Key Additions: D.J. King
Key Subractions: C Eric Belanger, D Joe Corvo, C Brendan Morrison, D Shaone Morrisson, G Jose Theodore, RW Scott Walker
With Washingtons early exit from the postseason in the spring, the Capitals could be looking at a refocused and more determined Ovechkin. However, Ovechkin wasn’t the Caps problems during the playoffs last year. Secondary scoring killed the Caps. Aside from Ovie, Backstrom and Knuble, no Caps registered more than 5 points. Semin was non-existenet, registering only 2 points in 7 games. Washington has proven that they have a very potent lineup and can roll through the regular season, but there has been a history where they are looking like the Sharks of the Eastern Conference. With the departure of Theodore, the Caps nets are going to be filled with Varlamov and Neuvirth. Varlamov had a great year last season, losing only 4 times in regulation. This is Varlamovs opportunity to show the Caps that he can be their goalie of the future. The Caps led the league last season in goals scored. With Neuvirth, you have a backup goalie that won 9 of his 13 starts last season. If Washington continues to receive secondary scoring during the regular season, they will finish at the top of the Eastern Conference. The Caps still have some young players that we will need to watch this season. Lots will be expected out of Carlson (I’m still angry about that OT goal in the WJHC), and with the departures of Corvo and Morrisson, he will have plenty of ice time to make his mark.
1stin the Eastern Conference
Key Additions: D Joe Corvo, D Bobby Sanguinetti.
Key Subtractions: C Rod Brind’Amour, G Manny Legace, D Brian Pothier, LW Ray Whitney.
Carolina lost the majority of their leadership over the summer with the loss of Brind’Amour and Whitney. Going into this season, Carolina is going to be fairly thin on their back end. How far the ‘Canes go this season relies heavily on Ward. Ward will be called upon to steal some games for them this season. Carolina cannot repeat their poor start of last season, or else they will be on the outside looking in early in the season. Carolina was amongst the worst in the league last season for goals against, mainly due to the injury to Ward. If Ward stays healthy this season, you can look for the Canes to move up in that area. Backing up Cam Ward this year are the two Justins, Peters and Pogge. Pogge has not found his stride that made him highly touted in some GM’s eyes, and unless Ward goes down with an injury or starts off rusty, Pogge will not see too much ice time. That opportunity will probably go to Peters, who had 6 wins in 9 starts last season. Carolina is going to be hitting the ice this season with many of their prospects of drafts past finally getting a chance to show their stuff. Jamie McBain had 10 points in 14 games last season playing on the Canes back end, and with their younger d-core, McBain is looking to improve on his ice time. Carolina was hit hard on their back end last season, with no defenceman playing more than 71 games. Carolina needs a great season from Ward this year, or it will be a tough season.
12thin the Eastern Conference
Key Additions: D Brett Clark, G Dan Ellis, LW Simon Gagne, D Pavel Kubina.
Key Subtractions: D Kurtis Foster, C Zenon Konopka, D Andrej Meszaros, G Antero Nittymaki, LW Alex Tanguay, D Matt Walker.
Tampahas a lot going for them this season. Things started to turn around for them when they signed GM Steve Yzerman. Yzerman brought in Simon Gagne, and that should help Steven Stamkos further. Stamkos became the 3rdyoungest player last season to break the 50 goal plateau, behind Wayne Gretzky who did it twice, and Jimmy Carson. Last season goaltending killed the Bolts. Mike Smith did not have the greatest year of his career, winning only 13 of his 42 games. With the departure of Nittymaki, the Bolts quickly snapped up Dan Ellis. Who will start the season in Tampa? I can’t tell you that, but Tampa will possibly alternate goalies until one of them starts to produce and win some games. Stamkos continued to get bigger and stronger, and the addition of Gagne should help Tampa close the gap for goals scored in their division. Tampa scored more than 100 goals fewer than division leader Washington, and as a result, Tampa will need more scoring from their secondary lines. Younger players such as Paul Szczechura will need to contribute more effectively to the offense on a regular basis. Tampas young d phenom Hedman will continue to grow and develop, and looks to be one of the top players on the Tampa blue line. If Tampa cannot get their goaltending situation shored up, this could be a long season. First year NHL coach Guy Boucher may try to change things up with their approach to defensive play. Tampa may be looking at utilizing a 1-3-1 forecheck, and if it is effective, it should help them defensively.
Prediction: 14thin the Eastern Conference
Key Additions: RW Steve Bernier, D Erik Gudbranson, LW Michael Grabner, LW Christopher Higgins, D Nathan Paetsch, C Marty Reasoner.
Subtractions: D Keith Ballard, LW Gregory Campbell, RW Nathan Horton, C Kamil Kreps.
Floridas back end needed lots of work this offseason. Florida GM Dale Tallon helped that situation by moving Nathan Horton to Boston for Dennis Wideman. Florida allowed 244 goals against last season, which was a three year high for the team. As well, Florida only scored 208 goals last season. With the subtraction of Horton, the Panthers are losing some offence. However, Tallon brought in Chris Higgins and Michael Grabner. Those two players combined may not be able to equal the void in scoring that left with Horton. Expect top draft pick of the Panthers Gudbranson to get lots of playing time this season. Another player that is expected to grow exponentially this season is Dmitry Kulikov, and the Panthers are very large on their back end with none of the D under 6’1”. Their defense is going to get lots of work this season, and the learning curve is going to be fairly steep. Clemmenson is an effective backup goalie, and will be ready to take the reigns should Vokoun have to miss any time. The Panthers are also going to be looking to get goaltending prospect Jakob Markstrom some time in the pipes. Panther coach Peter DeBoer has plenty of experience dealing with a younger team, seeing as how he has spent 13 seasons coaching junior.
Prediction: 15thin the Eastern Conference
Key Additions: RW/D Dustin Byfuglien, LW Ben Eager, LW Andrew Ladd, G Chris Mason, LW Fredrik Modin, D Brent Sopel.
Key Subtractions: RW Colby Armstrong, G Johan Hedberg, LW Slava Kozlov, D Pavel Kubina, C Marty Reasoner.
Will the decision to use Big Buff on defense help out the Thrashers this season? Only time will tell. Anyone that watched the Blackhawks on their run last season realized how effective Byfuglien was in front of the net. However, having a player with that type of versatility will only help the Thrashers this season. Atlanta is going to be a much tougher team to play against this season, since they have added more grit and toughness to their lineup. Atlanta had 3 20 goal scorers last season, and will need more players to step up and contribute. Fortunately, Atlanta will need Bryan Little to regain his 31 goal form of a couple of seasons ago, and Evander Kane will only continue to develop positively this season. Atlanta may be the second most powerful team in this division behind Washington. On their back end, Enstrom will continue to improve and the addition of Oduya will help them substantially. Atlanta fans also need to remember that Bogosian is still fairly young, and he will help the Thrashers blue line this season. Pavelic should recover nicely from his poor showing last season, where there were times that he looked uncomfortable with the number one role in the nets. One thing that will help the Thrashers in their own end, is the addition of Chris Mason. Mason has proven that he can help a team steal some games, and this should help the Thrashers reduce the number of goals scored on them. Atlanta dropped the number of goals scored on them last season, and bringing in Mason will only help drop that number again this season.
Prediction: 9th in the Eastern Conference
Now, your hockey fight of the week!
WHALE TAIL OF THE WEEK!
Thanks for stopping by. I will be wrapping up the Western Conference in one foul swoop and will post it under the NHL section. Stay tuned!