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Devils turn back the clock with Rolston, Holik

by Brian Compton

Brian Rolston was one of many players to change addresses yesterday signing a four-year contract with New Jersey.
Rolston highlights
Anyone who expected the opening day of free agency to be an active one was not disappointed Tuesday.

Multiple players at every position found new homes. As usual, teams were gunning to change their look up front. Many of the League's 30 teams wasted no time in bolstering their lineups.

While superstars Marian Hossa and Mats Sundin declined to make a decision on the first day, other top-notch forwards changed addresses.

The most prominent player to sign a deal was Brian Rolston, who left the Minnesota Wild to sign a four-year contract with the New Jersey Devils -- the team that drafted him No. 11 overall in 1991. Rolston, who has scored 30 or more goals in each of the last three seasons, had his rights traded from Minnesota to the Tampa Bay Lightning Sunday night. He opted to hit the open market Tuesday and cashed in with one of his former clubs.

The move came just hours after the Devils re-signed forwards Jay Pandolfo, David Clarkson and Barry Tallackson. New Jersey also brought another of its former players back into the mix Tuesday with the signing of veteran center Bobby Holik to a one-year contract.

"You look at what your needs are, and you look at the players that can fill those needs," Devils President, CEO and General Manager Lou Lamoriello said. "These were certainly two players that we felt could do that. Then, it was question of whether you can get it done. Sometimes things work out, sometimes they don't. In this situation, they did."

Things also fell into place for the Florida Panthers Tuesday with the signing of Cory Stillman to a three-year deal. The two-time Stanley Cup winner has scored 20 or more goals in eight of the past 10 seasons. But his reputation as a solid two-way forward, not to mention is ability to produce at crunch time, is what won over Panthers General Manager Jacques Martin.

"He's a player who has the ability to score some goals but is also a very smart player," Martin said. "He's a player that's won two Stanley Cups, and both times he won the Stanley Cups he had tremendous playoffs."

The Lightning remained busy, adding Radim Vrbata and Adam Hall. Vrbata had a career season with the Phoenix Coyotes in 2007-08, scoring 27 goals while adding 29 assists. Despite his six years of NHL experience, Vrbata is only 27.

Hall, meanwhile, is coming off the Pittsburgh Penguins' run to the Stanley Cup Final. He had three goals in 17 playoff games after going 2-4-6 in 46 contests during the regular season.

Pittsburgh was able to keep one of its contributors Tuesday, as it signed Pascal Dupuis to a three-year deal. The Penguins also added toughness to their lineup with the signing of Eric Godard to a three-year contract.

The Boston Bruins enjoyed some success on the first day of free agency, as they signed Michael Ryder to a four-year contract. Ryder had back-to-back 30-goal seasons for the Montreal Canadiens before going 14-17-31 in 2007-08. The Bruins also came to terms with Blake Wheeler, who was selected fifth overall by Phoenix in the 2004 Entry Draft. Wheeler had 15 goals and 20 assists in 44 games for the University of Minnesota this season. The power forward is confident he can make the club out of training camp next season.

"(Having a shot) is all I can ask for," Wheeler said on the Bruins' web site. "At the same time, if I am not ready to make the team, I can go work on my game in a place like Providence (in the American Hockey League) and hopefully -- sooner rather than later -- be ready to play in the (NHL)."

The Toronto Maple Leafs made a splash up front with the signing of Niklas Hagman to a four-year deal. Hagman, 28, appeared in all 82 games for the Dallas Stars, tallying 27 goals and 41 points.

"We are very happy to add Niklas to our team and we look forward to him bringing his speed, grit and scoring touch to our lineup," Maple Leafs General Manager Cliff Fletcher said. "He's a scoring threat while shorthanded and he uses his speed to score clutch goals."

The Devils also brought another of its former players back with the signing of veteran center Bobby Holik to a one-year contract.
Just days after the Maple Leafs bought out the final two years of his contract, Darcy Tucker was scooped up by the Colorado Avalanche, who signed the gritty forward to a two-year deal. Tucker, 33, had 18 goals and 16 assists in 74 games for Toronto. Kyle Wellwood -- who was also cut loose by the Leafs -- signed with the Vancouver Canucks.

"Darcy Tucker gives us scoring ability and a physical presence up front," said Avalanche Executive Vice President and General Manager Francois Giguere. "He's a fierce competitor. We like the combination of qualities he will bring to our roster."

Looking to fill the gap left by Rolston, the Wild quickly signed Andrew Brunette to a multi-year deal. Brunette, who played in Minnesota from 2001-04, had 19 goals and 40 assists for Colorado this season. The Wild also signed 6-foot-4, 220-pound right wing Craig Weller, who had 11 points and 80 penalty minutes in 59 games for Phoenix.

With the hulking Weller out of the mix, the Coyotes signed veteran Todd Fedoruk to a three-year contract. Fedoruk had 13 points and 139 penalty minutes for Minnesota. Phoenix also signed both of its first-round draft picks on Tuesday -- Mikkel Boedker (No. 8 overall) and Viktor Tikhonov (No. 28).

"Todd will add a physical presence to our lineup next season," Coyotes General Manager Don Maloney said.  "He is a tough, intimidating player who will give support to our younger players."

"You look at what your needs are, and you look at the players that can fill those needs. These were certainly two players that we felt could do that. Then, it was question of whether you can get it done. Sometimes things work out, sometimes they don't. In this situation, they did." - Lou Lamoriello
Looking to add another two-way player to the mix, the Philadelphia Flyers believe they found their man Tuesday with the signing of veteran Glen Metropolit to a two-year deal. The 34-year-old had 11 goals and 22 assists for Boston in 2007-08.

The New York Rangers added some depth with the signings of Aaron Voros and Patrick Rissmiller. Voros, who turns 27 on Wednesday, went 7-7-14 with 141 penalty minutes in 55 games for the Wild. Rissmiller, 29, had 17 points in 79 games for the San Jose Sharks.

A handful of restricted free agents also signed new deals Tuesday. Corey Perry was the biggest star to receive a new deal, as he agreed to remain with the Anaheim Ducks through the 2012-13 season. Perry scored a career-high 29 goals for the Ducks this season.

"It's pretty amazing. It's something special," Perry said. "I really wanted to stay in Anaheim. That's home now and I didn't want to leave there. It's a great place to play hockey and it just shows how well that organization is run. You can't ask to play for a better organization than the Anaheim Ducks."

Others who received new deals included David Backes of the St. Louis Blues, but not before the Canucks signed him to an offer sheet. The Blues quickly matched the three-year deal after the 24-year-old had 13 goals, 18 assists and 99 penalty minutes in his first full season in St. Louis.

"David is a major part of our youth movement in St. Louis and we expect him to play a huge role as we move forward," Blues President John Davidson said.


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