Wednesday, September 20, 2006


Southeast Division: 2006-07 Preview

(Plan was to do this team-by-team, giving each a well-thought-out profile and prediction. But real life has got in the way lately and kept me from writing much, so screw well-thought-out -- I'll just lump 'em all together)

The Southeast still seems to be the joke of the league, a novelty act or source of outrage depending on one's attitude -- "Hockey teams in Raleigh and Atlanta and Tampa? That's (pick one: hilarious/sacrilege)!"

But the Southeast has the last two Stanley Cups and bunches of exciting players. Ovechkin, Staal, Kovalchuk, Hossa, Lecavalier, St. Louis, all in one place. You can keep your Original Six -- we've got good hockey down here, and we can still go outside in January.

1. Carolina Hurricanes - It's sort of de rigeur to pick the defending champs to repeat, but there's really no reason not to pick the 'Canes. Their defense has taken some hits through free agency and injury (poor Frankie Kaberle!), and if Cam Ward has a sophomore slump they've got John Grahame backing him up. But the Canes are a smart team, well-run, and now have the experience a Cup run brings. They're head-and-shoulders above the rest of the division.

2. Atlanta Thrashers - I've written about them at length before. The defense is improved with the acquisition of Vishnevski, but not as much as I'd like; the offense isn't as good as last year. But the whole second-place pick rests on Kari Lehtonen. If he's healthy, the sky (or second place, take your pick) is the limit. If he's hurt? Fourth place isn't out of the question.

3. Tampa Bay Lightning - The poster boys for the salary cap. They've got the Big Three and then ... Vinny Prospal and Ruslan Fedotenko up front. Same thing on defense, which is likely even worse than the Thrashers. Beyond Kuba and Boyle it's not terribly impressive (Luke Freakin' Richardson found someone to give him money?). In goal, Marc Denis is being touted as a savior, but his only playoff experience is warming the Avalanche bench the better part of a decade ago, and Blue Jackets fans spent much of the past two seasons baying for his head. A team on the decline.

4. Florida Panthers - A team on the way up, but not enough quite yet. Shaky in goal with the 400-year-old Ed Belfour and the still-unproven Alex Auld. Really young on defense. But I like the way they're building the team and in a couple years they're going to be a player.

5. Washington Capitals - They've got Alex Ovechkin and ... who else? Zednik? Zubrus? Alexander Semin's return is nice but he's hardly a proven consistent contributor. With Jeff Halpern's departure they may be worse than last year. When Donald Brashear is one of your biggest offseason pickups, you're in trouble. How's the 2007 draft class looking?

Quick comments on each team:

Carolina - Should take the division. Their roster, even with the hits and hangover, should be good enough. They didn't stand pat during the offseason and they've got a few experienced guys on tryout.

Tampa - Salary cap...and a GM with no negotiating skills whatsoever. Like the old STL teams, this club is top-heavy and will suffer. Denis has proven that he, like Cloutier, is average at best, and won't give the Bolts the great upgrade they expect.

Atlanta - Too bad Lehtonen is forever cursed with the groin tears, because he was good for the Thrashees. They lost a lot of games thanks to playing ECHL Garnett in goal. Scary offense, but losing Savard may hurt that enough to offset the gains on defense.

Florida - Bertuzzi? HAHAHAHAH a serious downgrade in goal (I like Auld, but he's just an average guy) and a young, inexperienced defense will mean too many goals against.

Washington - IT's worth watching them just for Ovechkin. Zednik needs a playmaker badly and Washington really doesn't have one
I'd like to see how Pothier does in Washington. I saw him alot in Ottawa last year and he had a career year, but then again he had a stronger defense team with him.
I wouldn't say Feaster has no negotiating skills whatsoever. He's proven he can negotiate in the past. THe problem is that he's part of the old-guard of the NHL -- the pre-salary cap GM's who think teams need to remain together no matter what.

Tampa Bay's biggest drawback is that. Unlike Ottawa -- who has shipped out guys who were pushing the cap up for more affordable pieces of the puzzle, Tampa Bay sits on their players and tries to retain them at all costs.

Khabby was supposed to be back in 2005-06 and Feaster had every intention of trying to keep the Stanley Cup team together. The entire team. Period. THere was no room for rookies, there was no room for changing around contributors to make the team more cost effective. It was all or nothing.

That continues and that remains a problem.

I'm not someone who advocates trading away one of the top three but it's at the point it needs to be considered.

The New England Patriots of the NFL are the blueprint to follow under the salary cap. The system is more vital than the player ultimately, and egos are reigned in with the team concept.
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