Darren Eliot
Monday June 22nd, 2009

With the NHL Entry Draft, the focus returns to teams that were not in the conversation while the playoffs were so spectacularly unfolding. The ones that pick early on Friday -- especially the Islanders (1), Lightning (2), and Avalanche (3) -- will get youngsters who play immediately, due to readiness or their new team's dire need and dearth of depth. But what of the league's elite? They'll take prospects to fill their development pipeline. So, how do they get better now?

The Calgary Flames, picking 20th, feel their best chance at improvement means bringing in another Sutter -- as in Brent -- to coach, with brother Darryl at the helm as GM. Speaking of personnel specifically, though, Sutter astutely re-signed restricted free agent winger David Moss, who fits the mold that he has set for this team with big, rugged, aggressive play from the wings.

For the Detroit Red Wings, the playoffs demonstrated that their roster turnover will come from within. Darren Helm, Ville Leino and Justin Abdelkader all look capable of playing a role up front while Jonathan Ericsson proved ready to become a mainstay on the blueline for years to come. That makes parting ways with veterans who have been a part of past championships -- guys like Kirk Maltby, Mikael Samuelsson and Chris Chelios -- easier from a hockey standpoint at least, if not from an emotional perspective. Salary cap considerations also enter into the equation along with aging and attrition. Can the Wings afford to ink Marian Hossa or is Jiri Hudler a better long-term fit economically? If so, Hossa again hits the open market.

The same kind of decision is faced by the Boston Bruins, who earlier this month committed to restricted free agent centerman David Krejci to the tune of $11.25M over three years. But with Marc Savard still on the books for $5M per season, and Patrice Bergeron earning a similar salary, how are they going to get a deal done with Phil Kessel, who is coming off his initial three-year rookie contract at $850,000 as the team's leading goal-scorer last season? Can they move one of their centermen, most likely Savard, to pay Kessel a sizeable increase? Or do the B's opt to stay strong down the middle and let Kessel walk?

Tough call for GM Peter Chiarelli, who just received a four-year contract extension, but it is the type of player-versus-pay scenario that confounds GM's all over the league, especially the ones who call the shots for teams at the top, as they try to balance economics, development of young players and the need for productive veterans.

And what do the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins do? Their roster is in flux just a couple of weeks after the ultimate victory. GM Ray Shero has his young stars under long-term contracts and masterfully addressed his team's needs at the deadline with deals for Chris Kunitz, Bill Guerin and Craig Adams. Kunitz is there long-term, and the Pens just got a three-year, $5.5 million deal done with defenseman Alex Goligoski, who showed a lot of good signs early in the season while Sergei Gonchar was injured. But veteran Rob Scuderi remains a priority signing as an unrestricted free agent. Scuderi distinguished himself as a bona fide shutdown defender during the Cup run. But did Ruslan Fedotenko and Miroslav Satan do enough to warrant tenure? Probably not. What about Guerin? Adams? That's a lot of shuffling of Pittsburgh's winger depth if they all go elsewhere.

Many GMs will be in Montreal this weekend to look at this year's crop of candidates with an eye to the distant future. That's why this draft is likely to have some interesting trade scenarios develop, as teams deal some bigger-than-usual names to teams in need for the purpose of freeing up cap space for the July 1 opening of the free agent signing period. That in turn will impact the draft order substantially, which is exactly what should happen under a cap system.

So it goes for every NHL team when it comes to the supporting cast around the core players. How teams flesh out their rosters will vary, of course, but it all begins Friday with the draft and it should be interesting.

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