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Beyond the Kovalchuk drama

9/21/2010

The consensus among most hockey fans is the 2010 offseason has been one we would much rather forget. Following a spirited Stanley Cup win by the Chicago Blackhawks, we were gleefully looking forward to discovering which teams would land key players, such as forward Ilya Kovalchuk and defenseman Tomas Kaberle. Instead, the summer's headlines were dominated by Kovy's questionable contract with the New Jersey Devils, much squabbling between the NHL and the players' association regarding said dodgy contract (and others), and eventually a sweep-it-all-under-the-rug conclusion that involved a fine plus the confiscation of future Devils' draft picks. Ugly stuff all around, even without mentioning the world debut of "Score: The Hockey Musical," the horrid icing on an already very sour cake.

Regardless, even though Kovalchuk and Kaberle haven't budged, there were some key moves involving several valuable fantasy assets. Here's your top 13 offseason transitions involving forwards and defensemen, a Baker's Dozen, if you will, in no particular order.

Olli and Flames decide to give it another go

Olli Jokinen and the Calgary Flames are hoping the second time's a charm, since his first stint with the team was hardly a rousing success. Very few outside of those immediately involved saw this move coming. Jokinen collected 50 points in 75 games in his two previous partial seasons wearing the red and black, but his lack of chemistry with Jarome Iginla was most discouraging. Jokinen says it's going to be different this time, telling reporters he feels great mentally and physically and promises to shoot the puck far more often. The Flames other major acquisition may help matters. After last season's disappointing turn with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Alex Tanguay makes his return to the only team with which he has broken the 80-point barrier.

It's not a sure bet, but if Tanguay, Jokinen and Iginla are on the same page as linemates, this trio could be mighty dangerous and highly productive.

Penguins lose one, gain one

As one of the elite offensive-defensemen in the biz, it doesn't matter which team Sergei Gonchar calls his own, he's going to make those skating around him more productive. You can expect better things from the Ottawa Senators' top power-play unit while Gonchar acts as quarterback, and more goals at even strength to boot. Even fellow defenseman Filip Kuba stands to benefit as Gonchar's blue-line partner with the man advantage. If Kuba can stay healthy, that is.

Paul Martin was snatched up by the Pittsburgh Penguins to help fill the void left in Gonchar's absence. However, Martin's role won't be the same as it was with the New Jersey Devils; the Pens will rely more on Alex Goligoski and Kris Letang in terms of production, especially with the man advantage. Thereby significantly muting whatever fantasy value Martin had in the past.

Byfuglien switches position (yeah...whatever)

As one of several players let go by the Chicago Blackhawks shortly after they won the Stanley Cup, Dustin Byfuglien is apparently changing more than just the crest on his jersey. As a new member of the Atlanta Thrashers (along with Andrew Ladd and Brent Sopel) Byfuglien is moving back to defense, according to coach Craig Ramsay. Yeah, sure he is. For a couple of weeks maybe, and then the Thrashers won't be able to resist the temptation of plunking the Big Buff's big body right in front of the opposition's goal any longer. It won't matter that Byfuglien prefers to play on the blue line, especially since the team's defensive corps is already in fairly decent shape.

Foster opts to skate for Oilers

The power-play specialist will be just as effective as a member of the Edmonton Oilers as he was with the Tampa Bay Lightning last season when he garnered 42 points in 71 games. More so, if Sheldon Souray hits the road; and really, it's going to happen at some point, the only question is "when."

In turn, the Lightning snagged Pavel Kubina, formerly of the Atlanta Thrashers. Kubina takes over Foster's role wholly and fully on the team's top power-play unit.

Arnott dons an old jersey in New Jersey

Jason Arnott is a once and former New Jersey Devil, but a lot has changed since 2002. For one thing, Ilya Kovalchuk is now a member of the team (had you not heard?) and is expected to skate on Arnott's left side. That's splendid news for the 35-year-old following several years of centering players not named Kovalchuk with the Nashville Predators. Arnott had 76 points with the Dallas Stars five years ago; if he can stay healthy this season -- a concern, admittedly -- the 35-year-old will reach that number again.

To replace Arnott, the Predators signed free agent Matthew Lombardi. On the Preds' top line between Steve Sullivan and Patric Hornqvist, Lombardi is capable of up to 60 points through a full season.

Tampa trades for Gagne

Remember how excited Alex Tanguay was to join fellow Quebec natives Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis with the Tampa Bay Lightning last year? And how pumped we were about the potential harmony between three top-line guys who were more than a little happy to be playing together? Yeah, well, that experiment was just a step or two short of being a complete disaster. Fast forward 12 months and the story is similar, except you can substitute Simon Gagne's name in for the departed Tanguay. Hopefully the outcome on the ice is better but there's no guarantee.

On the upside, in light of how well Steven Stamkos played last year, the weight of pressure is off Lecavalier's shoulders (no one expects much at this point) so he can relax and hopefully produce on the Lightning's No. 2 line. If Gagne can stay healthy, and he feels great at the time of this writing, the former Philadelphia Flyer and his new linemate, Lecavalier, may pleasantly surprise us after all.

Wisniewski joins the Isles

The New York Islanders' defense improves significantly with the signing of James Wisniewski. The former Anaheim Duck's above-average passing abilities compliment Mark Streit's offensive talents nicely, at even strength and with the man advantage.

As for the Ducks, following Wisniewski's departure and Scott Niedermayer's retirement, the offensive load rests almost solely on Lubomir Visnovsky's shoulders. Outside of the odd contribution from Toni Lydman and Luca Sbisa, Visnovsky will run the show and dominate in terms of minutes at even-strength and with the power play. Watch Visnovsky contribute to the score sheet most nights, like he did with the Los Angeles Kings from 2005 until 2007.

Rangers hope for the best from Frolov

In one of the offseason's most intriguing moves, the New York Rangers opt to roll the dice with Alexander Frolov. At times an outstanding presence, Frolov has been faulted often in the past for not, well, trying hard enough. Perhaps a change of scenery will help, not to mention a short contract. Signed to a one-year deal, it would be in the 28-year-old's best interest to bring his best game to the ice most nights. As a second-line winger and asset on the power play, you can anticipate upwards of 30 goals and 65 points from Frolov. If he has the right attitude, of course.

After losing Frolov to the Rangers and failing to entice Kovalchuk to the West Coast, the Kings signed winger Alexei Ponikarovsky. If he manages to use his big frame to create space and opportunities for himself and his teammates, Ponikarovsky has a fair amount of potential to produce consistently as a top-six forward and power-play skater.

A very happy Horton lands in Beantown

No one is more thrilled about Nathan Horton joining the Boston Bruins than Horton himself. Projected to skate on the top line with center Marc Savard, the former Florida Panther can hardly contain his excitement at the prospect of competing with a genuine contender. He claims to love the "sports mad" Boston area; he can't say enough about how welcoming his new teammates have been; and he's in perfect position for his first 70-point NHL season.

Zherdev and his 'tude arrive in Philly

Nikolai Zherdev could have one heckuva season with the Philadelphia Flyers. Slated to skate with Jeff Carter on the team's top line and No.1 power-play unit, the only element standing in the way of a stellar performance is his own reputed moody and lazy disposition. Hopefully spending all of last season in Russia helped the 25-year-old spoiled brat grow up some, at least. If he has, there's no reason Zherdev can't be a 30-goal scorer.

New "Ray" of hope for Phoenix

The presence of Ray Whitney will do wonders for the Phoenix Coyotes, especially where it concerns the team's power play. Unlike with the Carolina Hurricanes, where Eric Staal is top dog, Whitney will be relied upon to lead the Coyotes when the extra skater is involved. The 18-year veteran also brings a wealth of experience, which can only benefit up-and-comers like Wojtek Wolski, who's just starting to see his full potential. And when considering that Whitney had 77 points just two short seasons ago, it's clear the 38-year-old still has a bit of fuel in the tank.

Versteeg brings Cup-winning experience to T.O.

If former Chicago Blackhawk Kris Versteeg skates on the Toronto Maple Leafs' No.1 line with Phil Kessel, as is foreseeable, he'll net 25 goals and 30 assists. More, if the team manages to procure a skilled and experienced center as a third much-desired piece of the puzzle. Versteeg should really blossom as a top player with the Leafs. As for his budding career as an amateur rapper, we're less optimistic.

Modano moves to the Motor City

Unwanted by the Dallas Stars, Mike Modano joins the Detroit Red Wings as a third-line center and point man on the second power-play unit. Coach Mike Babcock says Modano may very well earn 50 points this season. Not a chance.

Victoria Matiash is a fantasy hockey analyst for ESPN.com