It's the best time of year!
Posted by Ryan Porth Labels: 2011 Off-season, Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Montreal Canadiens, Northeast Division, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs
Here in the last week of July, we’re handing out report cards for all 30 teams, division-by-division. Today we continue with the Northeast Division…
The Stanley Cup Champions only had two major free agents heading into the off-season. And while Kaberle and Ryder both exited stage left, GM Peter Chiarelli softened the blow by acquiring Corvo and signing Pouliot (though both are downgrades). Once RFA Brad Marchand re-signs, the Bruins should be locked and loaded for their defense of Lord Stanley.
Owner Terry Pegula has opened up the checkbook this summer as he’s watched GM Darcy Regier go after high-profile free agents. Buffalo was able to reel in Ehrhoff and Leino via lucrative contracts during the frenzy. Not to mention, they were a player in the Brad Richards sweepstakes before dropping out at the last minute.
Prior to those acquisitions in the frenzy, Regier traded for Regehr and Kotalik from Calgary. Regehr will make an impact on a Sabres blue-line that suddenly looks like one of the best in the league. Kotalik could be sent to the AHL due to the lack of cap space.
Though the Sabres have seen a few useful players head elsewhere, this is a team that will be dangerous in the Eastern Conference. Pegula has brought a lot of optimism to the franchise, and backed up his money-spending promise right off the bat.
When you look at the Habs’ off-season from afar, the biggest thing you’ll notice is the loss of four defensemen. Three of them – Wisniewski, Sopel and Mara – were acquired in-season due to injuries on the back end, so there was already a surplus. The other, Hamrlik, priced himself out of Montreal. Halpern will be missed, too, as he was a serviceable center in his one year with the Habs.
The big addition, of course, is Cole. The ex-Carolina winger scored 26 goals in 2010-11, nine of which were of the game-winning variety. Cole came at a price, $4.5 million annually for four years, but fills a need in the top-six up front. Budaj was signed to replace Auld as Carey Price’s backup.
GM Bryan Murray wasn’t expected to make any big moves this summer, as he goes forward with the rebuilding plan. The team they put on the ice to start the 2011-12 season will look a lot like the one that finished last season. One of a few exceptions could be Filatov, the high draft pick that never panned out in Columbus. Acquired for just a third-round pick, the Russian could turn out to be a steal for the Sens.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Though the 2010-11 Maple Leafs failed to snap their prolonged playoff drought, they did finish the year on a high note, showing a lot of promise for 2011-12. GM Brian Burke further whet the appetite for those optimists by bringing in Connolly, Liles and Franson this summer.
Connolly has the skill-set, when healthy, to fit in alongside Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul, giving Toronto a respectable top-six group. Liles and Franson improve the Leafs defense corps and should be go-to players on the man advantage. Burke didn’t go on a spending spree, but improved the team enough that the Leafs should contend for the playoffs this year.
Photo credit: Getty Images
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