Posted: Monday September 4, 2006 1:52PM; Updated: Wednesday September 13, 2006 1:25PM
When last seen, Tim Connolly (center) was leaving the ice with a serious concussion that is still a headache for the Sabres.
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On the spot: GM Darcy Regier
Greatest needs: Resolving the goaltending situation, re-signing a number of key RFAs without busting the cap, and what to do about Tim Connolly?
Did he fill them? Regier earned high marks last season for understanding how to build a team perfectly suited for the New NHL before anybody else did. Although he did little to improve on the formula this summer, he earns a good grade just for keeping it consistent in the face of some tricky contractual challenges.
Gone are veteran contributors Jay McKee, Mike Grier and J.P Dumont. All will be missed. On the plus side, Regier managed to re-sign half a team's worth of RFAs, including leading scorer Daniel Briere, Maxim Afinogenov and Dmitri Kalinin. Even though it took arbitration to get a couple of the deals done, Regier managed to keep the club mostly intact without going over budget.
With an enviable amount of organizational depth to draw on up front, the only new face on the Sabres is UFA blueliner Jaroslav Spacek. The former Oiler is a better all-around defender than McKee, and while he won't be the shot-blocking machine that McKee was, he can give the Sabres more quality minutes and at a better price.
A question mark that dogs Buffalo as camp approaches is, now that Ryan Miller has been re-signed to a three-year deal,what to do with Martin Biron, who agreed to a one-year $2.1 million qualifying offer that made him the priciest backup in hockey. Given the Sabres budget, that can't last.
The second line center situation remains in limbo as Connolly is still sidelined by his latest concussion, this one suffered on May 8. He's expected to miss camp, and likely the start of the season, which makes the three-year deal he signed in July seem like a very risky move. The Sabres have other centers who can fill his spot in the lineup, but none can match his offensive upside.
Those uncertainties drop Regier to a B.
On the spot: GM Peter Chiarelli
Greatest needs: A change in culture, a top-two defenseman; speed and skill up front; signing the team's young core forwards.
Did he fill them? Teams that miss the playoffs by 18 points, as the Bruns did last season, tend to have too many holes to fill in just one summer. Yet somehow, in the span of a few weeks, Chiarelli and assistant GM Jeff Gorton managed to re-shape a team littered with kids, malcontents and AHLers into one that could contend for the Cup -- not this year, but certainly in a four-year window.
Windows are the way of the New NHL, and the Bruins opened theirs with the signing of the top defensive and offensive free agents of 2006: Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard. Chara gives the B's a legitimate No. 1 blueliner, while Savard solidifies a second scoring line that also could feature promising sniper Phil Kessel, the fifth overall pick of this summer's draft.
Those moves alone would have earned Chiarelli/Gorton top marks, but they also inked the speedy and very underrated forward Shean Donovan as the final piece for the third line, shipped locker room cancer Nick Boynton to Phoenix for Paul Mara, and pulled off a stunning deal by shipping third-wheel goalie Andrew Raycroft to Toronto for 20-year-old Tuukka Rask -- arguably the best puck-stopping prospect in the world.
The cultural makeover the franchise so desperately needed was almost total. Chiarelli replaced Mike O'Connell. Dave Lewis replaced coach Mike Sullivan. Harry Sinden stepped down. And in a move the value of which should not be underestimated, the B's swiped Jim Benning from the Sabres to be their director of player personnel.
Add deals that will keep offensive centerpiece Patrice Bergeron draped in black and gold for the next five years, and Brad Boyes for two, and things simply could not have gone any better for the Bruins this summer.