As always, the NHL summer was an eventful one, with the rich becoming richer, and the poor becoming poorer, at least for the most part. Every team made at least one move on the ice, while several others made moves off the ice. Over the next week, I will examine each team’s movement (players primarily) to see who really improved, who got worse, and who stayed pretty much where they were. Today, part 1 of 6, the Northeast Division:
Team: Boston Bruins
Points (Rk): 87(7)
In: Ted Donato, Doug Doull, Eddy Campbell, Milan Jurcina, Sandy McCarthy, Felix Potvin, Jay Leach, Blake Bellefeuille, Travis Green, Patrice Bergeron
Out: Jozef Stumpel, Jeff Hackett, Don Sweeney, Lee Goren, Chris Kelleher, Tim Thomas, Darren Van Oene, Sean Brown, Brantt Myhres, Mattias Karlin, Krzysztof Oliwa, Bryan Berard, Marty McInnis, Steve Shields
Comments: Unlike last season, the Bruins have a number 1 goalie in the organization, unfortunately, the problem for them is that it’s Felix Potvin, an injury-prone goalie who has regressed the past few seasons. The team has also lost a top-6 forward during the summer for a second straight season. Granted, Stumpel is nowhere near as significant a loss as Bill Guerin (left in 2002), but will nonetheless affect the offence this season. Despite losing “Stumpy”, the team’s offence remains in decent shape, as a healthy Sergei Samsonov should offset the loss of his production. Other than that, the forward ranks look pretty much the same, with Joe Thornton, Glem Murray, Brian Rolston and Mike Knuble all returning. There is a small hole on defence, with Bryan Berard no longer in the organization, and Jonathan Girard out for the season. That being said, the top-4 remains intact, in Hal Gill, Nick Boynton, Dan McGillis, and Sean O’Donnell returning. The other 2 spots should go to rookies Shaone Morrisonn and Jeff Jillson. Potvin takes over as the number 1 netminder, while promising youngster Andrew Raycroft finally gets a chance to prove himself at the NHL level.
Next Steps: With all restricted free agents locked up, GM Mike O’Connell needs to focus on getting a defenceman to replace the departed Bryan Berard. Berard’s replacement: likely to be Bryan Berard, since no one else is persuing him at the moment.
Team: Buffalo Sabres
Points (Rk): 72 (12)
In: David Cullen, Domenic Pittis, Andy Delmore, Chris Drury
Out: Denis Hamel, Doug Houda, Tom Askey, Francois Methot, Peter Ratchuk, Radoslav Hecl, Keith Ballard, Steven Reinprecht, Rhett Warrener
Comments: With a new owner in place, the Sabres can finally go out and get some players to improve the team, particularly on offence. So far, they have done so, getting Chris Drury to complement Miro Satan and Daniel Briere, as well as acquiring Andy Delmore to supply some offence from the defence. Despite adding Drury, the offence will likely again be limited to only the top 2 lines as there is still minimal depth on the 3rd and 4th lines. On defence, with the exception of Alexei Zhitnik, this blueline corps is young and inexperienced, which could be a problem as the season progresses. In goal, there is a logjam, with Biron as the incumbent starter, but both Ryan Miller and Mika Noronen are ready to become full-time NHL goalies. Buffalo may try to move one of their goalies to acquire some veteran blueline help, or another top-6 forward.
Next Steps: The Sabres need to move one of their goalies to get rid of that logjam in goal. Expect Biron to be the one on the move, although Buffalo would likely prefer to move Noronen instead, but his trade value at the moment is limited. A veteran blueliner at this point would help as well.
Team: Montreal Canadiens
Points (Rk): 77(10)
In: Pierre Dagenais, Jean-François Damphousse, Eric Laplante, Steve Begin, Darren Langdon
Out: Mariusz Czerkawski, Randy McKay, Bill Lindsay, Gino Odjick, Mathieu Descoteaux, Eric Landry
Comments: For some Hab fans, it has been a frustrating summer to say the least, as new GM Bob Gainey has done very little to improve the team from the free agency market, preferring to let some youngsters have a chance to show themselves at the NHL level. The team has signed former first-rounders Alexander Perezhogin and Chris Higgins, but both will likely spend the majority of the season in Hamilton. One of Gainey’s most praised moves was to release free-agent busts Mariusz Czerkawski and Randy McKay, but the team had to shell out over $3 million dollars to ensure that neither of the two never dons the “CH” again. On offence, the team is led by captain Saku Koivu, who had a career high in assists and points last season. The Habs will need a similar season from him to silence his critics that he can’t stand the physical demands of the NHL. Richard Zednik and Jan Bulis also had career highs in points last year, and are improving each year. Yanic Perreault and Donald Audette are veterans who disappointed last season, and both will have to improve significantly in order for this team to have more than one offensive line. Youngsters Jason Ward, Marcel Hossa and Mike Ribeiro will also get a chance to contribute on a nightly basis. On defence, there are also some holes, as the team currently doesn’t have a quality #1 defenceman. However, they have some up-and-coming talent in Andrei Markov, Mike Komisarek and Ron Hainsey, although the latter will likely spend most, if not all of the season in the minors. Also, veterans Craig Rivet, Stephane Quintal and Sheldon Souray are steady, although unspectacular. Montreal’s highest paid defenceman Patrice Brisebois can supply offence, but his detractors claim that in his own end, a pylon may actually be more effective than Brisebois himself. The team has a half-decent top-4 in Markov, Rivet, Brisebois and (if healthy) Souray, with veterans Quintal and Karl Dykhuis filling the other 2 spots. The team maintains that Komisarek will see some significant minutes, but with the current depth in front of him, that may be a challenge. In goal, José Théodore is the #1, and is expected to improve after a rough season last year. “Rookie” Mathieu Garon will be the backup and should play 15-20 games.
Next Steps: This one sounds easy, but has been and will continue to be a challenge; that is, deal Patrice Brisebois. He fell out of favour with the team, after going on vacation in Paris during the season, and has since requested a trade. However, he has a no-trade clause and has rejected the one potential trade that would have seen him go to the Stanley Cup winning New Jersey Devils. This poses the question, if he didn’t want to play for a cup-winning team, where does he actually want to go? Moving Brisebois would open up a spot for Komisarek to become a regular on the team, something both fans and management alike would like to see.
Team: Ottawa Senators
Points (Rk): 113(1)
In: Shaun Sutter, Daniel Corso, Peter Smrek, Glen Metropolit, Denis Hamel
Out: Magnus Arvedson, Rob Ray, Jeff Ulmer, Bob Wren, David Hymovitz, Dean Melanson, Joey Tetarenko, Dennis Bonvie, Mathieu Chouinard, Toni Dahlman, Chris Bala, Wade Brookbank
Comments: It was the season Senators fans were waiting for: when the team finally lives up to expectations and goes far in the playoffs. Furthermore, the team will now have a new owner in place in billionaire Eugene Melnyk, who should be able to add to the payroll. On the ice, there aren’t really any significant losses, although some could argue the loss of winger Magnus Arvedson could be a problem. However, a full season out of Bryan Smolinski (acquired at the trade deadline) will offset his offence at least. Defensively, there isn’t anyone to fill Arvedson’s void, but the team as a whole is solid in their own end, so there shouldn’t be a problem there. On offence, there is plenty of firepower in Marian Hossa, Daniel Alfredsson, Todd White, Martin Havlat, Radek Bonk and Smolinski. Add to that full seasons from Petr Schastlivy and Jason Spezza, and offence will definitely not be a concern for the Senators this season. On defence, the team is also solid, with Wade Redden, Zdeno Chara, Karel Rachunek and Chris Phillips. Sophomore Anton Volchenkov will get more of an opportunity to perform this year, while veteran Curtis Leschyshyn rounds out the top-6. Brian Pothier, Shane Hnidy and Peter Smrek will fight for the number 7 role. In goal, Patrick Lalime returns after a stellar year and will be counted on to put up similar numbers this year. Martin Prusek should be the backup again this season, although if he doesn’t have a good camp, Ray Emery could get the job.
Next Steps: A noticeable weakness when looking at the Senators’ roster is their lack of depth on the left wing. Currently, Vaclav Varada is pencilled in as the top player at that position, but he is better suited for third-line duty. Expect Radek Bonk to be moved to the left side again this season and/or one of the other centres to be dealt for a left winger.
Team: Toronto Maple Leafs
Points (Rk): 98(4)
In: Bryan Marchment, Harold Druken, Joe Nieuwendyk, Ken Klee, Petr Tenkrat
Out: Doug Doull, Anders Eriksson, Jonas Hoglund, Jyrki Lumme, Morgan Warren, Shayne Corson, Doug Gilmour, Phil Housley, Glen Wesley, Craig Mills, Ryan Bonni, Dmitri Yakushin, Paul Healey, Petr Svoboda, Robert Svehla, Travis Green
Comments: After a season in which the Leafs failed to live up to their expectations, they managed to find a way to take a step backward. The defence corps lost 4 regulars this summer, replacing them with Bryan Marchment and Ken Klee. Without Robert Svehla, Phil Housley, Jyrki Lumme and Glen Wesley, there is a noticeable hole on the blueline. The Leafs also lost a pair of regular forwards in Jonas Hoglund and Paul Healey, but they can be easily replaced. Once again, there is no shortage of offence, with Mats Sundin, Alexander Mogilny, Owen Nolan and Gary Roberts all returning for another season. Nikolai Antropov is expected to continue his development and at least match last season’s numbers (19-26-45). Darcy Tucker, Mikael Renberg and Robert Reichel are all capable of scoring, however all are also extremely inconsistent, and Joe Nieuwendyk is always solid. Alexei Ponikarovsky should finally get a chance to stick with the Leafs on a full time basis. Defence is where the Leafs will have problems this season. Returning are Tomas Kaberle and Bryan McCabe, who both can get the job done at both ends of the ice. Marchment and Klee comprise the second tandem, while who’s on the 3rd pairing is anyone’s guess. Karel Pilar was supposed to get the spot, but health issues have crept up on him again, so his status heading into the season is uncertain. Aki Berg and Ric Jackman both remain on the team, while Toronto has retained Russian defenceman Maxim Kondratiev as the team’s 7th defenceman. The Leafs should be solid in goal, with steady veteran Ed Belfour coming back between the pipes, with Trevor Kidd backing him up. Expect Kidd to rebound from a rough 2002-03 season.
Next Steps: For the most part, the Leafs look pretty solid heading into the 2003-04 campaign. A possible concern, as always, may be the defence corps, already weakened by an injury to Bryan McCabe. However, after signing Marchment and Klee, don’t expect the Leafs to bring in a third veteran blueliner.