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Defensive depth a popular commodity at '10 deadline

by Dan Rosen
For teams that believe a run to the Stanley Cup is possible, depth on the blue line is a necessity. We saw that throughout the trading frenzy that just took place in the NHL -- and former general manager Craig Button wasn't the least bit surprised.

Fifteen NHL defensemen changed teams on Wednesday, and another four were part of trades over the previous two days.

"What happens is when you're looking at a two-month stretch to win the Stanley Cup and through the grind of the playoffs you need depth," Button, an analyst on NHL Network, told "Other teams are trying to wear out your defensemen, and that takes a toll on the players. If you lose a defenseman or you're putting the onus on too few defensemen, at some point something is going to break. Teams that are serious about winning the Stanley Cup and understand what it takes to win the Stanley Cup know you can never go wrong by having depth on the blue line."

Button said the ideal example of a team acquiring depth at the position would be the New Jersey Devils, who gave up a fifth-round draft pick for Martin Skoula. Devils coach Jacques Lemaire coached Skoula for three-plus seasons in Minnesota.

Skoula may only be the Devils' seventh or possibly eighth defensemen, but Button believes it was an easy trade for Lou Lamoriello to make because of Lemaire's familiarity with the player. Also remember that Pittsburgh carried eight defensemen through its Cup run last season.

"For a coach you know what you're looking for, but when you know what a player can give you I think there is a real sense of comfort in saying, 'I know what areas I can use him in and what areas he can excel in,' " Button said. "Martin Skoula is a big man and he's not going to wear down. He's durable, doesn't get hurt. Those are hard games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and Martin Skoula can play in them."

Another defenseman of that type is Andy Sutton, who went from the Islanders to Ottawa on Tuesday in exchange for a second-round draft pick.

Sutton is 34 years old and checks in at 6-foot-6 and 245 pounds. He fills out a blue-line corps that also includes Filip Kuba, Chris Phillips, Anton Volchenkov, Matt Carkner and rookie Erik Karlsson. Chris Campoli is on injured reserve with a left knee problem.

"You have a young defenseman in Karlsson there and, yes, he has a lot of promise and he's going to be a player in this League for a long time, but he doesn't understand the Stanley Cup grind," Button said. "What happens is when you get into the playoffs, your opponent can start to look and say, 'That's an area where we think we can take advantage.' So you want to close those areas off as many of them as you can so you're not vulnerable. Andy Sutton comes into that team and now they can put Karlsson into a situation where he won't be overwhelmed."

Button also liked the move by Ottawa GM Bryan Murray because of Sutton's size. He said if the Senators plan on challenging in the Eastern Conference playoffs, all they have to do is look at the teams they could be going against to see why a big defenseman is important.

"Well, there's Washington, and geez, (Alex) Ovechkin is a big man," Button said. "Then there's Pittsburgh with (Evgeni) Malkin. (Ilya) Kovalchuk in New Jersey is another one. You need these types of big guys to be able to play against those players so your other defensemen don't wear down. It's a terrific trade for Ottawa."

Derek Morris and Dennis Seidenberg are two other defensemen that Button said could play vital roles for their new teams down the stretch. Morris was dealt by Boston to Phoenix; soon after, the Bruins replaced him by nabbing Seidenberg out of Florida.

The Bruins were looking for size on their back end while the Coyotes were looking for some scoring help.

Phoenix knows Morris has a powerful shot that he can use from the point on the power play because he played there for four-plus seasons before the Coyotes traded him to the Rangers at last year's deadline. The Bruins know all about Seidenberg (6-1, 210 pounds) after playing against him in last year's playoffs when he was with Carolina.

"In the Bruins case, if you're going to trade a guy that plays 20 minutes a night, well you better replace that player and you're not going to give a young player those minutes," Button said. "You need to get big, thick guys like Dennis Seidenberg. He's a thick man and he's played in some important games in his career.

"You get a guy that knows the Eastern Conference, too," Button added. "Derek Morris knows the Western Conference, so there won't be a learning curve for him either."

Button sees Phoenix as the perfect example of a team guarding against overusing its top four defensemen.

Not only did they add Morris, but they picked up veteran Mathieu Schneider from Vancouver as well. Their blue line already consisted of Ed Jovanovski, Keith Yandle, Zbynek Michalek, Adrian Aucoin, James Vandermeer and Sami Lepisto.

"I think it just adds some different elements to that group in Phoenix," he said. "Those types of players really can help them."

"Teams need that depth and want the security of having veteran guys or having more players at their disposal."
-- Penguins GM Ray Shero

Several other teams vying for playoff spots or jockeying for position made moves to sure up their blue lines as well.

Nashville got Denis Grebeshkov from Edmonton while Pittsburgh acquired Jordan Leopold from Florida.

"Every team is looking for that depth," said Penguins GM Ray Shero, who two years ago got Hal Gill for depth on the back end. "Teams need that depth and want the security of having veteran guys or having more players at their disposal."

Anaheim picked up Aaron Ward from Carolina before swapping Ryan Whitney to Edmonton for Lubomir Visnovsky. Washington gave Brian Pothier, a prospect and a future draft pick to Carolina, but got Joe Corvo in return. Atlanta also signed 48-year-old Chris Chelios, who's been playing with their AHL team in Chicago.

"If you want to have a deep run, you can not leave yourself short on the blue line," Button said.

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