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Some Perspective On The Volchenkov and Tallinder Signings

When free agency began today, I expected the Devils to walk away with a solid defensive corps, which included the homegrown Paul Martin. But things turned a different direction, and Martin signed with the rival Pittsburgh Penguins. The Devils responded, signing top free agent defenseman Anton Volchenkov and Henrik Tallinder. The moves, while great, still leave the Devils with a big hole on the blue line.

I could get used to seeing a few more of these big hits next season. Photo Credit: Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images North America

The signings of both Volchenkov and Tallinder signal a change for the Devils defense. In the past few seasons, the team had a stable mix of offensive defenseman and stay-at-home defenseman. But that dichotomy changed today. Bringing in Volchenkov, who blocked 172 shots and dished out 152 hits last season. The defenseman, a big man, will bring a physical presence to the blue line that the Devils have been lacking. The Devils will, without a doubt, will give team’s a tougher time in the defensive zone, something general manager Lou Lamoriello expects next season.

“We’re trying to make us harder to play against in our own end and make it more difficult on the (opposing forwards),” Lamoriello said to Tom Gulitti. “And we’ll do other things. We had a priority and we’re going to keep moving forward.”

The Tallinder signing is two-fold: while he doesn’t bring much in the offensive department, Lamoriello expects the veteran to help mentor the team’s young Swedish players, including top defensive prospect Alexander Urbom, who could become a solid two-way defenseman in the NHL. Lamoriello believed Tallinder could help Urbom like he helped Calder-Trophy winner Tyler Myers.

“In Tallinder, you’ve got somebody 6-4, 240, played under an outstanding coach (Lindy Ruff in Buffalo), mentored (Tyler) Myers in Buffalo this year,” Lamoriello said. “We’ve got three young Swedish players coming in (Jacob Josefson, Mattias Tedenby and Alexander Urbom). He’s 31 years old. He’s in his prime. He’s a mature guy.”

Tallinder is expected to fill the role of Paul Martin and help tutor the young Swedish players, especially Alexander Urbom. Photo CreditJim McIsaac/Getty Images:

But there are some issues the Devils have failed to address with these signings. They still lack a solid, puck-moving defenseman. Tallinder can be seen as a scaled-down Martin, but he’s not the ideal offensive candidate. The team’s only proven offensive defenseman is Andy Greene, and I’m not completely sold on his ability to produce at the level he did last season. The blue line also has some plodders, with Colin White and Bryce Salvador still under contract. Lamoriello did help bring a toughness to the blue line, but he sacrificed offensive skill. And, with the Devils powerplay struggling, the team still needs another puck-moving defenseman.

The other questionable call comes with the length of Volchenkov’s contract. There’s no doubt that Volchenkov will bring a dominating physical presence to the Devils’ blue line. He’ll block several shots, and he can be counted on to make guys think twice about playing the puck out of the corners. Volchenkov is still relatively young at 28, but his contract brings him to age 34. Six years is a long time for a big, physical defenseman, and we can only hope Volchenkov doesn’t break down near the end of the deal.

Overall, I like both of the signings. For the past two years, we’ve watched the Devils get bullied in their own zone. Players like White have lacked a physical style, and the defense hasn’t been as intimidating as in year’s past. Volchenkov should begin to change that style. He can be a shutdown defenseman, and I expect to see a lot more bone-crushing hits with him in the lineup. Tallinder should become a poor man’s Martin and somewhat fill the hole left by Martin. While he won’t bring the same presence as Martin, I’d expect him to well in a Devils uniform.

These shouldn’t be the only two changes the team makes. As I said, the team needs to sign a solid puck-moving defensman, and Ilya Kovalchuk still looms large in an ever-shrinking free agent pool. We’ll see what comes from the next few days, but these are two solid signings for the Devils.

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