THN Free Agency Preview: Northeast Division
If the Bruins' Phil Kessel signs an offer sheet with another team, Boston likely won't be able to match. (Getty Images)
THN Free Agency Preview: Northeast Division
Cap Space - $200,000
UFAs – Manny Fernandez, G; P-J Axelsson, LW; Mark Recchi, RW; Steve Montador, D; Shane Hnidy, D; Stephane Yelle, C; Jeremy Reich, LW.
RFAs – Phil Kessel, C; Byron Bitz, RW; Matt Hunwick, D.
Needs – Cap space. The Bruins are a deep, young team that will only continue to get better, but in today’s NHL having the ability to juggle a roster when an injury arises is integral.
Rumors claimed Marc Savard was on the block and Kessel was also a hot commodity at the draft weekend. The Bruins will be in tough to re-sign Kessel (who wants approximately $5 million per) and if they do keep him they’ll have to make a few other roster moves to keep themselves under the $56.8 million cap.
With such a young and potent team, though, the Bruins don’t need to add anything significant via the free agent market.
Ready for the big time – Tuukka Rask will assume the backup job to Vezina winner Tim Thomas and will continue to be groomed as the veteran’s successor. Rask should see about 30 games this year as the B’s try keep an aging Thomas fresh and not allow Rask to rot on the bench for long stretches. If the club loses Kessel, 22-year-old Vladimir Sobotka and 21-year-old Brad Marchand will be given an opportunity for a full-time NHL job. Zach Hamill should get some playing time, but with so many centers on the NHL roster he’ll likely spend another year in American League Providence.
Cap Space - $11.1 million
UFAs – Maxim Afinogenov, RW; Jaroslav Spacek, D; Teppo Numminen, D; Dominic Moore, C; Mikael Tellqvist, G; Andrew Peters, LW.
RFAs – Drew Stafford, RW; Clarke MacArthur, LW; Patrick Kaleta, RW; Andrej Sekera, D.
Needs – The Sabres will have to make a few adjustments before next season, with the most pressing need being a top defenseman. Spacek is expected to test the free agent market, but hasn’t ruled out a return to Buffalo. If the Sabres lose the two-way Czech minute-muncher, they will have fill that void with another part.
GM Darcy Regier is known for being able to work under a small payroll, so he will not be among those pursuing big-ticket free agents. Instead, any additions the Sabres make will likely be through trade or by acquiring a mid-range UFA after the madness cools off.
Ready for the big time – If the Sabres are still looking for a body on defense come training camp, behemoth back-ender Tyler Myers could make the team. Standing 6-foot-7 and 215 pounds, the 2008 first-rounder needed to add more bulk to his frame and has done just that in the past year. Up front it’s a totally different type of player who will be given another shot to make it, with 5-foot-6, 165 pound Nathan Gerbe trying to stick. He scored 30 goals and was a point-per-game player in Portland last year, but some question whether his game translates to the NHL or if he’ll be a career AHL scorer.
Cap Space - $33.3 million
UFAs – Mathieu Schneider, D; Alex Tanguay, LW; Saku Koivu, C; Alex Kovalev, RW; Robert Lang, C; Mike Komisarek, D; Francis Bouillon, D; Mathieu Dandenault, D; Tom Kostopoulos, RW; Patrice Brisebois, D.
RFAs – Tomas Plekanec, LW; Guillaume Latendresse, RW; Matt D’Agostini, RW; Gregory Stewart, LW.
Needs – A whole new set of forwards and three or four defensemen to fill out the back end. GM Bob Gainey was after a big No. 1 centerman (ahem, Vinny Lecavalier) at the draft, but after striking out at there he turned around and traded for center Scott Gomez. Gainey could use more of his RFA forwards and goalie Jaroslav Halak as trade bait to try and fill out a brand new forward unit.
It would be a surprise if Komisarek returns, so the Habs have to be thinking about getting another hard-nosed defenseman to go up against the tough grinders they know they’ll face in Boston. The bottom line is the Habs need a lot.
Ready for the big time – If the Habs lose as many of their players to free agency as is expected, it could bring about the ascension of a number of its prospects to the NHL. Ben Maxwell, a second-rounder from 2006, was treated to seven games in the NHL last season without scoring a point, but showed a strong two-way game with potential to grow. Max Pacioretty will likely stick full-time on the team and the Canadiens will welcome his strong size along the wing. P.K. Subban will be given a shot, but may need seasoning in the AHL.
Cap Space - $4 million
UFAs – Mike Comrie, C; Chris Neil, RW; Brad Isbister, LW.
RFAs – Brian Elliott, G.
Needs – The Sens have needed a reliable defenseman since Zdeno Chara left and Wade Redden declined rapidly before exiting via free agency. Perhaps they can address this pressing need in a Dany Heatley trade, though that would leave them needing more scoring at forward.
Heatley is owed a $4 million up-front bonus July 1, so teams are reticent to match the Sens’ high asking price prior to that deadline. GM Bryan Murray has said if Heatley isn’t moved by July 1 he won’t be moved at all, though that is likely a game being played by a GM dealing from a position of weakness. If the Sens move Heatley after July 1, they’ll likely also get their trading partner to take on Jason Smith, Christoph Schubert, Alex Picard or Alex Auld, all of whom are available. This would give them a little more cap space, though not enough to make any big impact signings.
Ready for the big time – Ilya Zubov has improved in leaps and bounds since coming to North America two years ago. He led AHL Binghamton in scoring this year with 52 points in 63 games. His foot speed remains a question, but if he comes to camp in as good shape as he did last year, Zubov will be in the mix for an NHL job. Cody Bass had an injury-troubled season, but his grit is needed on the big club, so he could be used as a depth guy. Danish center Peter Regin will also get a long look after an impressive first year in North America, scoring 47 points and posting a plus-15 rating in 56 AHL games.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Cap Space - $12.3 million
UFAs – Martin Gerber, G; Olaf Kolzig, G; Mark Bell, LW; Curtis Joseph, G; Bates Battaglia, LW; Boyd Devereaux, C; Brad May, LW; Jamie Heward, D; Kris Newbury, C; Ben Ondrus, RW.
RFAs – Mikhail Grabovski, C; Ryan Hollweg, C; Justin Pogge, G; Tim Stapleton, RW.
Needs – Scoring, plain and simple. Jason Blake and Niklas Hagman are the two highest paid forwards, combining for a $7 million cap hit, but they aren’t the first-line scorers a playoff team would run with. With Pavel Kubina and Tomas Kaberle available for trade, GM Brian Burke may try and add scoring that way or go the free agent route.
Burke has also let it be known he wasn’t happy with Vesa Toskala and his preparation techniques, so the Finnish netminder is also believed to be available for trade. If he goes, the team would obviously need a No. 1 goalie, which is why they are after Swedish sensation Jonas “The Monster” Gustavsson, who would immediately become the No. 1 in Leaf Land.
Ready for the big time – With such a young team being built pretty much from scratch, most of the Leafs prospects will come into camp with a legitimate chance of making the team. Jiri Tlusty, though not a Brian Burke-type player, scored 25 goals and was a point-per-game player with the Marlies last season and will likely be on the big club permanently in 2009-10. Viktor Stalberg and Tyler Bozak, both fresh out of NCAA play, could very well make the squad out of training camp as well. Bozak was limited to 19 games last year because of injury but notched 23 points, while the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Stalberg posted 46 points in 39 games with Vermont before joining the AHL Marlies for two playoff games.
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