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Construction Season: Retooling the NHL's Atlantic Division teams

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The NHL offseason is officially in progress and the draft begins Friday night. The question being asked around the league is: How can general managers use late June and early July to improve their clubs? What kind of tasks are on their to-do lists and how might they get creative?

On Thursday, we focused on the Atlantic Division. Others in this series:

Toronto Maple Leafs

For the first time since 2010, the Maple Leafs don't have a first-round draft pick. Logical thinking would suggest, then, that this week should be fairly tame for GM Kyle Dubas, right? Wrong. So, so wrong.

In reality, Dubas' head is probably spinning. The original 2019-20 salary-cap projection was about $83 million, but reports now indicate it could settle at a number closer to $81.5 million. That potential $1.5-million decrease is particularly tough on a cap-strapped team like Toronto. The Leafs have $74.2 million committed to just 17 players, according to, and Mitch Marner remains unsigned.

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Making matters worse, Marner - the 94-point restricted free agent and top offseason priority for the Leafs - can soon apply a pressure point on negotiations. The 22-year-old, who's already causing stress levels to rise among fans, can hop on a plane and visit rival cities when the offer sheet interview period opens next Friday. While this type of move is rare and ultimately may not happen, the threat certainly exists. Dubas, for what it's worth, has a nuclear option too - trading Marner before July 1.

Both scenarios - Marner signing an offer sheet or leaving via trade - are terrible outcomes for Toronto. They want him on their roster over the long term - end of story.

Of course, he's not the Leafs' only headache.

Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson, two more RFAs from the club's top nine forwards, are also looking for a raise; defenseman Nikita Zaitsev recently asked for a trade, and his contract isn't exactly easy to move; the declining Patrick Marleau, who has a no-move clause, may or may not be willing to leave town and play out the final year of his bloated deal in another city; depth winger Connor Brown and backup Garret Sparks are both believed to be the subject of trade discussions.

Obviously, something's got to give here, especially when you consider top-four blue-liner Jake Gardiner is likely signing elsewhere, and unrestricted free-agent defenseman Ron Hainsey still needs a new deal. In his second offseason as GM, Dubas has his hands full. - Matisz

2019 draft picks

Round 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Pick - 53 84 115 / 124 146 - 204 / 208

Tampa Bay Lightning

Sixty-two wins in 82 games - and then a sweep at the hands of the Blue Jackets. It's been two months since the Lightning were eliminated from playoff contention, and it's still shocking when you think about it.

Back in April, the easy solution for rookie GM Julien BriseBois would have been to fire coach Jon Cooper and make sweeping changes to Tampa Bay’s roster. Instead, he took a deep breath and considered the big picture.

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The Lightning re-signed Brayden Coburn to a two-year, $3.4-million deal on Tuesday. Coburn, a solid depth defenseman, is taking a $2-million pay cut per season to stay with the club. It's a commendable move by the player and necessary from a team standpoint.

With about $5 million in cap space and just 18 players locked in for 2019-20, BriseBois finds himself in a lose-lose situation. Brayden Point, the young star center in need of a second contract, probably deserves $9-10 million a season over a long-term deal. It doesn't take any advanced analytics to know there's not enough money to go around.

One path out of this cap crunch? Trading multiple players who make decent coin.

Ryan Callahan ($5.8 million for one more year), Tyler Johnson ($5 million each year for five more seasons), JT Miller ($5.25 million per for four years), and Ondrej Palat ($5.3 million for three) all come to mind immediately. Even if Point takes a hometown discount - which is possible, given the state tax situation in Florida - a salary-dumping trade is all but guaranteed. Talk about a Presidents' Trophy hangover. - Matisz

2019 draft picks

Round 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Pick 27 - 89 120 - 182 198 / 213

Montreal Canadiens

The Canadiens surprised just about everybody in 2018-19, falling two points shy of a wild-card spot in the East during a year that was expected to yield a high draft pick rather than a playoff push.

Montreal had a healthy Carey Price again, and it's imperative for the club to push forward while the former MVP is still capable of carrying the load.

General manager Marc Bergevin seemingly pulled all the right strings last summer, as the trades for Max Domi and Tomas Tatar and the selection of Jesperi Kotkaniemi in the draft paid major dividends in making the Habs competitive.

How can Bergevin do it again? Should he take a run at signing Matt Duchene, a big-ticket free agent who would help bolster a position Montreal has struggled with for many seasons? Should he try to trade Andrew Shaw after his offensive outburst last year?

The Canadiens have no pressing contracts to take care of, and a whole ton of draft capital that can be used to help the team now. It's time to be aggressive. - O'Leary

2019 draft picks

Round 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Pick 15 46 / 50 77 108 131 / 136 / 138 170 206

Buffalo Sabres

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The Sabres hired Ralph Krueger as the third bench boss of the Jack Eichel era after a season where Buffalo occupied first place in the NHL in November only to finish 22 points outside the playoffs.

With Jeff Skinner signed, general manager Jason Botterill's No. 1 offseason priority is taken care of, and none of the five restricted free agents on the books should eat up too much of the club's projected $19 million available in cap space.

Botterill added to the Sabres' defensive group by acquiring Brandon Montour last season, but the blue line is still in need of an upgrade. Rasmus Ristolainen's name has been attached to trade rumors and could feasibly be swapped out for someone more defensively responsible. His potential departure could also create a bigger role for Rookie of the Year nominee Rasmus Dahlin.

Buffalo could use reinforcements up front, too. Aside from the Eichel line, the Sabres' offensive unit lacked finish. Landing Artemi Panarin is likely a pie-in-the-sky situation, but taking a run at UFAs such as Anders Lee, Gustav Nyquist, or someone similar could go a long way in making the Sabres more competitive. - O'Leary

2019 draft picks

Round 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Pick 7 / 31 - 67 98 - 160 / 175 / 177 191

Boston Bruins

It's shaping up to be a smooth offseason in Boston.

GM Don Sweeney has work to do, to be sure, but he's far from going into crisis mode. Defenseman Charlie McAvoy needs a new contract, but the youngster already stated he wants to stay in Boston forever, so it's hard to imagine those negotiations turning hostile.

Danton Heinen and Brandon Carlo need new deals, and Torey Krug - also a proponent of being a lifetime Bruin - is eligible for an extension as of July 1.

There may be some tinkering this summer, but expect the reigning Eastern Conference champions to come back with the same core ready to compete again next season - O'Leary

2019 draft picks

Round 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Pick 30 - 92 - 154 185 192

Ottawa Senators

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There's just about nothing GM Pierre Dorion can do to transform the Senators into contenders this summer, but there's still room to make positive strides.

It starts with the draft, where the Sens have three picks in the first two rounds. Otherwise, defenseman Cody Ceci's name is being tossed around in trade rumors, and Ottawa would be wise to recoup any assets for the 25-year-old rather than potentially going to arbitration with him.

The only other RFA on Ottawa's books is Colin White, who should command a solid raise after posting 41 points last season. That won't put a dent in the Senators' $33 million in cap space.

Sorting out the financial picture will be a big priority for Dorion, who needs to find a way to hit next season's cap floor. Taking on big contracts - preferably with assets attached to sweeten the pot - from cap-strapped teams could be the solution. - O'Leary

2019 draft picks

Round 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Pick 19 32 / 44 83 94 125 - 187

Florida Panthers

It's go time in Florida.

The Panthers made a gigantic splash by bringing in Joel Quenneville as their new head coach, and general manager Dale Tallon said he plans on being aggressive this summer.

Florida has been linked to both Panarin and goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, and the club's $20 million in available cap space suggests they have the means to add both.

In order to make it work financially, the Panthers will likely have to move on from both incumbent netminders - Roberto Luongo and James Reimer - which won't be easy. But if Tallon can pull it off and add Bobrovksy to one of the deepest forward groups in the NHL, there could be a new powerhouse brewing in the Atlantic. - O'Leary

2019 draft picks

Round 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Pick 13 52 69 104 / 106 / 114 137 168 199

Detroit Red Wings

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Stevie Y is back in Motown, and he's got plenty of work ahead of him if he plans on making the Red Wings into the team they were when he was captain.

Adding another top prospect to Detroit's pool of youngsters with the No. 6 selection will be key, but Yzerman also has extra picks in the second and fifth round that he can use to his advantage. Based on some of the gems he unearthed during his tenure in Tampa Bay, you can bank on him finding some serious talent in the later rounds.

As for the current roster, Yzerman needs to find a way to jettison some of the anchor-like contracts dished out by his predecessor Ken Holland. Getting rid of Frans Nielsen, Justin Abdelkader, or Darren Helm, among others, would go a long way in getting Detroit's rebuild on the right track. - O'Leary

2019 draft picks

Round 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Pick 6 35 / 54 / 60 66 97 128 / 143 159 190

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