This is the second in a series of NHL Off-Season Progress Reports. Today I look at the Northeast Division and assign grades based on what has already been done and what still needs to be done. Of course there is still plenty of time for teams to plug holes so I’ll analyze what still needs to be done and how much cap room the team has left to fill those holes.
In: Mark Recchi (UFA – Re-signed), Steve Begin (UFA – Dallas), Byron Bitz (RFA – Re-signed), David Krejci (RFA – Re-signed), Tim Thomas (UFA – Re-signed)
Out: Shane Hnidy (UFA – Minnesota), Steve Montador (UFA – Buffalo)
Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli has done a great job rebuilding the Bruins into a Conference power. Unfortunately, in doing so, he has put the Bruins into a difficult spot as it relates to the cap. After a disappointing end to the season (a 2nd round series loss to Carolina) the Bruins needed to answer a number of questions with Vezina winning goalie Tim Thomas heading to unrestricted free agency and potential RFA David Krejci and little cap space available. So far, Chiarelli re-signed both of those critical players along with veteran wing Recchi who showed he still has something left in the tank after being acquired by Boston at the deadline. Veteran 4th line Center, Steve Begin, was added to provide depth up front.
The Bruins were forced to sit by and watch as some of their blue line depth left town as Hnidy and Montador both departed via free agency. Both players were valuable to the Bruins but couldn’t be re-signed due to cap concerns. The Bruins still face plenty of questions with young star Phil Kessel a restricted free agent and the Bruins already over the cap. Kessel is reportedly asking for $5 million plus per season and is one of the most likely RFA’s to receive an offer sheet coming off a 36 goal season. Chiarelli has already vowed he will match any offer to Kessel but that will require some major shuffling. Players who could potentially be moved to get the Bruins under the cap are veteran center Marc Savard (1 year at $5 million left on his deal) and Patrice Bergeron (2 years at $4.75 per season left on his contract). The Bruins also have $8.2 million this season committed to Thomas and Tuuka Rask in net. Rask could be moved to free up cap space as well.
Grade: C- (could be lowered depending on how the Kessel situation pans out)
In: Steve Montador (UFA – Boston)
Out: Jaroslav Spacek (UFA – Montreal)
For a team that just missed the playoffs and with needs for offensive help up front and more blue line help, the off-season has gotten off to a very slow start for Buffalo. Perhaps GM Darcy Regier is waiting until teams like Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia or San Jose has to move talent to get under the cap. After the Vanek offer sheet fiasco a couple of seasons ago, it is unlikely that Regier would entertain lobbing an offer sheet to Kessel but wouldn’t he solve some problems for the Sabres?
Montador will only adequately replace Spacek on the roster but there was no way Buffalo was going to match the 3 year, $11.5 million commitment Montreal made to Spacek. The Sabres will likely have some issues in the coming years as they have $26.8 million tied up in 5 forwards for each of the next 3 seasons and another $6.25 million for Ryan Miller. The Sabres have 8 forwards, 5 defenseman and 2 goalies under contract for next season and a little over $9.5 million with which to re-sign RFA’s Drew Stafford, Clarke MacArthur, Patrick Kaleta and Andrej Sekera. Another scoring line forward would also be a welcome addition.
In: Scott Gomez (Trade – NYR), Mike Cammalleri (UFA – Calgary), Hal Gill (UFA – Pitt), Jaroslav Spacek (UFA – Buffalo), Brian Gionta (UFA - NJ)
Out: Mike Komisarek (UFA – Tor), Christopher Higgins (Trade – NYR)
The Canadiens and GM Bob Gainey went into their 100 anniversary season with high expectations just a year after having recorded the best record in the Eastern Conference. Unfortunately, an inconsistent regular season was followed with a quick exit in the 1st round of the playoffs at the hands of division rival Boston. Canadiens fans expected big changes and big name additions as the team had several big ticket contracts like Saku Koivu, Alexei Kovalev and Robert Lang coming off the books. With the ownership questions in Tampa and the rumors that the Lightning would trade Vinny Lecavalier, Montreal fans clamored for Gainey to bring the hometown hero home to Montreal. Whether or not Tampa ever seriously considered dealing Vinny or whether Montreal ever came close to pulling the trigger is not known. What is known is that Bob Gainey instead swung a deal for former Ranger Scott Gomez to fill the shoes of #1 Center. In addition, Gainey added Gionta and Cammalleri to bring some scoring flair to the lineup. Also brought in were veteran defensemen Gill and Spacek to replace Komisarek. None of these moves were quite what Canadiens fans were hoping for and Gainey is taking a big chance that these players can come in and help turn the fortunes of the Canadiens around.
The Canadiens have 8 forwards, 6 defensemen and 2 goalies under contract and just shy of $9 million of space under the salary cap. The team still has 4 RFA’s to re-sign; Tomas Plekanec, Guillaume Latendresse, Matt D’Agostino and Greg Stewart. There isn’t a lot of room to add any more firepower which could leave the team short offensively unless some of the young players elevate their game.
Grade: D for Disappointing
In: Chris Neil (UFA – Re-Signed)
The Senators finished the season strong under new head coach Cory Clouston and GM Bryan Murray was looking forward to the off-season to bolster a lineup a little thin on goal scoring. Having finally addressed the teams search for a quality net minder by trading for former Columbus Blue Jacket #1 draft pick Pascal Leclaire, the Senators were in a good position to chase a free agent like Mike Cammalleri to augment the forward ranks. The Senators had 14 forwards, 7 defensemen and 2 goalies already under contract and over $4 million in space available. Unfortunately, star winger Dany Heatley requested a trade citing differences with Clouston and displeasure in how he was being utilized. Murray grudgingly tried to meet Heatley’s request but because of the No Movement Clause (NMC) in Heatley’s deal and the Annual Average Salary (AAS), Murray was left with few options about where to send the winger.
Details get blurred at this point but the bottom line is Murray got an offer from the Edmonton Oilers that he deemed acceptable but Heatley refused to waive his NMC. With Murray not sure whether Heatley and his $7.5 million AAS was still going to be the Senators’ responsibility or not, he was unable to be a serious player for any of the bigger name UFA forwards. Murray was able to keep Chris Neil from jumping ship to the New York Rangers but hasn’t been able to add any impact forwards. Unless Heatley changes his mind about accepting a trade to Edmonton, it looks as if the Senators will enter the new season much the way they ended last season.
Grade: D (Will change based on the ultimate outcome of the Heatley situation)
Toronto Maple Leafs
In: Mikhail Grabovski (RFA – Re-signed), Colton Orr (UFA – NYR), Mike Komisarek (UFA – MTL), Garnet Exelby (Trade – Atl)
Out: Pavel Kubina (Trade – ATL)
Maple Leafs fans had been pining for the hire of Brian Burke as GM to help turn the fortunes of Leaf nation around. That became reality when the Ducks let him out of his deal to pursue the Leafs job. Now that he is here, Burke is trying to turn the Leafs into the type of team he envisions can compete for a Stanley Cup. Burke has always favored big, tough players and Burke wasted no time making the Leafs bigger and tougher by adding former Ranger tough guy Colton Orr and former Montreal Canadiens defenseman Mike Komisarek to the roster. Burke also added physical defenseman Garnet Exelby from Atlanta for Pavel Kubiuna saving the Leafs about $3.6 million in cap space by doing so.
The Leafs have 11 forwards, 9 defensemen and 1 goalie under contract with about $7.5 million in cap space available. The only RFA the Leafs have is Ryan Hollweg and it is unclear whether Burke will bring him back. The Leafs could still use an upgrade at C but with little left on the UFA market, Burke may wait until teams make talent available later in the off-season because of cap concerns.