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Associated Press

NEW YORK - Thursday was a great day to be a free agent defenseman.

Sergei Gonchar got things started less than an hour after teams could begin talking to free agents from other clubs at noon. The defenseman, who can turn around any team's suspect power play, quickly heard what he wanted to from the Senators and left the Penguins for a three-year, $16.5 million deal.

"We made a call right at 12:01 and basically made a proposal," Senators general manager Bryan Murray said. "It adds a great deal to our team."

The Penguins desperately wanted to keep Gonchar, even making a post-midnight pitch to entice him to stay, but they weren't willing to go beyond a two-year deal with the 36-year-old offensive-minded defenseman who won the Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh in 2009 but has struggled with injuries in recent seasons.

If the Penguins were disappointed to see Gonchar go, they didn't let it show. They dipped right into the free agent pool to come up with coveted blueliners, Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek. Pittsburgh signed both to five-year deals, giving Martin a $25 million deal and a $20 million contract to Michalek.

Martin, who made $4.5 million with the Devils last season, was viewed as the top two-way defenseman on the market. Michalek led the league in blocked shots last season.

"I was pretty clear about addressing our defense," Penguins general manager Ray Shero said. "From our staff and coaches' standpoint, we're pretty thrilled."

It then became the Devils' turn to raid the defenseman market. After being unable to retain Martin, they quickly signed Henrik Tallinder away from the Sabres with a four-year, $13.5 million deal and then grabbed Ottawa's Anton Volchenkov by agreeing to a six-year, $25.5 million pact.

Dan Hamhuis, whose negotiating rights were traded to Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in recent days, found a home with the Canucks for a six-year, $27 million deal.

fast facts

Major signings

The top free agent signings Thursday:

Kurtis Foster, D, Oilers,2 years, $3.6 million

Sergei Gonchar, D, Senators, 3 years, $16.5 million

Dan Hamhuis, D, Canucks,6 years, $27 million

Paul Martin, D, Penguins,5 years, $25 million

Chris Mason, G, Thrashers,2 years, $3.7 million

Zbynek Michalek, D, Penguins, 5 years, $20 million

Antero Niittymaki, G, Sharks, 2 years, $4 million

Vinny Prospal, LW, Rangers, 1 year, $2.1 million

Alex Tanguay, RW, Flames,1 year, $1.7 million

Anton Volchenkov, D, Devils, 6 years, $25.5 million