SUN Hockey Pool

Flames settle for 'Little Z'

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 12:15 PM ET

It wasn't Big Z. Or Jovo. Not even Hal.

But the Calgary Flames did lure a blueliner from the free-agent pool yesterday, reeling in veteran rearguard Andrei Zyuzin with a two-year, $2.8-million US pact.

On a day when defencemen ruled the NHL roost, the Flames found the blueliner they needed on the first day of free agency with the 28-year-old Zyuzin, the second overall pick in the 1996 draft.

"He's probably the youngest unrestricted defenceman in the market, so he fits in with our plans," said Calgary GM/head coach Darryl Sutter. "He's pretty much replacing (Jordan) Leopold. He's a very similar player.

"He's a pretty good powerplay player."

Zyuzin's addition leaves the Flames with a six-man defence corps that also includes Robyn Regehr, Dion Phaneuf, Roman Hamrlik, Rhett Warrener and Andrew Ference.

That currently leaves Mark Giordano and Ritchie Regehr as the players most likely to battle for the No. 7 spot on the roster.

Last season, his third with the Minnesota Wild during which he was paid $1.25 million US, Zyuzin collected seven goals and 11 assists in 57 games. Over his career, the smooth-skater has potted 35 tallies and 75 helpers in 416 NHL games, which has also included stops in San Jose, Tampa Bay and New Jersey.

Sutter spent parts of two seasons coaching the 6-ft. 1-in., 215-lb. Zyuzin in San Jose, during which was the month-long spell when the then youngster went AWOL but returned after firing his agent.

Where Zyuzin fits in on the depth chart remains to be seen. It's unlikely he'll play on the top pairing but could skate on either of the next two units.

"We're fortunate to have guys like him and Andrew who can play both sides, so it doesn't really matter (who he plays with)," Sutter said.

The addition leaves Sutter still needing to sign restricted free agents Alex Tanguay and Matthew Lombardi to fill his forward corps and possibly a backup goalie


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