State of the North East
Posted on July 14, 2010, 7:38 am by jackinthebuf
It’s been just two weeks since the free agent frenzy began, and although there are still a few notable UFAs out there, it’s unlikely that any major names will be added to the North East Division’s crop of teams. RFA’s are a different story, as the Sharks have made known by offering Blackhawk’s D Hjarmalsson a 4 yr, $3.5m per contract (which was matched by Chicago), and there are certainly trade options available for these teams. However, today I’ll be taking a look at the current state of the North East Division. Let’s see how the Sabres stack up!
Boston Bruins – The Boston Bruins haven’t had a huge off-season, but they didn’t need one as bad as Buffalo does. Boston didn’t go much farther in the playoffs after eliminating the Sabres (one round, to be exact), but they did take the eventual Eastern Conference Champion Philadelphia Flyers to seven games. They didn’t lose much this off-season (most notably Dennis Wideman and Miroslav Satan) and added a couple major pieces: Nathan Horton in a trade for Wideman, and of course Tyler Sequin with the #2 pick in the draft. They also took care of business on the back-end by signing Dennis Seidenberg to a 4 year deal. Horton is another 20-goal scorer to add to the likes of Savard, Bergeron, Ryder, Krejci, and Sturm. They’ve yet to re-sign F Blake Wheeler and have only about $1.5m in cap space to do so– we’ll see if a deal gets done. Because of this surplus of offense, a trade is certainly possible — especially if Sequin makes the lineup. Tim Thomas, though expensive, could still be a valuable chip to some teams — along with C Marc Savard.
Montreal Canadiens – The Canadiens haven’t done much offensively, and have perceivably gotten worse in goal by trading away playoff hero Jaroslav Halak to the Blues. They also have yet to sign Price to a contract, and though a deal is expected to get done, Alex Auld is the only goalie on the roster right now. Their defense hasn’t changed, but if Markov can have a bounce-back year after only playing 45 games last season, they’ll be more dangerous than last season. Cammalleri had an average season last year, but impressed a lot of people with his performance in the playoffs. He, Gomez, Gionta, and Plekanec should prove to be one of the stronger offenses in the division, and if Kostistyn stays focused for a whole season, he could push the 20-goal mark as well. They currently have about $6 mil in cap space, but expect most of that to go to Price if they keep him.
Ottawa Senators – Ottawa’s big off-season move was the addition of defenseman Sergei Gonchar, who although adds a solid powerplay QB as well as some additional offense to their defensive mold, comes at the expense of losing Anton Volchenkov, a safe, stay at home defenseman who was probably in need of a change of scenery anyway. Spezza and Alfredsson will once again be running the show in Canada’s capitol, with the help of some familiar faces in Alexei Kovalev and Milan Michalek. They bring an intimidating physical presence with the likes of tough guys (or wanna-be tough guys, in some cases) Chris Neil, Jarkko Ruutu, Chris Kelly, and Chris Phillips. No changes in goal — the starting job will either go to Brian Elliot or Pascal Leclaire, who flip-flopped that role in the playoffs. They have over $5 mil in cap space, but not many valuable pieces they could give up in a trade.
Toronto Maple Leafs – Toronto has made some major acquisitions over the last few seasons. Surrendering the #2 pick (aka Tyler Sequin) is a tough hit to take, but Phil Kessel had another promising year, this time on a pretty shaky hockey team. This year, Kris Versteeg will be there alongside Phil to help turn the ship around. The two could combine to form a pretty dynamic, offensive force. Nokalai Kulemin and Colby Armstrong will contribute 15 – 20 goals a piece, and Grabovski could be in that conversation as well barring any further injuries. Toronto’s real strength, though, comes on defense. They have by far the best defense in the division right now. Dion Phaneuf and a more experienced Luke Schenn will undoubtedly put the body on opponents and provide some important physical play. Francois Beauchemin and Jeff Finger can mimic that role on a slightly smaller scale, while Thomas Kaberle and Mike Komisarek will be chipping in offensively (should Kaberle remain a Leaf.) Jean-Sebastien Giguere, in my mind, is still capable of playing extremely well in this league, and with that defense in front of him, I’m expecting at least an above-average year from him. The Monster Jonas Gustavsson is unlikely to start the season as the #1 goalie, but will benefit from learning from Giggy, who has “been there, done that.” Only between $2-$3 mil in cap space right now, but Kaberle is a strong candidate to be traded to bring in some much needed offense.
All in all, I would say the majority of the NE Division has made strides to improve, but nobody is quite there yet. Toronto has definitely added another dimension to their game with Versteeg (and Kessel last year), and they may not be finished, depending on what Burke decides to do with Kaberle. However, the Boston Bruins are the team to beat right now — if Horton lives up to expectations, he will certainly help out their already jam-packed offense. Re-signing Seidenberg (and of course receiving Horton) ease the pain of losing Wideman. They still have Chara, and plenty of grit in Boychuk, Ference, and Hunwick. Meanwhile, Ottawa and Montreal have made some moves, but for the most part stood-pat. No major losses that weren’t taken care of (OTT: Gonchar in for Volchenkov), assuming that Montreal and Carey Price can come to terms on a deal.
The Sabres obviously haven’t made a major move yet, but one has to think something is coming. Buffalo is popping up more and more in trade rumors, and albeit they’re only rumors, they certainly have some pieces that can and should be moved. Ryan Miller is still their goaltender (unfortunately, so is Lalime), meaning they should have a pretty good chance to win the 70-or-more games that he plays in. Myers will only get better on defense. Buffalo has over $10 mil in cap space to work with, and should definitely be open to the idea of extending an offer sheet to a high profile RFA, or acquiring someone via trade.
After some consideration, as things stand today, I rank the NE in the following order:
- Boston Bruins
- Montreal Canadiens
- Buffalo Sabres
- Toronto Maple Leafs
- Ottawa Senators
As critical as I (and hundreds if not thousands of others) have been of the Front Office’s refusal to make a splash, that’s not a terrible place to be in. Leopold and Niedermayer, though not the most valuable of players, will, at the very least, shake things up in the locker room. Maybe some new faces are what this team needs, and Nied’s championship ring certainly can’t make things worse. The potential is there to compete for the division title again, but a lot depends on the play of Ryan Miller — will he have another exceptional year, or return to his just-less-than-elite status of years prior? Even if he does have a career year in net, it’s not the Division title we want, and I believe the Sabres are still a few major pieces away from being a true cup contender. Here’s to hoping for a trade or offer sheet in the coming days and weeks!