NHL Division Preview: Southeast
Are the Capitals a team built for the playoffs?
The NHL regular season officially begins on Oct. 7, but the retooling and reshaping of many teams has been going on for months. CBCSports.ca offers you a glimpse at what teams across the league have done in the off-season with a series of six divisional previews — today's installment features the Eastern Conference's Southeast Division.
1st in East, 1st in Southeast in 2009-10
54-15-13 (121 pts.) — 19-3-2 vs. Southeast Division — lost in 1st round to Montreal (4-3)
How do you solve a problem like the Washington Capitals? Take them to a Game 7.
The Capitals cruised through the regular season to win the Presidents' Trophy but — for the third year running — were on the wrong end of a full seven-game series in an early playoff round.
Washington hasn't shown they can consistently beat opponents in the post-season as their last four playoff series have gone the full seven battles and they've lost three of the wars. The reason? The other team had seven games to solve their style of play.
There is little doubt this team will make another appearance in the playoffs. The real question is whether they can dominate in the second season. It's just days before the new season begins and there aren't too many new faces on this edition of the Capitals.
The stand-pat response creates a dilemma — will there be a mid-season trade to pick up tried-and-tested playoff muckers to compliment the wide-open game Alex Ovechkin et. al. like to play? If not, there needs to be a fundamental change in the way Washington operates after game No. 82.
Notable additions: G Dany Sabourin (Boston)
Notable subtractions: F Eric Belanger (Phoenix), D Shaone Morrisonn (Buffalo), D Joe Corvo (Carolina), D Milan Jurcina (NY Islanders), G Jose Theodore (Minnesota)
Notable Quotables: "Everybody has to take their full share of responsibility here. I can’t lose sight that we do have a good team, it is well coached, we have good players, we had a good season. We were good through training camp, all through the season and good through the first part of the playoff series. I can’t let five or six days where things didn’t go well for us to skew what we think of this team, the organization and the staff. We have good coaches and they’re going to be here a long time, so that part of the equation is not an issue for me." — Washington GM George McPhee after the series loss to Montreal
Outlook: Favourites to win the division — but snacking on their divisional opponents will be a thing of the past.
10th in East, 2nd in Southeast in 2009-10
35-34-13 (83 pts.) — 8-14-2 vs. Southeast Division — missed playoffs (3rd straight season)
If you don't like what you see, change it... and if you like what you see elsewhere, go get it. So goes the 2010-11 Atlanta Thrashers, who shed their coach John Anderson and franchise player Ilya Kovalchuk and thus began a sea change in Georgia.
Out went Kovalchuk before the trade deadline, but in came a great young forward in Niklas Bergfors. Out goes what used to be a promising goalie in Johan Hedberg, but in comes Chris Mason. Out go a slew of forwards that couldn't push their team to success and in comes, literally, a parade float full of 2010 Stanley Cup champions.
The team needs returning players like Rich Peverley, Nik Antropov and Bryan Little to make up the scoring dearth left by Kovalchuk's departure but the other changes help this club look less a one-dimensional threat and more of a truly spread out attack.
Notable additions: F/D Dustin Byfuglien (Chicago), F Ben Eager (Chicago), D Brent Sopel (Chicago), F Andrew Ladd (Chicago), F Fredrik Modin (LA), F Nigel Dawes (Calgary), F Donald Brashear (NY Rangers), G Chris Mason (St. Louis), Coach Craig Ramsay, GM Rick Dudley
Notable subtractions: F Ilya Kovalchuk (New Jersey), D Chris Chelios (Retired), F Maxim Afinogenov (Europe), F Clarke MacArthur (Toronto), F Todd White (NY Rangers), D Pavel Kubina (Tampa Bay), G Johan Hedberg (New Jersey), F Colby Armstrong (Toronto), Coach John Anderson
Notable Quotables: "Right away I was actually bummed. After coming off of winning the Cup, it wasn't even two weeks after we won. You're still in a celebration mode, but once I got off the phone and sat down and really thought about it I was excited. I was ready to get out of there and get ready for a new change and set new goals for myself. I'm excited and I can challenge myself for new things in life. It's just another step." — Dustin Byfuglien on being traded to Atlanta
Outlook: The 2009-10 Thrashers missed the playoffs last year by five points, but this edition of the team is poised to make the post-season for only the second time in franchise history and may very well be able to notch their first playoff game victory, something even Kovalchuk couldn't accomplish.
11th in East, 3rd in Southeast in 2009-10
35-37-10 (80 pts.) — 12-9-3 vs. Southeast Division — missed playoffs (1st season)
Out with the old, and in with the old. So continues the M.O. of Carolina GM Jim Rutherford.
Coach Paul Maurice returned five years after his club let him go before their Stanley Cup-winning season. Erik Cole spent exactly 63 games with another club before he was brought back into the fold. This year Joe Corvo is the player returning to his new-old team, after spending a few games and the first round of the playoffs with the Capitals. (Ron Francis and Rod Brind'Amour may also be considered part of this equation — retiring, but joining the team in other roles).
The tactic has worked in the past but for a team that squeaked into the playoffs in 2009, and one that spent last year languishing at the bottom of the conference —they lost more than they gained with the departure of Ray Whitney and retirement of Brind'Amour.
When goalie Cam Ward, arguably the backbone of the Hurricanes, went down, the team sagged accordingly. Carolina was 26th in the league when it came to goals allowed per game (3.09) last season. Ward's return will help compress that number but he'll still need scoring to buoy his efforts in the crease. A full season from a healthy Eric Staal may keep the team on the upswing it found during the second half.
Not helping is that Carolina may start the season without the services of Sergei Samsonov, who suffered a sprained neck during a pre-season game against the Thrashers. That may make the signing of North Carolina native Patrick O'Sullivan that much more important.
Notable additions: Joe Corvo (Washington), Patrick O'Sullivan (Edmonton), Bobby Sanguinetti (NY Rangers), Jared Staal (Phoenix)
Notable subtractions: F Ray Whitney (Phoenix), F Rod Brind'Amour (Retired)
Notable Quotables: "I had a good summer of training and time to think about my career and how things have gone. At this point, I’ve played long enough in the league, have seen the ins and outs and have enough experience to know that you need to be consistent and contribute every day no matter how you feel. I’ve learned a lot of what it takes to be a professional." — Patrick O'Sullivan to the team's website.
Outlook: If the law of averages is correct, the 'Canes are due to return to the post-season — however, when your biggest addition to a sub-.500 team is a defenceman you traded away, that signals that a club is leaning quite hard on a goalie coming off an injury riddled campaign.
12th in East, 4th in Southeast in 2009-10
34-36-12 (80 pts.) — 13-10-1 vs. Southeast Division —missed playoffs (3rd straight season)
Tampa Bay seems to be pegged as the team who, on the strength of their new GM alone, will make it back into the post-season. Steve Yzerman has hit the road from Motor City to St. Petersburg — and while most of his moves have been lauded, there is just as many question marks surrounding the Lightning as optimism.
In no particular order: Is Dan Ellis (or for that matter, Mike Smith) a number one goalie? Can Simon Gagne stay healthy? Will Vincent Lecavalier regain his form?
Success will come for the Lightning this year, but it's largely from keeping Martin St. Louis under contract so he and Steve Stamkos can continue their magic, along with the refurbished fighter-to-scorer Steve Downie.
Notable additions: Simon Gagne (Philadelphia), G Dan Ellis (Nashville), D Pavel Kubina (Atlanta), F Dominic Moore (Montreal), head coach Guy Boucher, GM Steve Yzerman
Notable subtractions: G Karri Ramo (Montreal), Antero Niittymaki (San Jose), F Alex Tanguay (Calgary), D Andrej Meszaros (Philadelphia), GM Brian Lawton, head coach Rick Tocchet
Notable quotables: "Tampa Bay was a team I was more than willing to waive my no move clause for. I really like the direction the team is headed in with a solid owner, Steve Yzerman as GM and coach Boucher. I’m really looking forward to playing with guys like Lecavalier, Stamkos and St. Louis." — Simon Gagne to the team's website
Outlook: The team has been tinkered with enough to be on the right path to contest for a spot in the post-season — but the real question mark is whether they have the goaltending needed to get them there.
14th in East, 5th in Southeast in 2009-10
32-37-13 (77 pts.) — 8-13-3 vs. Southeast Division — missed playoffs (9th straight season)
This is Year One of the "Dale Tallon Hockey Team Extreme Makeover: Florida Panthers Edition."
This will not be the season that the newly minted Panthers GM 'moves the bus' from the front of BankAtlantic Center to reveal a consistent playoff contender — there is simply not enough talent to push the team from its going-on-a-decade obscurity into the post-season spotlight.
Tallon has brought in some solid role players but has lost the services seemingly disinterested star forward Nathan Horton and dependable defenceman Keith Ballard (although you may not hear goalie Tomas Vokoun, or his bloodied ear, complaining).
On the flip side, the team is building toward its future by picking up three 1st round picks in the 2010 entry draft, including 3rd overall pick and standout defenceman Eric Gubrandson.
Notable additions: Dennis Wideman (Boston), Marty Reasoner (Chicago), Steve Bernier (Vancouver), Michael Grabner (Vancouver), Nathan Paetsch (Columbus), Chris Higgins (Calgary)
Notable subtractions: Keith Ballard (Vancouver), Nathan Horton (Boston), Gregory Campbell (Boston)
Notable Quoteables: "When I started in Chicago, Detroit was the model, and I think in the east it's George [McPhee] and what he's done in Washington. That's the model. We want to emulate what they've done and where they are going. We've got to get across the finish line. Some people get comfortable with being only good enough, and that's not going to be acceptable." — Panthers GM Dale Tallon to the team's website
Outlook: The Cats will continue to inhabit the basement of a division that got a lot better. It will take time for Tallon's work to pay off, but will the fans stick around long enough to see it?