Commentary

For some, change must come (quickly)

Updated: July 4, 2009, 4:46 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

We've spent a lot of time trying to gauge who the winners have been through the first two hectic days of free agency.

Chicago, the New York Rangers, Montreal (the Habs get consideration simply for the volume of changes they've made) and Toronto are all teams that have changed their identity since the beginning of the week. Such changes don't necessarily guarantee success on the ice, but they do suggest, well, change.

But what of the teams that maybe had high hopes or a desire to effect change when the free-agency period began but haven't been able to get the job done?

Here's a look at some teams that still have some work to do, or give the impression of having unfinished business, as the free-agency period quickly gives way to the dog days of summer:

Ottawa Senators

Wonder what's holding things up in the Canadian capital? Oh, yeah, the Sens' best player wants out, has a no-movement deal, snubs Edmonton (who hasn't?), leaving team and his own reputation in tatters. Ho hum. Until the Dany Heatley mess (and really, "mess" doesn't adequately cover this fiasco) gets resolved, the Senators will be in limbo, unable to sign free agents and fill the holes they have up front and along the blue line. GM Bryan Murray was unable to fully chase sniper Mike Cammalleri, who ended up in Montreal, and now the forward cupboard is bare save for the leftovers from Montreal (Saku Koivu, Robert Lang, Alex Tanguay and Alexei Kovalev). All in all, it's shaping up to be another long summer in Ottawa.

Vancouver Canucks

We praised GM Mike Gillis for being proactive in signing the Sedin twins to long-term deals, but the team many think is a blink from becoming a Stanley Cup contender is actually at least half a step removed from where it was when it was ousted in the second round by a young Chicago squad. Although Daniel and Henrik are locked up, the Canucks still need more dynamic scoring up front. With tired Mats Sundin out of the picture, Gillis needs to get busy in shoring up the offense or the Canucks will fall to the back of the pack in the ultracompetitive Western Conference. Gillis did bring in another complementary scorer in former Red Wing Mikael Samuelsson, who signed a three-year deal worth $7.5 million Friday. Then, there's the hole on the blue line created by the departure of Mattias Ohlund (Tampa Bay).

Los Angeles Kings

This is an important season for the evolving Kings after they hung around the playoff hunt until well past the midpoint in 2008-09. Signing solid blueliner Rob Scuderi is a great step forward in terms of getting L.A. into the postseason. He knows a thing or two about evolving young teams after spending his entire NHL career in Pittsburgh, where he won a Cup last month.

But there is a lot of work to be done up front. GM Dean Lombardi would like to add an impact player to his forward unit. Ideally, he'll get character and skill in the process. You can count Heatley out, given the recent comments made by assistant GM Ron Hextall, who said Heatley's inability to get along with coaches is a big red flag for the Kings.

So who's left? Ryan Smyth might be available, especially as it looks as if Joe Sakic might hang them up in Denver and the Avs will be in full rebuild mode. Is there enough offense left in gritty Smyth's tank to make it work for the Kings? What about Daniel Briere or Patrick Marleau? Kovalev doesn't look to be the answer, but Lombardi needs to do something.

San Jose Sharks

GM Doug Wilson promised change after the Sharks' annual playoff dive in April, and word on the street is he did try to move forward Ryane Clowe at the draft but couldn't. Clowe ended up signing a four-year deal with San Jose worth north of $3.5 million a year. Out of the Sharks' big pieces, it was largely believed Wilson might have tried to move captain Marleau. Yet Marleau, too, remains in the fold. The Sharks were one of four teams chasing the services of Swedish free-agent goalie Jonas Gustavsson, but that, too, remains unresolved.

After San Jose was embarrassed in the first round by Anaheim despite having won the Presidents' Trophy as the top regular-season team, Wilson will have to make some significant moves to try to tilt the scales in the Sharks' favor. Fans in San Jose are still waiting for a sign that will happen.

New Jersey Devils

Devils maestro GM Lou Lamoriello is like the Alfred E. Neuman of the hockey world this summer -- what, me worry? Lamoriello's coach flees town. One of his top forwards, Brian Gionta, bolts to Montreal, and his best defensive forward, John Madden, heads to Chicago. Gone, too, is Scott Clemmensen, the backup goalie who saved the Devils' season when Martin Brodeur went down with injury.

But Lamoriello insists all is well. Guess he's counting on Zach Parise to double his 45 goals and 94 points from last season because we're not sure who else will be carrying the load. And look for Brodeur to play, what, 80 games? Yes, the Devils re-signed defenseman Johnny Oduya before he hit the market as a free agent and this is a Devils team that continues to confound, losing key pieces and still making the playoffs this past season. But remember this, the Devils have failed to advance beyond the second round since winning the Cup in 2003 and have been bounced in the first round in two of four post-lockout seasons. It's a record of futility that is caused in large part by shortcomings in personnel.

Minnesota Wild

As we write this, rookie GM Chuck Fletcher is reportedly in hot pursuit of former Montreal captain Koivu, but the Wild are still a team that needs a solid offensive boost if it is to create a new identity for itself after years of mind-numbing, offense-second hockey that has tested the patience of one of the most loyal fan bases in the game.

Defense, the cliché suggests, wins championships, but that hasn't been the case in Minnesota, where the Wild have had one successful playoff season, advancing to the 2003 Western Conference finals. The Wild boast new management and coaching staffs as a result. With brittle Marian Gaborik now a New York Ranger, Fletcher signed Martin Havlat to a long-term deal. Havlat has his own durability issues, though, and he's more a complementary scorer than a leading actor.

Can Fletcher find someone to help shoulder the burden in Minnesota? Given that the team's leading scorer, Koivu's younger brother Mikko, had just 67 points and no one scored more than 25 goals last season, it would seem imperative.

Buffalo Sabres

OK, the Sabres did nominally replace underappreciated defenseman Jaroslav Spacek with journeyman rearguard Steve Montador. But Spacek, who was wooed to Montreal with a three-year deal, was the Sabres' top-scoring defenseman last season, and Montador won't fill that offensive void. So, once again, the Sabres are hoping to close holes from within. That is a reasonable and certainly cost-effective way to manage a team -- when it works. But when you miss the playoffs for two straight seasons and have a track record of being unable to keep your talent in-house, patience grows thin for even the hardiest of fans, and the Sabres boast one of the most loyal fan groups in the NHL.

Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.