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Busy offseason finds big names in new places

by Brian Hunter
The champagne had barely dried on the Chicago Blackhawks' first Stanley Cup championship in 49 years when the Montreal Canadiens and St. Louis Blues engineered a June 17 trade centering around playoff hero Jaroslav Halak, and a summer full of player movement in the NHL was off to a flying start.

Free agency doesn't begin until July 1 but deals can happen anytime, and plenty of them took place in the two weeks after Halak was swapped for prospects Lars Eller and Ian Schultz. In numerous cases, one or more of the players being moved were unrestricted free agents whose former teams felt they had little hope of re-signing them and wanted to get back anything they could instead of just losing the player outright.

Take the case of defenseman Dan Hamhuis, who had played his entire career for the Nashville Predators. His rights were dealt to the Philadelphia Flyers on June 19, but after being unable to come to terms they shipped him six days later to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Ultimately, Hamhuis ended up signing a six-year contract with the Vancouver Canucks.

Few organizations saw more upheaval during the offseason than the Blackhawks, who pulled the trigger on a pair of trades with the Atlanta Thrashers in the span of eight days. Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, Ben Eager and Brent Sopel all ended up Georgia-bound, while Kris Versteeg was sent to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Other Hawks left via free agency -- none bigger than Antti Niemi, who won the Cup as a rookie but was deemed expendable after he received an arbitration award that didn't fit into Chicago's budget. Niemi will now tend goal for the team he helped sweep in the Western Conference Finals, the San Jose Sharks. Adam Burish (Dallas) Colin Fraser (Edmonton) and John Madden (Minnesota) all followed him out of town.

Teams looking to shore up their defense didn't waste any time once the free-agent market opened for business. Day one saw power-play extraordinaire Sergei Gonchar leave Pittsburgh for a three-year deal with the Ottawa Senators. The Penguins quickly responded by plucking up Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek, who had spent their entire careers with the New Jersey Devils and Phoenix Coyotes, respectively.

The Devils made a splash of their own, enticing Anton Volchenkov from Ottawa and Henrik Tallinder from Buffalo with long-term deals. The Sabres also lost Toni Lydman to the Anaheim Ducks but moved to replace him by signing Jordan Leopold, who finished last season with the Penguins.

A pair of long-time Dallas Stars found new homes -- Mike Modano, who began his career during the 1989 Stanley Cup Playoffs when the franchise was still based back in Minnesota, signed a one-year deal with the Detroit Red Wings, where he'll trade in his familiar No. 9 for No. 90. And goaltender Marty Turco will replace Niemi as the main man as the Blackhawks attempt to repeat.

Other goalies to find themselves in new places include: Antero Niittymaki, who left the Tampa Bay Lightning for San Jose, where he'll battle Niemi for playing time; Dan Ellis, who departed Nashville for Tampa, where he'll now comprise the other half of a tandem with Mike Smith; and Johan Hedberg, formerly of Atlanta and now the new backup to Martin Brodeur in New Jersey.

Some players reunited with former teams, perhaps no two more prominent than Olli Jokinen and Alex Tanguay both returning to the Calgary Flames, where they're expected to team with captain Jarome Iginla on a potentially-explosive top line. Jason Arnott, who scored the Cup-clinching goal for the Devils in 2000, was reacquired in a trade with the Predators. Similarly, Pavel Kubina, a member of the Lightning during their championship run in 2004, was brought back to help anchor their defense.

Of course, that's only a small sample of the ever-changing landscape of NHL players -- for more, check out the EA Sports NHL 11 Season Preview show here on

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