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Teams gobble up free-agent D-men

by John Kreiser

The New York Islanders obtained the power play help they needed by signing Montreal Canadiens' defenseman Mark Streit to a five-year contract.
Mark Streit video highlights 
Good defensemen always are at a premium in the NHL. That's why teams wasted little time in skimming the cream of this year's crop of free-agent blueliners.

All-Star defenseman Brian Campbell moved from San Jose to Chicago after signing an eight-year deal with the Blackhawks Tuesday, the first day teams could sign free agents. Two-time All-Star Wade Redden, who played 11 seasons with the Ottawa Senators, also is on the move after signing a six-year deal with the New York Rangers.

But big names weren't the only ones changing teams. Mark Streit, one of the keys to Montreal's power-play success during the past couple of seasons, signed a five-year deal with the New York Islanders, whose power play struggled last season. Jeff Finger, who had 19 points in 72 games with Colorado, got a four-year deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Another Colorado defenseman, Kurt Sauer, signed a four-year deal with the Phoenix Coyotes. And Mike Commodore, who finished this past season with Ottawa, signed a five-year contract with Columbus.

Other defensemen opted to stay where they were. Mike Green, a restricted free agent after leading all defensemen with 18 goals in 2007-08, re-signed with the Washington Capitals for four years. Brad Stuart, a deadline-day pickup who played well in Detroit's run to the Stanley Cup, decided to stay with the Red Wings and signed a four-year deal. Michal Rozsival will get the chance to play with Redden after re-signing with the Rangers for four years. And New Jersey kept Bryce Salvador in the fold with a four-year contract.

One other defenseman is changing teams after a trade. The Minnesota Wild acquired Marek Zidlicky from the Nashville Predators for prospect Ryan Jones and a second-round draft pick.

The biggest deal was Campbell's. San Jose paid a huge price to acquire him from Buffalo at the trade deadline and had hoped to re-sign him; instead, the 29-year-old opted to join a Blackhawks team that's loaded with young talent up front and was looking to make a big move.

"They're doing things that are making it known in Chicago and around the League that they want to win," Campbell said. "That was a huge factor. The organization started to make the city take note and provide a lot of entertainment and something the fans could hold onto. I think that's pretty exciting. I've been involved with that, especially in Buffalo the last couple of years. When you get a city behind you, things just go up and up."

Blackhawks General Manager Dale Tallon, a smooth-skating defenseman in his playing days, said he wanted Campbell for his skating ability and power-play skills.

"That's one thing we've lacked," he said. "Our power play has been really sub-par the last three or four years and we needed to upgrade that. He can log a lot of minutes and is similar to Duncan Keith with his feet, probably a little more offensive-minded than Dunc, but those two guys can play a lot of minutes."

So can Redden, 31, who had 10 goals and a career-best 50 points in 2005-06; however, he put up just 36 and 38 points, respectively, in the past two seasons. But the Rangers, whose power play struggled during much of the season, hope he can provide more offense from the blue line.

"They showed they wanted me," Redden said. "New York was the one team that was interested in me right from the get-go."

He'll be sharing the blue line with Rozsival, who had 13 goals and 38 points for the Rangers last season. The 29-year-old Czech native has 28 goals in three seasons with the Rangers and has been their top point producer on the blue line in each of the past two seasons.

They'll both see a lot of Streit, a 30-year-old Swiss native who will take his power-play skills to Long Island. Streit had 13 goals and 62 points for Montreal last season; his 49 assists matched the point production of Isles team leader Mike Comrie. Seven of Streit's goals and 27 of his assists came on the power play.

"Mark was someone we targeted from the beginning and we're thrilled he's an Islander," Isles GM Garth Snow said. "Mark provides us with the stability on the blue line that we were looking for."

Streit is a late bloomer by NHL standards, having played just three seasons at age 30. So is Finger, who at age 28 is coming off his first NHL season. He had eight goals and 19 points for the Avs while averaging 19:57 of ice time.

"Jeff is a player that will bring a much needed physical element to our team," GM Cliff Fletcher said. "He showed tremendous improvement in his game last season and he plays a strong positional game at both ends of the ice."

Though Colorado re-signed Adam Foote and John-Michael Liles on Monday, they will have two holes on the blue line after losing Sauer to the Coyotes. The 27-year-old had a goal and five assists while going plus-17 in 54 games.

"We are excited to add Kurt to our defensive corps," Coyotes GM Don Maloney said of the 6-foot-4, 220-pounder. "We see him as someone who can match up against top forwards and handle a lot of ice time."

Like Sauer, Commodore is known for his physical side -- a commodity that's been in short supply in Columbus. At 6-5 and 228 pounds, he'll provide some muscle in the defensive zone -- his career totals include just 14 goals and 63 points in 296 NHL games -- but 439 penalty minutes. He won a Stanley Cup ring with Carolina in 2006.

The Toronto Maple Leafs lured defenseman Jeff Finger away from Colorado with a four-year deal.
Jeff Finger video highlights 
"He is a physical presence on the blue line, has won championships at various levels throughout his career and we think he will be an excellent addition to our hockey club," Columbus GM Scott Howson said.

The Capitals made sure no one would be able to sign Green to an offer sheet by quickly getting the 22-year-old's name on a new contract.

Green's 18 goals were tops among NHL defensemen, and he was tied for the lead among all players with three overtime winners, earning the nickname "Game Over" in the process. He averaged a team-high 23:38 of ice time and finished the season with 56 points, giving the Caps their first offensive threat on the blue line in several years. He was one of the keys to Washington's late run to the Southeast Division title and is looking for bigger things next season.

"I think a lot of us are going to be a lot hungrier next year when it is time to come to camp," he said. "We have a great thing here. Just the atmosphere and the whole experience has been great."

Stuart, 28, thrived after coming to Detroit from Los Angeles for draft picks at the trade deadline and decided to stay in Hockeytown for four more years.

"I got a pretty good taste of what it means to be on a winning team and I wanted to continue to be a part of that," Stuart said. "It was important to me to try as hard as I could to remain here."

Stuart and Niklas Kronwall gave the Wings an excellent second defense pairing to go along with Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski. He had five points in six games in the Stanley Cup Final, a total exceeded on the Wings only by Conn Smythe winner Henrik Zetterberg.

Salvador, 32, was a deadline-day acquisition by the Devils who opted to stay in New Jersey after just eight games with his new team. He had one goal and 10 assists for 11 points and 54 penalty minutes in 64 games with the Devils and St. Louis Blues last season.

Zidlicky, who had five goals and 43 points in 2007-08, has been a solid point producer for the Predators since being acquired from the New York Rangers in December 2002 and coming to the NHL the next year. Acquiring the 31-year-old Czech is part of the Wild's efforts to generate more offense from the blue line

"Marek is a top offensive puck-moving defenseman who will add tempo to our lineup," Wild GM Doug Risebrough said. "He will complement a defense that is becoming more mobile and skilled, which we anticipate will make our team as a whole more offensive."

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