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The Southeast Division has to be considered the Washington’s division to lose this season, as their dominance should continue in the ’09-’10 season. Led by Alexander the Great, Washington is the clear class of the Southeast Division. Now, that doesn’t mean we won’t see other Southeast teams at the back of the playoff hunt, however.
Here’s a glimpse at what’s to come for the NHL’s Southeast Division:
Players Sent Packing (Au Revoir): Viktor Kozlov, Sergei Federov, Donald Brashear
Welcome Aboard (Bienvenue): Mike Knuble, Brendan Morrison, Boyd Kane
Not a lot of changes made in the nation’s capital, and for good reason. The Caps, like the B’s, should run away with their division’s crown, as every other Southeast Division contender can’t hold a candle to the talented roster the Capitals boast. You know the scoring will be there. Led by Alexander the Great, #8 will no doubt be amongst the MVP chatter all year long.
Add to that the league’s leading goal-scoring defenseman, Mike Green, who hopes to build on what was arguably a Norris Trophy-caliber season last year…almost. If young goaltender Semyon Varlamov can be the real deal he’s hyped as, this Caps team could get over the hump and see themselves fighting for a Cup of their own this spring. Pittsburgh, Philly, and Boston surely have something to say about that, but the Caps will be in the thick of the East’s race as well.
Players Sent Packing (Au Revoir): Patrick Eaves, Frantisek Kaberle
Welcome Aboard (Bienvenue): Aaron Ward, Stephane Yelle, Andrew Alberts, Tom Kostopoulos
The ‘Canes hope to build on what was a surprisingly successful playoff run last season, as they reached the Eastern Conference finals before bowing out to eventual champion Pittsburgh. Bruins fans know all too well, as Carolina provided the disappointingly abrupt end to Boston’s playoff push.
This season, Carolina will bring mainly the same group that got them where they were a season ago, adding a few ex-Bruins into the mix in Aaron Ward, Stephane Yelle, and Andrew Alberts. Carolina will definitely be a playoff team once again. With young studs like Eric Staal and Cam Ward, what team wouldn’t be playoff bound? But, are they among the East’s elite? I don’t see it, but maybe if the cards fall their way.
Players Sent Packing (Au Revoir): Radim Vrbata, Vaclav Prospal, David Koci, Wade Brookbank, Richard Petiot
Welcome Aboard (Bienvenue): Mattias Ohlund, Alex Tanguay, Antero Niittymaki, David Hale, Matt Walker
The ‘Ning, as I love to call them, are a team that has seen the lowest of lows, but are headed in the right direction. Youngsters like Victor Hedman and Steven Stamkos will team with veterans Martin St. Louis and Vinny Lecavalier to hopefully bring Tampa back to playoff form this season. And they could really do it, too. It won’t take much effort to improve over the 66-point garbage of a year the ‘Ning put up last season, but with some quick development from their youngsters, along with production from newcomers Tanguay and Ohlund, this team could sneak their way in to the East’s Elite 8.
Players Sent Packing (Au Revoir): Jay Bouwmeester, Nick Boynton, Steve Eminger, Richard Zednik, Craig Anderson
Welcome Aboard (Bienvenue): Jordan Leopold, Scott Clemmensen, Ville Koistinen, Steven Reinprecht
If it weren’t for being on the short end of a head-to-head tie-breaker with Montreal, the Panthers would have been able to be called a playoff team last season. Finishing the year with 93 points, Florida was the ultimate bubble team. They had their bubble burst later on as free agency began, losing their star defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, as he fled north of the border to sign with Calgary. Unless the strong goalie tandem of Tomas Vokoun and Scott Clemmensen can bolster this team’s performance, I see Florida’s playoff chances awfully slim this time around.
Players Sent Packing (Au Revoir): Garnet Exelby, Colin Stuart, Clay Wilson, Brett Skinner
Welcome Aboard (Bienvenue): Nik Antropov, Pavel Kubina, Noah Welch, Tim Stapleton, Jason Krog, Anthony Stewart, Josh Gratton
In the brief, nine-year history of the Atlanta Thrashers franchise, the team has made just one playoff appearance. Look for that trend to continue, this year, and for the foreseeable future. Beyond the talent of winger Ilya Kovalchuk, there is really very little for the Thrashers to hang their hats on in terms of hope for the future. The team’s on-the-ice problems are dwarfed in comparison to the off-the-ice woes the front office and ownership group are having, just keeping the team in operation. It’ll be a long year for Thrasher fans…all six or seven of you.