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.

Ever since the speculation of  Jordan Staal moving to the Carolina Hurricanes came into being, what the lines will look like in Raleigh has been question one. There are half a dozen possibilities worth considering, and immeasurable others.

Both Jordan and Eric Staal have played the wings, Jordan more often given his now former teammates. Skinner, and Ruutu have also played out of position as well. If the Canes decide to go loaded for bear and make their top line a three man threat lines could shake out like this( R-C-L) :

  • E Staal – J Staal – A Semin
  • J Tlusty – T Ruutu – J Skinner
  • J Jokinen – T Brent – C LaRose

If they look to go for something that looks more like a top nine than a top six:

  • J Jokien – E Staal – A Semin
  • J Tlusty – J Staal – J Skinner
  • A Stewart – T Ruutu – C LaRose

Personally speaking, I think the latter set of lines is more sustainable over the course of a season.  If Kirk Muller and company are smart, the they’ll make adjustments as the season goes along, and based on the competition. If they aren’t, well we’ll all get to refresh our lists of available NHL coaches. I suspect that a top criteria for figuring out who makes the cut this year at forward will be how well they play defensively because whatever else happens, even if a significant addition is made to the defense, the forwards will have to contribute to the defense of this team even more than last year.

With the news that top line right wing Nathan Horton has taken a step back in his recovery we’re faced with two important concerns. The first is for Nathans health. I love hockey, I like watching him play when he’s ready to roll out a strong game. But there’s no player I want to see on the ice more than I want them to be able to function in daily life. If he has reached the point where that is threatened it is time for him to hang up the skates. He’s won a cup. He’s made some good friends on the team and elsewhere and he’s gotten the opportunity to see the world. He can retire content in how much he achieved, no one can doubt that the Bruins were a better team with him in the lineup. When he had his A game he was a monster, when he had his B game he was still a force. But is it time? Should he shut down for the rest of the season now and hope to return for the playoffs? Should he just go home now and start working out in late July towards a return in the fall? That’s something he, his doctors, family and the team have to decide.

The other key question is who do they replace him with. Cap space isn’t an issue unless they plan on adding Iginla and Carter. Even then, they could add a full 13 million without putting his salary on the LTIR, and that’s without putting Savard their either. Short term or long term replacement is part of the equation. Chris Stewart who I mentioned in a previous post may or may not be available. If he is, he’s just about perfect. He possibly needs a change of scenery, he’s aggressive, big bodied, can score and his contract expires at the end of the year.

David Jones of the Avalanche is another player who might need a change of scenery. Or possibly just reasonably healthy top centers to play with. He’s got an inexpensive contract as well and could possibly be had for no more than a prospect or middle round pick.

The Phoenix Coyotes have Shane Doan, Radim Vrbata and Ray Whitney who would all look pretty damn spiffy in a Bruins uniform. But I don’t see them being moved at all. The Coyotes enter play tonight still in 8th place. They have played more games than most of the west, but 8th place is still a playoff spot and as long as they have that, I don’t see a trade happening. I can’t picture them wanting to give the appearance of tanking on purpose.

Internally, I think it might be time to try Jordan Caron in a top line role. Give hims 17 or 18 minutes of time a night and see what happens. When he plays confidently he plays effectively. He’s proven an effective penalty killer and it is past time we found out what he can do with the opportunity to earn a top six role over a couple weeks time.

If depth is the desire and Horton is not expected back picking up one or two of the above and or the much rumored Tuomo Ruutu, the New York Islanders pending UFA P.A. Parenteau who like Horton is a right handed shot. For pure nostalgia, I’d bet Kobasew or Boyes could be had, but I can’t see them providing offense at a high enough level to justify a lot spent to get them. Given the chronically woeful state of Edmonton’s defense, sending out a prospect or two from the blueline that brought back Gagner or Paajarvi-Svensson would be win-win for both teams.

Whatever is decided, the drop dead date is the deadline. Much as I have faith at least one or two of the guys in Providence will turn into NHL guys, it doesn’t look it’s this year.

One can always count on the run up to the trade deadline to ratchet the cranks spewing rumors into high gear. Some of the teams who will no doubt be sitting squarely atop the sprockets and wearing down the tonfas* of the mills as we get ever closer to deadline day. Who’s at the bottom of the stack hasn’t changed dramatically in the last couple of weeks, but the teams that should be humongous big sellers in the middle, will probably end up buyers.

The Columbus Blue Jackets brought in talent by free agency over the summer. They brought in talent via trade as well. What they didn’t bring in was anything vaguely like depth. When you are spending close to the cap and getting less than teams in your division you are outspending by an eight digit figure. While media pressure, and tradition and the hope of hype will say “draft Yakupov”, I have different advice: trade the pick and the middle or bottom of the roster for a stud defenseman and a good goalie. Shocking as it is to hear, goaltending is believed by some to be critical to winning. Also of note, of the last four Stanley Cup Champions three had a Norris winner on the roster. Just a thought.

The Edmonton Oilers: See all those things I said about defense? Yeah that. It applies to you too. Also, drafting guys with a history of frequent injuries might be something to consider skipping this year.

The Montreal Canadiens are to be sellers if you ask RDS scribe Mario Tremblay. Two of the players on his list of sellable bits just don’t make any sense from the perspective of work ethic and ability. Why someone would trade Lars Ellers who will undoubtedly wear the nickname “Danish Dynamo” when he’s an RFA this summer is beyond me. On the other hand the number of things that make zero sense in Habsland this season exceed the number that are perfectly sensible by an order of magnitude. Brian Gionta has certainly underperformed this year, but its a touch difficult to excel when you’ve got an average AHL team skating around with you. Possibly Gionta asked out? Who knows.

The Hurricanes kicked off the sell off with an early assault on competitiveness by jettisoning the admittedly underwhelming Ponikarovski to New Jersey for not a great deal. Speculation has Ruutu or Gleason (why not both?) being shipped north. Among the other potential destinations for No-Not-Jarkko-I’m-Tuomo Ruutu are the defending Stanley Cup champions. One wonders if Nathan Horton would get as much of a workout out of ragdolling whatever defeneman replaced Gleason in games between the two clubs.

The Buffalo Sabres who’s owner has already given them a pass on the season have bounced off the Hurricanes at the bottom of the east and are above them on the strength of having played two less games. Injuries have been a serious problem yes, but there’s some intangible missing on this team that begs for an overhaul nonetheless. Some would call it competitiveness. Having iced 30 skaters and 3 goalies across the course of the season they at least know what the their system holds. Robyn Regehr might be an attractive trade piece to move out the door even with singularly uninspiring offensive season thus far. Assuming someone thinks they can goose him hard enough to get him looking like a 40 goal scorer again, Brad Boyes is pending UFA and probably not on Lindy Ruff’s top three list of UFA’s to bring back.

If Koivu and Selanne were to ask for trades before the deadline, the return on the two of them would help the Ducks for years to come. Yes, trading the first and fifth leading scorers and second and first in plus-minus will probably make the post trade season look a lot like all of the year up to January when the Occasional-Big-Three remembered they were payed at a passable level to produce wings. That said, having a second line center or legitimate impact defenseman not named Visnovsky or Beauchemin for a couple seasons to come could make early trips to the draft podium a smidgin less likely.

The Flames should be selling, they will probably be buying but I don’t think they can buy enough: 1) A #1 Center, 2) Another solid winger to make any dent in the playoffs. They do still have to make it in, and do have more regulation wins than the three teams ahead of them but it will still be tough to make it in.

Tampa Bay needs a goalie, which I’m sure is the biggest bombshell dropped on the hockey world this year, but it still needs saying.  Adding a defensive defenseman wouldn’t exactly kill the team either.

The Wild should try to be both buyers and sellers. Even more so than Buffalo injuries have rained on the parade of what looked to be the Cindarella team of the season. Swapping out a few of their spare defensemen for some scoring talent, particularly of the long term variety could make them a perennial contender. Having skated 10 defensemen among their 36 total players to take the ice this year it is a little hard to imagine them not having a handle on who is capable of what. Harding is also a UFA to be and teams wanting to evaluate him in their system and get a jump on negotiations with him might pay a premium to do so.

Figuring out what the Islanders should do is tough, (insert your joke here) they have a lot of pending UFA’s, and several promising prospects playing in juniors. Shipping a few of the elders out will bring some return, but what worth from a team that might not be in the lottery for the first time in years is anyones guess. For the future they have between 12 and 20 games covered in net by Dipietro’s cameos, and Poulin might just make it. Overall between the roster and the system they have 15 pending UFA’s including both Montoya and Nabokov in net.

*Thank you Harry Dresden. Parts 1 and Parts 2