BOSTON (CBS) – We all know the Boston Bruins are the two-time defending champions of the Northeast Division. And it appears almost the entire crew that captured those two titles will be back to defend once the 2012-13 season begins, hopefully on time in October.
This summer has been all about retention instead of importation for Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli. He traded for Chris Bourque and signed minor-leaguers Christian Hanson and Garnet Exelby as free agents. But otherwise Chiarelli’s successful mission this summer was to bring back the heart of the team, so he’s re-signed Chris Kelly, Tuukka Rask, Gregory Campbell, Daniel Paille and even minor-leaguers Lane MacDermid and Matt Bartkowski.
If the first goal of a team taking the ice in the fall is just to win its division, Chiarelli’s strategy could be a wise one – depending on what Boston’s in-division competitors have done to close the gap. Now that player movement has slowed in the offseason, here’s a quick thumbnail look at what the other Northeast combatants have done so far.
Ottawa – The Senators lost Matt Carkner and Zenon Konopka, which has left them deficient in toughness. They have replaced Carkner and Filip Kuba on the blue line with Matt Lundin and Marc Methot, who came at the expense of Nick Foligno. The Foligno loss also left the Sens a little short down the middle. They imported Guillaume Latendresse with hopes he’ll find his game again out on the wing. In bigger news, they found out early they weren’t among the teams Rick Nash would be willing to join. Still you have to figure Ottawa has something big planned, maybe something it will execute once the new collective bargaining agreement is in place.
Montreal – Carey Price re-signing for six years was the biggest move for the hated Habs. They still have to get P.K. Subban, a restricted free agent, signed. They haven’t lost anyone of note off their NHL roster but have acquired Francis Bouillon to bolster their back-end and added tons of grit with the additions of Colby Armstrong and Brandon Prust.
Buffalo – Trading Derek Roy to Dallas for Steve Ott showed the Sabres were determined to make sure the signing of John Scott wasn’t their only dose of new toughness. It’s up in the air whether that trade makes them a better team. They lost Brad Boyes and signed a trio of journeyman forward with hopes at least one will make an impact. They’re overflowing with defensemen on their roster now, so something will have to give.
Toronto – Dumping defenseman Luke Schenn, who was in desperate need of a change of scenery, for Philadelphia forward James van Riemsdyk probably qualifies as the division’s biggest move. The Leafs will be much better offensively with ‘JVR’ in the mix, especially if he thrives after a shift to center. Adding Jay McClement will do Toronto’s character well. But who will stop the puck? Right now, the Leafs still just have James Reimer and Ben Scrivens around to fill the job. The UFA pool (Dwayne Roloson, Dan Ellis) is way too thin to help. Maybe they can get back into the Roberto Luongo mix or a deal of Luongo elsewhere will make someone else worthwhile available.
The bottom line – Montreal and Toronto have improved the most, but the Maple Leafs had a lot more ground to close. So really only the Canadiens can say they’re a legit challenger to Boston’s throne.
Things have been deathly quiet around the NHL for more than a week now. There are still plenty of pieces in play around the league, with Rick Nash and Bobby Ryan still on the trading block and unrestricted free agents like Alexander Semin, Jason Arnott, Shane Doan and Jaroslav Spacek searching for homes.
Other teams in the East – Carolina, Washington, Tampa Bay – have improved. However, if health is not an issue, it looks like the Bruins might still have the goods to hold off the dogs during the Northeast Division race. Of course, unless the NHL brings back that realignment plan where teams play the first two rounds of playoffs within the division, Boston might still have time going deep.