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 2 of 6, the Atlantic Division:
Team: New Jersey Devils
Points (Rk): 108(2)
In: Eric Rasmussen, Sean Brown, Igor Larionov, Ryan Murphy
Out: Ken Daneyko, Jim McKenzie, Joe Nieuwendyk, Pascal Rheaume, Richard Smehlik, Steve Kariya, Oleg Tverdovsky, Ken Sutton, Daryl Andrews, Rob Skrlac, Jason Lehoux, Dave Roche, Maxim Birbraer, Mike Danton
Comments: The defending Stanley Cup champions have stayed put for the most part this summer, their biggest move being not offering playoff scratch Oleg Tverdovsky a contract. The team also lost defencemen Richard Smehlik and Ken Daneyko, as well as forwards Joe Nieuwendyk, Jim McKenzie and Pascal Rheaume, however all but Nieuwendyk were depth players and can be easily replaced. Add to that the team signed Igor Larionov to replace ‘Newy’, and the team isn’t as worse off as one would think. The team added Eric Rasmussen from the Kings to replace McKenzie’s toughness, and are banking on several youngsters to replace the others. Offensively, the team is set with Patrik Elias, Scott Gomez, Jeff Friesen and Jamie Langenbrunner all returning, and are expecting Grant Marshall and John Madden to contribute from the team’s third line. This may not seem like a powerful offence, but given the team’s style of play, it should be able to get the job done. Expect Brian Gionta, Christian Berglund and Michael Rupp to see some time with the Devils this season. On defence, the team has taken a hit, losing 4 players from last season, but the core of Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer, Brian Rafalski and Colin White remain. Newcomer Sean Brown will fill a spot, while the other two will go to rookies, most likely David Hale and Paul Martin (no, not the potential Prime Minister of Canada), or veteran Tommy Albelin. Matt DeMarchi, Daryl Andrews and Ray Giroux may also get a look. The team is best set in goal, with Vezina winner Martin Brodeur returning for another year. Backing him up will be Corey Schwab, who had even better numbers than Brodeur, although he only played 11 games last season.
Next Steps: There isn’t a noticeable hole on the team, which should be expected from the Stanley Cup champions, but one possible problem could arise on defence if Martin, Hale, DeMarchi or the others aren’t ready. It may be beneficial for the team to sign a veteran journeyman who can start the season in the minors and come up if the rookies aren’t ready yet, but that most likely won’t be a problem, as the rookies will fill the 6/7 spot on defence anyways.
Team: New York Islanders
Points (Rk): 83(8)
In: Ryan Kraft, Mariusz Czerkawski, Dieter Kochan, Derek Bekar
Out: Kevin Haller, Steve Webb, Randy Robitaille, Konstantin Kalmikov, Ray Schultz, Steven Valiquette, Marco Charpentier, David St. Germain
Comments: The Islanders have stayed put for the most part this summer, which is a good thing and a bad thing at the same time. The good part is that practically all of last year’s 8th place team remains in the organization, however, this team hasn’t improved either, which could make it a challenge for them to make the playoffs again. Early in the offseason, GM Mike Milbury fired coach Peter Laviolette and replaced him with the farm team’s coach Steve Stirling. This pleased many of the players, who voiced their displeasure about Laviolette, so this could lead to a better dressing room atmosphere. In reality, only 1 regular from last season is out, that being Randy Robitaille, so to replace him, the team signed former 30-goal scorer turned bust in Montreal, Mariusz Czerkawski. In terms of depth on offence, it seems the team is lacking somewhat. After Alexei Yashin, Mike Peca and Mark Parrish, there doesn’t seem to be any offensive threats. Last season, Dave Scatchard and Jason Blake stepped up with career highs in points, but expect a regression from both of those players this year. The team hopes that Czerkawski can regain his scoring touch, and that Oleg Kvasha could actually come close to living up to his expectations for once in order to have two scoring lines. Youngsters Trent Hunter and Mattias Weinhandl will get an extended look this season. The Isles are extremely deep on defence, with a solid top-4 of Adrian Aucoin, Roman Hamrlik, Janne Niinimaa and Kenny Jonsson. Rounding out the defensive unit are Radek Martinek, as well as veterans Mattias Timander and Eric Cairns. The team’s biggest question mark will be in goal, with rookie Rick DiPietro expected to play at least 50 games this year. If he falters, veteran backup Garth Snow can step in, but as he showed last season, he cannot be counted on to perform for extended periods of time. If either of the two go down, there will be a tremendous problem as only two other goalies remain in the organization, Dieter Kochan and Wade Dubielewicz.
Next Steps: The Isles can afford to take a slight hit on defence, so it would likely be beneficial to move one of their top-4 to acquire a proven top-6 forward. After moving Brad Isbister to Edmonton as part of the Niinimaa deal, there is a noticeable lack of depth in the forward ranks. One player who has been rumored to move is Hamrlik, who should be able to fetch a solid forward in return.
Team: New York Rangers
Points (Rk): 78(9)
In: Greg deVries, Chris Simon, Paul Healey, Brian Leetch, Jussi Markkanen, Chad Wiseman, John Jakopin, Sheldon Keefe, Mike Siklenka, Joel Bouchard, Jan Hlavac, Martin Rucinsky, Mark Messier, David St. Germain, Ben Guite
Out: Billy Tibbetts, Ted Donato, Dave Karpa, Sandy McCarthy, Dixon Ward, Sylvain Levebvre, Vladimir Chebaturkin, John Tripp, Roman Lyashenko, Nils Ekman, Ronald Petrovicky
Comments: For the first time in many years, the Rangers failed to do something-sign a free agent to an absolute ridiculous contract. Yes, they did sign blueliner Greg deVries, but at “only” $4 mil per season, it can hardly be considered ridiculous. The team also managed to re-sign Brian Leetch after dealing him to Edmonton, and have re-signed Boris Mironov as well, keeping last season’s blueline intact. The Rangers certainly have enough stars, but a looming question may be is do they have enough ‘role’ players?. This is why the team signed free agents Chris Simon and Paul Healey, to fill 3rd and 4th line roles respectively. As for the rest of the offence, there are plenty of stars, such as Eric Lindros, Alexei Kovalev, Anson Carter, Petr Nedved, Bobby Holik, and the ‘newly-acquired’ Jan Hlavac and Martin Rucinsky. Expect Jamie Lundmark to see top-6 icetime this season, as there is only 1 true left winger on the team in Simon, but Lundmark has played there before. There is plenty of underachieving depth on D as well. On paper, the corps of Leetch, Mironov, deVries, Vladimir Malakhov, Tom Poti and Darius Kasparaitis looks good, but have too often been criticized for being too offensive and not concentrating enough on their defensive duties. Ales Pisa, acquired from Edmonton with Carter last season, will likely be the number 7 defenceman. In goal, there is a solid #1 in Mike Dunham, however who backs him up is a mystery. The team has last year’s backup in Dan Blackburn, however he will likely spend some time seasoning in the minors. Finally, there’s Markkanen, acquired from Edmonton as well. He’s currently the frontrunner for the backup role, as unlike Blackburn, he would have to clear waivers to be sent to the minors.
Next Steps: There is an alarming lack of young talent in the Rangers system, which needs to be taken care of, or it could be a problem not only this season if some players get injured, but also in the post-CBA era. If there is a salary cap, the Rangers will need some young players to step into the lineup in order to meet the cap restrictions. Perhaps the Rangers should consider trading for some depth, instead of trading it away.
Team: Philadelphia Flyers
Points (Rk): 107 (3)
In: Jeff Hackett, Boyd Kane, Mike Peluso, Mike Murphy, Joni Pitkanen
Out: Joe Sacco, Ryan Bast, Dan Peters, Brad Tiley, Ian Forbes, Mark Greig, David Harlock, Mike Lephart, Jamie Wright, Matt Zultek, Roman Cechmanek, Marty Murray, Mike Siklenka
Comments: GM Bobby Clarke made some noise this summer by dealing away goalie Roman Cechmanek to the Kings for just a second-round pick. Clarke then said he’d sign/acquire a high-profile netminder but ended up with Jeff Hackett, who started last season as the backup goalie in Montreal. He claims that Hackett was the best goalie available, but only time will tell if that statement is correct. The team also re-signed defenceman Eric Desjardins and centre Claude Lapointe, players who played key roles in the Flyers first-round playoff victory over Toronto. The fact that Philadelphia has problems scoring is mind-boggling, especially with the likes of Simon Gagne, John LeClair, Sami Kapanen, Jeremy Roenick, Tony Amonte and Mark Recchi on the roster. The team also has veteran Keith Primeau, as well as youngsters Michal Handzus and Justin Williams on the team, which makes it hard to believe that the Flyers had the fewest goals of any team who made the playoffs in the Eastern Conference last season. On defence, the heart of the corps is back, with Desjardins, Kim Johnsson, Eric Weinrich and Marcus Ragnarsson all returning for this season. The team lost Dmitry Yuskevich to free agency, but Joni Pitkanen should be able to step in despite not playing any games in the minors. If Pitkanen isn’t ready, then Jim Vandermeer should get a regular spot on the team. Chris Therien rounds out the teams’ solid blueline. Youngsters Jeff Woywitka and Dennis Seidenberg will also fight for spots this season. In goal there is a question mark in Hackett, can he return to top form as he was a few years ago, or will health be an issue again this season? If Hackett goes down, Robert Esche can step in and fill in for a while, but consistency has plagued him in the past.
Next Steps: The Flyers have a shortage of players who are responsible in their own end. In order to keep goals allowed down this season in front of Hackett, the Flyers must bring in another forward who can play the penalty kill, or Philly’s going to be burned shorthanded this season.
Team: Pittsburgh Penguins
Points (Rk): 65(14)
In: Mike Eastwood, Kelly Buchberger, Marc Bergevin, Martin Brochu, Patrick Boileau, Reid Simpson, Drake Berehowsky, Marc-André Fleury
Out: Kent Manderville, Jamie Pushor, Brendan Buckley, Jason MacDonald, Ville Nieminen, Joel Bouchard, Mattias Johansson, Hans Jonsson, Alexandre Daigle, Robbie Tallas, Shawn Heins, Richard Lintner, Mikael Samuelsson, Micki DuPont, Johan Hedberg
Comments: The Wilkes-Barre Scranton-oops, I mean Pittsburgh Penguins, certainly have done what GM Craig Patrick said they would – cut salary. Out are basically anyone who had a one-way contract last season, with the exception of the team’s front line and top defence pairing. Granted, the team did bring in veterans Mike Eastwood and Kelly Buchberger to give the team some leadership, but that’s about all they can provide at this point in their careers. The team also re-acquired Marc Bergevin from Tampa Bay, who will provide a physical presence on the blue-line. Offensively, there is currently very little “NHL depth”, but there are plenty of rookies who can step in and make an impact. Mario Lemieux returns for another season, and has capable, albeit injury-prone linemates in Martin Straka and Alexsey Morozov. Then, the young guys come in. Aside from Eastwood, Buchberger and Matt Bradley, every other forward expected to be on the Penguins roster either spent time in the minors, or cleared waivers and could have been sent down last season. Tomas Surovy, Rico Fata and Ramzi Abid are expected to play on the top 2 lines at times this season (or be sent to the minors). On defence, there is a little more depth, but no real emerging star in the mix. Dick Tarnstrom returns after posting a stellar 41 points last season; 25 on the powerplay. He is joined by Bergevin, Josef Melichar and Michal Rozsival, giving the team a respectable top-4. Minor-leaguers Dan Focht, Ross Lupaschuk and Brooks Orpik will round out the corps, the latter 2 getting a real chance for the 1st time. In goal, there is just as big a question mark as at the other positions. With Johan Hedberg being dealt, first overall pick Marc-André Fleury and the recently re-signed Sebastian Caron will fight for the number 1 goaltending job. This could be the league’s worst 1-2 tandem this season, unless something is done.
Next Steps: Patrick claims that the team still needs to cut payroll, so anyone with a salary over $1 million except for Lemieux could be on the move. The most likely candidate is Straka. In return, the team should try to acquire either a solid stay-at-home defenceman or a top-6 forward, however the likelihood is that they’ll get prospects and/or draft picks. Also, given the team’s current goaltending situation, a veteran goalie would be nice to acquire to allow Caron to hone his skills in the minors.