Eastern Conference summer grades
No need to sugarcoat it. We'll probably see Presidents Day sales before the start of NHL training camps, but with the bulk of the wheelin' and dealin' behind us, it's a good time to take a look at what each team was able to accomplish since hanging up the skates for the summer.
The goal here is to assess how well clubs set themselves up for 2012-13 and, to a lesser extent, beyond. The focus is on immediate impact -- how well they addressed problem areas or took care of pressing issues. It's impossible to ignore the draft, but unless a team landed a player who could step into the lineup, it was viewed as an ancillary benefit.
So, what do the letters mean? A grade of C means a teaam stayed the course -- that could be good or bad depending on the situation. B suggests a brighter outlook for the season ahead. An A was awarded when a team made significant improvement.
No need to explain the lower marks, eh?
Today we take a look at the Eastern Conference. Check back Tuesday for a review of the Western Conference summer. And, as always, keep those cards and letters coming!
A season removed from a championship and with no obvious holes in his lineup, GM Peter Chiarelli stayed the course. He locked up key contributors Chris Kelly and Gregory Campbell and gave a one-year fail-safe deal to Tuukka Rask, who takes over in net while Tim Thomas spends the season Facebooking from his underground shelter in Colorado. Swedish free agent netminder Niklas Svedberg will challenge for the backup role. No excitement here, but you can't fault the approach.
Darcy Regier focused on a key issue -- chemistry -- bringing in smashmouth center Steve Ott in exchange for malcontent Derek Roy, possibly the smartest deal any GM made this summer. Add part-time thug John Scott and the Sabres will be a leading supplier of body aches for a change. The team landed big-bodied, high-upside centers Mikhail Grigorenko and Zemgus Girgensons in the first round of the draft, giving Buffalo a very bright long-term outlook.
GM Jim Rutherford delivered on his promise to be a major player this summer. His bold strike to acquire Jordan Staal at the draft and his willingness to take a one-year flier on Alex Semin reshaped an underwhelming forward group. Re-signing Jeff Skinner and drafting a gritty winger with top-six potential like Phil DiGiuseppe in the second round were smart long-term moves. Joe Corvo isn't the answer on defense -- unless the question is "Who will Caniacs scapegoat this season?" -- so look for Rutherford to make another move to bolster the blueline before the season starts.
Better days lie ahead, but not this season. Already unlikely to repeat their 94 points after overachieving in 2011-12, GM Dale Tallon did little this summer to prevent backsliding. Passing on Jason Garrison made sense from a fiscal perspective, but his howitzer on the point will be missed. George Parros brings some character to the room, but Peter Mueller and Filip Kuba aren't likely to add much to the mix. Tallon's best decision was refusing to move any of his coveted prospects for Roberto Luongo, but that payoff waits a couple of years down the road.
The honeymoon ended quickly for new GM Marc Bergevin. His decision to park Michel Therrien behind the bench was uninspired. Therrien may get decent results early on -- he usually does -- but he's seen as a business-as-usual hire, which is exactly what this stagnant squad doesn't need. Carey Price and Max Pacioretty were locked up long-term, but Bergevin has yet to settle with P.K. Subban, who isn't getting any cheaper. Brandon Prust and Colby Armstrong could address the need for grit and depth at left wing, but both come with caveats: Prust's resume is short and Armstrong is perpetually injured. At least Bergevin can dine out on the draft. His Day 2 haul of Sebastian Collberg, Dalton Thrower, Tim Bozon and Brady Vail earned rave reviews.
Re-sign goaltenders Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg? Check. Lock up fourth-liners/playoff heroes Stephen Gionta, Ryan Carter and Steve Bernier? Check. Watch hopes of repeating as Eastern Conference champs evaporate as captain Zach Parise and sharp minds Adam Oates and Larry Robinson accept more lucrative opportunities elsewhere? Gulp. The Devils have always stressed team over individual, but Parise, like Brodeur, was an exception. With Senators castoff Bobby Butler the only noteworthy add, this was a miserable summer in New Jersey.
Gotta give Garth Snow credit. The Blue Jackets didn't bite, but offering his entire slate of picks for Columbus' second overall displayed some counterintuitive cojones. Griffin Reinhart likely won't play on the island this season, but the fourth overall pick may end up being a better player. He'll need to be to salvage a brutal summer that saw breakout star P-A Parenteau replaced by Brad (seven goals) Boyes and trade acquisition Lubomir Visnovsky file for arbitration to nullify the deal. Even if he ends up on Long Island, it's clear he doesn't want to be there. Ugly.
The summer started off quietly with a couple of understated but sharp acquisitions in Taylor Pyatt and Arron Asham -- exactly the type of physical depth forwards the Rangers could have used in the conference final against the Devils. And then the big splash: Adding a proven sniper like Rick Nash at the cost of a trio of spare parts was a coup for Glen Sather. His patience allowed him to preserve the team's top prospects and still land a player who could get the Blueshirts over the hump. But once the applause dies down, remember that Sather has yet to address two weaknesses exposed in the playoffs: face-offs and an unreliable third pairing on the blueline.
Letting Zenon Konopka walk? Fine. Trading Nick Foligno for underappreciated defender Marc Methot? Okay. But letting Matt Carkner leave over his desire for an extra year on his deal? That's penny smart, pound foolish thinking by GM Bryan Murray. Not only will the Sens be a softer touch, they're also well below the cap floor. Maybe that sorts itself out in the CBA, but if it doesn't, then Murray is left to overspend on someone for the sake of spending. There's also a need for a legitimate first line right wing that's gone unaddressed. (No, I'm not convinced Jacob Silfverberg is the answer).
Philly fans haven't seen this many whiffs since Steve Carlton was on the mound. Paul Holmgren took his cuts -- Rick Nash, Ryan Suter, Zach Parise and most notably, Shea Weber -- but couldn't find replacements for Chris Pronger or Jaromir Jagr. He let Matt Carle walk and brought in Luke Schenn, a high risk/high reward move. He's physical and shoots right, two qualities the Flyers needed, but has regressed the last two seasons. If it turns out he simply needed a change of scenery, then Holmgren's summer batting average might top the Mendoza line.
After watching Marc-Andre Fleury displaying his Dave Reece impression against the Flyers, GM Ray Shero nabbed a worthy challenger in Tomas Vokoun. With two of his Big Three centers looking for cap-threatening deals, he locked up Sidney Crosby for 12 years and shipped Jordan Staal to the Hurricanes for a natural (and cheaper) third-line pivot in Brandon Sutter along with a pair of high-upside defensive prospects in Brian Doumolin and Derrick Pouliot. But where's the response to the immediate need for a shutdown D-man (or two)? Dylan Reese sure isn't the answer.
Leaky goaltending and defense quelled any hopes the Bolts had of returning to the playoffs in 2011-12, so Steve Yzerman filled the holes just the way he learned in Detroit. His choice of Anders Lindback is risky -- he's never started more than 22 NHL games in a season -- but he comes highly regarded and he's not a salary anchor the way Roberto Luongo would have been. Matt Carle will play top-four minutes and chip in on the power play. Sami Salo doesn't have much tread left on his tires, but he brings size and leadership. No surprise the Wings were in the hunt for both players. Full marks to Yzerman for landing them.
It's pretty simple: the Leafs entered the summer needing a No. 1 center and a No. 1 goalie and GM Brian Burke didn't get it done. He's hoping underperforming young winger James van Reimsdyk (acquired for underperforming young defender Luke Schenn) can slide seamlessly into the middle, but that's a thin rope to grasp. Burke's inability to land, or distance himself from, Roberto Luongo only makes things murkier for incumbent James Reimer. At least Jay McClement should be an upgrade for one of the league's worst PK units.
Playoff success aside, GM George McPhee knew his Caps were getting stale. Installing a fresh voice behind the bench in Adam Oates should make the most of the team's offensive stars. On the ice, he cut ties with inconsistent skaters Alex Semin and Dennis Wideman and finally addressed the team's long-standing need for a legitimate No. 2 center by shipping unproven Cody Eakin to Dallas for flashy (albeit inconsistent) pivot Mike Ribeiro. The Caps will miss Mike Knuble (UFA) in the room and in front of the net, but may have found an eventual replacement in 16th overall pick Tom Wilson. Filip Forsberg (11th overall) might turn out to be the steal of the first round.
Considering free agent Olli Jokinen to be a significant upgrade highlights this team's glaring weakness down the middle. He's big and durable, sure, but at 33 he's a streaky placeholder until something better comes along. So is Alexei Ponikarovsky -- he's a useful soldier, but the Jets would have been better served by adding a couple of reliable penalty killers. GM Kevin Cheveldayoff spent big on Ondrej Pavelec then brought in Al Montoya for relief. The duo stacks up as one of the league's least intimidating. He's yet to resign franchise forward Evander Kane or Spencer Machacek, who provided some spark during a late call-up.