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Zhitnik to help Isles replace Aucion

NEW YORK -- The New York Islanders signed defenseman Alexei Zhitnik
on Tuesday to a four-year deal just hours after losing Adrian
Aucoin to the Chicago Blackhawks.
During the 2003-04 season, the last before the NHL lockout, the
32-year-old Zhitnik had four goals and 24 assists in 64 games. He
played last season with Kazan Ak-Bars of the Russian Hockey League,
with a goal and eight assists in 23 games.
Zhitnik was named to two All-Star teams during his nine-plus
seasons with the Buffalo Sabres.
"The Islanders were at the top of my list of teams I wanted to
play for," Zhitnik said. "I spoke with [general manager] Mike
Milbury and Coach [Steve] Stirling and they told me what's expected
of me. I'm very happy to be an Islander."
One of Milbury's biggest concerns going into the shopping season
that started Monday was the status of his defense corps. Only Janne
Niinimaa had a contract going into next season, leaving Aucoin,
Roman Hamrlik and Kenny Jonsson as free agents.
"Alexei is a perfect fit for us," Milbury said. "He's one of
the best two-way defensemen in the game and he's a highly respected
player. He's going to play big minutes for us in all situations."
Aucoin, who averaged more than 26 minutes of ice time per game
during the 2003-04 season, signed a $16 million, four-year contract
with Chicago earlier Tuesday. Jonsson is not expected to play in
the NHL this season and Hamrlik is an unrestricted free agent.
The 5-foot-11, 210-pound Zhitnik was selected by Los Angeles in
the fourth round of the 1991 draft. He has 81 goals and 315 assists
in 882 NHL games with the Kings and Sabres.
Zhitnik was a member of the gold medal-winning Unified Team at
the 1992 Albertville Olympics. He also won silver medals at the
1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan, and at the 2004 World Cup.
Now he'll try to help the Islanders reach the playoffs for the
fourth straight season.
"I've played in the Eastern Conference for a decade and know
what it takes to win," Zhitnik said. "The Islanders have been a
playoff team the last few years and now I'm hopeful I can take us
to the next level. The playoffs have always been when I have played
my best hockey."