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Free-agent analysis: Northeast Division

Tuesday, 06.29.2010 / 5:43 PM / NHL Free Agency 2010

By John McGourty - NHL.com Staff Writer

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Free-agent analysis: Northeast Division
NHL.com's John McGourty looks at what clubs in the Northeast Division may be doing come free agency on July 1.
The Northeast Division was the most successful in the Eastern Conference last season when it came to making the playoffs.

The division-winning Sabres and the Senators were both bounced in the first round, but the Bruins made it to the East semifinals before their infamous collapse after taking a 3-0 series lead on the Flyers, and the Canadiens made a surprise run all the way to the conference final before that same group from Philadelphia sent them packing.

Each club has some rebuilding or reloading to do, including the Maple Leafs, who played improved hockey at times over the second half of the season. Here's a closer look at the Northeast Division clubs and what might be expected from them:

Boston Bruins

Last season: 39-30-13, Lost in Conference Semifinal

The selection of center Tyler Seguin with the No. 2 pick in the 2010 Entry Draft appears to have made No. 1 center Marc Savard expendable and GM Peter Chiarelli is also trying to trade backup goalie Tim Thomas, the 2009 Vezina Trophy winner who will make $6 million this season and $14 over the next three years.

The Bruins appear set at center with Seguin, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Greg Campbell while Nathan Horton, Mark Recchi, Michael Ryder and Shawn Thornton give the Bruins a pretty good set of right wings, but they're weak on the left side after leading goal-scorer Marco Sturm severely injured both knees the past two seasons. He won't be ready for the start of the season. Injury-prone Milan Lucic played only 50 games last season. Blake Wheeler and free-agent Dan Paille likely return.

The Bruins traded Dennis Wideman to get Horton, so they may be in the market for an offensive defenseman, although Dennis Seidenberg and Johnny Boychuk added punch in the second half. There is defense depth at AHL Providence and Russian Yuri Alexandrov, 22, may crack the lineup.

The Bruins' free-agent needs will likely be a scoring left wing, an offensive defenseman and a mentoring-type backup for Rask that doesn't cost $6 million.

Buffalo Sabres

Last season: 45-27-10, Lost in Conference Quarterfinal


Sabres GM Darcy Regier believes in the "build-from-within" philosophy, adding free agents where needed. He must make a decision whether to sign Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman, but it appears he won't sign both. Adam Mair is gone and backup goalie Patrick Lalime likely won't return. Fans are urging Regier to cut loose injury-prone center Tim Connolly, who has averaged 0.9 points-per-game while averaging only 56 games over the past three seasons. No. 1 center Derek Roy has also drawn their ire, but Regier recently defended both centers.

The Sabres have only one good power-play unit, so there is a need for better shooters on the wing. Tyler Myers was the only defenseman to score a power-play goal last season. Captain Craig Rivet led with 100 penalty minutes, so there is also a need for more toughness.

The division winners appear to need a scoring defenseman, a backup goalie and tougher forwards who can also score.

Montreal Canadiens

Last season: 39-33-10, Lost in Conference Final

There's no question the Canadiens were a better team late in the season than earlier, due in part to the outstanding play of goalie Jaroslav Halak, who has since been traded. But the Halak deal brought brilliant prospect Lars Eller, a center who made the AHL All-Rookie team. The Canadiens then traded right wing Sergei Kostitsyn to Nashville for the rights to unrestricted free agents Dustin Boyd and goalie Dan Ellis, giving the Canadiens a net tandem of Price and Ellis if the latter can be signed.

AHL All-Star defenseman P.K. Subban showed in the playoffs that he's ready for the big time. Centers Brock Trotter and David Desharnais, Hamilton's leading scorer and an excellent faceoff man, should also make the jump. The Ellis acquisition likely means AHL All-Star goalie Cedrick Desjardins and veteran Curtis Sanford will again split duties at AHL Hamilton.

The Canadiens have an aged but strong defense, and Carey Price will get another chance to prove he's a No. 1 goalie. It would appear the Canadiens' needs would be for more scoring from the wings. Brian Gionta is the only scorer among their right wings and Michael Cammalleri is the only reliable scorer at left wing. If they can't sign Dominic Moore, they'll need a fourth-line center who can win faceoffs.


Ottawa Senators

Last season: 44-32-6, Lost in Conference Quarterfinal

The Senators were one of the best NHL teams during the second half and lost a tough first-round series to the Penguins. They should be looking to build on their success, but instead they seem to have several problems. They have $12 million tied up this season in Jason Spezza, who has told the team he wouldn't mind being traded, and Alex Kovalev, who will make $5 million after an injury-plagued season. The Senators don't have the cap space to meet the demands of free-agent defenseman Anton Volchenkov. Jonathan Cheechoo has been released but will be a cap hit for this season. Shean Donovan is on the move, possibly to Russia.

Defensemen Brian Lee and Chris Campoli are restricted free agents.

Goalie Brian Elliott was much improved in his second season, but backup Pascal Leclaire was a disappointment. Left wing Milan Michalek was the team's early-season star, but he suffered a head injury in January and a knee injury in April. Left wing Peter Regin had a pretty good rookie season, as did defenseman Erik Karlsson.

 
GM Bryan Murray told Spezza he will keep him, so that probably rules out trading for Savard. The Senators' needs include a backup goalie, one or more defensive defensmen and more scoring from every forward position. The Senators were 21st on the power play and 15th in scoring, so that must be addressed.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Last season: 30-38-14, Out of playoffs

Savard listed Ottawa and Toronto as two teams he'd approve a trade to. He would be reunited with scorer Phil Kessel in Toronto, so that makes sense, but Kessel showed good chemistry late last season with center Tyler Bozak. GM Brian Burke strengthened the team at every position last season, acquiring goalie J.S. Giguere, defensemen Dion Phaneuf, Francois Beauchemin and Mike Komisarek, and forwards Bozak, Luca Caputi, Viktor Stalberg, Colton Orr and Jamie Lundmark. Nazem Kadri will strengthen the team at center next season.

Burke would like to unload defenseman Tomas Kaberle's $4.25 salary in exchange for some scoring. He added left wing Mike Brown to get bigger and tougher. Brown has played for Burke in Vancouver, Anaheim and Toronto. Burke probably wants to trade away defenseman Jeff Finger's $3.5 million salary, but may not be able to.

If they can trade Kaberle, the Maple Leafs probably want to get a bigger offensive defenseman who is better defensively than Kaberle. Toronto is well set in goal with Giguere and Jonas Gustavsson. Burke's biggest challenge will be adding forwards who can score and be in the plus category. Only Kessel had more than 20 goals, and Mikhail Grabovski was the only forward in plus territory.

Quote of the Day

It's pretty crazy, but believe me when I say we didn't draft these players with the mindset we had to because they had good hockey-playing dads. It just turned out that way. But we're certainly glad they're a part of our organization.

— Arizona Coyotes director of amateur scouting Tim Bernhardt regarding the coincidence that six of the organization's top prospects are sons of former NHL players