NHL Free Agents 2011: What Each Team Needs in Order to Fill Its Biggest Hole

April WeinerCorrespondent IJuly 28, 2011

NHL Free Agents 2011: What Each Team Needs in Order to Fill Its Biggest Hole

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    Most teams have already made the moves they feel are necessary to give them a chance at winning the Stanley Cup in 2011-12.

    This is judging by all the trades that have already happened and the rapidly consolidated list of remaining free agents.

    However, there are still some things that teams need to increase their chances at the Cup. Luckily for them, there are some free agents still available.

    There is also always the possibility of more trades occurring.

    Here is what each team needs to fill its biggest hole going into the 2011-12 season.

Anaheim Ducks

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    The Anaheim Ducks already have a great team. They have one of the best lines in the league with Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan.

    Perry, of course, led the league in goals last season with 50 and was third in points with 98. Getzlaf and Ryan had 76 and 71 points, respectively.

    Additionally, they have Teemu Selanne, who came in eighth in scoring with 80 points last season.

    What Anaheim needs is a healthy and consistent goaltender, which it should have if Jonas Hiller returns fully recovered from missing so much time with vertigo.

    The team also needs Selanne to decide to return for another season, or it'll be forced to replace his production either with a remaining free agent or via trade.

    The best free-agent forwards still available are Cory Stillman, Sergei Samsonov and Alex Kovalev.

Boston Bruins

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    It's hard to critique a team that won the Stanley Cup in front of last season's most dominant goaltender.

    While the Boston Bruins are already stacked, as they retained most of their 2010-11 team, they could use a couple additions to increase their chances at a repeat.

    For starters, the Bruins could use some power-play support.

    The team was in the bottom third of the league in power-play percentage last season at 16.2 percent. They sunk even lower in PPG with 43.

    Their PP was no better in the playoffs; only two teams had worse PP percentages than they had at 11.4 percent.

    That's one element of Boston's game where there is plenty of room for improvement.

Buffalo Sabres

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    In the past four seasons, the Buffalo Sabres have failed to reach the playoffs twice and spent the past two seasons exiting early after first-round losses to the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers.

    While the Sabres averaged almost three goals per game last season and have one of the top goaltenders in the league, Ryan Miller, they're just missing something.

    The first thing the team tackled this offseason was defense. It acquired Robyn Regehr from Calgary and acquired the rights to and signed Christian Ehrhoff.

    Then, when free agency began, the team signed Ville Leino away from Philadelphia.

    These are good additions, but the team also lost Steve Montador, Tim Connolly, Rob Niedermayer, Mike Grier, Craig Rivet and Patrick Lalime.

    For now, the Sabres should be done, as the Ehrhoff and Leino signings took up a good portion of their 2011-12 salary. They'll have to wait to see if these offseason moves did the trick and will give them greater success in future playoffs.

Calgary Flames

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    The Calgary Flames have needed to make some changes for years but lacked the cap space to do so.

    That changed this summer though. The team traded Robyn Regehr and Ales Kotalik to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for defenseman Chris Butler and forward Paul Byron.

    Flames GM Jay Feaster wanted to bring youth in and accomplished that too. Plus, according to Capgeek, the team still has about $1.3 million in cap space left to sign another player or two, depending on the caliber of player.

    However, what the Flames need is a high-caliber player to help Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff lead the team to success.

    Last season, the Flames were just two wins out of the playoffs, and they haven't made the playoffs in two years.

    In order to make the playoffs and be a contender, the Flames need to add another big name. They'll have to trade for it, though, as the best names are off the free-agent market, and they don't have enough cap space to sign a top UFA anyway.

Carolina Hurricanes

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    The Carolina Hurricanes were just one spot too low to make the playoffs last season. However, with their offseason moves, they could make the playoffs next season.

    The team re-signed Joni Pitkanen and added Tomas Kaberle to help out its power play and blue line. It also added Alexei Ponikarovsky and Anthony Stewart on the wings.

    However, the Hurricanes lost too. Erik Cole signed with the Montreal Canadiens, Joe Corvo will be playing for the Boston Bruins and Cory Stillman is still out there on the free-agent market.

    Last season, Cole scored 52 points, good for fourth in scoring on the team. The team has Ponikarovsky and Stewart to take his place, but they only scored 15 and 39 points, respectively.

    Jeff Skinner is coming off a Calder Trophy-winning rookie season where he produced 63 points and is expected to perform even better as he matures. However, what if Skinner experiences a sophomore slump?

    The Hurricanes need another proven forward to make up for some of what they lost and the unknowns going into 2011-12.

Chicago Blackhawks

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    The Chicago Blackhawks have been very active this offseason.

    They picked up Dan Carcillo, Sean O'Donnell, Jamal Mayers, Andrew Brunette, Sami Lepisto and Steve Montador in free agency.

    They traded away Tomas Kopecky, Brian Campbell and Troy Brouwer and received Rostislav Olesz and draft picks in return.

    Kopecky scored 42 points, Campbell scored 27 last year but 58 the year before and Brouwer scored 36 points last season.

    The forwards they picked up, Carcillo, Mayers and Brunette, only scored six, 14 and 46 points respectively last season. Brunette's the closest the team got to replacing the production it lost.

    Granted, the team typically looks to Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp for scoring, but it would be nice for the team to replenish its secondary scoring.

Colorado Avalanche

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    The Colorado Avalanche pretty much need it all this offseason: consistent goaltending, defense and wingers.

    Regarding goaltending, the Avalanche picked up Jean-Sebastien Giguere and traded for Semyon Varlamov from the Washington Capitals.

    Giguere is a good veteran backup, and Varlamov can be excellent when healthy. When healthy are the key words there.

    As for defense, the Avalanche picked up Jan Hejda and Shane O'Brien.

    The team could have done better both on defense and with wingers. The team still has almost $19 million left in cap space, according to Capgeek, so it can afford to make some more significant moves.

    Unfortunately, the free-agent market has almost dried up, with Scott Hannan and Bryan McCabe the best names left on defense.

Columbus Blue Jackets

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    The Columbus Blue Jackets were another very active team this offseason. Coming into the summer, the Blue Jackets needed offensive support, defense and goaltending relief for Steve Mason.

    As for the offensive support, Columbus traded for Jeff Carter, a huge trade and a great move if Carter can stay healthy to produce.

    On defense, Columbus traded for the rights to and signed James Wisniewski. If he can reach his potential, that's another great long-term signing for the team.

    Finally, regarding goaltending, the team picked up Mark Dekanich, who has only played one NHL game, and Curtis Sanford, who hasn't played in the NHL for a couple years.

    If the Blue Jackets still have room to improve, it's in goaltending.

Dallas Stars

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    Everyone knows about the Dallas Stars' financial issues. It was those financial issues that caused the team to let Brad Richards walk.

    The team really needs to replace Richards but is on a very tight budget. It also needs help on defense.

    On defense, the team picked up Sheldon Souray, who didn't play in the NHL last year. He might not be quite what the team needed in terms of leading the defense and quarterbacking the power play.

    The team picked up a few other players in free agency, but no one who can take the place of Richards.

    It'll be tough for the team to replace him under its financial uncertainty, as it won't be able to pay as much and players may look to avoid the uncertainty.

Detroit Red Wings

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    The Detroit Red Wings have seen three retirements this offseason: Brian Rafalski, Kris Draper and Chris Osgood.

    Nicklas Lidstrom opted to return for at least one more season, but his career is nearing its end too.

    The team needs to find ways to replace all these players and set up the team for continued success, even after its core guys have all retired.

    Detroit signed Ian White and Jonathan Ericsson for defense, Mike Commodore for offense and Ty Conklin for backup goaltending.

    However, what the team could still use is a top-six forward and a young defenseman who can be its core blueliner for years to come.

    It would be fantastic if the Wings could trade for Shea Weber, but that's a long shot.

Edmonton Oilers

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    The Edmonton Oilers have finished dead last in the league for the past two years and have thus captured the first draft pick for two years running.

    In order to not have a threepeat, the team needs to make some additions.

    The Oilers need defense, particularly veteran defense, and goaltending badly.

    They have some good young players, especially Taylor Hall and now Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, but the team needs a few other pieces to fit the puzzle.

Florida Panthers

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    The Florida Panthers had their work cut out for them this offseason. They needed offensive support, to replace Tomas Vokoun and to get up to the salary ceiling.

    The Panthers were very active in trades and the free-agent market.

    The new players for 2011-12 include Jose Theodore, Brian Campbell, Ed Jovanovski, Sean Bergenheim, Matt Bradley, Tomas Fleischmann, Tomas Kopecky, Scottie Upshall, Kris Versteeg and Marcel Goc.

    That's a lot of quality players in that list.

    For now, the Panthers don't need to make any more moves. They just need these moves to pay off.

Los Angeles Kings

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    The Los Angeles Kings needed offensive support this offseason and needed to re-sign Drew Doughty.

    So far, the team has the first part covered: It traded for Mike Richards, who should bring a lot of points now that he has had reparative surgery on his wrist, and Simon Gagne.

    The only thing the team could use offensively is another winger, but it may not have the cap space left to sign or trade for a winger.

    As for Doughty, the team is still negotiating a contract with him. Once they do, though, the Kings have put together a better contender in the Western Conference.

Minnesota Wild

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    The Minnesota Wild came into the offseason ready to make moves, with every player except Mikko Koivu on the table.

    The team needed a big goal-scorer and traded for Devin Setoguchi and Dany Heatley of the San Jose Sharks.

    The Wild had to trade defenseman Brent Burns and forward Martin Havlat to get those trades done.

    Now, the team could use a defenseman to replace Burns.

Montreal Canadiens

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    The Montreal Canadiens re-signed Andrei Markov this offseason, which was one of the most important items on their summer to-do list.

    They signed Erik Cole in free agency as well, bringing another high producer into their mix.

    The players that won't be returning are James Wisniewski, Roman Hamrlik, Benoit Pouliot, Jeff Halpern, Paul Mara and Brent Sopel, to name a few.

    The team could use some more size and backup goaltending, but other than that, it's pretty well set for 2011-12.

Nashville Predators

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    The Nashville Predators' two priorities this offseason are to acquire offense and re-sign Shea Weber.

    The team desperately needs offense, as its two top scorers scored 50 points. Its next top scorer was Weber, a defenseman.

    The Predators' lack of goal-scoring in the regular season put them in the bottom third of the league in goals per game, averaging just 2.6.

    They also lost their leading playoff scorer, Joel Ward, to the Washington Capitals in free agency.

    If the team hopes to remain a contender for years to come, it needs Weber re-signed, preferably long-term, and it needs to find more scorers.

New Jersey Devils

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    The New Jersey Devils desperately need goal-scoring, as they were dead last in the league in goals per game. The team averaged only 2.08 goals per game.

    The team should have Zach Parise back healthy for the full season, which will help with the scoring. 

    The team also needs defense. It will have top defensive prospect Adam Larsson to join the club sooner rather than later, but it could use veteran defense as well.

New York Islanders

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    The New York Islanders were in need of pretty much everything this offseason: defensive and offensive support.

    The team tried to get Christian Ehrhoff to sign, trading for his rights from Vancouver. However, it couldn't get a deal done and shipped him off to Buffalo.

    The Islanders haven't made too many moves yet this offseason, bringing in Marty Reasoner, so one has to assume that they'll try to make some trades or last-minute signings.

    They still need both defense and offense.

New York Rangers

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    Coming into this offseason, the New York Rangers' top priorities were clearing cap space to go after Brad Richards, finding a veteran defenseman and re-signing RFAs.

    First, they bought out Chris Drury, which freed up space for them to capture Richards. They've also re-signed all of their RFAs: Brian Boyle, Brandon Dubinsky and yesterday Ryan Callahan.

    Now, the team needs to focus on defense.

    Bryan McCabe is still available, but it's highly unlikely that the team will re-sign him. Other options include Scott Hannan, Steve Staios and Brent Sopel.

Ottawa Senators

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    The Ottawa Senators came into this offseason needing offensive support and a backup goaltender.

    They acquired Nikita Filatov from Columbus, but Filatov has yet to meet his NHL potential, so that's not too helpful yet.

    They also picked up enforcer Zenon Konopka and goaltender Alex Auld.

    Ottawa could still use some high-producing forwards, as well as young defensemen, to round out Sergei Gonchar, Filip Kuba, Chris Phillips and Erik Karlsson.

    According to Capgeek, the team still has about $12 million to work with.

Philadelphia Flyers

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    The Philadelphia Flyers' biggest concern this offseason was acquiring a veteran goaltender who could be their franchise goaltender and deliver a Cup back to Philadelphia.

    They decided on the best free-agent goaltender, traded for his rights and signed Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine-year deal.

    Before doing that, though, the team traded away two of its core forwards, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. The pair had also been two of the team's top three scorers.

    After trading them, the team needed to recoup some offense. It signed Max Talbot from Pittsburgh and Jaromir Jagr, who decided to return to the NHL.

    Now, the Flyers thought they'd be set, but Chris Pronger may not be recovering as well as they would have liked. The team may need to make an additional move on defense.

Phoenix Coyotes

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    The Phoenix Coyotes are another team with financial issues that had to make sacrifices due to financial constraints.

    They had to give up goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, trading his rights to the Philadelphia Flyers. Additionally, the team lost defenseman Ed Jovanovski to the Florida Panthers.

    To replace goaltending, the Coyotes signed Mike Smith. In order to be a contender, the Coyotes will need another goaltender, as Smith has yet to prove himself capable of being a consistent starter.

    As for defense, the team re-signed Keith Yandle, which is good news.

    The Coyotes did manage to retain their top three scorers as well in Shane Doan, Yandle and Ray Whitney; however, they could use some secondary scoring.

Pittsburgh Penguins

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    The Pittsburgh Penguins have a pretty set team year in and year out. After all, a good portion of their annual paychecks goes to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, as well as other top young players.

    However, as the team learned, perhaps it relies too much on Crosby and Malkin, as it made a first-round exit in the playoffs without the two centers.

    The Penguins need to ensure they can win in the playoffs without the two players, and GM Ray Shero is adept at finding extra scoring at a low cost.

    This offseason, a player like Jagr would have been great, as he still puts up decent numbers at a low cost because of his age.

    Alas, that didn't happen, so Shero will have to find another cheap forward.

San Jose Sharks

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    The San Jose Sharks made greater strides toward the Stanley Cup this past season, making it to the Western Conference finals before losing to the Vancouver Canucks.

    However, they had some players they needed to re-sign and couldn't fit everyone in under the cap.

    They made a couple of moves, sending Devin Setoguchi and Dany Heatley to the Minnesota Wild in exchange for Brent Burns and Martin Havlat, respectively.

    Those two moves could be enough for the Sharks. They'll have to wait and see.

St. Louis Blues

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    The St. Louis Blues came into this offseason needing more offense, preferably veteran leadership and a backup goaltender.

    The Blues seemed pretty quiet at the beginning of free agency, not signing high-profile players. They did find a backup goalie in Brian Elliott.

    Then the Blues signed two veteran leaders: Jamie Langenbrunner and Jason Arnott.

    Both are fantastic leaders in the dressing room and on the ice and should help their young players' development immensely.

Tampa Bay Lightning

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    The Tampa Bay Lightning surprised many people with their run to the Eastern Conference finals. They beat the Pittsburgh Penguins, coming off a large deficit, and swept the Washington Capitals before losing in the ECF to the eventual Cup-winning Boston Bruins.

    The key to the Lightning's offseason was to retain as much of the 2010-11 team as possible, with the top priority being signing Steven Stamkos to a long-term deal.

    Steve Yzerman and the Lightning got the core players re-signed, with Simon Gagne and Sean Bergenheim being two of the bigger names that they couldn't get.

    Most importantly, though, the team has Stamkos for a few years and has Dwayne Roloson back in net for 2011-12.

    Additionally, Eric Brewer and Teddy Purcell re-signed.

Toronto Maple Leafs

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    The Toronto Maple Leafs' priority this offseason was finding a top center, specifically trying to lure Brad Richards to Toronto.

    In the end, the Leafs lost out on Richards to the appeal of New York and settled on signing Tim Connolly.

    Connolly isn't a replacement for Richards, though, and sooner rather than later the Leafs will have to address the center situation again.

    They'll most likely have to address it via trade, and we all know that Brian Burke is highly adept at pulling off surprising trades.

Vancouver Canucks

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    The Vancouver Canucks were the best team in the NHL last season, winning the Presidents' Trophy and dominating pretty much every team in the regular season.

    They finally made it past the Chicago Blackhawks, into the conference finals and on to the Stanley Cup Final, where they eventually fell to the Boston Bruins.

    Then, three of their defensemen were set to become UFAs on July 1: Kevin Bieksa, Christian Ehrhoff and Sami Salo.

    Bieksa proved himself to be the most indispensable defenseman and was rewarded with the first contract. He did give Vancouver the hometown discount but now has a stable home for the next few years.

    Ehrhoff was offered the same discounted deal but declined, and his rights were moved to the Eastern Conference.

    If the Canucks need to do anything to get back to the SCF next season, it's finding a way to replace Ehrhoff, although salary constraints will probably prevent that.

Washington Capitals

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    The Washington Capitals have a way of dominating during the regular season and then disappointing in the playoffs. They have a fantastic team on paper and are typically highly favored to win it all year after year, but they are just missing something.

    The team seems to perform the best when it has a veteran presence on offense, Sergei Fedorov and Jason Arnott being prime examples.

    This offseason, the team picked up Joel Ward and Troy Brouwer on offense, two relatively young players, Tomas Vokoun in net and Roman Hamrlik on defense.

    Their two veteran presences are in net and on defense; we'll see if this is finally the formula that delivers the Cup to Washington.

Winnipeg Jets

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    The Winnipeg Jets relocated from Atlanta this offseason and are in the process of building their new team. They re-signed their captain, Andrew Ladd, which was a big priority for the team.

    Other than that, the team needs help on offense. Of their top three leading scorers, two are defenseman: Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom.

    Ladd was the leading scorer with 59 points.

    That's another problem. They need a scorer who can score more than that.

    The team did trade for Eric Fehr of the Washington Capitals; however, he's missed significant periods of time the past few seasons. He scored 20 points last season and 39 the year before that.

    The Jets need a higher scorer to help them be a contender, especially when they move over to the Western Conference when the NHL realigns.