Articles

The Season – Southeast Division

In At the Games Baby on September 30, 2010 by geespotting

THE SEASON

SOUTHEAST DIVISION

…It’s a final look at the East Conference, and the Southeast Division. This just might be the weakest division in the league, but, it does boast the most potent offence in the game with the Caps, and all of their firepower. It is safe to say that Washington will once again be close to the top of the overall standings…and safe to say that the rest of the division will be fighting to stay out of the basement. Here’s a peek at how it should shake down:

1. WASHINGTON CAPITALS

FRANCHISE PLAYER: Alexander Ovechkin

…A remarkable regular season for the Caps came to a crashing halt in the post-season with an unlikely first round loss to the Canadiens. Sometimes, a hot goalie happens, and that was the case for Washington. What was most amazing in this series was losing 3 in a row, including 2 at home. It was a long off-season, but, maybe that was welcome relief, especially in the case of Alex Ovechkin. The star sniper struggled at times late in the season, into the post-season, and then at the World Championships for Russia. There may have been a lingering injury that kept Ovie from being the threat he usually is. That being said, a bad season for Alex is still a season where he finished 2nd in goals & points, and was a finalist for the Hart Trophy. I expect Alex to be back on track, as well as an explosive supporting cast that includes Nik Backstrom, Alex Semin, Mike Green and others. Actually, the Caps might even be a bit better this season. Expect big things from rookie defenceman John Carlson, who could contend for the Calder this year. The goaltending situation has Semyon Varlamov in the top spot, but, rookie Michal Neuvirth could pull a Tuukka Rask and snag that top spot away. As for the post-season…they won’t have to worry about Jaroslav Halak, providing they don’t meet the Blues for the Stanley Cup!

PRIME POOL PIX: Semyon Varlamov, Michal Neuvirth, Mike Green, Alex Ovechkin, Niklas Backstrom, Brooks Laich, Thomas Fleischman.

BUYER BEWARE: Tom Poti, Mike Knuble

2. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING

FRANCHISE PLAYER: Steven Stamkos

…The new season promises to be promising for Tampa…I promise. As a matter of fact, they could find themselves back into the playoffs this year, at the very least, a runner up spot in the division. Since the departure of Nikolai Khabibulin, goaltending has been a sore spot for the Lightning, but, this year, a pair of tenders will get that shot to compete for number one in Dan Ellis and Mike Smith. Each has showed flashes of brilliance before…but, those flashes usually only last as long as a Chris Neil scoring streak. How they will fare will be one of the big questions in the Eastern Conference this season. Otherwise, Tampa has improved this off season. Pavel Kubina is back, and adds some depth to a blueline that will include a better Victor Hedman, as well as Matthias Ohlund. Up front, that firepower is there with Marty St. Louis, Vinny Lecavalier, and Steven Stamkos, who lived up to his potential by sharing the Rocket Richard Trophy with Sidney Crosby. A big addition in the Summer was a trade with Philly that brought veteran Simon Gagne to the Sunshine State. If Gagne can stay healthy, he will look good playing with any of the big 3. The team has some added grit with the likes of Ryan Malone and Steve Downie. Tampa is a long way away from their only Cup win, but, in the case of getting back into the post season, expect Lightning to strike!

PRIME POOL PIX: Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier, Simon Gagne, Ryan Malone.

BUYER BEWARE: Mike Smith, Dan Ellis, Pavel Kubina.

3. CAROLINA HURRICANES

FRANCHISE PLAYER: Cam Ward

…Ok, so, a picture of Eric Staal could also be above this analysis, but, if not for Staal and Ward…this team would be scraping the bottom of the basement. Ward had a dismal 09/10 season as injuries and personal issues came to the forefront of his year. I would imagine a full bounce-back is in the cards for this season. The ‘Canes do have some good depth on the blueline with Joni Pitkanen, Tim Gleason, and Jamie McBain, who has proven that he could be a d-man to watch out for in this new season. Up front however, there are a lot of holes. With the retirement of Rod Brind’Amour, comes the hard fact that Carolina is in re-building mode. Other than Staal, there are questions surrounding Jussi Jokinen, Sergei Samsonov and Erik Cole. Can either of those three stay healthy…and can they retain or regain years that have gone by? Tuomo Ruutu also falls in that category, but, if he plays half a season, then it is usually considered a victory. There are some good young players with the franchise, but, it may be too soon to expect much from Zach Boychuk, Drayson Bowman and others. This Hurricane season won’t be blowing anyone away.

PRIME POOL PIX: Cam Ward, Joni Pitkanen, Jamie McBain, Eric Staal, Jussi Jokinen.

BUYER BEWARE: Erik Cole, Sergei Samsonov, Tuomo Ruutu.

4. FLORIDA PANTHERS

FRANCHISE PLAYER: Tomas Vokoun

…For Panther fans, when Tomas Vokoun is the franchise, there shouldn’t be a whole lot expected. Actually, Vokoun is still a great player, but, this is a team that will only be able to survive if they play like the Panther team that made the Final almost 15 years ago. Bring back the trap, I say, and you might succeed. The blueline corp is still pretty good, with a veteran prescence that includes Dennis Wideman, Bryan McCabe, Bryan Allen, and youngster Dmitri Kulikov. Up front, it’s a mix of has beens, want to be’s, and still theres! Stephen Weiss is one that is still there, and should still lead this team in scoring, despite not having his favorite winger Nathan Horton anymore. Beyond that, there’s Cory Stillman, Radek Dvorak, Steven Reinprecht and others that can still play, but, their best years are long gone. There is some promise with Michal Frolik, and if David Booth can recover from his terrible concussion problems from last year. The Cat’s will also add some decent players from the draft, but, those players aren’t ready just yet. On the positive side, they won’t finish last!

PRIME POOL PIX: Tomas Vokoun, Bryan McCabe, Stephen Weiss, Michal Frolik, David Booth.

BUYER BEWARE: Dennis Wideman, Cory Stillman, Chris Higgins

5. ATLANTA THRASHERS

FRANCHISE PLAYER: Tobias Enstrom

…C’mon…you know Toby Enstrom, he’s a household name….in his own household. No offence to Tobias, but, in his defense, this defenceman is the best of the bunch in Atlanta. The Ilya Kovalchuk era is done, and I don’t know what will draw the people of Atlanta to the rink to watch them lose. Goaltending will be an issue, as Ondrej Pavelec and Chris Mason are the go to goalies, but, even if they excel, there is too much support on this Thrasher squad. Actually, there are some bright spots, like Enstrom, who will lead the way on the PP, along with Zach Bogosian, who should better entering his third season. After that, your best bet is Johnny Oduya. Up front, Nik Antropov will be counted on for the offence, and a rebound season will be needed from Brian Little, and more over-achieving from Rich Peverley. Atlanta did add some depth from the Hawks with Andrew Ladd, Ben Eager and Dustin Byfuglien, who might actually start the season back on defence. There are some good young players too in Evander Kane and Nik Bergfors, but, I can’t see too much improvement from this club just yet. Cellar dwellars these Thrashers wll be.

PRIME POOL PIX: Ondrej Pavelec, Tobias Enstrom, Nik Antropov, Rich Peverley, Bryan Little, Nik Bergfors.

BUYER BEWARE: Chris Mason, Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd.

…Ok, there is a run-down of the Eastern Conference, and each division. Where will each team finish in the conference? I will cover that for you next week, but, up tomorrow, our attention focuses on the West!

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