By Stu Hackel
The gun goes off at noon on Sunday for the start of NHL Free Agency and we’ll be here that morning to begin our live blog of the day’s action. Considering the high volume of rumors and conjecture this year, it could be one of the wilder July 1′s for hockey in a while.
So here’s a quick look at what spots each team is seeking to fill going into the offseason, some of which they’ll try to address on the open market. We’ll do the Eastern Conference teams here. The Western Conference is here. To see the players available in free agency, go to TSN.ca.
BRUINS — With Tim Thomas sitting out next season and probably done as a Bruin, Boston may seek a more experienced backup goalie for Tuukka Rask than Anton Khudobin. With Benoit Pouliot traded, Nathan Horton’s health uncertain, and Marc Savard definItely out of the picture, Boston will likely look for depth at forward.
CANADIENS – When you finish last in the Conference, you need help almost everywhere and the Habs sure do. They could use another big scoring forward to put some pop into the second line, a bottom six forward with grit (especially with local favorite Mathieu Darche opting for UFA on Wednesday rather than sign a two-way contract), and an experienced defenseman with size and toughness.
MAPLE LEAFS – Their most obvious and discussed need is in goal, with Roberto Luongo often mentioned as the guy they want. Whether the feeling is mutual is uncertain. His no trade clause can dictate his landing spot and it could force Toronto to look elsewhere. There’s also the matter of what the Leafs have to offer Vancouver. Getting James van Riemsdyk from Philly helped create needed scoring depth beneath their top line, but he’s just a start. The Leafs could seek more up front and they have to fill the hole created by shipping Luke Schenn to the Flyers in the deal.
SABRES – They’re letting Jochen Hecht and Brad Boyes test the market as UFAs and since both double at center and wing, the Sabres will be looking for new faces up front, probably in the middle. since they look deeper on the wings. But as a mid-level offensive club, they’ll’ probably welcome an upgrade in their offense from any position.
SENATORS – It remains unclear if captain Daniel Alfredsson will return, but even if he does, the Senators will be in the hunt for a top-six forward (and they’ve been mentioned in conjunction with the Rick Nash sweepstakes). But with pending UFA Filip Kuba likely not returning, they’ll also be looking for an experienced defenseman, preferably a stay-at-home-type, perhaps to partner with Norris Trophy-winner Erik Karlsson (Kuba’s old gig), or a shutdown guy.
DEVILS – New Jersey would be happy to just make some cosmetic changes but the entire offseason will be triggered by the decisions of Zach Parise, Bryce Salvador and Marty Brodeur on whether they go elsewhere as UFAs. Any team that must replace its top forward, starting goalie and/or best defenseman is facing a chore, and if more than one of those players bolts, it’s going to change the face of this club. The whole fourth line — Stephen Gionta, Ryan Carter and Steve Bernier – are UFAs too, as is backup goalie Johan Hedberg. [UPDATE - Gionta, Carter and Bernier all re-signed with New Jersey on Friday, as did depth forward Cam Janssen.] The Devils have lots of cap space and, if their owner get his financing issues straightened out, they may have to use it to remake their roster.
FLYERS – Getting Luke Schenn from the Leafs represented a good start at rebuilding their aging defense corps, but it cost them James van Riemsdyk. Couple that with the uncertainty surrounding Jaromir Jagr, and the Flyers obvious need is up front among the top two lines. With Sergei Bobrovsky gone to Columbus, they are probably in the market for a goaltender as well. And if they can’t re-sign pending UFA Matt Carle, they’ll be looking for even more help on the blueline.
ISLANDERS – You can never tell what those wacky Isles, who apparently offered all of their draft picks to Columbus to move up two spots last week, might do, but they certainly will need more scoring if they are outbid for P.A. Parenteau, who will test the market as a UFA. They also could be in the market for veteran blueliners with size as Mark Eaton and Milan Jurcina are departing UFAs and Steve Staios joins Toronto’s front office.
PENGUINS – Rumored to be deep in the Zach Parise/Ryan Suter hunt, that tale points to where they feel they need to upgrade — a scoring winger to play with Sidney Crosby and a solid defenseman to partner with Kris Letang. They are said to be shopping Paul Martin, a solid d-man with a big ticket, which would create a spot on the blueline. Getting Tomas Vokoun via trade earlier this month filled their need for a new backup for Marc-Andre Fleury.
RANGERS – Whether through trade or free agency, they are looking for a top six forward, a big need especially with Marian Gaborik recovering from shoulder surgery. They also need a proven defenseman who can better share the blueline minutes, and a backup goaltender if Marty Biron departs via free agency. That position is not insignificant since keeping Henrik Lundqvist’s workload manageable is crucial to his play down the stretch and in the spring. [UPDATE: Biron re-signed with the Rangers for two more years.]
CAPITALS — One of their biggest needs — a second line center — was addressed last week when they traded for Mike Ribiero. But with pending UFAs Jeff Halpern and Mike Knuble not returning and uncertainty surrounding Alexander Semin’s return, there are potential vacancies up front. Plus, dealing pending UFA Dennis Wideman to the Flames this week created a spot in the defense corps.
HURRICANES – Carolina made a big move at the draft by trading for Jordan Staal, but having surrendered checking center Brandon Sutter, the ‘Canes could seek more depth in the middle, especially if Jordan and brother Eric click on the same line. But even if the Staals become linemates, another scoring winger would be helpful. With UFA Jaro Spacek expected to leave, another veteran defenseman could round out their wish list.
LIGHTNING — Their greatest need for the last few years has been in their defense corps and, after finishing 30th in goals-against, it should be the main focus of their offseason upgrades. But unless they are convinced that newly acquired Anders Lindback is ready to handle the load as their Number 1 goalie — and he’s never done that at the NHL level — the Bolts could also be in the hunt for a veteran netminder. A top-six forward to work into their aging group of forwards is a secondary target.
PANTHERS – No team made a bigger splash in free agency last year, and the Panthers could do it again. If they and Jason Garrison can’t agree on a new deal, Florida will be looking to fill a spot for a puck-moving defenseman. They’re in the market for a new goalie, too, with Scott Clemmensen a pending UFA. Roberto Luongo is reportedly willing to waive his NTC to return here. Mikael Samuelsson, Krys Barch, Marco Sturm and John Madden will all be allowed to test the market, so there will be spots to fill up front. Some should come from Florida’s impressive list of prospects, starting with Jonathan Huberdeau.
JETS – Season 2 in Winnipeg sees them with a plethora of pending UFAs and a good amount of cap space. They have to focus on cutting down on goals-against and with team MVP Ondrej Pavelec back in goal, securing a proven shutdown defenseman would be a good start. They lack some important ingredients up front, like an elite first line center to slot ahead of Bryan Little and Nik Antropov or Alexander Burmistrov on the depth chart. But the Jets likely will remain a low budget team, so some grit and veteran leadership from new depth forwards will more likely be stirred into the mix.
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