2009 NHL Offseason: Northeast Division Review (So Far....)

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2009 NHL Offseason: Northeast Division Review (So Far....)
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With the NHL offseason almost halfway over, many are pondering how well their favorite teams did and where they can go from here.

Then again with anything opinion-based you're going to have those that think the offseason is going swimmingly, while others are peering over the ledge of their apartment building wondering "is fourteen stories far enough?"

Well all this week, Bleacher Report and the NHL Community will be taking a look at what every team has done to improve and where the next improvements and changes could come from.

Today, we're starting with the Northeast Division.

 

Boston Bruins

On the Beantown Express: From Dallas, Steve Begin (F-$850,000/1 year); From New York, Derek Morris (D-$3.3mil/1 year); From Carolina, Patrick Eaves (F-Trade/Expected Buyout); From Pittsburgh, Danny Sabourin (G-1 year)

Off the Tracks: To Minnesota, Shane Hnidy (D-$750,000/1 year); To Buffalo, Steve Montador (D-$3.1mil/2 years); To Carolina, Aaron Ward (D-Trade)

Your invitation is in the mail: Phil Kessel. Bruins’ GM Peter Chiarelli may not comment on rumors (ever) but your name won’t stop getting brought up. Many thought the Aaron Ward trade meant you were re-signing, but Morris was brought in instead.

Then again Ward didn’t even know he was on the market, so Kessel may not be the only Bruin interesting teams.

So what's set? The Boston Bruins haven’t done much in the offseason to change where the team was at, but then again they didn’t need to. They were able to replace a bit of the defensive depth that they lost in Steve Montador and Shane Hnidy signing elsewhere by bringing in Derek Morris after the Aaron Ward trade, but the losses won’t be felt deeply as neither played a full season in Boston.

With Tim Thomas returning the picture in net is still rock solid, and Tuukka Rask is there (as well as Danny Sabourin) in case something goes amiss.

Looking at the forwards, the biggest question free agent-wise was whether or not Mark Recchi would come back or not. Thanks to what he acknowledged may be his last pro contract, the B’s have no pressing unrestricted concerns with a roster that’s fairly set.

Where do we go from here? As everyone knows, Phil Kessel still needs to be traded, or signed, or whatever is going to happen to him. While the Bruins have dealt with all of their other RFAs this offseason, Kessel is the last to sign and has the most buzz surrounding him.

His signing may come at a cost as Marc Savard is set to become an UFA next season (and if Kessel costs too much Savard may not fit in under the cap), but as we go deeper and deeper into the offseason Kessel just becomes more and more of a concern.

Just because I can: I’ve always wanted to know how to talk like a Bostonian—it’s simply magic. It’s because of that accent that I can tolerate No-Mah Gah-Ciapara and Kevin Mill-ah. Actually, that was one of the reasons why I started to adore Kevin Millar, is how the natives said his name.

Now, with this handy dandy Boston guide, I know how to talk like all of those Bruins fans. Finally, something on the Internet worthwhile that doesn’t involve some sort of combination of money and Hugh Hefner.

How the team is doing: If the Phil Kessel situation can get resolved, then the Boston Bruins offense is back and intact, with a lot of the young players only getting stronger with a year of NHL competition under their belts.

Although Manny Fernandez has been left to walk the free agency road, Tuukka Rask is there and ready to get started, and the defense will be moving the puck even more with the addition of Morris.

So long as the Bruins don’t suffer from a hangover to start the year, the few additions should pay immediate dividends with (currently) no big-ticket exits to worry about.

Buffalo Sabres

Say hello to: From Anaheim, Joe Dipenta (D-$550,000/1-year); From Boston, Steve Montador (D-$3.1mil/2-years)

Adios: To Montreal, Jaroslav Spacek (D-$11.5mil/3-years)

Your invitation is in the mail: Tim Kennedy, Chris Butler, Nathan Gerbe. Sabres Head Coach Lindy Ruff is hoping for some of the youngsters in the Sabres’ system to step it up in camp and earn some spots.

So what's set? The team. Lindy Ruff has brushed aside the fans who’ve wrung their hands at the lack of goings-on in Sabreland this offseason. The man has faith, you should too.

The one thing that could be added is another experienced top-four defenseman to the back end, but if the kids can step up on the blueline the Sabres should be set.

Where do we go from here? If I wanted to beat my initial two-word answer from the last segment I could: Health. Basically, the Sabres need to stay healthy this year.

Tim Connolly is...well...North America’s Marian Gaborik; Maxim Afinogenov is probably the third-ever player to have a terrible, injury-riddled season in a contract year and not receive an inflated offer; while Patrick Kaleta is hoping to recover from the head problems that dogged his second half.

Although those are just three instances (and no one cares about Max because he’s not on the team anymore), Buffalo’s biggest problem will remain to be the health of the team and they’re supporting cast. If they can stay on the ice, Ruff has good reason to have faith in this team.

Just because I can: Have you ever googled a player’s name and halfway through the first page you get “Patrick Kaleta’s Girlfriend?”

Seriously? People are searching for this?

What bothers me more is that it’s on the first page of google results! Like this is relevant to anything happening in the world of hockey…

Let me know when the “Kaley Cuoco’s Boyfriend” page is up and running. Then tell her that I can solve that problem for her. Seriously. My email is at the end.

 

How the team is doing: Losing Spacek’s 45-points from the back end hurts, and there’s no way to expect Montador or DiPenta (Back from Sweden) to replace that production in full, so one of the kids (Nathan Paetsch or Andrej Sekra) may have to do some extra pulling.

If Miller stays healthy though and the defense can stick, Buffalo has the offense to go places and could be a surprise in the Northeast.

 

Montreal Canadiens

Bonjour: From Buffalo, Jaroslav Spacek (D-$11.5mil/3 years); From Pittsburgh, Hal Gill (D-$4.5mil/2 years); From Calgary, Mike Cammalleri (F-$30mil/5 years); From New Jersey, Brian Gionta (F-$25mil/5 years); From New York, Paul Mara (D-$1.675mil/1 year); From San Jose, Travis Moen ($4.5mil/3 years); From Vancouver, Curtis Sanford (G-1 year); From New York, Scott Gomez (F-Trade)

Au revoir: To Carolina, Tom Kostopolous (F-$2.75mil/3 years); To Anaheim, Saku Koivu (F-$3.25mil/1 year); To Ottawa, Alex Kovalev (F-$10mil/2 years); To Toronto, Mike Komisarek (D-$22.5mil/4 years); To New York, Chris Higgins (F-Trade)

Your invitation is in the mail: Despite writing an article about this just last week, many are still wondering if Jaroslav Halak will be in the Bleu, Blanc et rouge come September.

So what's set? Undoubtedly Carey Price will be back, so that’s the first real settling point for the Canadiens. From there, the bodies ahead of him on the blueline received their finishing touches with the signing of Paul Mara. Both Mara and Gill bring big-time size to the Canadiens’ blue line which will be hoping to make Prices’ job easy this season.

For the most part the Habs have a solid rotation of forwards already in the mix. They added a lot more speed with the acquisitions of Cammalleri and Gionta, and Scott Gomez will be given a chance to create some magic alongside them. Travis Moen brings great size to the forwards so they won’t be such a pushover.

Where do we go from here? Figuring out whether these final trade rumors for Montreal are true or not are the biggest issue in the offseason.

If Gainey is in fact going after another forward, then it puts the young players on the hot seat with uncertain futures, but if he isn’t then all of this just becomes speculation on the part of everyone else and the Canadiens are ready for the season.

Just because I can: The Montreal Canadiens just have to be different. First it was this whole “100th Anniversary” thing which was a year too early because they were established in 1909, meaning this December marks 100 years and now it’s the fact (well this wasn’t recently changed, but the point should be made) that they now list the ‘Francais’ option before the ‘English’ option on their website.

On normal Canadian team sites, ‘English’ is on the left and ‘French’ on the right.

That’s it. All American teams located south of Michigan now need to list Spanish first. Or Spanish at all.

How the team is doing: In a year that was filled with a tragic downfall and disappointment, the Canadiens’ took the opportunity to overhaul their roster in free agency.

While many are wondering if that last top forward will come via trade, the Habs (although still lacking size up front) have made changes to get faster up front and are emphasizing defense in front of Carey Price.

There’s no argument that Montreal made a lot of changes and really tried to shake up a roster that underachieved on last year’s loft expectations, but their ability to gel together quickly and put those bad memories to bed is still up in the air.

Chris Gomez though seems to have a lot of confidence early on: "When you play the Montreal Canadiens, you're going to know you were in a game.

Ottawa Senators

Here to Capitalize: From Montreal, Alex Kovalev (F-$10mil/2 years)

Now just a lower case: Mike Comrie (F-Still unsigned...seriously, someone needed to go here)

Your invitation is in the mail: Dany Heatley. After such a tumultuous two months, many are wondering if the recent addition of Kovalev is enough to help entice Heaters to stay.

Word is that his reported stubbornness has soured a few teams though, so he may have no other option than to concede to Bryan Murray and Cory Clouston and patch things up.

So what's set? This offseason there hasn’t been any hectic additions to the Ottawa Senators’ crease. While Brian Elliot is still without a contract, Pascal Leclaire is preparing to have a shot at the starting role after being acquired by the team during last year’s trade deadline.

The Senators are also loaded up with contracts on the back end so there’s no flex room on the defense, and in looking at their forwards their only addition (Chris Neil was re-signed) was their best one, as Alex Kovalev may finally provide this team with the secondary scoring they’ve so desperately needed over the past few seasons.

Where do we go from here? See: Boston Bruins, Phil Kessel. It seems that, although there are no glaring needs that have yet to be addressed for some of these teams, most of their questions stem around a player (or players) who don’t want to be there.

The Senators have to figure out what to with Dany Heatley. Whether they’re going to trade the beleaguered sniper out of the conference for the future’s building blocks, or if they’re going to hang on to him and hope that one of the highest producing lines in the NHL can turn into a Fab Foursome with Kovalev.

Just because I can: In talking with Alan Bass, there’s a surprise coming up in his articles that discuss “Twins”. This got us talking though. What if the Sedin twins (let’s face it...the world’s most famous twins—eat your heart out Olsens) married twins? Isn’t that a little more than strange?

Even worse, what if each couple had their own set of twins? All of the sudden the NHL would be overrun with two sets of Swedish, hockey-playing twins that are good for 75-90 points a year.

Brian Burke may pass while trying to acquire all of them.

How the team is doing: It’s hard to progress when you’re in a situation like the Senators because of all the heat that the Heatley situation is causing. That being said it’s been a fairly luke-warm summer for Ottawa with nothing of consequence really happening.

If they do finally end up trading Heatley, the Sens should really go after another big-minutes defense (because so many are available, right?) that could finally give them that top-pairing presence they’ve lacked since Zdeno Chara left, along with another scoring forward.

Toronto Maple Leafs

In through here: From Anaheim, Francois Beauchemin (D-$11.4mil/3 years); From Montreal, Mike Komisarek (D-$22.5mil/4 years); From New York, Colton Orr (F-$4mil/4 years), From Atlanta, Garnett Exelby (D-trade)/Colin Stuart (F-Trade); From Europe, Rickard Wallin (F-One year deal); From Europe, Jonas Gustavsson (G-$810,000/1 year)

Exit stage left: Martin Gerber (G-Europe), Jamie Sifers (D-Minnesota), Jamie Heward (D-Unsigned)

Your invitation is in the mail: Any defenseman not signed this offseason (White, Kaberle, Van Ryn, Finger, ect.). With 10 NHL-calibre defensemen on the roster (I count 11 but no one else seems to like Phil Oreskovic), someone has to go.

Well, we thought that last year and no one was traded until November, when Toronto finally got rid Carlo Colaiacovo. Right after I figured out how to spell his name right on one try.

While Kaberle is listed as the Leafs’ Most Valuable Trading Chip (Although MVTC doesn’t quite roll off the tounge), Ian White may be the first to go of anyone. A defenseman who can put up 30 points and maybe play forward for $950,000?

That is certainly attractive.

So what's set? The defense. When you go out and add Komisarek, Exelby and Beauchemin to Kaberle, White, Luke Schenn, Anton Stralman, Jonas Frogren, Jeff Finger and Mike Van Ryn (All from memory), you’ve got a plan.

Or you just had a driving urge to tell the rest of the Northeast to “keep your head up.” Either way, the only thing that changes with this come fall is depth chart order.

Where do we go from here? So long as Vesa Toskala is healthy and Gustavsson is at least three quarters as advertised, the Leafs should be fine between the pipes.

The funny thing is, this team was one of only seven in the East to score 250 goals or more and people are clamoring about scoring. Granted Dominic Moore and Nik Antropov are gone, but the Leafs also scored four or more goals five times after Mar. 19 (10 games).

Would another forward of the top-six variety be a great addition? Definitely. Is it entirely necessary? Some would lead you to believe it would be, but others would rather see how the kids (Jiri Tlusty, Tyler Bozak, Christian Hanson, Nikolai Kulemin, or Viktor Stalberg) can progress this season.

And one of those people happens to be Brian Burke.

Just because I can: Thanks to Wikipedia, I was reminded that Andy Wozniewski was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins at the 2009 NHL Trade Deadline. Granted the former-Leaf (and at that time St Louis Blue) never played a game for the Penguins and never got a ring, but there’s something about seeing him there and them winning that makes me sad.

Oh wait. It’s that I’ve been waiting for that since 1967. Yeah. I forgot.

How the team is doing: Brian Burke has addressed the defense (worst goals-against in the league last year), addressed the goaltending (A healthy Toskala and a promising Swede could make the season competitive and fun between the pipes), and dragged sandpaper across the eyes of the upper-management of this team.

They’ll sell tickets, but only because 18,000 people are hoping that someone gets one square in the kisser. They’ll score some goals, but only if (at this rate) the kids really step up. They’ll win some games, but only because they’ll have beaten everyone else into submission.

G...Good God...It’s the WWE for 41 nights at the Air Canada Centre!

Quick Update: This was written prior to the Wayne Primeau/Anton Stralman/Colin Stuart trade on Monday evening. I feel the Leafs got shafted in this one, but I'm also very high on Stralman. Not a great trade anyhow as the only way the Leafs win is by adding a 2nd round pick. Wayne Primeau will not burn out the red light in Toronto.

Bryan Thiel is a Senior Writer and an NHL Community Leader for Bleacher Report. If you want to get in contact with Bryan you can do so through his profile, and you can also email him at bryanthiel74@hotmail.com. Be sure to check out his previous work in his archives.

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