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Avalanche, Panthers deal defensemen

by Dan Rosen

The Colorado Avalanche took the first step in bolstering their blue line Tuesday afternoon by sending veteran stay-at-home defenseman Karlis Skrastins to Florida for Ruslan Salei, a physical defenseman.

The Avalanche also sent a third-round pick to Florida in the deal.

Colorado is currently 10th in the Western Conference, but is hoping to move up quickly with Monday’s addition of Peter Forsberg and now Salei. The Avalanche later acquired defenseman Adam Foote from Columbus for a first-round pick.

In Salei, who is 33, the Avalanche pick up an 11-year veteran who has 160 points in 741 games. He has 23 points, including 20 assists, this season. Last season, his first in Florida after spending nine in Anaheim, he registered six goals and 26 assists.

Despite the decent offensive numbers, Salei’s physical play is what gets him noticed in the NHL. He is one of the League’s hardest hitters.

Salei led the Panthers with 122 hits and 114 blocked shots prior to the trade. He had a team-high 192 hits and 141 blocked shots last season. He had 75 penalty minutes this season and 912 for his career.

Salei also chews up a lot of ice time. This season he’s averaged more than 23 minutes of ice time per game for the Panthers, which was second behind Jay Bouwmeester. Salei also plays regular minutes on the power play and penalty kill.

Ruslan Salei gives our club a solid and reliable asset on the blueline,” Avs General Manager Francois Giguere said. “We feel he can assume a major role within our defensive corps and provide some added stability in that area.”

In Skrastins, who is also 33, the Panthers acquire a stable, solid, stay-at-home defenseman who had just four points and 20 penalty minutes through 43 games this season in Colorado. Skrastins spent the first four seasons of his career in Nashville before coming to Colorado in 2003.

Skrastins has become known for his durability throughout his career. He played in 495 straight games, an NHL record for a defenseman, before missing a game against Anaheim with a knee injury a year ago Monday.

Skrastins, who is also known for his infectious personality, has twice played for Latvia in the Olympics.

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