NHL free agent preview: Atlantic Division
Cap space – $14 million
Needs – The last time the Devils got out of the second round, their defense corps was anchored by Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer, Brian Rafalski, Ken Daneyko and Colin White. Only White remains from that group and he’s 32 years old. If the playoffs proved one thing last season, it’s that the Devils need a significant upgrade on their defense corps, a hole that becomes even more gaping if Paul Martin signs elsewhere.
Ready for the big time – Defenseman Matt Corrente played 12 games for the Devils last season and has spent the past two honing his game in the minors. He’s a rugged defenseman who provides a decent modicum of offense and has served his mandatory Devils apprenticeship.
Cap space – $32 million
Needs – The Islanders are building up an impressive stable of young forwards, but aside from Mark Streit, they don’t have a puckmoving defenseman capable of creating much offense.
Ready for the big time – Right winger Jesse Joensuu put up respectable numbers in his first two seasons of minor pro after coming over from Europe. He spent 11 games with the Islanders last season and seven the year before. He’s 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds and can work the corners to get the puck out to the talented forwards.
Cap space – $13 million
Needs – The Rangers spent far too much time in their own zone last season, far too much even for a star workhorse such as goalie Henrik Lundqvist. The Rangers need some defensemen who know their way around their own end, can play physically enough to keep forwards out of the scoring areas and can move the puck up the ice.
Ready for the big time – Defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who came to the Rangers as part of the Scott Gomez trade with the Montreal Canadiens, is absolutely ready to play, but he’s still considering going back to Wisconsin for his senior season. If he does, next would be center/left winger Evgeny Grachev, who still needs to work on his consistency, but has great promise.
Cap space – $10.6 million
Needs – In what has become an annual ritual, the Flyers are looking for a dependable goaltender. Superstars need not apply. With the Flyers’ depth and talent both up front and on defense, all they require is a guy who can stop the puck when they need him to, like, say overtime in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final.
Ready for the big time – Right winger Andreas Nodl has been dubbed “Andreas No-Goal,” but he remains a solid prospect who can fill a defensive role. The native of Vienna, Austria, has been playing in North America for six seasons and has two minor pro seasons to his credit. He played 10 regular season and 10 playoff games in the NHL last season.
Cap space – $11.3 million
RFAs – Chris Conner, RW; Aaron Boogaard, RW
Needs – Alex Goligoski and Kris Letang are making strides as offensive defensemen, but the Penguins either have to re-sign Sergei Gonchar or find a replacement for him. He’s a workhorse defenseman who can play in all situations and makes Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin much more dangerous on the power play.
Ready for the big time – Defenseman Ben Lovejoy has the potential to be a defensive, stay-at-home presence for the Penguins and won’t face the pressure of being a top-four blueliner when he comes into the league. Should the Penguins sign Gonchar and upgrade on defense as they’re expected (perhaps by signing Dan Hamhuis), they’ll likely have to shed salary at forward, which would leave a spot open for center Mark Letestu, a player coach Dan Bylsma really likes.
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears regularly and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.
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