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THN Free Agency Preview: Atlantic Division

Can the Penguins repeat as Stanley Cup champs in 2009-10? (Getty Images)

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Can the Penguins repeat as Stanley Cup champs in 2009-10? (Getty Images)

By Alan Bass

NEW JERSEY DEVILS
Cap Space –
$16.4 million

UFAs –
Brian Gionta, RW; John Madden, C; Brendan Shanahan, LW; Mike Rupp, RW; Niclas Havelid, D; Kevin Weekes, G; Scott Clemmensen, G.

RFAs –
Travis Zajac, C; Andy Greene, D.

Needs –
The Devils, who will most likely be losing backup goalies Scott Clemmensen and Kevin Weekes to free agency, must find a cheap replacement to back up Martin Brodeur. There are numerous goaltenders who won’t command a king’s ransom, including Ty Conklin and Andrew Raycroft, available for pick up.

Because of the number of players they’ve lost to free agency over the years, New Jersey needs to beef up their depth on both offense and defense. They have enough cap room to sign an impact defender or two (such as Derek Morris or Mattias Ohlund), but must sign four forwards, in addition to two defensemen, to fill out their roster.

New Jersey also needs replacements for Brian Gionta and John Madden, two longtime Devils who may move on. Nik Antropov, Mike Grier or Taylor Pyatt are options for GM Lou Lamoriello to look at.

Ready for the big time –
Nicklas Bergfors has been a so-so prospect since he was drafted 23rd overall in 2005. He had an OK year in the American League, posting 51 points in 66 games, but must improve his defensive coverage and play away from the puck. Mattias Tedenby, the Devils’ first round pick (24th overall) in 2008, has not performed to expectations. With just four points this year in the Swedish Elite League, he must work hard this summer to make the NHL roster. Other possibilities include right winger Matt Halischuk and goaltender Jeff Frazee.

NEW YORK ISLANDERS
Cap Space –
$24.3 million

UFAs –
Mike Sillinger, C; Dean McAmmond, LW; Andy Hilbert, C; RW; Mitchell Fritz, LW; Thomas Pock, D; Yann Danis, G; Joey MacDonald, G.

RFAs –
Blake Comeau, RW; Nate Thompson, C; Jack Hillen, D.

Needs –
After finishing in last place, the Islanders could use everything: offense, defense and a goalie.

With goaltender Rick DiPietro injury-prone, the Islanders must ensure they have a competent backup in place who can play 35-40 games if need be. They have two young goalies testing the free agent market, but if they cannot keep one of them, goalies such as Conklin are available.

The Isles have some young players with potential, but they could also use some talented veterans to help in their development. With tons of cap room, the Islanders have the freedom to sign whoever they can lure to Long Island. Whether they’ll spend to the salary cap maximum – especially since their building and their business isn’t the most profitable in the league – is another story.

On defense, the Islanders have veteran talent (Mark Streit and Brendan Witt) and players with potential (Freddy Meyer, Bruno Gervais). However, they still must add more.

Ready for the big time –
There is a reason John Tavares was the first overall pick in the 2009 draft; he is the best offensive prospect since Sidney Crosby and exactly what the Islanders need: a skilled, smart center with goal-producing talent. Prospect Jesse Joensuu has the skating ability and tenacity to succeed in the NHL, but has had many problems finishing. His numbers are adequate, with 39 points in 71 AHL games in 2008-09, but he has room for improvement.

NEW YORK RANGERS
Cap Space –
$18.7 million

UFAs –
Nik Antropov, C; Blair Betts, C; Colton Orr, RW; Derek Morris, D; Paul Mara, Fredrik Sjostrom, RW; D; Stephen Valiquette, G.

RFAs –
Nikolai Zherdev, LW; Lauri Korpikoski, LW; Brandon Dubinsky, C; Ryan Callahan, RW.

Needs –
The Rangers could potentially lose numerous impact players this off-season. With Antropov and Morris perhaps moving on and depth players such as Orr, Betts and Mara not receiving offers from GM Glen Sather, there looks to be numerous holes to fill and a fair amount of cap space with which to fill them.

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On defense, the Rangers are in need of depth players to potentially replace Morris and Mara, but the Rangers need to ensure that they can get the right bang for their buck and not overpay they way they did for Wade Redden last summer.

Ready for the big time –
Bobby Sanguinetti averaged better than a half point per game in the AHL in 2008-09 and looks ready to step into the big league. He is a offensive threat whose defensive game is steadily improving. Artem Anisimov dominated the AHL, posting 81 points in 80 games. With unbelievable speed, hockey sense and good defensive ability, Anisimov could quickly move up the depth charts.

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS
Cap Space –
None

UFAs –
Andrew Alberts, D; Martin Biron, G; Mike Knuble, RW; Lasse Kukkonen, D; Antero Niittymaki, G.

RFAs –
Jared Ross, C.

Needs –
After acquiring Ray Emery and Chris Pronger already this off-season, the Flyers only are in need of a backup goalie and more offensive depth.

Although the Flyers gained an all-star defenseman in Pronger, they lost Luca Sbisa, a young defenseman certain to start the season in the NHL. Nonetheless, Philly has great defensive depth, with a top four of Kimmo Timonen, Pronger, Braydon Coburn and Ryan Parent.

On offense, the Flyers lost Joffrey Lupul in the Pronger trade – and Mike Knuble, who is currently in talks with the club, may not return. With no cap space available, the Flyers would need to move someone if they wish to re-sign Knuble or bring in another player. Possibilities to move include Danny Briere, Randy Jones and Scott Hartnell.

The Flyers have a choice with their backup goalie situation; they can bring up Scott Munroe, last year’s starter with the AHL Phantoms; they could choose Johan Backlund, the Swedish goaltender signed last season to a minor-pro contract; or they can sign a backup goalie via free agency.

Ready for the big time –
Winger Andreas Nodl averaged better than a half point per game in the AHL this year and played 38 games in the NHL. His progress in the minors most likely will earn him an opportunity on the fourth line. Defenseman Danny Syvret, with 12 goals and 57 points in 76 games with the Phantoms, looks to be NHL-ready. Expect him to be given a long look in training camp.

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS
Cap Space –
$5.6 million

UFAs –
Miroslav Satan, RW; Petr Sykora, RW; Ruslan Fedotenko, LW; Philippe Boucher, D; Hal Gill, D; Rob Scuderi, D; Mathieu Garon, G; Janne Pesonen, LW.

RFAs –
Tim Wallace, LW/RW.

Needs –
Although they are the defending Stanley Cup champions, the Penguins could lose numerous players to free agency and may need many replacements. Their main needs this summer are depth players and a backup goalie.

With Satan, Sykora, Fedotenko and more potentially on the way out, the Penguins might lose almost 60 goals and 110 points in production. And on the back end, they could lose Scuderi and Gill, two defensive defensemen who were key pieces in their championship run. Although their top four of Gonchar, Orpik, Goligoski and Letang are still intact, they need to fill their final defensive pairing with two hard-hitting players.

With Garon a UFA, the Penguins will need to find a cheap replacement for him.

Ready for the big time –
Luca Caputi proved this year he is capable of playing NHL hockey. Although he only put up one goal in a five-game NHL stint, he played well away from the puck and did not look out of place. Dustin Jeffrey could find himself in the NHL out of training camp if the team cannot conjure up enough money to sign a depth forward. Jeffrey, though not an offensive superstar, will be able to contribute on the Pens’ fourth line. Keep an eye on blueliner Ben Lovejoy, too.

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