular, for me, he came to the forefront on the job he did playing alongside Myers and how he helped him along. There was another factor in that: we have three young Swedish players, one defenseman in [Alexander] Urbom and two young forwards in [Mattias] Tedenby and [Jacob] Josefson, who will be given every opportunity to make this team. We thought he would be just perfect in helping them develop and come along.”

Hedberg, 37, brings nine seasons of NHL experience. Last year, he posted a 21-16-10 mark with a 2.62 goals-against average, .915 save percentage and three shutouts in 47 games with Atlanta. He’s made 30 or more appearances in three straight campaigns, and figures to add a reliable No. 2 to New Jersey's goaltending stable.

That, Lamoriello, hopes, will give Brodeur more of an opportunity to rest. Though Brodeur led the League in wins (45) and shutouts (9), the 38-year-old future Hall of Famer also topped all goalies in games played (77).
Hedberg ready to step in.
“He’d love to play every day,” said the Devils’ GM. “We’d love to get him to slow down a little and take a practice off here and there, he won’t even do that. I think it’s necessary, but I don’t think it’s a disrespect to him. It’s just to keep him fresher. Hedberg understands his role, and he’s looking forward to it. He’s extremely excited, in fact, all three players, I was really pleased with the conversations I had with them today.”

Though July 1 opened the bidding on the League’s free agents, there’s still a long way to go before the puck drops in October. Time will tell whether the Devils will have more moves to make.

“We are where we’re at,” Lamoriello said. “I can’t say whether something will happen or won’t happen because you never know. But we still feel there’s some things that we’d like to do to get better whether it’s today, next week. We made a decision coming into this period that we were going to, first of all, set some priorities, and that is, get our defense better. I believe this defense is better than it was last year, right now, and we were trying to get an experienced backup goaltender to relieve some of the pressures of Marty. I’d like to think we did that.”

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