While the Bruins stood pat on the opening day of free agency, the teams around them in the Eastern Conference embarked on improvement plans via free agency and trades. More specifically, the Bs Northeast Division foes got bigger, stronger and tougher in what would appear to be a response to the way the Bruins have been roughhousing their way through the division.
The Montreal Canadiens traded for edgy forward Rene Bourque toward the end of last season, and signed agitators Colby Armstrong and Brandon Prust on Sunday.
Granted, Dennis Seidenberg freight-trained Armstrong last season in a game against the Leafs and Prust was hammered by Milan Lucic in front of the Bruins' bench at Madison Square Garden last spring. But both players will make Montreal a grittier physical team than the bunch of Smurf forwards Pierre Gauthier had been rolling out over the last couple of seasons.
In Buffalo, the Sabres signed 6-foot-8 brawler John Scott, who isnt much of a defensemen. But hes an intimidating presence willing to fight when hes in the lineup, and he's big enough, strong enough and mean enough to tangle with the baddest of the Bruins. So the Sabres now have somebody willing to stand up to Lucic and Co., something they didnt have last year when the Bs power forward steam-rolled Ryan Miller and derailed Buffalos entire season.
Toronto didnt gain much in the truculence department by letting the oft-injured Armstrong go this weekend, but the Leafs picked up gritty third-line center Jay McClement, who is capable of winning faceoffs and improving last season's moribund penalty kill unit from last season.
Guillaume Latendresse isnt physically intimidating, but does bring a body to an Ottawa Senators team that lost Matt Carkner to the New York Islanders in free agency.
But both the Maple Leafs and the Senators had enough players able to handle themselves when a hockey game turned into an alley fight last season, while the Sabres and Canadiens were noticeably outgunned in those situations with the Bruins.
So the Northeast Division became a rougher place on July 1 than it had previously been, and Bostons effective bullying style has everything to do with it.