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

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June 15, 2012
Plugging Holes
Northeast Division

by Matthew Coller and ESPN Insider


With the Stanley Cup finals 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 continues with fixes for the five teams in the Northeast Division, where the Bruins suddenly have an unexpected hole to fill.

Boston Bruins

The hole: Backup goaltender

Over the past three seasons, the Boston Bruins have had the most comfortable and successful one-two punch in goal in the NHL with Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask. Thomas, of course, came away with the hardware and fame, but Rask filled in more often than most second-string goalies and thrived in the role. During those three seasons, Rask's save percentages were an outstanding .931, .918 and .929. But with Thomas opting to take next season off, Rask takes over as the No. 1. That leaves coach Claude Julien in need of a second man between the pipes.

The fix: Sign G Dominik Hasek, UFA (GVT N/A)

Before you channel Carly Rae Jepsen and say, "This is crazy," consider that Hasek hasn't exactly been sitting around since last playing in the NHL in 2008. The 47-year-old goalie played 46 games in 2010-11 in the KHL and managed a 2.48 goals-against average. The two-time Cup champion netminder has indicated he would like to return to the NHL and with the free-agent cupboard nearly bare of quality goalies -- particularly those seeking one-year deals -- Hasek may be the best option for the B's. Even at age 47, Hasek's instincts in net combined with Boston's top-tier defense could provide at least average goaltending for 20-25 games. That's more than the Bruins will get out of, say, Marty Turco. A cheap deal would be a low-risk venture, especially with Anton Khudobin ready to step in if the experiment goes awry.

Buffalo Sabres

The hole: Defensive-minded center

The Sabres have an overload of one-way offensive centers since they traded Paul Gaustad to the Nashville Predators, acquired Cody Hodgson and moved winger Tyler Ennis to the middle. They are in desperate need of a center to pair with lock-down wingers Patrick Kaleta, Nathan Gerbe or up-and-comer Corey Tropp in an effort to slow opponents' best lines and take important faceoffs. The closest thing Buffalo has to a shutdown center at the moment is brawler Cody McCormick.

The fix: Sign C Sami Pahlsson, UFA (2.6 GVT)

Over his career, Pahlsson has regularly been one of the league's most consistently good faceoff men, winning 52.9 percent last season and 52 percent the season before. He's adept at facing -- and succeeding against -- top competition. Additionally, there's been a distinct lack of toughness (both physical and mental) in Buffalo over the past several years that he could help restore. No doubt things that franchise goalie Ryan Miller would appreciate.

Toronto Maple Leafs

The hole: Veteran goaltender

In this goalie-friendly modern version of the NHL, it seems almost impossible to go as long as the Toronto Maple Leafs have gone without a reliable netminder. Up-and-comer James Reimer was supposed to be the answer, but battled inconsistency and injuries last season. Backup Jonas Gustavsson proved in 2011-12 he isn't an NHL-caliber goalie and prospect goalie Ben Scrivens played only 12 games, and he wasn't very good. While Reimer may still have a future as a quality starter and Scrivens could fulfill his potential, the Leafs need a reliable veteran who can step in if their young goalies struggle.

The fix: Sign G Josh Harding, UFA (8.9 GVT)

Harding is, quite literally, the only free-agent goaltender who is under 40 who has a solid track record as an NHL goalie. Last season, he played 34 games for an awful Minnesota Wild team and still managed a .917 save percentage. The 27-year-old has averaged 27 games played per season over the past four seasons and has a career .916 save percentage, a touch over league average during that time. Toronto won't see the type of production from Harding that it would get from a trade-market goalie like Roberto Luongo, but the Leafs will get consistency and the cap hit won't be anywhere near as high. And they will get one more year to see if Reimer can be a No. 1 starter without the season blowing up if he can't.

Montreal Canadiens

The hole: Playmaking right wing

No team received less from its right wingers last season than the Montreal Canadiens. Their trade for Rene Bourque was a disaster and Brian Gionta was injured most of the season. The Habs have two quality finishers in Max Pacioretty and Erik Cole, but sorely need a right wing to help set up talented centers David Desharnais and Tomas Plekanec, who scored fewer than 20 goals for the first time since 2005-06 last season. Montreal also needs a man-advantage puck mover to help improve what was league's third-worst power play.

The fix: Sign RW P.A. Parentau, UFA (11.5 GVT)

With a changing of the guard in Montreal, the front office will turn its focus to improving the Habs' offense right away. Parenteau is everything the Canadiens were missing on the right side last season when they finished dead last in the Eastern Conference. He has a knack for creating, while he's also able to score. In 2011-12 he managed 18 goals and 49 assists for the Islanders and 19 power-play points. Not to mention that acquiring a creator will give the team's fan base some much-needed confidence. The only question about Parenteau is whether two seasons of success are enough for Montreal's management to consider the 29-year-old a guarantee to continue his production.

Ottawa Senators

The hole: Stay-at-home defenseman

The Senators had one of the most impressive offensive-minded defenses in the NHL with budding superstar Erik Karlsson and veteran puck mover Sergei Gonchar. But when it came to keeping pucks out of the net, Ottawa struggled badly in 2011-12, ranking 24th in the NHL in goals against and 29th in shots against per game. The Sens also proved they do not have good enough goaltending to make up for a barrage of chances each night. They sorely need a reliable D-man to even things out on the back end.

The fix: Sign D Barret Jackman, UFA (6.9 GVT)

There hasn't been much hype around the 31-year-old Jackman becoming a free agent, but he was at the head of the St. Louis Blues' record-setting defense last season and was the fifth-ranked defensive player in the league according to GVT. Jackman was second in total ice time and finished the season plus-20. He won't put up high point totals, but Jackman can be the go-to guy Ottawa has been missing when looking to shut down the league's best forwards.

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

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

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Plugging Holes (06/14)
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Plugging Holes (06/14)
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Plugging Holes (06/18)
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Plugging Holes (06/18)

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