By Douglas Smith
This is the fourth in a series of six updates to give you a look at the rest of the NHL this offseason. Below we'll talk about the Southeast Division. The Capitals ran away with the Southeast last year. Can they repeat that? Time will tell.
At the end of each summary we will highlight just one blog for that respective team, but there are many quality sites out there if you care to search for them. Feel free to share your comments on the rest of the teams across the NHL as we seek to fulfill the void of the offseason.
Recap: The Thrashers were much more fun to watch when Johan Hedberg was in goal, possibly because of the effort he shows on every save. While the scoring came from Nik Antropov, Maxim Afinogenov, and Rich Peverley, the stands were just not filling up to watch them light the lamp. There are plenty of diehard fans in Atlanta, but perhaps the inevitability of this division drove the rest away. The promise came in youngsters Niclas Bergfors and Evander Kane as both seemed to be finding their game as the season came to a close. While he only played 27 games for Atlanta, Bergfors recorded eight goals during that time.
Offseason Thus Far: Clarke MacArthur will no longer be a Thrasher. Why is that news? Well some arbitrator thought he was worth $2.4 million. Every other player going to arbitration ought to find out who in fact that was. The big news in Atlanta this offseason is that they are a winner in the great salary dump of 2010 by the Blackhawks. Atlanta acquired Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Eager, Andrew Ladd, and others from Chicago in two different trades. They also signed goaltender former St. Louis Blues goaltender Chris Mason to share time in net with the newly re-signed Ondrej Pavelec. There are still some unanswered questions as Ladd, Eager, and Bergfors are all restricted free agents. Though at this point all signs point to them signing in Atlanta. Afinogenov has yet to sign with anyone as well, but it would seem he will not be wearing the Thrashers sweater this coming season.
Analysis: The defense of the Thrashers seems pretty solid from the services of Zach Bogosian and Tobias Enstrom aligning with Ron Hainsey. By the names listed it's pretty clear this team is suited to play very physical. One question remains, where will the scoring come from? Atlanta got out from under the drama that is Ilya Kovalchuck, but they're making strides to add to a strengthening core. Optimism should be in the hearts of many Thrashers fans for the next few years. Unfortunately for them, there are other Eastern Conference teams growing as well that will make getting to the playoffs in 2010-11 an extremly tough task.
Blog: Bird Watchers Anonymous
Recap: The Hurricanes suffered right out of the gate last year competing for the league wide worst record after having won only two games in the first month of the season. However they would turn it around in the new calendar year by winning seven in a row around the Olympic break. Though because of their slow start it was a case of too little - too late. Goaltender Cam Ward went down multiple times in the season and Manny Legace and Justin Peters had to fill in giving the ‘Canes no real rhythm in net. Eric Staal also missed 12 games, but still led the team in scoring.
Offseason Thus Far: Rod Brind’Amour retired. He finally took the buyout option we all expected him to. Rod's influence was integral to their 2001/2006 Stanley Cup appearances and as such will have his number lifted to the rafters of the RBC Center, and will take a role in the front office. Aside from acquiring Eric Staal's little brother Jared from
Analysis: To be fair, the start this team had last year and the injuries they had to endure would have "done in" most teams. They did show some spark in the second half of the season and hope to carry it over into the next; though that was their hope in the 08-09 season, too. There may be more excitement in Raleigh this year as the ‘Canes will be hosting the 2011 All-Star game. Incidentally, Pens Universe creator Damian lives there so maybe we can get some inside coverage for y'all. Otherwise, the Canes have an extremely young team behind Staal, Sutter, and Ward. But if they're going to get back on track this teams needs to stay healthy to do so.
Blog: Red and Black Hockey
Recap: It was a rough year for David Booth...and I mean, a really rough year. The injury Booth sustained are part of the reason many 'round the NHL have been talking about new rules for headshots. Although hard to prove, the agony of Booth’s season had to take a toll on his teammates in Florida. Coveted goalie Tomas Vokoun played quite well, and he had little help in the defense from the likes of Keith Ballard and Bryan McCabe. Of course Ballard didn’t really do him any favors. If you were one of those who watched a few Panthers games down the stretch, you could tell the team looked tired, especially when playing playoff caliber teams. They gave up seven goals to Washington, six to Buffalo, and five to Ottawa in March and April.
Offseason Thus Far: Original Florida Panther Gord Murphy will be with the team as assistant coach this year. Makes you wonder how would that Richards-on-Booth hit be punished in the 2010-11 NHL season, eh? Anyway, this was one of the moves orchestrated by new general manager Dale Tallon. You may remember him as part of the Blackhawks system for 33 years. His departure from Chicago did indeed surprised many. One of the first player moves he executed was shipping Ballard to Vancouver in exchange for Steve Bernier and a few others. Chris Higgins and Dennis Wideman are other additions to the Panthers’ lineup. Pittsburgh native Bill Thomas also signed in Florida, presumably as a depth signing for their AHL team. The Panthers also recently acquired Marty Reasoner.
Analysis: Health and a steady Vokoun will be the biggest pieces to the puzzle for Florida. Wideman and McCabe figure to be the leaders on defense, but the rest of the top six must be filled with Bryan Allen and the likes of youngster Dmitry Kulikov. In 63 appearances last year, Vokoun saw 2081 shots, which is about 33 shots per appearance. That simply cannot happen this year if the Panthers will have any chance of a playoff hope. They need to find a way to foster greater puck possession in their offensive zone to allow Vokoun to breathe, at all.
Blog: On Frozen Pond
Recap: Basically there were two stories in Tampa last year: the new and the old. The new was Steven Stamkos sharing the Rocket Richard trophy by scoring 51 goals. The old was this: will St. Louis and Lecavalier stick around. Unsettling is a good word to describe the feeling that came from Tampa last year. St. Louis and Stamkos combined for 189 points last year, but the Lightning had trouble putting together any solid winning streaks. The only won three in-a-row three times during the year, including the last three games of the season. Consistency became the issue. Even with the goalies, who could only manage three shutouts on the year.
Offseason Thus Far: By now you know that Steve Yzerman is running the ship in Tampa and immediately began putting his stamp on the organization. Guy Boucher will take over as the youngest head coach in the NHL with a bunch of new faces helping to run things there. The personnel changes would be fast and furious as well. While St. Louis signed a four year extension, Pavel Kubina also signed on to return to the team. Former Predator goalie Dan Ellis came over to compete for the starting job. Gone is Andrej Meszaros, who was sent to Philadelphia in the first move between the teams. Tampa Bay would then acquire Simon Gagne in a later deal for Matt Walker and a 4th round pick. Moves like these have brought confidence back to fans of the Lightning.
Analysis: The Lighting have a lot of skill and they also have someone like Steve Downie that found some chemistry with the team. Of course he still does this. Downie will not be expected to score as much with the new look Lightning after the addition of Gagne and Nate Thompson. The biggest question will be, who will be between the pipes. Dan Ellis or Mike Smith? Also, there are 9 defensemen currently on the NHL roster, so some choices will have to be made with respect to those aside from Kubina, Victor Hedman, and Mattias Ohlund. Does this team have a reason to be confident? Of course they do, and that is because they should score plenty of goals. It will be up to the talented forwards to keep the pressure off of the defense.
Blog: Raw Charge
Recap: The Capitals lived up to the all the hype in the regular season by taking home the President’s Trophy. Rarely, if ever, was this team totally out of the game (cf. Sunday Feb 7, 2010). Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom both had over 100 points and made the game look so easy on many nights. Backstrom became the playmaker that most thought he was going to be and was just as valuable to the Capitals as the franchise player, Ovechkin. That's the reason they locked him up for the next 10 years. Despite the death of his young child, Jose Theodore played solidly in goal landing him the Masterson trophy. There was never a question of if the Caps would secure the top seed, but when. Unfortunately, for the Caps and their fans, like the Penguins, they were ousted from the playoffs by the Canadians leaving only the Presidents Cup to celebrate. The blog linked below recently did a poll asking fans to identify the worst moment in Capitals history, and the loss to the Canadians was an easy winner, even worse than this.
Offseason Thus Far: The Capitals were very, very quiet when the free agency period began. This includes not resigning some of their own unrestricted free agents at this point, like Theodore and Shaone Morrisonn. As of now it looks like Theodore will not be returning to Washington. Defensemen Jeff Schultz signed a four year contract parlaying a good plus/minus stat into big money; while Boyd Gordon and Eric Fehr accepted offers from the team as well. Former Penguin and journeyman Dany Sabourin signed in Washington, but will probably start the year in the AHL.
Analysis: The defensive core was questioned in the playoff loss and because of that many thought the Caps may go bidding for one of the many free agent blueliners that were available. Instead the defense is a young group built around Mike Green, Tom Poti, and Schultz. With Theodore gone, this means Semyon Varlamov will be the number one goalie for the Capitals next season. Everyone knows this team will score and that will be enough to get into the playoffs, but the same questions will be raised about their defense once the end of April rolls around.
Blog: Capitals Outsider