Here’s the next division preview, with a glance at the summer outlook for the Northeast Division teams, starting with how they finished this season…
1. Boston Bruins, 103 points (3rd in Eastern Conference)
2. Montreal Canadiens, 96 points (6th in Eastern Conference)
3. Buffalo Sabres, 96 points (7th in Eastern Conference)
4. Toronto Maple Leafs, 85 points (10th in Eastern Conference)
5. Ottawa Senators, 74 points (13th in Eastern Conference)
Hanging around?: The Bruins have good balance and depth returning all around the ice, although the status of Marc Savard — because of recurrent concussion issues — remains unknown for next season. Boston ranked third in the East in goals scored and first in goals against, and the Bruins return both goalies plus their defensive anchors — led by Zdeno Chara — and are deep up front, with Milan Lucic, Nathan Horton, Patrice Bergeron and Tyler Seguin.
Saying goodbye?: Boston is getting what it wanted from midseason acquisition Tomas Kaberle on defense, but as an unrestricted free agent, is he really in their long-term plans? Beyond that, the Bruins’ only notable unrestricted free agents are Michael Ryder, a talented but inconsistent winger, and 43-year-old Mark Recchi. Brad Marchand is the only significant restricted free agent who will require a new contract this summer.
Draft card: The cupboard is a little barren for the Bruins right now, largely because most of their prospects are already transitioning to the NHL or, in some cases, have been traded. For instance, is 20-year-old Jordan Caron ready to make the full-time jump to the Bruins, after getting in 23 NHL games this season?
(Restricted free agents: Andrew Bodnarchuk, D; Stefan Chaput, C; Matt Dalton, G; Zach Hamill, C; Anton Khudobin, G; Brad Marchand, RW; Zach McKelvie, D; Juraj Simek, LW; Boris Valabik, D; Cody Wild, D.)
(Unrestricted free agents: Shane Hnidy, D; Tomas Kaberle, D; David Laliberte, RW; Kirk MacDonald, F; Mark Recchi, RW; Jeremy Reich, F; Michael Ryder, RW; Nolan Schaefer, G; Wyatt Smith, C; Trent Whitfield, C.)
Hanging around?: There’s a lot of excitement in Buffalo because of new ownership, and the Sabres have some solid pieces to build around, with forwards Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville, defenseman Tyler Myers and goalie Ryan Miller, plus likely long-term keepers such as restricted free agents Nathan Gerbe and Drew Stafford. The Sabres were one of the top goal-scoring teams in the East this season and don’t figure to have much of a drop-off, if any, in 2011-12.
Saying goodbye?: There’s definitely some work to get done, in terms of getting players under contract. In addition to RFAs Gerbe and Stafford, defensemen Chris Butler, Marc-Andre Gragnani and Mike Weber and goalie prospect Jhonas Enroth are in the same boat. Up front, will the Sabres make a push to keep 30-year-old unrestricted free agent Tim Connolly? They’ve also got a handful of bottom-six forwards that must either be re-signed or replaced.
Draft card: Assuming they can keep their top-six forwards intact, the Sabres might be able to start filling holes by bringing along top prospects such as forwards Zack Kassian and Luke Adam. The Sabres appear relatively set on defense, which is good because there aren’t many top prospects on the horizon there.
(Restricted free agents: Chris Butler, D; Jhonas Enroth, G; Nathan Gerbe, C/LW; Marc-Andre Gragnani, D; David Leggio, G; Dennis McCauley, F; Dennis Persson, D; Felix Schutz, C; Andrej Sekera, D; Drew Stafford, RW; Travis Turnbull, F; Mike Weaver, D.)
(Unrestricted free agents: Tim Conboy, F; Tim Connolly, C; Matt Ellis, C; Mike Grier, RW; Patrick Lalime, G; Mark Mancari, RW; Cody McCormick, C; Steve Montador, D; Rob Niedermayer, C; Mark Parrish, RW; Colin Stuart, LW; Derek Whitmore, F.)
Hanging around?: Up front, it’s a good news-bad news situation for the Canadiens. By re-signing their restricted free agents, they basically have the ability to bring back their entire core of forwards. Then again, only six teams in the NHL scored fewer goals than Montreal this season. Brian Gionta led the way with 29 goals, but no other Montreal player scored more than 22. Montreal will need more from proven scorers such as Michael Cammalleri and Scott Gomez. Carey Price is a rock in goal.
Saying goodbye?: While the forwards could remain intact, the defense has some potentially large holes. Hal Gill was re-signed this week, and joins P.K. Subban and Jaroslav Spacek for a solid core, but three veterans on the back end — Roman Hamrlik, Brent Sopel and James Wisniewski — are due to become restricted free agents, as is backup goalie Alex Auld, with no clear backup goalie in the system under contract.
Draft card: The Canadiens have some solid prospects, but perhaps none that will make a short-term impact. They’re high on winger Danny Kristo, but he just completed his second season at North Dakota, and they’re high on center Louis LeBlanc, but he’s a veteran of only one season of junior hockey after one season of college hockey.
(Restricted free agents: Dustin Boyd, C; Mathieu Carle, D; Nigel Dawes, LW; David Desharnais, C; Josh Gorges, D; Kyle Klubertanz, D; Andrei Kostitsyn, RW; Max Pacioretty, LW; Alexandre Picard, D; Benoit Pouliot, LW; Tom Pyatt, C; Ryan Russell, C; Frederic St. Denis, D; Yannick Weber, D; Ryan White, C.)
(Unrestricted free agents: Alex Auld, G; Mathieu Darche, LW; Jeff Halpern, C/LW; Roman Hamrlik, D; Drew MacIntyre, G; Paul Mara, D; Andrei Markov, D; Curtis Sanford, G; Brent Sopel, D; James Wisniewski, D; J.T. Wyman, RW.)
Hanging around?: Can this team get better with age? The Senators narrowly avoided the cellar in the East and were consistently substandard, as they finished in the bottom four in the conference in goals scored and goals allowed. All of the team’s major pieces will remain in place heading into next season, with Jason Spezza leading the way, so the Senators will hope for better results, better health and will hope that Craig Anderson is the long-term answer in goal.
Saying goodbye?: The Senators have only one free agent — restricted or unrestricted — who played more than 36 games at the NHL level this season, and that’s veteran depth center Ryan Shannon. The Senators will also need to find an insurance policy behind Anderson, given that Pascal Leclaire is an unrestricted free agent and that the minor-league goalies have not been overly impressive. Or will the Senators seek a goalie to push Anderson?
Draft card: The Senators had some success at the AHL level this season, but it also came in the playoffs, when a handful of NHL-tested players were sent down and helped eliminate Manchester. The short-term help in the system is almost certain to come on the back end, from defensemen such as Jared Cowen and David Rundblad. One of the top forward prospects, Jakob Silfverberg, has yet to come over from Sweden.
(Restricted free agents: Jason Bailey, RW; Cody Bass, C; Bobby Butler, F; Erik Condra, RW; Kaspars Daugavins, LW; Geoff Kinrade, D; Ryan Potulny, C; Roman Wick, RW.)
(Unrestricted free agents: Andre Benoit, D; Mike Brodeur, G; David Hale, D; Ryan Keller, RW; Pascal Leclaire, G; Francis Lessard, RW; Curtis McElhinney, G; Ryan Shannon, C; Derek Smith, D; Marek Svatos, RW.)
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Hanging around?: It’s the Maple Leafs, and it’s Brian Burke, so the roster is subject to constant volatility. For now, the Maple Leafs have stockpiled quite a few 26-and-under players who should improve going forward. Phil Kessel finished with 32 goals, Mikhail Grabovski had a very since season with 29 goals and the Leafs brought in rookie Joe Colborne as a potential second-line center. The defense is young but could be deep, and Toronto is pleased with young goalie James Reimer.
Saying goodbye?: Toronto has a handful of young restricted free agents to get under contract — most notably Reimer, Luke Schenn and Clarke MacArthur — but they will get a salary-cap boost when the $6-million contract of goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere comes off the board. The Leafs’ only other semi-notable unrestricted free agents are energy-line forwards Tim Brent and Joey Crabb, who combined to make just over $1 million this season.
Draft card: Toronto flirted with keeping forward prospect Nazem Kadri in the NHL, and he got 29 games with the Leafs but also scored 17 goals in only 44 games in the AHL. He seems likely to make the jump, as does Colborne, who came over with an in-season trade. There doesn’t appear to be much room for a defensive prospect to make an impact. Is Reimer ready to handle the No. 1 job in the NHL?
(Restricted free agents: Tyler Bozak, C; Fabian Brunnstrom, LW; Luca Caputi, LW; Carl Gunnarsson, D; Ryan Hamilton, LW; Christian Hanson, C; Brayden Irwin, F; Matt Lashoff, D; Clarke MacArthur, LW; James Reimer, G; Luke Schenn, D; Greg Scott, RW; Ben Scrivens, G.)
(Unrestricted free agents: Darryl Boyce, C; Tim Brent, C; Joey Crabb, RW; Alex Foster, C; Jean-Sebastien Giguere, G; Danny Richmond, D; Jay Rosehill, F; Fredrik Sjostrom, RW; Aaron Voros, RW; Mike Zigomanis, C.)