Sorry for the delay to anyone who was holding their breath in anticipation of the next division analysis, because I'm sure there were plenty of you.
I continue my team by team analysis by focussing my attention on the North East division. Once viewed as the most dangerous in the conference, and perhaps league, it has provided two of the worst teams, to date, league wide.
However, the conference also is home to 3 of the most dangerous teams going forward into the post season.
So, without further delay, here is what I think the North East will be looking to do between now and the deadline.
Boston Bruins - Buyers
Currently sitting comfortably in first place in the Eastern conference, there seems to be few holes to fill for a team that few would have picked to be leading the East heading to the deadline. As of tonight, they sit second in goals for per game, as well as goals against per game in the NHL, usually a combination that would land you at or near the top of the league.
With many graduations this year from their prospect pool into regular NHL rotation, the team is young and fast and with a multitude of roster players having breakout or career years, the team is flourishing with the chemistry they currently have, so there doesn't seem to be any blockbuster on the near horizon. That being said, if the Bruins were to be looking for something to improve upon, one would have to lean towards a depth forward or perhaps a true offensive defenseman to ride shotgun with Zdeno Chara on the power play.
They have the assets to acquire one of these objectives relatively painlessly and perhaps both without upsetting the foundation of the team. One that could be on the block is Manny Fernandez. With both he and Tim Thomas heading for unrestricted free agency after this season, the team needs to make a decision on which keeper they will be going forward with. All bets seem to be on Thomas, as his stellar year, is somewhat better than Fernandez's stellar year. The plus side to this, is Fernandez's value should conceivably be fairly high right now and should Thomas be injured after Fernandez is sent packing, Tuuka Rask seems to be at the very least capable of winning having a 3-1-0 record in his early NHL career.
The team could also consider dealing David Krejci, who has had an impressive year to say the least, but is set for restricted free agency, and if not signed quickly, will without a doubt draw in competitive offer sheets for rivals around the league. If the return was a power play specialist defenseman, it is not improbable that this could play itself out, although it isn't the most likely of situations.
Montreal Canadiens - Buyers
The buying has begun for the Habs this season, before anyone else, as we approach the deadline. Having acquired Mathieu Schneider tonight the Habs appear to be bracing for a battle towards the end of the season. Offering up only draft picks, the club strengthens the current roster without much subtraction. Also, possessing one of the deepest prospect pools in the league, there seems to be little harm by adding the veteran presence and power play abilities that Schneider brings with him.
This has been a concern all season long for the Canadiens, and they are hoping this is a step towards improving the power play that has regressed from being one of the most dangerous and feared in the game. Another concern of late has been team defense and goaltending. Schneider adds experience to the defensive corps and shouldn't hurt their overall team defensive game. Goaltending remains a concern to the team, with Carey Price being shaky, at best, since his return from injury.
The team is on the right side of the goals for per game statistic in the conference, fairing not too badly considering how little production has come out of their power play. The team still seems to have some holes to plug, with injuries among their forwards playing a huge roll in the teams fortunes of late. Also, with a few suspensions from the league due to dangerous and questionable hits, the team has had trouble keeping all of their powerhouse forwards in the lineup at the same time for any extended period of time.
The Habs will undoubtedly continue to add to the roster, and will almost positively add one or two players to the mix of forwards. With P.K. Subban, who has seen his value absolutely sky-rocket since the World Junior tournament, in the prospect pool, the Canadiens have a piece that could fetch them some elite forward talent to add to the talent they already have. Other bargaining chips could be Ryan McDonagh, Ben Maxwell, Kyle Chipchura or even Max Pacioretty. However, it is obvious that the return would have to be quite significant to move Pacioretty, who has had a relatively successful season as far as making his name known outside the Montreal organization.
All-in-all, the 100th year anniversary of the team does not seem to have taken the path many, especially those in Montreal, thought it would, but the team is still a definite threat out of the East, and if they add another sniper, and maybe a defensive forward to their forward ranks, there may be none as dangerous going towards the post season if they can rev up their power play to the elite status it has enjoyed in recent years.
Buffalo Sabres - Buyers
Buffalo was projected all over the board, depending on who you asked, before the year started. They are one of the most dangerous bubble teams in the east, currently occupying the 8th spot, although I'm certain Pittsburgh is going to try to make a claim on that spot themselves.
Their modest 168 goals for this year isn't among the league's best, however, they still have a very dangerous offense, because this team has proven it can lock you down once they get a lead. Ryan Miller is having one of his best statistical years and when you combine this with the concept of team defense this uptempo Sabres team has adopted this year, they may pose quite the threat come playoff time. Recent injuries to some key players has brought up the question of depth on the team, and only time will tell if they have, or at least feel they have, the depth to forge on with what they have.
They have a truck load of defensive prospects that seem to be headed for the NHL and they also have a respectable number over forwards who are NHL ready and a goaltender who is viewed by some as one of, if not the best prospect not in the NHL pulling in regular minutes right now.
Rumours have circulated, in multiple corners, that the team may be willing to part with their blue chip prospects should the return be great. Some feel this team is a few, albeit a large few, pieces away from being legitimate east contenders, and I tend to agree. If this team were able to convince Burke to trade Tomas Kaberle their way and perhaps a very affordable Nik Antropov to give some depth to their forward ranks, it seems reasonable to assume that they would not hesitate to part with a combination of their elite prospects to make the jump that a Tomas Kaberle would surely provide. Perhaps Tyler Myers, and/or Tyler Ennis, and/or Nathan Gerbe, and/or Tim Kennedy could be a part of compensation for a player like Kaberle.
Overall, the team seems to have a great balance of players who generally click well together. They have the grit, the speed, and the skill to be a highly competitive group heading forward, so I wouldn't be shocked if they go out of their way to add the one of two pieces that they seem to need to make that jump to the top part of the conference. Although, at the same time, I suppose it wouldn't be a shock to be looking at the exact same roster after the deadline.
Ottawa Senators - Buyers
First off, many will argue that the Sens will be sellers, and I wouldn't normally argue with them. However, Ottawa management seems relentless in their assertions that they feel that this should be a highly competitive group year in and year out. Perhaps the blatant lack of secondary scoring this season should have opened their eyes as to the needs of this team going forward, but with a recent five game winning streak, they seem to have vaulted themselves somewhere in between the bottom of the conference and playoff contention, and it is not out of the realm of possibility that this team puts together a lengthy string of wins as they are brimming with confidence of late having nothing left to lose this season.
Many thought Chris Neil would be on the trade block, and he very well could be, despite the recent laceration injury, but if this team intends on making a push, they will surely need the grit and leadership he brings to the team for the playoff type atmosphere they will experience the rest of the way.
Perhaps as noticeable as their need for secondary scoring, is their need to shore up the goaltending situation. The club seems to have made a decision going with the young up and coming Brian Elliott, however, still have both Martin Gerber and Alexander Auld under contract and could perhaps peddle one of these two for a late draft pick, or as part of a package deal to add some secondary scoring.
Overall, their prospect pool is fairly weak, and would garner little in the way of big name players, however, with a combination of what could be high early round draft picks, the Sens could bring in the depth scoring they have lacked all season.
Toronto Maple Leafs - Sellers
There are only two questions that come to mind when you ponder about the Leafs and selling this year are who and when.
Who will be relocating is a legitimate and quite curious question this year. When it will happen is anyone's guess, but I for one, think a part of the selling will begin before the one week mark approaching the deadline. Brian Burke has more flexibility to bring in some elite assets than his predecessors have in that the remaining players with no-trade clauses in their contracts have openly said that if the team does not wish to have them going forward, they are willing to listen to potential destinations, and in fact, provide lists of teams they would be willing to waive in order to go to.
The team, which seemed to start the season with a defense-first mentality, has fallen back into old habits that fans of the franchise have become all to custom to in recent memory. They have had few complaints regarding their offense, as they have had a 'by-committee' approach all season. Unfortunately, when you combine the fact that the defense has failed to adopt this mentality, to the fact that Toskala has had to make frequent visits to the replay room with the assistant coaches and goalie coaches, the Leafs find themselves near the bottom of the league.
There appear to be few real untouchables on this roster, perhaps the only one being Luke Schenn. Outside of that, it seems safe to say, that if Burke got what he thought would strengthen the team in the near future for any of the other players under contract, they will be booking flights out of town as fast as Burke can say "done-deal."
The future, for once, instead of the present, is the focus of the team. Brian Burke will likely be looking to add at least one additional first round pick, and perhaps with a combination of players, he could fetch multiple first rounders to add to their pick, which of late, looks to be a lock in the NHL's draft lottery.
I for one, as a Leafs fan, am waiting with anticipation for this years deadline to see what Burke is able to add to the future of this storied team who's thirst for the championship has yet to disappear.
Well there you have it. My views on what the North East will be looking to do down the stretch.
Let me know if you agree, disagree, or have any preference in which division I will give my analysis for next.
So far I have done the North East, South East and North West.
Thanks for reading,