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Defensemen find new homes for 2007-08

by Brian Compton

Defenseman Brian Rafalski fled New Jersey after seven seasons, signing a new five-year contract with the Red Wings for $30 million.
Not even Ray Bourque got to spend his whole career with one team.

On March 6, 2000, the five-time Norris Trophy winner left the Boston Bruins after 21 seasons in a deal that sent him to the Colorado Avalanche. The move paid off for both Bourque and the Avs, as Colorado went on the win the Stanley Cup in 2001. It was the only championship of Bourque’s illustrious career.

Few thought Bourque would ever leave Boston, but the rebuilding Bruins respected his desire to win a championship. In the end, Bourque is among a long list of defensemen who have had more than one home over the years.

This summer, some of the NHL’s top defensemen were traded; others changed teams via free agency. takes a look at a dozen defensemen who have new homes this season:

Brian Rafalski, Detroit Red Wings -- After seven stellar seasons in New Jersey, the 34-year-old Michigan native signed a five-year, $30 million deal with the Detroit Red Wings on the opening day of free agency.

Rafalski’s offensive abilities, combined with his postseason experience (two Stanley Cups), will be invaluable in Hockeytown, where he should blend right in with Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom and veterans like Chris Chelios.


Mathieu Schneider, Anaheim Ducks -- Ducks GM Brian Burke was worried about the possible retirement of Scott Niedermayer, so he moved quickly and signed the offensive defenseman (52 points in 68 games last season with Detroit) to a two-year deal worth $11.25 million on July 1.

While Niedermayer is as close to irreplaceable as one can get, Schneider will at least help ease the pain if the Anaheim captain calls it a career.

Adrian Aucoin, Calgary Flames -- At 34, Aucoin is looking for a rebirth in Calgary after two dreadful and injury-filled seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks (22 points in 92 games. When he’s healthy, Aucoin provides a tremendous slap shot from the point and leadership in the locker room.

If Aucoin can be the player he was for the New York Islanders from 2001-04, the Flames could move beyond last season’s first-round playoff elimination.

Scott Hannan, Colorado Avalanche -- One of the toughest defensemen in the League to play against, the 28-year-old bolted San Jose this summer to sign a four-year, $18 million contract with the Avs.

While he hasn’t put up a lot of points in the past, Hannan could enjoy a breakout season offensively in Colorado. But Hannan’s arrival on the blue line, along with the addition of Ryan Smyth up front, should get Colorado back in the playoffs.

Sheldon Souray, Edmonton Oilers -- His 100 mph slap shot was simply too hard to ignore for Oilers GM Kevin Lowe, who signed the 6-foot-4, 230-pound blueliner to a five-year, $27 million deal 12 days into the free agency period.

While Souray’s offensive skills are undeniable (he scored a career-high 26 goals in Montreal last season), the Oilers have to hope he can improve from the minus-28 rating he posted last season with Montreal.

Roman Hamrlik, Montreal Canadiens -- Montreal had a big hole on the blue line after Souray left, and GM Bob Gainey opted to fill it by paying the top overall pick from the 1992 Entry Draft (Tampa Bay) $22 million over the next four years.

While Hamrlik lacks Souray’s rocket shot, he is a capable power-play quarterback. More important to Gainey is that he’s an upgrade from Souray in his own end.

Tom Poti, Washington Capitals -- The 30-year-old opened eyes across the NHL last season as perhaps the New York Islanders’ most reliable defensemen. The Caps rewarded him on the opening day of free agency with a four-year deal that will pay him $3.5 million annually.

Not only did Poti consume a ton of ice time for the Isles last season, he also chipped in offensively. In 78 games, the Massachusetts native tallied six goals and 38 assists. He could eclipse those totals total this season if he receives some power play time alongside Alexander Ovechkin.

Andy Sutton, New York Islanders -- The Isles lost veterans Poti and Sean Hill to free agency, but recovered nicely by signing the 6-foot-6 Sutton to a three-year deal on Aug. 10.

Sutton’s biggest asset to the Isles will be his ability to block shots. Though he appeared in only 55 games for the Atlanta Thrashers last season, Sutton still finished 19th in the NHL with 162 blocks. The 245-pound defenseman should log plenty of minutes and has no problem when it’s time to stick up for his teammates.

The Philadelphia Flyers were able to  pry Predators' captain Kimmo Timonen away from Nashville with a new six-year, 37.8 million contract in the off-season.
Kimmo Timonen, Philadelphia Flyers -- The new-look Flyers have a new leader on the blue line. The former Nashville Predators’ captain, a free agent-to-be, was dealt to the City of Brotherly Love before he came on the market, and Philadelphia quickly locked up the 32-year-old by signing him to a six-year deal worth $37.8 million.

An offensively gifted defenseman, Timonen went 13-42-55 with a plus-20 rating last season in Nashville. A leader on and off the ice, Timonen will help provide the stability on the blue line that Philadelphia was so visibly lacking last season, when the Flyers allowed a league-worst 303 goals.

Brad Lukowich, Tampa Bay Lightning: After two seasons in the New York metropolitan area with the Islanders and New Jersey Devils, the stay-at-home blueliner returns to the place where he won a Stanley Cup in 2004.

Lukowich, who signed a three-year deal with the Lightning on July 3, should do his part in his own zone as Tampa Bay seeks to cut down on the 261 goals it allowed last season, the most of any Eastern Conference playoff team.

Joni Pitkanen, Edmonton Oilers -- Will a change of scenery do anything for this enigmatic defensemen?

Pitkanen, 24, was dealt to the Edmonton Oilers by the Philadelphia Flyers on July 1 following three frustrating seasons. While Pitkanen put up 43 points for the last-place Flyers in 2006-07, his minus-25 was too much to bear for GM Paul Holmgren. The Oilers hope a change of scenery will bring out the best in the No. 4 overall pick in the 2002 Draft.

Jason Smith, Philadelphia Flyers -- The Oilers wanted more offense from their defensemen, the Flyers wanted more defense — so Smith and Pitkanen changed teams.

Smith, the Oilers’ captain for five seasons, had just two goals and 11 points last season, but provides a physical presence in his own zone and leadership in the locker room -- important commodities on a team that had little of either one last season.

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