Monday, August 13, 2007

Pre-Season Predictions: Southeast Division

Of the three divisions in the Eastern Conference, I think that the Southeast will be the weakest. We may see just one team of the bunch get to the playoffs.

The Atlanta Thrashers were definitely humiliated by the Rangers during the playoffs this spring, and it will be interesting how they bounce back after that embarrassing debut. They seem to be good in goal, they have a pair of really nice looking players up front in Hossa and Kovalchuk, and they have a pretty good team overall. They’ll be in a race with Tampa for the top spot in the Southeast.

The Tampa Bay Lightning just changed ownership, but I’m not sure that they’re going to be a much better club this season than they were last year. Granted, they have the “Big 3” in Lecavalier, St. Louis, and Richards, who will all continue to play hard and carry the team. They also have underrated defenseman Dan Boyle and pretty good goaltending, so I think that they have a chance to make the playoffs if their star players remain healthy. But another run for the Stanley Cup? Nope.

The Carolina Hurricanes captured the Stanley Cup in 2006, and then fell out of the playoffs in 2007. The big question is whether they will turn their luck around and make another run at it. I’m not inclined to think so. They have a number of players who look pretty good on the ice (Staal, Williams, Commodore, Brind’Amour, Ward), but I’m not sold on the team as a whole. About half of the team is in their 30’s, with 4 being 35 and older. It’s not necessarily bad to have older players on the team, since they bring experience and leadership to the mix, but there’s always the question of whether they can keep pace and not show the signs of age.

The team as a whole will have to get their act together this season and fight for one of the last playoff spots, but I'm not sure they'll make it.

The Florida Panthers are a team that has some really good players (hello Horton, Jokinen, and Bouwmeester), but they are a disaster as a whole. They did make an upgrade in net this season with Vokoun, but I think everybody would agree that they should have kept Luongo (well, everybody but Mike Keenan). Noah Welch and Cory Murphy are the new guys on D, and they should do pretty well. I really liked the look of Murphy at Worlds, and he’ll probably become a power play specialist in the NHL. But will the Panthers be golfing in April? Yep.

The Washington Capitals is a team that is a bit of a question mark. You have a feeling that they are going to break out of their shell soon and really stir things up, but will that happen this year? Eh, probably not, but don’t count them out of the running for a playoff spot. Ovechkin was very ticked off last season because his team missed the playoffs and his own stats were not as impressive as they were the year before – look for him to pound his way back. Semin is also a really good player, but since he doesn’t speak English and seems to be a quiet guy in general, he has really been under the radar (I bet a lot of people haven’t even heard of this other Alex). Michael Nylander and Nicklas Backstrom should also add some offensive punch to the lineup. I expect that hockey people will be talking about the Capitals a little bit more this year, but they are still years away from being a Cup-contending team.

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