Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Post-Free Agency Boom: East - Northeast

This division has mainly stayed status quo, the biggest change obviously coming out of Buffalo with Drury and Briere packing their bags and heading to the Atlantic. Rumor has it that Briere's agent was never contacted by the Buffalo Sabres in order to negotiate a new deal. The bottom line is that the entire division has more parity, and with the exception of the Senators, each divisional game will be a fight. That's just the reality of the salary cap era.

Boston Bruins:
Looks like another year of development in Beantown. They seem to have adopted the ideology that improvement comes from consistency. At least you can say they'll have consistent goaltending now after signing Manny Fernandez. The matter of fact is that Fernandez will not be able to deliver the Bruins to the playoffs.

Buffalo Sabres:
The Buffalo Sabres certainly didn't make things easier for themselves in losing their two captains, but Kevin Lowe trying to swoop up Vanek for 10 million didn't help their cause either. If they didn't have Ryan Miller its safe to say they wouldn't be making the playoffs. The younger guys will have to step up, and a void of leadership is to be filled. Expect the youngsters to be able to do that. The Sabres will make the playoffs, but with their division still in good shape it will lead to more questions about the management of this offseason.

Montreal Canadiens:
It was the right time for Souray to go. There's no doubt that the Canadiens knew that. Hamrlik and Smolinski will be able to fill some of those gaps but there isn't a doubt in my mind that the team will be struggling to make the playoffs this year.

Ottawa Senators:
The key with the Senators this offseason will deal with the back end. Signing Emery is a priority and they had better hope the offer sheets don't present too high of a price - LA and Phoenix are rumored to have interest. The other deal is in shedding Martin Gerber's salary. They may be able to kill two birds with one stone by satisfying one of the teams looking for a goaltender as well as keeping Emery safe. As far as the overall team, you will expect much of the same. Heatley is in a contract year and will keep his scoring pace. The defensive core will continue to improve, and Redden should be back to his offensive ways. The coaching change isn't a surprise as Murry knows that the style of game the Sens went to this season will be preserved. It won't be a shock of the Sens take the division.

Toronto Maple Leafs:
Two of the nagging concerns this season were goaltending and supporting offence. GM John Fergusson knows very well that MLSE and the fans of Toronto demand the playoffs. And he also knows that he's out the door if he can't deliver. In admitting to his mistake, he signed Vesa Toskala to either take or split the number one job with Andrew Raycroft. Time will tell whether the draft picks surrendered (First 2007, Conditional First, 2nd 2008) were worth it. Jason Blake (40 G in 2006-2007) will wing with Mats and Mark Bell will help fill in the secondary scoring roll that was previously occupied by Jeff O'Neill. The Leafs may make the playoffs for the next few years, but they're pointed in the wrong direction of winning the Stanley Cup in terms of future prospects. Better hope that cap goes up again.



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