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Thrashers deal for Dvorak; re-sign Stuart

by John Manasso
ATLANTA -- The Thrashers moved on Monday to retain a newly-acquired piece whom they seem to like and to part with one who was having trouble fitting in.

They re-signed defenseman Mark Stuart, 26, to what the team called a "multiple-year contract." The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported the deal was three years and $5.1 million.

They also traded right wing Niclas Bergfors, 23, a member of the 2010 All-Rookie team, to Florida for right wing Radek Dvorak, who will be 34 next week.

In addition, Fredrik Modin, 36, was sent to Calgary for a seventh-round pick. Modin, who had difficulty remaining healthy, recorded 7 goals and 3 assists in 36 games. General manager Rick Dudley said he would have been the odd man out with the other moves the Thrashers made.

Finally, the Thrashers claimed Rob Schremp off waivers from the Islanders and traded minor-league goalie Drew McIntyre to the Canadiens for minor-league defenseman Brett Festerling, who has played in 83 NHL games with Anaheim.

"We improved our penalty kill, we got a little younger," Dudley said. "We think we added some pieces who can help us. We added some versatility. We allowed a couple of things to happen for the particular good of that player because he might have been the odd man out, and we added some depth on the blue line."

In four games with Atlanta, Stuart has been even twice and minus-1 twice. He has averaged 14:38 of ice time over the last three games and become a mainstay on the penalty kill, a unit that ranked 28th entering Sunday's games. During those three games, the Thrashers have not allowed a power-play goal, killing all 12 chances. He delivered two big hits in a 3-2 comeback victory on Sunday over Toronto -- an area of the game that was sorely lacking from the Thrashers' defense corps.

Dudley said if the Thrashers did not sign him now, his price only would have gone up as July 1 approached, as he was set to be an unrestricted free agent. Stuart came to Atlanta on Feb. 18 from Boston along with forward Blake Wheeler for forward Rich Peverley and minor-league defenseman Boris Valabik. His brother Colin was in the Thrashers' organization for several seasons and he said he has immediately taken a liking to the team and the area.

Prior to taking over as Thrashers coach last June, Craig Ramsay worked with Stuart for three seasons as an assistant coach on the Bruins.

"It was nice," Stuart said. "Coming here I didn't really expect anything. Just try to come in and play well and help the team. I like it here a lot. I've only been here a short time, but I'm very comfortable here and I like the people and I think the team has a lot of potential."

Unlike Stuart, who has seemed to fit in seamlessly, Bergfors struggled all season to do the same, though he totaled 11 goals and 29 points in 52 games. He was also minus-11. He was a key component of the Thrashers' trade last season in which Ilya Kovalchuk was shipped to the New Jersey Devils.

Dudley pointed out that Bergfors had only 1 goal in his last 14 games.

"Bergie's a streaky player," Dudley said. "We were in a situation where we needed him to be streaky the other way. We anticipated that in putting in a claim on Robbie Schremp, who is a similarly gifted offensive player but is much more versatile in that he can play all three forward positions and that's an asset."

The Thrashers also sent minor-league Patrick Rissmiller to Florida in the Dvorak trade and received a fifth-round pick from the Panthers.

After making the deal for Wheeler, 24, and Stuart, Dudley said he would not trade for a 35-year-old, but Dvorak almost fits that bill. Dudley rationalized the move by saying the Thrashers got younger with the addition of Schremp and that they wanted to improve their penalty kill and he thinks of Dvorak as a top penalty killer.

Dvorak has plenty of playoff experience -- he was a rookie on the 1996 Panthers team that played in the Stanley Cup Final -- but not as much production. In 39 games, he has 2 goals and 5 assists, but is a plus-1. Most likely, he will play on the team's third line. He has 7 goals and 14 assists in 53 games for Florida, which is one of the League's lowest-scoring teams.

"With Dvorak, it's because he's played well when we watched him this year and it's because of the penalty kill," Dudley said. "We haven't given up on anything this year. ... It's been kind of a bane of our existence this year, the penalty kill, and he helps that. We think that Stuart helps that, we think Wheeler helps that. A lot of our moves have, at least in some part, been to address that."

Bergfors' ice time had decreased precipitously in recent weeks. In the last nine games, he topped more than 12 minutes of time on ice only three times and twice he played less than 10 minutes. He also was a minus in six of those games -- though the entire team has struggled mightily, winning just twice in that span.

He lost his spot on the top line to Wheeler and also was getting less time on the power play.

Dudley said last week he thought Ramsay was trying to send Bergfors a message through his ice time, but conceded that Bergfors can score and that he was getting calls on him.
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