I conclude the Eastern Conference portion of Off-Season Progress Reports with the Atlantic Division. The Atlantic produced 4 playoff teams and the Stanley Cup Champions last season and once again some of the higher profile off-season moves were made in this division. Here’s my take on the progress of all 5 Atlantic Division clubs to date.
New Jersey Devils
In: Andrew Greene (RFA – Re-signed), Johnny Oduya (UFA – Re-signed)
Out: John Madden (UFA – Chicago), Brian Gionta (UFA – MTL), Mike Rupp (UFA – PIT), Scott Clemmensen (UFA – FLA)
After making some mistakes with the salary cap coming out of the lockout (Alexander Mogilny and Vladimir Malakhov), GM Lou Lamoriello has typically been conservative in the FA market. The Devils have seen numerous players leave the organization over the years through free agency or trades or retirement but despite that are one of only two teams to qualify for the postseason all 4 seasons since the lockout (the Rangers being the other). Free agency has taken Scott Niedermayer, Brian Rafalski, Bobby Holik, and now Madden and Gionta. Retirement has seen Hall-of-Famer Scott Stevens depart the team. The only constants over the last 15 or so seasons are Marty Brodeur and Lou. Still, Lamoriello and his right hand man, David Conte, have been able to replenish the on-ice talent through keen drafting and astute free agent signings. This off-season will be more of the same for the Devils.
Lou did make sure that he quickly re-signed key defenseman Oduya to a long-term deal before someone else could lure him away. Gionta, after scoring 48 goals a few seasons back, has seen his goal scoring production drop in each of the last three seasons. At $5 million per from Montreal, Lou was wise to steer clear of that. Madden has been a Selke candidate seemingly every year and was a loyal soldier for the Devils since being signed as a free agent out of college. The Devils will be looking from within (Rodney Pelley comes to mind) to replace Madden. Gionta’s offense will also be replaced with young players given larger roles (Bergfors and a promotion of Vasyunov are two examples).
It is still possible that Lou will surprise us and make an addition or two before the season starts. The Devils have nearly $11.75 million in cap space with only Travis Zajac and Petr Vrana to re-sign as RFA’s. Currently, the Devils have 10 Forwards, 6 Defenseman and 1 goalie under contract. The Devils certainly have the resources to add a significant salary; especially if he is a goal-scoring forward.
Grade: C- (Haven’t lost a great deal yet in UFA and re-signing Oduya was big but Lou can’t afford to be finished)
New York Islanders
In: Dwayne Roloson (UFA – EDM), Doug Weight (UFA – Re-signed), John Tavares (Drafted – 1st overall, 2009)
The Islanders are another team with huge questions involving their ownership. Owner Charles Wang has basically tied the Islanders future with that of a large-scale development that would include a new arena for the Islanders. If the development falls through then it is possible that Wang will either sell the team or move it a potentially more prosperous locale such as Kansas City. As it stands, the Islanders cannot be financially viable while playing at Nassau Coliseum. As such, it was expected that it would be a pretty quiet off-season on the Island.
Out-bidding the Oilers for the services of Goalie Dwayne Roloson by guaranteeing a second year was both surprising and a good move by the Islanders. With the perennial injury problems faced by “franchise” goalie Rick DiPietro it is key to have a quality “back-up” and Roloson certainly qualifies. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Roloson play 35 games or more this season. Roloson will help keep the Islanders competitive in the games in which he starts. Re-signing Doug Weight gives the Islanders a veteran to show the ropes to Kyle Okposo, Josh Bailey and most importantly John Tavares.
Drafting Tavares should have been and clearly was a no-brainer for the Islanders. He is a marquee player and a marquee name that the Islanders have been lacking since trading Pat LaFontaine more than 10 years ago. He is a natural goal scorer who very well could tally 20+ this year. He will definitely help the Islanders power play.
With the Islanders over $21 million under the salary cap ceiling, the Islanders will have to bring in a couple of veterans just to reach the cap floor. No one on the open market is going to help the Islanders’ fortunes much for this coming season so their grade isn’t likely to improve as the off-season continues.
Grade: B- (If only because they made the right move by drafting Tavares and maintaining the plan of re-building slowly through the draft)
New York Rangers
In: Marian Gaborik (UFA – MIN), Donald Brashear (UFA – WSH), Christopher Higgins (Trade – MTL)
Out: Colton Orr (UFA – TOR), Nik Antropov (UFA – ATL), Fredrik Sjostrom (UFA – CGY), Scott Gomez (Trade – MTL)
A first round playoff loss to the Capitals showed the glaring lack of a prime time goal scorer on the Rangers’ roster. Watching Ovechkin and Semin carve the Rangers up in the post season stuck in the minds of GM Glen Sather and Rangers fans alike. Unfortunately, due to the huge UFA’s Sather had already committed a large chunk of the salary cap to (Gomez, Drury, Redden, and Rozsival) the Rangers were not in a position to be players on the UFA market. Two unexpected developments gave Glen Sather some chips with which to play the UFA game with. Shipping Gomez off to Montreal for Higgins and clearing roughly $5.3 million in cap space and the surprising retirement of W Markus Naslund gave Sather some resources to utilize on July 1st.
His first foray was to bring in Donald Brashear to replace Orr as the resident tough guy. The Rangers feel that Brashear, even at 37, is capable of doing more on the ice than Orr. Sather feels that Brashear is a little quicker and can get in deep to forecheck more quickly than Orr could. Guaranteeing 2 years to a player who is 37 and committing $2.8 million is a bit of a stretch though. It is important to remember that in the series with the Capitals, Washington coach Bruce Boudreau felt strongly enough about Brashear’s presence (both on the ice and in the locker room) to dress him instead of veteran C Michael Nylander for several games.
Signing Gaborik was both a huge move and a huge gamble for the Rangers. No player on the open market has the offensive skills that Gaborik possesses. He is a threat to score anytime the puck is on his stick. After missing most of last season due to a hip injury that required surgery, Gaborik returned for the last few weeks of the regular season playing in 11 games and recording 10 goals and 18 points while the Wild were in a dogfight for their playoff lives. He says he is completely healthy and in full training for the upcoming season. He’d better be because the Rangers basically used all of the cap savings by dealing Gomez to sign Gaborik. If he can’t suit up for 70+ games every year then again, the Rangers will have wasted a significant amount of money.
Losing Antropov will hurt offensively but the hope is that a healthy Gaborik will not only replace Antropov’s production but increase the production pf players like Nik Zherdev, Chris Drury, Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan. If that happens then Antropov won’t be missed terribly. Sjostrom was an underrated player who skated real well and was a top-notch penalty killer. If he could only have finished more of the chances that his speed and defensive ability created then there is little doubt the Rangers would have re-signed him.
The Rangers currently have more than $13 million of cap space available but with 5 RFA’s left to deal with (Dubinsky, Callahan, Zherdev, Higgins and Lauri Korpikoski) and a back-up goalie (likely re-signing Steve Valiquette) to acquire, the rangers won’t have much room to do much else. It is possible that as other teams look to free up cap space that the Rangers could make a move to add another play making center to the lineup.
Grade: B (for addressing their biggest weakness by signing the best offensive player available but the grade could lower significantly depending on the resolutions of the RFA’s and whether Gaborik stays healthy)
In: Brian Boucher (UFA – SJ), Ian Laperriere (UFA – COL), Chris Pronger (Trade – ANA) Ray Emery (UFA – KHL)
Out: Mike Knuble (UFA –WSH), Joffrey Lupul (Trade – ANA), Luca Sbisa (Trade – ANA)
Following a hard fought playoff loss to the eventual Cup Champion Penguins, Flyers GM Paul Holmgren focused his off-season game plan on adding a big name, big game defenseman. After exploring what it would take to sign UFA Jay Bouwmeester and apparently deciding it wasn’t worth it, Holmgren swung a huge trade with the Ducks to acquire stud blue liner Chris Pronger. Pronger joins a talented defense corps that already includes Kimmo Timonen, Matt Carle, Randy Jones, Braydon Coburn and Ryan Parent. The addition of Pronger enables coach John Stevens to utilize the shut-down capabilities of Pronger and Coburn on different defensive pairings to neutralize teams with two quality offensive lines like the Penguins (Crosby and Malkin lines) and the Capitals (Ovechkin and Semin lines). He can play in all situations and is tough as nails; the perfect Broadstreet Bully player.
Boucher will pair with KHL refugee and former Ottawa starter Ray Emery, to hopefully give the Flyers their best goaltending since Ron Hextall retired. Laperriere provides grit, determination and leadership. He refuses to lose and will provide a boost to the locker room with his demeanor and refusal to give up.
Holmgren sacrificed some of his scoring depth to acquire Pronger by giving up Lupul who finished with 25 goals and 50 points. He also sacrificed a potential stud in defenseman Sbisa. Sbisa was a 2008 1st round draft choice that unexpectedly stuck with the Flyers and played very well. Knuble was another key guy, especially on the power play. He fled to Washington and his contributions, both on and off the ice, will be missed. Unfortunately, there just wasn’t the cap space to retain him.
The Flyers have 11 forwards, 6 defensemen and 2 goalies under contract and just $1.8 million in cap space. Holmgren has reportedly been shopping Danny Briere to free up more space with which to bring in additional help but has been unable to do so. It is likely at this point that a couple of open roster spots will have to be filled by younger players.
Grade: A- (Going all in but if Pronger is extended then the trade looks even better. I like that move for this team).
In: Ruslan Fedotenko (UFA – Re-signed), Mike Rupp (UFA – NJ), Bill Guerin (UFA – Re-signed), Craig Adams (UFA- Re-signed), Alex Goligoski (RFA – Re-signed)
Out: Rob Scuderi (UFA – LAK), Mathieu Garon (UFA – CBJ), Hal Gill (UFA – MTL)
Winning the Stanley Cup with most of the core players already locked up to long term deals sure makes the job of GM Ray Shero a little easier. Shero’s main task is trying to add/keep depth players to re-tool for the title defense. Re-signing players like Fedotenko, Guerin and Adams ensures that the Cup winners will return intact up front. Adding Rupp gives the Forward ranks a little more grit which will especially important come playoff time.
The Penguins did lose a couple of key contributors from the blue line with Hal Gill departing for Montreal and Scuderi cashing in on a multi-year deal with the Kings. Both players will be missed but the Pens will expect youngster Alex Goligoski to play a larger role on the team. He has the potential to be as effective as either Gill or Scuderi while bringing more to the table offensively.
The Pens have 13 Forwards, 5 Defensemen, and 1 Goaltender under contract for next season. They have just a shade under $3 million with which to add a veteran back-up goalie (which they need given Fleury’s injury history) and perhaps another depth defenseman. All-in-all, Shero is in good position to address his needs to make a run at another cup.