PENGUINS STRENGTHEN DEFENCE WITH MARTIN AND MICHALEK

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins have signed free agent defencemen Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek to five-year contracts after failing to reach terms with Sergei Gonchar and Dan Hamhuis.

Martin, 29, was viewed as the top two-way defenceman available in free agency, except for Gonchar. He had two goals and nine assists in 22 games with Atlantic Division-rival New Jersey last season, missing most of the year and the Olympics after breaking his left arm Oct. 24 in Pittsburgh.

His most productive season was 2005-06, when he had five goals and 32 assists in 80 games.

Michalek is not a point man on the power play like Gonchar -- he had three goals and 14 assists in 72 games with Phoenix last season -- but plays a lot of minutes and is strong in the defensive zone. His deal runs though the 2014-15 season and averages US$4 million per year.

After the Penguins were eliminated by Montreal in the second round of the playoffs, general manager Ray Shero put an emphasis on improving the team defensively. Michalek, at 27, is nine years younger than Gonchar, who missed more than three-quarters of the Penguins' 2008-09 Stanley Cup-winning season while injured. Gonchar also missed 20 games last season.

Shero traded a third-round pick to Philadelphia for the negotiating rights to defenceman Hamhuis, but he didn't come to terms on a deal before the NHL free agency signing period began Thursday.

Gonchar, who spent the last five seasons in Pittsburgh, signed a three-year contract with Ottawa after the Penguins refused to budge from their offer of two seasons.

Michalek led the NHL in blocked shots with 271 in the 2008-09 season and has 27 goals and 88 assists in 415 career games. He also played for the Czech Republic in the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. He had a career-high 28 points with four goals and 24 assists in 2006-07 with Phoenix.

LINK: http://tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=326250
Wish Gonchar the best of luck in Ottawa. I will always be a fan of his. Glad to see Shero quickly rebound in bring in two very solid defensemen.