What flaws does each Northeast Division team have and what moves can they make to fix these holes?
Plugging Holes: Boston Bruins
The Hole: Any kind of scoring
What an incredible drop.
A season ago, the Boston Bruins were second in the NHL in goals for, with 270, and looked to be able to weather the loss of Phil Kessel to Toronto. Instead, the B's lost an incredible 74 goals from their 2008-09 total to finish dead last in the NHL with 196. The culprit: a precipitous drop in shooting percentage. Whereas the Bruins scored on 10.9 percent of their shots the previous season, in 2009-10 they managed to bury only 7.5 percent of them, easily worst in the league. Some of this will bounce back naturally since teams often regress to the mean in shooting percentage. But some was caused by the loss of Kessel, injuries to Marc Savard and Milan Lucic, and reduced effectiveness from Michael Ryder and Dennis Wideman. The Bruins should be looking for some extra scoring, because Tuukka Rask can't bail them out every night.
The Fix: Sign F Paul Kariya, UFA
With Miroslav Satan, the Bruins have shown that they can rehabilitate known talents. After a promising start to his 2008-09 season was cut short, Kariya muddled through a disastrous 2009-10 during which he posted only 5.7 GVT, the worst full-season mark of his career. Yet Kariya, despite his age and recent results, is a proven scorer and still has 30-goal potential. He will also be looking to prove himself, and could experience a late-career surge similar to the one experienced by Teemu Selanne, his longtime teammate in Anaheim, a few years ago.
For ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek's take on the Boston Bruins, click here.
Plugging Holes: Buffalo Sabres
The Hole: A No. 2 defenseman
The Sabres had a successful year, with goaltender Ryan Miller establishing himself as one of the best goaltenders in the NHL (if not the best) and leading the way to a Northeast-leading 100 points. Despite a disappointing first-round loss to the Boston Bruins, the Sabres showed they had a good, balanced team with no glaring weaknesses. They have a group of good (if small) forwards in Thomas Vanek, Derek Roy, Jason Pominville, Tim Connolly and Jochen Hecht, who combined for 55 goals versus threshold (GVT). However, with Toni Lydman and Henrik Tallinder both on the market as unrestricted free agents, the Sabres may need to bolster their blue line. Tyler Myers was a revelation last season and is clearly the No. 1 defenseman of the future, but the Sabres could use another solid presence on the blue line.
The Fix: Sign D Paul Martin from the New Jersey Devils
Martin had a forgettable year last season as injuries limited him to 22 regular-season games, but in 2008-09 he had the 33rd-highest GVT among NHL defensemen (9.5). Martin is excellent both on the power play and on the penalty kill and can play 23-24 minutes a night. Having Martin and Myers would give the Sabres one of the best defensive tandems in the Eastern Conference, one that can shut down the elite lines of the Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers. The Sabres should also aim to re-sign either Tallinder or Lydman to consolidate their defensive corps.
For ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek's take on the Buffalo Sabres, click here.
Plugging Holes: Montreal Canadiens
The Hole: A big forward
Notwithstanding their playoff success, the Canadiens had exactly the kinds of problems last season you would expect from a team with a severely undersized first line. The Canadiens excelled at four-on-four hockey, outscoring their opponents 11-4, and had the second-best power play in the league, behind only the Washington Capitals. But they got pushed around in five-on-five situations, getting outshot by a terrible 263 shots (better than only the Florida Panthers and Edmonton Oilers, two teams in the NHL draft lottery). Plus, their 130 goals at five-on-five were dead last in the NHL. Scott Gomez, Mike Cammalleri and Brian Gionta provide more than enough skill, but having a guy who can create space as well as bring a scoring touch would be great.
The Fix: Trade for LW Dustin Penner of the Edmonton Oilers
Penner finally showed this season why Kevin Lowe pursued him three years ago, as Penner has developed into one of the premier power forwards in the league. He posted 63 points and 12.0 goals versus threshold (GVT) and would probably have produced more with better linemates, including a healthy Ales Hemsky. Penner brings a combination of size, scoring and steady play. He has been plus-13 over the past two seasons despite the Oilers' woes. Since the Oilers are unlikely to be competitive for the two remaining years of Penner's contract, they could trade him for Montreal's young goaltender, Carey Price, who is unhappy sitting behind Jaroslav Halak as the No. 2 in Montreal and could be Edmonton's goaltender of the future.
For ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek's take on the Montreal Canadiens, click here.
Plugging Holes: Ottawa Senators
The Hole: Defensive defenseman
The headlines may belong to Jason Spezza, but his situation is hardly the most pressing for the Senators. And while the Sens would deeply love to get a better No. 1 goaltender, given that their goalies last season gave up 15 more goals than the league average, the focus shouldn't fall in the crease. At least not when the Senators are committed to a tandem of Brian Elliott and Pascal Leclaire for at least one more season.
Instead, they should focus on shoring up their blue line, where the possible departure of Anton Volchenkov will leave a gaping hole. The Senators' defense was pretty good last season; their high goals-against number was mostly a function of goaltending. But on the penalty-kill, they allowed 452 shots against, fourth worst in the league. It also didn't help that they were shorthanded 25 times more often than their opponents.
The Fix: Sign D Henrik Tallinder, UFA
Tallinder has been a steady presence on the Buffalo Sabres' blue line for nine seasons, and this season he was the Sabres' second-best defenseman with 5.6 GVT and 21 minutes of ice time per game, including more than three minutes of shorthanded time. He helped anchor a very good penalty-killing unit that was ranked fourth in the NHL. He has also been matched against the opposition's top players and is often out of the ice for important defensive faceoffs.
Don't let his low scoring numbers fool you: This is a guy who does his job and does it well. Tallinder has had some injuries in his career, but played all 82 games last season.
For ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek's take on the Ottawa Senators, click here.
Plugging Holes: Toronto Maple Leafs
The Hole: Playmaker
It is hard to get a good handle on this Maple Leafs team, because half the players weren't on the roster as recently as nine months ago. Early in the season, they needed an elite scorer and acquired one in the form of Phil Kessel. Then they needed a goaltender and got Jean-Sebastien Giguere. Next they acquired a top defenseman in the form of Dion Phaneuf -- who yesterday was named team captain. However, in their roster overhaul they traded away five forwards (Jason Blake, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Lee Stempniak, Niklas Hagman and Matt Stajan), and it's hard to see who, other than Kessel, is a lock for even 40 points. They badly need a playmaker who can help anchor a first line until Nazem Kadri is ready for the job in a couple of years.
The Fix: Sign F Pavol Demitra, UFA
The Leafs are relatively tight on cap room and cannot afford to add another expensive player. After a poor season, Demitra has probably worn out his welcome in Vancouver, but this is a player who had 20 goals, 33 assists and 10.0 GVT in 2008-09, has 464 career NHL assists and is, at 35, not yet ready to hang up his skates. If the Leafs manage to trade Tomas Kaberle for another top forward, this would give them a solid first line. Other than Giguere and Kaberle, the Leafs have no players over 30 on their team, so Demitra could also bring a welcome veteran presence.
For ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek's take on the Toronto Maple Leafs, click here.
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .
Tom Awad is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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