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Hockey Prospectus 2012-13 is here! Download Sample Chapter - Penguins!

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June 14, 2012
Plugging Holes
Atlantic Division

by Timo Seppa and ESPN Insider


With the Stanley Cup Final in the books, it's time for every NHL team to tinker with its roster and see how it can retool for next season. The analysts of Hockey Prospectus provide some help, identifying the biggest shortcoming on every NHL roster using their GVT valuation metric and offering a unique suggestion on how to fix it for 2012-13. The series starts with fixes for the five teams in the Atlantic Division, where the Rangers could have a big name in their crosshairs.

New York Rangers

The hole: Dynamic first-line forward

You really have to give Glen Sather and Co. a ton of credit for remaking the Rangers within a few short years. Gone are underachieving, overpaid veterans such as Scott Gomez and Wade Redden, while young talent such as Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan, Ryan McDonagh and Michael Del Zotto have taken their place, filling key roles. Sather rightly held off on giving up picks and blue-chip prospects for Rick Nash at the trade deadline -- that would have been one step forward and two steps back -- but the Blueshirts remain a top-line forward away from being a true Cup contender. It's not just scoring that was missing against the Devils in the Eastern Conference Finals, but a two-way presence to drive possession and tilt the ice. Fortunately for them, there should be one available this summer.

The fix: Sign LW Zach Parise, UFA (18.6 GVT)

The answer for the Rangers could be right across the Hudson. The Devils' captain bounced back nicely from a difficult, injury-plagued 2010-11 campaign, impressively ranking 14th among all skaters in GVT. Not far removed from point-per-game-plus performances in 2008-09 and 2009-10, the immensely talented U.S. Olympian could return to those levels in his age-28 season. And another year removed from knee surgery, look for Parise to once again be the dynamic two-way presence and "possession monster" he was in his very recent heyday. Of course, based on some recent buzz, to land Parise the Rangers may have some convincing to do.

Pittsburgh Penguins

The hole: Tough, versatile winger

Whether it's 1975 or 2012, not many teams have managed to win a physical battle with the Flyers, which is why it seemed unwise for the favored Penguins to get involved in that type of series with their archrivals. Although Marc-Andre Fleury's shortcomings were clearly the number one reason for the Penguins' early exit -- and that hole was already identified by Ray Shero and filled with underrated veteran Tomas Vokoun -- opponents are now bound to be gunning for Pittsburgh physically, come playoff time at the least. So while the Penguins first and foremost need to return to their bread and butter of dominating the opposition with their all-world talent, they could use a further infusion of toughness in their lineup, so that we don't see the likes of Sidney Crosby or James Neal in the middle of a postseason brouhaha again.

The fix: Sign RW Brandon Prust, UFA (1.7 GVT)

It's clear that Pittsburgh shouldn't be looking for a goon, but someone who can actually play the game. We know that the Eric Godards of the world never make the Pens' postseason roster, and you'd like to see a skill upgrade over Arron Asham. Therefore, Pittsburgh should look to poach gritty third-line winger Brandon Prust from Atlantic Division rivals, the Rangers. Not only was the former Flame willing and able to drop the gloves (tied for first in NHL with 20 fighting majors), but he served as one of the Blueshirts' primary penalty killers (1:40 short-handed time on ice per game), and managed to stay afloat despite a difficult checking-line role (New York's second-lowest offensive zone start percentage). Entering his age-28 season, Prust is only one year removed from posting a solid 6.3 GVT.

Philadelphia Flyers

The hole: Shutdown defenseman

The Flyers have made their bed with Ilya Bryzgalov, anchored to the enigmatic netminder and his $51 million contract through 2019-20, his age-39 season. The price tag was always an issue, but his performance in Year 1 (.909 save percentage) was near the bottom end of realistic expectations. Add in a hideous postseason (.887) -- the worst by a goalie since the lockout who played in at least seven games -- and you end up with GM Paul Holmgren publicly chastising Bryzgalov after the Flyers' second-round exit against New Jersey. Unfortunately, there's not much for Philadelphia to do now, other than to pray for the good Ilya to re-emerge, while bolstering the defense in front of him.

The fix: Sign D Hal Gill, UFA (5.0 GVT)

There's no doubt that Philadelphia missed the presence of captain Chris Pronger, both on the blue line and in the locker room, and it remains to be seen if and when he returns to the Flyers lineup. If he does not return, it will require a major fix down the road. But for right now, Philadelphia can significantly improve their short-term defensive depth in front of Bryzgalov at modest cost by signing the 37-year-old Gill, a key shutdown defenseman for both the Stanley Cup champion Penguins in 2009 and the plucky, giant-killing Habs in 2010. The 6-foot-7 man/mountain may be a veritable pylon out on the ice, but he's a pylon with a huge wingspan that still manages to block 161 shots per season (16th in NHL).

New Jersey Devils

The hole: Versatile center

It was far from pretty for the Devils in the faceoff circle this season. While their poor 47.1 percent success rate (29th in NHL) could be partially excused due to Travis Zajac's nearly season-long absence, the fact is that they didn't fare significantly better in the postseason, coming in dead last among playoff teams at 47.2 percent. While Calder Trophy-nominee Adam Henrique has done a fantastic job overall in a top-six role and fellow rookie Jacob Josefson should continue to grow, there's both a short-term and long-term need for the Devils at the pivot, with Zajac and 36-year-old center/wing Patrik Elias both one year away from free agency.

The fix: Sign C Jarret Stoll, UFA (2.7 GVT)

GM Lou Lamoriello won't need to think back far to recall checking-line center Jarret Stoll of the Kings, their opponents in the Stanley Cup Finals. For 2011-12, the Devils would benefit from a second superior faceoff man, using Zajac (55.3 percent in 2010-11) and Stoll (55.0 percent) in the highest leverage situations. For 2012-13 and beyond, New Jersey will simply need a versatile, quality centerman, with the potential departure of Zajac, at which point Stoll could become an offensive faceoff option as well. Don't forget that the former Oiler tallied 43 points and a 12.1 GVT for the Kings just a season ago -- it's not like the Devils would be signing a fourth-line faceoff specialist with no additional skills to speak of.

New York Islanders

The hole: Top-four defenseman

Instead of having a Norris Trophy-caliber defenseman like Duncan Keith or Drew Doughty on their payroll for $6-$7 million per season, the Islanders took an equivalent cap hit by carrying a quartet of No. 6-No. 7 defensemen: Mark Eaton ($2.5 million), Steve Staios ($1.6 million), Milan Jurcina ($1.6 million) and Mike Mottau ($0.8 million), who embarrassingly combined for negative-2.7 GVT, i.e. AHL-level production. In part, that's because it's tough to get big names to sign in Long Island. After all, GM Garth Snow tried to trade for and then sign Christian Ehrhoff last June. Thankfully, New York is not starting from scratch now, needing only to round out a quality top three of Mark Streit, Travis Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald by bringing in a quality veteran who's worthy of first- or second-pairing ice time.

The fix: Sign D Michal Rozsival, UFA (4.1 GVT)

Swapped out by the Rangers midway through 2010-11 to make way for younger defensemen, Rozsival fit nicely into Phoenix's defensive system, posting the Coyotes' best possession stats, while averaging 21 minutes of ice time. Although his point production took a considerable hit in Phoenix, this was in part due to losing all of his power-play ice time, which should come right back playing for a team like the Islanders. Partnered with captain Mark Streit, the 33-year-old Czech Olympian would be a major upgrade over last season's woeful options of Staios and Jurcina. Young veterans Andrew MacDonald and Travis Hamonic would continue to form another strong duo for New York, while youngsters like Calvin de Haan and Matt Donovan are ready to get their feet wet in third-pairing roles. On the Island, I'd expect Rozsival to return to 20-plus points and a 6.0-plus GVT, comparable to his last two full years at MSG.

A version of this story originally appeared at ESPN Insider Insider.

Timo Seppa is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Timo by clicking here or click here to see Timo's other articles.

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