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Free Agency preview: Northeast Division

Wednesday, 06.27.2012 / 9:45 AM / NHL Free Agency 2012

By Dave Lozo - NHL.com Staff Writer

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Free Agency preview: Northeast Division
With three of the five teams in the Northeast Division missing the playoffs last season, there could be some busy teams come July 1.

Only two teams reached the postseason from the Northeast Division this past season, and neither of them won their first-round series. That leaves a lot of teams looking to retool in order to improve entering 2012-13.

The Bruins won the division for the second straight year, but lost in seven games to the seventh-seeded Capitals. The Senators surprised everyone by claiming the eighth seed, but lost in seven games to the Rangers.

The Canadiens, Maple Leafs and Sabres all failed to make the postseason, leaving a lot of work for the GMs of those teams to do this summer.

Here is a roster-building cheat sheet for the Northeast Division teams. The salary cap figures come from Capgeek.com and are based on the $70.2 million salary cap that teams will be operating under come July 1:

BOSTON BRUINS
(102 points, 1st in Northeast Division, 2nd in Eastern Conference)

Tuukka Rask will have to share the Bruins' net with another goalie next season. (Photo: Getty Images)

Needs: Depth

Wants: A backup goaltender, a bottom-six forward

Means: $277,857 in cap space with 23 players already signed

Targets: The decision by goalie Tim Thomas to take off next season with one year remaining on his contract leaves general manager Peter Chiarelli in need of someone to share the load with Tuukka Rask. He has Anton Khudobin and his seven games of NHL experience signed, but Chiarelli needs someone with more experience to ease the burden on Rask. A few viable backup goaltenders on the market include Johan Hedberg, Martin Biron and Scott Clemmensen, all of whom likely would see more action than they did in 2011-12.

As for the rest of the team, Chiarelli doesn't have all that much work to do. He has 13 forwards signed, but that includes Marc Savard and Nathan Horton. Savard's career likely is over because of multiple concussions, while Horton still is progressing in recovery from his concussion and isn't a lock to be ready for the start of the season. Chiarelli said he would like to add a veteran forward.

On defense, the Bruins have five of their regulars from last season under contract, with top prospect Dougie Hamilton ready to contribute.

OTTAWA SENATORS
(92 points, 2nd in Northeast Division, 8th in Eastern Conference)

Needs: Improved defense, help up front

Wants: Steady, experienced defensemen; a top-six forward

Means: $26,414,167 in cap space with 16 players already signed

Targets: The Sens used a young team to exceed expectations, with many players who will find themselves in the same or increased roles next season. They have 10 forwards already under contract, with GM Bryan Murray extending qualifying offers to Nick Foligno, Jim O'Brien and Kaspars Daugavins.

The elephant in the room is captain Daniel Alfredsson, the 39-year-old right wing who had 27 goals and 32 assists last season and is contemplating retirement. Should he return for one more season, the Senators are set up front. If not, Murray will be scrambling to replace Alfredsson. There simply isn't anyone on the market who can fill his skates, but Coyotes right wing Shane Doan is a free agent and would bring many of the intangibles Alfredsson would take with him should he retire.

2012 FREE AGENCY

Free agency previews (by division)

With free agency opening Sunday at noon ET, NHL.com takes a look at the needs of all 30 teams -- division by division -- as well as the Top 10 free agents in each division:

The Senators reportedly have interest in landing Rick Nash from the Blue Jackets in a trade. Nash may not want to come to Ottawa, but his presence on a rising team would bolster the roster if Alfredsson retires or stays for one more season.

The gaping hole for Ottawa is on the blue line. They have just four players -- Erik Karlsson, Chris Phillips, Jared Cowen and Sergei Gonchar -- under contract for next season. Murray wouldn’t mind bringing back unrestricted free agent Matt Carkner, but he could explore his options July 1. The Senators have money to spend, but they likely will do so on a veteran.

BUFFALO SABRES
(89 points, 3rd in Northeast Division, 9th in the Eastern Conference)

Needs: More goals

Wants: A scoring forward

Means: $11,645,477 in cap space with 19 players already signed

Targets: The Sabres had just three players crack the 20-goal mark last season -- Jason Pominville, Thomas Vanek and Drew Stafford. Forward Ville Leino makes first-line money, but he found himself on the fourth line at times and had just seven goals in 71 games in his first season in Buffalo.

Restricted free agents Tyler Ennis and Patrick Kaleta were extended qualifying offers, giving the Sabres 11 forwards under control for next season. The Sabres don't have a ton of cap room, but they could use the services of Alexander Semin, Olli Jokinen or PA Parenteau in an effort to boost the offense.

With eight defensemen and goalies Ryan Miller and Jhonas Enroth under contract, the Sabres appear set along the blue line and in net.

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
(80 points, 4th in Northeast Division, 13th in the Eastern Conference)

Needs: Scoring depth, better goaltending

Wants: Third-line forwards, a No. 1 goaltender

Means: $12,846,667 in cap space with 17 players already signed

Targets: GM Brian Burke traded from a position of strength to improve his offense, dealing defenseman Luke Schenn to the Flyers in exchange for forward James van Riemsdyk after the draft. The Leafs had a tremendous top line last season, with Tim Connolly centering Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul, and van Riemsdyk could provide the scoring punch that was missing on the second line.

Rumors say Burke's next order of business is upgrading his goaltending. He traded the rights to Jonas Gustavsson to the Winnipeg Jets and has James Reimer under contract for two more seasons, but that's not stopping him from reportedly trying to acquire Roberto Luongo from the Canucks. If that deal happens before the start of free agency, that will change the game plan for Burke in terms of signing players.

MONTREAL CANADIENS
(78 points, 5th in Northeast Division, 15th in the Eastern Conference)

Andrei Markov will be expected to return to form after playing a total of 20 games the past two seasons. (Photo: Getty Images)

Needs: Scoring depth, able-bodied defensemen

Wants: Forwards, defensemen

Means: $24,202,024 in cap space with 15 players already signed

Targets: That dollar figure seems greater than it is, as the Canadiens sent qualifying offers to 10 players, including P.K. Subban and Lars Eller. Goaltender Carey Price is a restricted free agent and also will see a significant bump in pay and perhaps sign a long-term deal.

The top need for the Canadiens is goal scoring. They dealt Michael Cammalleri to the Flames for Rene Bourque during the season, but they still have Erik Cole (35 goals) and Max Pacioretty (33 goals) back for next season. But only three players cracked double digits in goals besides Cole and Pacioretty.

There isn't much in the way of offensive studs available in free agency outside of Zach Parise, but there are veterans Ray Whitney and Petr Sykora, and younger players Jiri Hudler and Alexander Semin available.

Injuries ravaged the Canadiens' blue line last season, but they likely will have seven players back from last season's team. Andrei Markov played the Habs' final 13 games of the season after lingering knee issues kept him out most of 2011-12 and he'll be expected to return to form after playing a total of 20 games the past two seasons.

New GM Marc Bergevin could look to add a reliable veteran on the blue line as an insurance policy.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

Quote of the Day

There's no discouragement in that room. There's no issues there at all to be honest with you. It's more about, 'Hey, it's opportunities for players.' And if we become that bad of a team because of one player, it's not a real good sign for our hockey club. So this is part of sports. It's part of hockey.

— Bruins coach Claude Julien on the loss of Zdeno Chara to injury
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