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
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 NHL.com.