Previewing the Lightning, Hurricanes, Capitals, Panthers, and Thrashers for the 2008-2009 NHL season
There are less than three weeks to go before the opening regular season game; it’s time for some divisional breakdowns, analysis and predictions. The NHL has six divisions all filled with five teams doing whatever it takes to win the division, make the playoffs and ultimately, win the Stanley Cup.
Without further adieu, the Southeast Division.
Only the Washington Capitals made the playoffs from the Southeast Division last season. This was, with no question, the weakest division in the entire league in 07-08 and will continue to be heading into the new season. The Caps will only go as far as Ovechkin takes proving that it will yet again be hard to top the Southeast again.
Of the other teams, Carolina is coming off the most disappointing finish to a season where they blew a tire while Florida’s showed that they simply are not good enough. There is no way that Tampa Bay will be the bottom feeders after all of their improvements in the off season and then there’s the lonely Thrashers. As an Ilya Kovalchuk fan, it will be tough to watch him struggle through another unsuccessful season.
Atlanta just does not have what it takes to compete, even in the weak Southeast. They lack in first line talent but are loaded with third line players. Kovalchuk may see the worst numbers of his career this season and that’s only if he isn’t traded at some point. The Thrashers seem to start off every season very strong but than end up slowly fading as time goes on.
There are some positives though; the emergence of defensive monster, Zach Bogosian, and the beginning of a new offensive threat with Angelo Esposito. Both players are very young but will be used in big roles during the season.
Florida is pretty much in the same shoes as Atlanta. The Panthers usually start slow and progress throughout the season until they come up short at the end. This year though, they will play without their top player Olli Jokinen for the first time in eight seasons. Now they will look for Nathan Horton to take the team on his back with the hopes that Richard Zednik will play well after his life threatening skate to the neck injury.
On defence, Florida recently traded for Bryan McCabe at the beginning of September and he has to really take control in the back. Besides Jay Bouwmeester and McCabe, the Panthers are sub par on the defensive end meaning that the two with haul some serious ice-time. The Eastern Conference has too many teams better than Florida which means this team will lose a lot of games but should keep them close.
With Tampa Bay completely transforming themselves for the new season, they should be better than last year but that’s not saying much. The Lightning will have 11 players on the roster that were not their last season including a few old timers; Gary Roberts, Mark Recchi and newly hired old school coach, Barry Melrose. Of course all the pressure will be the highly anticipated first overall draft pick, Steven Stamkos who will break into the league already expecting to win the Calder trophy.
Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis will finally get the long awaited help from names like Ryan Malone, Radim Vrbata, Andrej Meszaros, and Vaclav Prospal to name a few. Anticipate Tampa being the most improved team in the league.
The Hurricanes are going into the 2008-2009 season looking to win the Southeast Division, anything less would be a disappointment. They are definitely the best overall team of the five and with only one all-star, Eric Staal. Carolina has an excellent four line team with scoring come from all angles; even on the blue-line there are no big names but they find ways to win games.
The Canes’ were given a massive set back when they found out that Justin Williams will be out for four to six months with an ACL injury. As I said before, this division is weak and Carolina should set as the #1 team in the Southeast but not by much.
Alexander Ovechkin has taken a garbage of a franchise and turned it 180 degrees in a short time. He is so important to this team that they should change the name of the franchise to the Washington Ovechkins. As good as he is, Ovechkin has a good line-up behind him. Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin and Mike Greene will all break out to better seasons than the last, which makes the Caps dangerous.
The main question going into 09’ is the goaltending. They let Cristobal Huet go to Chicago and picked up Jose Theodore who played amazingly in Colorado. Washington scores a lot of goals but proved that if Ovechkin is shut down, so are the Capitals. Expect the Caps to be in the post season, just not as the Southeast champions.
Over/under compared to last season's overall points:
Atlanta finished with 76 points. The new bottom feeders of the Southeast; under.
Carolina finished with 92 points. A very consistent team that won’t take this season for granted; over.
Washington finished with 94 points. Ovechkin, Ovechkin, Ovechkin. Take him out and you win; slightly under.
Tampa Bay finished with 71 points. Will turn heads as the teams biggest turnaround team; over.
Florida finished with 85 points. The Panthers are going to have a hard time without Jokinen; under.
Predicted 2008-2009 Southeast Division Standings:
Tampa Bay Lightning
By Kevin Chaves
ProHockey-fans.com Director of Content
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