Ryan Miller has been the main stay of the Buffalo Sabres for years. He emerged out of the shadow of Domnik Hasek to win his own Vezina trophy, attend the All Star festivities, and even play an Olympic tournament that was one for the ages. For a few years it looked as if he would bring glory to the team, the city, and the entire upper north west of New York State. The reality is that Terry Pegula stepped up to late to make Miller a champion in the home uniform.

When you look at Miller, and his own individual talent level, there are any number of teams that could, and probably should step to the plate and put in a worthy offer. But the teams that will be most attractive to him, with his no trade clause, and for his future are not so many. At age 33, the Lansing Michigan native has to be aware of how narrow the window is for him to win, even if he believes he can be an NHL starter another seven or eight years.

The list of teams that even if he’s traded to, he probably would not sign a new deal with include teams like the Philadelphia Flyers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Dallas Stars, Winnipeg Jets, and Florida Panthers. The Flyers have to be every goalies nightmare just based on history. The Lightning, Jets, Panthers and Stars are all in some stage of rebuild and growth and only one is really in advance of the Sabres. It might save a nervous general manager’s job in the short term to acquire Ryan Miller and escape the league basement, but if he doesn’t stick around, whatever assets were expended to bring him in are pure loss.

There are exactly two teams that standout as being ideal places for Ryan Miller to launch the next phase of his career. The first spot is a team with an absolutely star studded roster of mature NHL talent, a hall of fame player turned coach, and is handy to major east coast cities, has and has a very metropolitan lifestyle where mere athletes blend in. The other is an old Canadian market with absurd amounts of young talent, a couple of wily veterans and love of hockey that extends to the depths of the earth.

In Washington playing for the Capitals Miller could give up worrying about goal support, forget about being the only recognizable name that didn’t make fans despair, and simply concentrate on winning. There would be no years long wait for the team to reach peak, and little need for the dramatics he’s indulged in over the past few seasons to draw some emotional engagement out of his teammates.

The Edmonton Oilers are the other obvious landing spot. Today they sit 10th in goals for but tied for worst at 5 goals against per game. Adding Miller just months after the additions of new captain Andrew Ference, David Perron and Denis Grebeshkov would be the signal that now is the time to budding superstars Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Sam Gagner and Nail Yakupov. The Oilers may be built around their young stars, but today’s roster is about the same average age as the Boston Bruins team that won the cup just three years ago.

One period of any game this season is enough to convince anyone Miller is healthy, hungry and at the top of his game. That same period is more than enough to convince anyone objective observer that the gap in skill, commitment, and execution between himself and his nearest team mate is similar to the gulf between the NHL and the ECHL.

This irregular feature will run when I get bored. It will ask one scintillating question about each NHL team.

 

Anaheim Ducks: Can this team take advantage of its abundance of youth to compliment its savvy and skilled veteran core?

Boston Bruins: Is there a single hockey observer anywhere who doesn’t think the team is dangling Matt Bartkowski for trade?

Buffalo Sabres: So ah, how about those Buffalo Bills?

Calgary Flames: Are you the one non Flames fan or executive who expected the team to start the season 2-0?

Carolina Hurricanes: Isn’t it great that the Canes put in a great effort for their goaltender Cam Ward opening night and only allowed 38 shots on goal?

Chicago Blackhawks: If the media doesn’t have Patrick Kane’s off ice antics to talk about, will they actually cover the team now?

Colorado Avalanche: We all know the limited shelf life of firey over the top NHL coaches like Guy Boucher and Patrick Roy right?

Columbus Blue Jackets: Do we blame Bobrovksy’s four goal opener on moving east, a lack of defenders who play defense, or just a fat pay day?

Dallas Stars: Will Alex Goligoski ever get recognized as top defenseman?

Detroit Red Wings: Is there a player in the system 30 or under who can emerge as the next “face of the franchise”?

Edmonton Oilers: Can prodigal son and eco-warrior Andrew Ference lead his band of merry man-children to liberate a playoff spot from and deliver it to their poor fans?

Florida Panthers: With new ownership and oodles of cap space this year, how wide with the tap be opened for established NHL talent in the future?

Los Angeles Kings: Without a proven backup will Quick get overworked in the regular season?

Minnesota Wild: Will the Wild faithful stay true if the team underperforms this season?

Montreal Canadiens: With the soon to be 35 year old Brian Gionta’s star waning and an expiring contract, will the Habs relocate the C to another jersey possibly before moving him?

Nashville Predators: Barry Trotz entered the season the NHL’s longest tenured head coach, will he end the season in his current position?

New Jersey Devils: With the leagues oldest team, and all but one of the free agents brought in this season over 30, does this franchise have a path to the future?

New York Islanders: The Islanders took a big step forward last year climbing into the playoffs and battling Sidney Crosby and the Penguins, can Tavares and Hamonic make themselves household names this year?

New York Rangers: How long will it take Marc Staal, Brad Richards and the rest of the blueshirts to adapt to Alain Vigneault’s system?

Ottawa Senators: Captain Spezza, with Bobby Ryan, Milan Michalek, Jared Cowen and Craig Anderson are more than enough to get this team to the second round of the playoffs right?

Philadelphia Flyers: Who will lead the Flyers in the three categories that have defined the team in recent seasons: missed games, PIMS and suspensions?

Phoenix Coyotes: Is Mike Ribeiro the right centerpiece for the teams offense or just another free agent that will do just ok and move on?

Pittsburgh Penguins: This is the year that Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are both healthy right? Right?

San Jose Sharks: Will Bruan, Vlasic, and Hertl emerge to form the new core of this team with Logan Couture?

Saint Louis Blues: Does this team have enough scoring talent and the right coach to take advantage of it?

Tampa Bay Lightning: Does Steve Yzerman who wants fighting out of the game have a punchers chance of seeing his team in the playoffs any time soon?

Toronto Maple Leafs: When the Olympic break rolls around will we be asking where they will find a center, or marveling at Tyler Bozak and Nazem Kadri as a one two punch?

Vancouver Canucks: With a new coach and system in John Tortorella and a general manager Mike Gillis, who has to be fighting for his own job, how much of the current roster will still be in place after the trade deadline?

Washington Capitals: We can all agree that Alex Ovechkin is good for 50+ goals this season, and Mikhail Grabovski will set a personal high in at least one offensive category right?

Winnipeg Jets: With Evander Kane, Dustin Byfuglien, Blake Wheeler, Zach Bogosian, and more in full stride, the biggest question about this team is once again in the crease isn’t it?

The Boston Bruins defense has more questions today than it has in several years. The eternal question of “who will play the point on the powerplay” is just one of them. With the end o the Andrew Ference Era in Boston, the question of who will add speed and agility to a large and imposing rosters. It is a given that Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg have their roster spots locked in. Johnny Boychuk and Adam McQuaid will have to work hard to lose their spots, and that’s where it gets really interesting.

Injuries, illness and matchups showed us a lot bout the three young lions last year. Torey Krug’s speed, agility, and puck handling were overshadowed only by his refusal to give an inch and his ability to contribute to the offense. Matt Bartkowski proved reliable and consistent all over the ice against good competition or bad. Dougie Hamilton showed he as capapble of playing big minutes, and showed off a better defensive game than many, myself included, had expected to see. If you go purely on played as the best barometer of what Claude Julien and the coaching staff think of them, it would seem Krug is the front runner coming into camp for a spot. His scoring only strengthens the case for him.

If you look at experience in total under Julien, Hamilton edges the others, and he’s also a first round pick who was part of the return for the Phil Kessel trade, if that matters in real hockey arithmetic. Matt Bartkowski has two important advantages, and you just can’t overlook them in the system all three play in. First and most tangible, is that Bartkowski has proved he is highly coach-able and very driven. The upswing in his positioning and skating since his first NHL appearance is the type of thing coaches and players build their careers out of. The second is his age, he may have less NHL games than Hamilton, but he looks and sounds like a veteran, and is about the same age Boychuk broke into the NHL. With Julien “the veteran factor” is every bit as important as being Russian born at draft time.

Complicating things further are not so minor considerations like half a dozen defensemen aiming for a roster spot who have a legitimate claim to being NHL ready, and money. Among Krug, Hamilton, and Bartkowski there is a cap hit difference of over a million dollars from Krug down to Bartkowski. When you factor in Tommy Cross, Chris Casto, Zach Trotman, David Warsofsky, and newly acquired 1st rounder Joe Morrow, Krug and Hamilton’s cap hits are only a few dollars off the total of any three other players.

Given his displacement in the post season, a season spent in the AHL under Bruce Cassidy would not be a surprise, and 24-27 minutes a night of consistent play would be better for his development than 12-17 a night in Boston and sitting out specific matchups. One of the other possibilities is that another defenseman gets moved either because they have been eclipsed, or for cap reasons. Chara and Seidenberg aren’t going anywhere, McQuaid’s salary isn’t prohibitive, but his injury issues might make him a candidate for movement. Johnny Boychuck is a perfect candidate for trade if the Bruins think they can be a better team without him.

Boychuck who made his name in the AHL as an offensive defensemen, hasn’t cracked 20 points in the NHL. He’s currently the Boston Bruins second highest paid defenseman, but not many would list him as the second most valuable defenseman. With this, and another year left on his contract the return he could fetch in terms of prospects and or draft picks, might just help the team fill their deficit of right wingers, as well as free up almost $3.5m this year and next. With a good playoff performance behind him, it is doubtful his value is going to be higher anytime in the foreseeable future.

If Boychuk is moved, the Bruins will be a little fleeter of foot, a bit less physical, and likely better offensively. Whoever wins the battles or the 3-7 spots, it is hard to argue they will have a bad defense.

The Edmonton Oilers were a very interesting team to watch last season. Many of the younger players have a low enough NHL game total they could, and did play in the AHL during the lockout. This made them one of the more cohesive teams when the season started. Over the course of a year that ended with a lot of changes in the front office, they improved from 23r to 19th in goals against year over year. Their goal differential was just a couple short of Minnesota and San Jose who both made the playoffs. They took a step forward, a small one and it remains to be seen if all or even most of the changes work out favorably.

The Oilers schedule to start the year is a bit odd, they open the season October 1st at home against the Winnipeg Jets then have four days off before going to Vancouver who will also be under a new head coach. They then head back to Edmonton to defend their ice against the New Jersey Devils and Montreal Canadiens. Last of their opening fistful of games is trip east to throwdown with the new look Toronto Maple Leafs.

Number of days 1-5: 11

Number of cities: 3

Best opponent: Montreal Canadiens

Weakest opponent: Winnipeg Jets

Home games: 3

Projected points: 4+

With a new coaching staff, a new general manager, and new editions to the roster, there will be a longer than normal shakedown cruise at the beginning of the season. Dallas Eakins will certainly want to get to know all his players and how the work best under his system. Andrew Ference and Denis Grebeshkov will certainly have a word or two to drop into the ears of their teammates. David Perron will be adjusting not just to a new coach, but an entirely new city, and team as well. The younge players will be adjusting to the trade of Shawn Horcoff.

With the experience and quality added to the blueline, the biggest factor in where this team is on April 13th will be who, if anyone steps up and claims the team as their own. Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Sam Gagner led the team in scoring last year and are by almost any measure the best players on the team if the or others can get the team all pulling in the same direction before Thanksgiving, the team has a reasonable chance to make the playoffs for the first time in the career of all to many of this teams young players. Two, or even three of the teams players emerging not just as stars but as superstars is will put this team in the post season and on the right path for years to come, if not, it will be same old same old.

Summer is here and the time to restock, rejuvenate and reevaluate teams and staffs is here again. Some teams get better, others stay about the same, and some get worse.

Worse:

The Toronto Maple Leafs are inarguably worse than they were at the end of last season. They took the group that got them to within one goal of the second round and gutted it. They bought out a forward who played 22 minutes a night, they traded away three picks for a guy who has never hit the 20 goal mark. For a team that is clearly trying to reforge itself, that is highly curious. Worse, with all the movement of players in and out, a group that finally played well enough to perform like a team is likely back to being a gaggle of individuals. What is Dave Nonis thinking?

Better:

The Edmonton Oilers have two things they didn’t have last year. The first is a veteran blueliner who had won the Cup recently. The second is someone who was solid defensively, but also know show to get the puck out of the zone. Both of those attributes reside in one Andrew Ference. Reacquiring Denis Grabeshkov will only add to the strength of their blueline. Up front the added playoff tested forward David Perron. He’s a little bit older than the youngest forwards on their team, but close enough in age for him to blend in. Better still, they managed to extend Sam Gagner who has been their best center for at least two or three years without breaking the bank. The addition of veteran Jason Labarbera to their crease only makes a playoff spot that much more likely.

Worse:

For the Calgary Flames adding Karri Ramo and Kris Russell just isn’t enough. Even if they have three rookies break camp with them and garner serious Calder attention, they are not any closer to a playoff team than they were last year. Ramo had a poor start to his NHL career with Tampa Bay and the Flames defense is about equal to what Tampa Bay had then with the benefit of having fewer superstar forwards in the conference to play against he may only be slightly better than he was then.

Better:

The Phoenix Coyotes got better just by stabilizing ownership. They then added Mike Ribeiro as their top center. They added depth forward Brandon Yip, and it is likely Henrik Samuelsson and Max Domi will compete for roster spots at training camp. Adding either of the youngsters to  Vrbata, Ekman-Larsson, Yandle and Ribeiro,  who slid into a roster with Ovechkin and the other highly skilled caps could finally vault the Coyotes offense into the top third of the league.

 This is a feature that will run about every two weeks (during the regular season)with improbable stats and situations in the National Hockey League.
The off season’s changes restack the decks for teams and make forecasting each season equal parts intriguing and infuriating. With the NHL draft and the bulk of NHL free agent signings done, we have a passable idea who 15 or more of the names penciled into the opening night lineup of each team will be.
Players:
  • … that Daniel Alfredsson would leave the Senators, and not go to one of the top contenders at the deadline but to the once again division rival Detroit Red Wings in free agency, even knowing Bobby Ryan was being traded to the Sens.
  • … that of Simon Gagne, Nathan Horton, and Rick Dipietro, right winger Nathan Horton would be the one set to begin their season late due to major injury.
  • … over two weeks into free agency Thomas Hickey and Dustin Penner would be signed to NHL deals and Mikhail Grabovski would not.
  • Matt Duchene who has won nothing, would sign a contract for more than Dustin Brown who has his name on the Cup.
  • … Tuukka Rask who coughed up a lead in the dying minutes of a Stanley Cup Final game seven would sign a contract making him the highest paid goalie in the NHL.
  • … Seth Jones would actually get passed on by three different general managers at the NHL entry draft.
  • Tyler Seguin‘s twitter problems and eviction from the Boston Bruins locker room to the Dallas Star’s would be eclipsed so quickly by the exit of Ilya Kovalchuk.
  • … Sam Gagner would be headed towards arbitration with the Edmonton Oilers who has only been their best center the last four seasons.

Teams:

  • … on July 22nd the Columbus Blue Jackets would have the 8th highest cap hit of an NHL team.
  • … after years of saying that Jonathan Bernier was a big part of their team for years and years the Los Angeles Kings would trade him for an unproven Ben Scrivens, and a fringe NHL’er in Matt Frattin.
  • … the Toronto Maple Leafs would be retaining portions of two salaries, and have bought out two new players in addition to the ones they entered the year having b
  • ought out recently and the general manager who did all four of those things would still have a job.
  • … the Colorado Avalanche’s off season accomplishments would include, passing on a consensus franchise defenseman at the draft, waiving the defenseman who lead their team in TOI last season, and only ‘improving’ their defense with the importation of Cory Sarich.
  • … The Winnipeg Jets, a Canadian team, who have the most cap space would also have the most players elect arbitration.
  • … that with the additions of Andrew Ference and Denis Grebeshkov and the addition by subtraction of others the Edmonton Oilers would have the NHL’s most improved blueline.

Some teams do well at of free agency, others are unmitigated disasters. Today we get pretty good ideas as to what teams will look like in the fall, and which teams are going for it now, next year or no time soon.

Anaheim Ducks: Win. Today they traded star forward Bobby Ryan to the Senators for the Ottawa 1st round pick, Jakob Silfverberg a 2nd round pick, and Stefan Noesen the Senators the 1st round pick out of Plano, Tx from 2011. Good move for the Ducks long term who have very little depth and lots of older players.

Boston Bruins: Win. Adding a hungry veteran who now has recent playoff experience, no bad contracts and overall a younger, hungrier  roster than they started last year with.

Buffalo Sabres: Lose Extending a new deal to Matt Ellis isn’t going to push the Sabres into the playoffs.

Calgary Flames: Lose While they didn’t make any horrible signings (for a change) the contracts they did sign for AHL players and guys who will never be stars don’t push the team forward. 

Carolina Hurricanes: Win They signed a very solid 2nd goalie in Anton Khudobin, and resigned Michal Jordan which is enough to make up for giving a contract to Mike Komisarek.

Colorado Avalanche:

Chicago Blackhawks Draw. They reupped with Handzus on team friendly deal, but didn’t have the cap space to land any of the big fish on the market, and they lost their top end backup today.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Draw Nathan Horton is a great addition, the contract term is less than ideal. Signings other than Bobrovsky are non impacting.

Dallas Stars: Draw While there are defensive signings they could have made, and arguably better goaltenders, but with the moves they made on the fourth they don’t really need to do much to improve over last season.

Detroit Red Wings: Draw They opened the floodgates to renewed eastern conference rivalries by poaching Daniel Alfredsson, signed Stephen Weiss long term, but still didn’t shore up a mediocre defense. 

Edmonton Oilers: Win They improve their defense both by the addition of Ference and the subtraction of others, they didn’t give out any horrible contracts or let anyone of value get away.

Florida Panthers: Lose They are in a much, much tougher division this year and for the next couple years and did nothing to fix a woeful team.

Los Angeles Kings Draw No improvements, no idiotic contracts simply adding a depth defenseman.

Minnesota Wild: Lose There was no reason to add Matt Cooke to the roster, it won’t make them a better team, they already have a solid penalty kill and beyond that they traded a roster player for a draft pick and kept to depth defensemen.

Montreal Canadiens Draw Danny Briere is a good get for a pretty thin market. Compared to Mike Fisher and David Booth who have the same cap hit, Briere is not so bad. You can always do more, and you can clearly do worse.

Nashville Predators: Lose Victor Stalberg is a solid get. The other signings for the love of hockey why?

New Jersey Devils Huh? This is the team that was bankrupt not too long ago right? They sign Michael Ryder to a really solid contract, they sign Ryane Clowe to a contact that will be the NHL’s go to punchline for the next several years, they resigned Patrik Elias until he’s eligible for social security. On top of that they have Dainius Zubrus signed until a week past decomposition. These contracts are a bit much to get their hands on Centrum Silver’s advertising dollars.

New York Islanders Win Locking up Travis Hamonic long term for not much money is big enough that all their other moves are irrelevant.

New York Rangers Lose I think Glen Sather overslept and his secretary just signed guys that were once on good teams. Benoit Pouliot, Aaron Johnson, and other players 85% of Rangers fans won’t be able to name at the All Star/Olympic break.

Ottawa Senators Win Getting Bobby Ryan without having to give up any core pieces is pretty spiffy. Sure they lost captain Daniel Alfredsson but in fairness his ability was not at the same level it was five years ago, and he was looking for more money than Ryan who is still in his prime.

Philadelphia Flyers Win (I kid, I kid!) It almost doesn’t matter who they signed because they didn’t hand out an absurd contract on day one (they got Streit and Lecavalier handled early) oh wait, they gave Giroux (multiple concussions) that contract and an eminently redundant no movement clause, because those really mean something in Philly. Emery is a good get, and that’s about it for the positives.

Phoenix Arizona Coyotes Win Adding Ribeiro at center is an upgrade even if you only look at his Dallas years, adding Greiss as a solid backup means Smith might not have to play 70 games.

Pittsburgh Penguins Draw Correcting the mistake that lead to Rob Scuderi being let go after they won the cup is all well and good, but four years too late. They also don’t have enough cap space to add a 12th forward.

San Jose Sharks Lose Over the cap, and undertalented.

Saint Louis Blues Lose No viable movement, and a core that isn’t getting any younger.

Tampa Bay Lightning Lose Nothing says “cluefree” like signing a forward who has never topped 23 goals to a five year five million a year contract and failing to improve the teams biggest weakness.

Toronto Maple Leafs Lose The Clarkson signing is for about three years too long, the Bozak signing is so-so, and the Grabovski buyout is inexcusable.

Vancouver Canucks: Win Brad Richardson is a solid addition at a good price, and Yannick Webber may prove to be a find for their defense.

Washington Capitals: Draw Adam Oates made good strides with the team last year, prospects and getting Karl Alzner inked should get them to as good or better than their place last year.

Winnipeg Jets: Win No free agent signings (shocking I know) but they did pick up a solid forward addition in a trade for a reasonable price.

The unrestricted free agent market for defensemen isn’t overflowing with top pairing talent. In fact it is lacking entirely in anyone who projects to be in the top pairing of any team in the second round of next years playoffs. That doesn’t mean you can’t fill the holes in your rosters bottom four.

Rob Scuderi:

This two time Stanley Cup champion is a smart hockey player who very rarely makes mistakes. He doesn’t have the physicality of Shea Weber, but he’s still going to get the job done. When he was part of the Penguins most recent cup run he was their top playoff defenseman in ice time. When the Kings won their cup his job was a bit more modest in a system that is very, very deep in quality defense. Take out your lineup card and write him into your second pairing.

Andrew Ference:

Absolutely no quit, no mercy, no drama in Ference’s game. It doesn’t matter if he’s pinning an opposing forward who has 30+lbs on him to the boards, throwing an open ice hit that turns a game or dropping the gloves and breaking someones orbital bone Feremce is a living buzzsaw when he’s got his A or even B game. He was a part of the Bruins championship in 2011 and is well regarded for his environmental and other community programs.

Michal Rozsival:

Another Stanley Cup champion, if you have young defenders who may need a mentor or you have questions about other guys on your roster, this might just be your guy. In his career Rozsival has played in a number of different systems around the league. The Pre-Crosby Penguins, under Tom Renney and John Tortorella for the Rangers,  Joel Quenville for the Chicago BlackHawks, and Dave Tippett as a member of the Coyotes.  Having outplayed Leddy down the stretch for Chicago he spent more and more time on the ice as the BlackHawks picked up their second championship in four years.

Grant Clitsome:

Of this years UFA’s this is the one most likely to be a diamond in the rough. Clitsome went from Columbus to Winnipeg and took over the #2 spot in scoring despite significantly less minutes than some of his teammates. He also had the teams second highest on ice save percentage. He’s only played 149 NHL games so there is still room for improvement before he reaches what will be expected of him for most of his career, but the former Clarkson Golden Knight might just be the best defensive signing a savvy team makes this summer.

Marek Zidlicky:

No one had a good season for the Devils last season, the spring before he was the top minute eater for the Devils defense as they went to the mat with the Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup finals. He’s probably not going to produce he points he used to, but he’s still capable of putting in 19-22 productive minutes a night. He’s still a very solid passer both in his own zone and forward of the blueline.

Some of the biggest cities are really tight to the cap, the Bruins, Flyers, and Lightning could all use a touch more cap space to deal with. Both the Bruins and Flyers are likely to lose pieces to free agency. The Canadiens are in danger of losing Ryder and Armstrong. Boston is supposedly getting attention on Seguin, and the Lecavalier to Montreal rumors won’t die until he’s retired or the Canadiens move, unless of course he does sign there.

What We Know

(By New Divisions)

Division C

Boston: After a run to the finals with lots of injuries, and some key contracts that are due, the Bruins could be in for a bigger offseason makeover than expected. With Horton headed to free agency, questions about Seguin and a previous lack of depth at that position, the right wing position is an area of need.

Buffalo: Miller rumors persist, as do rumors of trading nearly everyone. With the eighth and sixteenth picks overall, the Sabres should be able to get at least one more building block that enters the lineup and contributes within two seasons. It is an open question if that time frame is enough to keep Regier in the general managers office.

Detroit: Moving back into the eastern conference might be an advantage in start times and travel for the Red Wings, but they are no better than the third best team in their new division. They are fortunate enough to have a solid goalie, and two stars at forward, not much else is worth noting about the team with the longest active playoff streak.

Florida: The Panthers have just about declared the starting job for Markstrom by putting Scott Clemmenson on the market. Taking home a 2nd round draft pick or solid NHL player for that trade would be great. With the 2nd pick they ought to be able to solidify one position on their team. Tallon has shown he isn’t afraid to spend on free agent so don’t be surprised by surprises in Sunrise.

Montreal: Having returned to the playoffs last year after an embarrassing hiatus they need to take a long hard look at who they expect to be the core of the team going forward. There are some clashes between players that are visible on TV, they may or may not be short-lived events. But, building around a hollow center isn’t the best of ideas. It may feel wrong to do it, but making a move to ship out a good soldier or two for more cap space, less conflict and younger picks or prospects might be the best thing to do. The Norris trophy winner also has just one year left on his contract.

Ottawa: The first two questions the Senators leadership should be asking about any player they want to sign or draft are: can they stay healthy, and are we sure about that? From there fitting them into the roster or the farm system is the next step. With a bit more health the Senators might just have knocked off the Penguins. Adding a veteran playoff competitor like Briere, or Horton might push this team to the next level.

Tampa Bay: With the expiration of the Southeast division, the Lightning find themselves more in need than ever of improving a threadbare defense. In the last three seasons they’ve finished 28th, 30th, and 21st. They’ll be drafting in the lottery forever at that rate. Swapping for defense with a team deep at the position like St Louis or adding veteran Andrew Ference would be a step in the right direction.

Toronto: They made one of the more interesting moves of the offseason by picking up Bernier. Some say there was no need and Reimer was good enough, neither Nonis nor I agree. They have a clutch of offensively gifted defenseman, a lot of roster space, and decisions to be made on Tyler Bozak, Nazem Kadri and most the defense they iced last year. They are in a position of great flexibility but also a lot of vulnerability. The next two weeks will likely tell us how long it will be before the Maple Leafs next playoff appearance.

Division D

Carolina: With the Staal brother, Semin, Skinner, and Tlusty offense won’t be an issue for this team so long as Faulk and his henchmen can get the puck out of their own zone and away from the triage unit that served as goalies last season. Improving the defense could come at the cost of Ruutu or several draft picks. For the first time in recent memory the Hurricanes don’t have a huge amount of cap space either. With the new divisions configuration, they need to act and act smart.

Columbus: The Blue Jackets came within 2 points of getting into the playoffs last year. The most important thing they can do is to sign their goaltender Bobrovsky, after that getting some scoring and puck distributing touch up front will make them a much better team. With three first round picks 14, 19, and 27 as well as their own 44th pick, via trade or draft this should be a productive weekend for ‘Lumbus. If Lecavalier could be landed at a reasonable cap hit together with Dubinsky the team team could have a very strong 1-2 punch at center.

New Jersey: The Devils are rumored to have two suitors interested in buying the “financially stable” team. Its unknown what impact that will have on team activity over the next week to ten days, but the team has enough holes almost anything is a good move. A slick passing center to maximize Kovalchuk’s shot, an aggressive defender or two to keep Broduer from having to work to hard, a future goaltender so the team doesn’t experience its own Flyers like run of disasters in net going for stop gap after stop gap. It might just be a good idea to resign Henrique and Clarkson before to long too.

New York Islanders: The  Islanders really should reup with Hamonic, and if at all possible swing a deal for another blueliner with playoff experience. It also might not hurt to have an NHL worthy goaltender under contract. It is likely the empty forward roster spots will be filled with the return of some combination of Boyes, Bailey, Aucoin and prospects.  Hickey was a solid find too, his contract is up as well.

New York Rangers: A new coach is coming, and no one knows what he’ll bring to the roster. It is hoped he can perform some necromancy on the powerplay and get it to shamble along. Brad Richards is being given one more chance after playing less minutes and posting less points against the Bruins than their enforcer Shawn Thornton. Former coach John Torterella said the team wasn’t “stiff” enough. With most key position filled, the Rangers can afford to be picky with free agents, but might want to get a head start on locking up core players. Only one defenseman is signed beyond next season,  neither goalie is, and there are just three forwards who are.

Philadelphia: The bloodletting began with the Bryzgalov and Briere being bought out. It is unlikely to end any time soon as this team is a disaster cap wise and not much better on the ice. To make matters worse Coburn is one of the names most active on the rumor mill and their defense is not pretty even with him.

Pittsburgh: Kris Letang has the gratitude of Penguins scribes for giving them something to write about. He’s rejected long term huge money deals. I’ll be shocked if he’s a Penguin on opening night and even more shocked if he’s still there after the trade deadline. The Penguins still need to come to terms with the issues with Fleury, and there is something wrong with the mental makeup of this team when the playoffs arrive. They’ve lost composure and the ability to play at both ends of the ice in the same game over the last three post seasons. Maybe they should reacquire Gill and Scuderi?

Washington:  Oates had done solid work rehabilitating this team, but he can only work with what he’s given. A big roster shakeup is overdue for this team. Regardless of what they say to the media, there is too big a gap between their regular season scoring and their post season scoring for this team to believe in itself. Without that swagger you just can’t win in May or June.