Tomorrow, tomorrow…I love you, tomorrow. You’re only a day away!!! Now that I’ve got that stuck in your head…I can’t wait until tomorrow. NHL regular season gets underway tomorrow!! If you don’t have DirecTV, be sure to check out the double header on Versus starting at 7 EST. Caps vs. Bruins is first, followed by Sharks vs. Avalanche.
Now it’s onto the preview of the Southeast Division.
In 2008-2009…The Caps finished with 108 points, 1st in the Southeast Division and 2nd in the East. Last seen: getting run over by the flightless fowl in Game 7 of the East semis. (And I was there and don’t want to talk about it!)
This season…The Caps’ future is so bright they have to wear shades. The team looks to build on the success of last year, and they have done so with a few key additions. The best off-season pickup for the Caps was Mike Knuble. I’ve dubbed him “The Trash Man,” since he was signed to knock in the juicy rebounds. He’s already done that so far in the preseason, and with the amount of shots that Ovechkin and Company take, expect him to continue to do that throughout the season. The Caps lost some leadership in Sergei Fedorov and Viktor Kozlov, who bolted for the dough, or should I say rubles, in the KHL. They also lost enforcer Donald Brashear. The Caps don’t seem too worried about filling Brash’s skates, and are instead taking a page out of the Red Wings handbook, which have won many a cup without a true enforcer on the team.
The biggest question mark for the Caps is goaltending and defense. Rookie sensation Semyon Varlamov, who started more games in the postseason last year than he did during the regular season, seems to be the goalie of the future for the Caps. Incumbent netminder Jose Theodore will split time with the youngster. Jose is in a contract year and pretty much knows that he won’t be back in DC after the season, so I’d expect him to play pretty well this season. As for the defense, everyone rips on my boy Mike Green, but just because he’s offensive minded, doesn’t mean he sucks at defense. Numbers don’t lie, and he’s still young, so he’ll, hopefully, those numbers will be even better this season.
Hottie worth watching: While there are way too many to chose from on the Caps, I have to go to my old standby: David Steckel. There just aren’t enough words.
In 2008-2009…The Canes finished with 97 points, 2nd in the Southeast Division and 6th in the East. Last seen: running out of luck in the East Finals against those pesky Penguins.
This season…The Canes look to continue to do what they’ve been doing. While no one is predicting them to finish above second in the Southeast, I wouldn’t count these guys out. They proved that they can hang with the big guys last postseason, and they’re only a few seasons removed from their own Stanley Cup win. This team has pretty much remained intact. They re-signed Erik Cole and Chad LaRose and have only gotten better through some off-season acquisitions. They traded with the Bruins for Aaron Ward and signed former Cup winner Stephane Yelle.
They will rely on the steady glove of Cam Ward, who faltered a bit after the Canes’ Cup run. He really helped the team bounce back last season from a disappointing start. I definitely think the Hurricanes could be the darkhorse in the East this season.
Hottie worth watching: Cam Ward. Sorry, there was no other choice for me.
In 2008-2009…The Panthers finished with 93 points, 3rd in the Southeast and 9th in the East. Last seen: losing a head-to-head points battle with those damn Canadiens for the last playoff spot.
This season…The Panthers are hoping to break an eight-straight season playoff drought. They came so close last year, but close will not cut it. They traded away the rights to defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, so now they need to fill that spot. They have some young talent at the position, but how do you replace one of the league’s best defensemen? We’ll see. Another young talent to keep an eye on is David Booth. Touted as the unsung hero of the Panthers, Booth looks to build on his 31-goal performance of last season and become an elite NHL forward. Him and his fellow linemates, Stephen Weiss and Nathan Horton, have been dubbed “The Sunrise Express.” Can they live up to their name this season? We’ll see, again.
Between the pipes, the Panthers return Tomas Vokoun, who was benched last season in favor of Craig Andersen. That benching sparked Vokoun to play much better later in the season. Andersen has moved on to Colorado, but the Panthers have replaced him with Scott Clemensen. Goaltending won’t be the problem in Sunrise this season. The question marks seem to be everywhere else.
Hottie worth watching: This was, by far, the hardest task for me. Florida is really lacking in the hottie department. But, fear not, I found one! Say hello to Gregory Campbell!
In 2008-2009…The Thrashers finished with 76 points, 4th in the Southeast Division and 13th in the East. Last seen: in the NHL Draft lottery picking up the adorable Evander Kane. (No relation to 20 cent)
This season…The Thrash have never won a playoff game and I don’t see them winning one this year. They are another team looking toward the future with a young crop of players. There are quite a few question marks in the organization beginning with Ilya Kovalchuk. The team’s captain is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, and Ilya is not being too forthcoming about what he plans to do. The Thrash could decide to trade Kovalchuk before the deadline and cash in or take their chances and try to resign the vet and keep their beefed up offense intact.
Another question mark would be the goaltending situation. The team’s 2002 no. 1 draft pick, Kari Lehtonen, was supposed to be the goalie of the future for Atlanta. Not everything always goes as planned. Look for this to be a make or break season for Kari. The other unsettling question mark in Atlanta is the ownership. The ownership group is looking for more investors and having legal issues within the group. Rumors have been flying around that the team will relocate, but they will be in Atlanta for at least the next four years due to contractual obligations. Hopefully, this franchise can pull things together for the sake of its fans.
Hottie worth watching: Zach Bogosian. Yeah, he’s pretty cute.
Tampa Bay Lightning
In 2008-2009…The Ning had 66 points, 5th in the Southeast Division and 14th in the East. Last seen: hitting the streets in the hope of selling season tickets to a dwindling fan base.
This season…The Lightning are recovering from the injury bug that plagued them last season. The Ning went through 22 defensemen last season alone. They hope to stay healthy and perhaps get more consistency on the blueline. The Lightning will need 2008 draft pick Steven Stamkos to pick up where he left off at the end of last season. Stamkos started out the season shaky, but got much better in the second half.
The Bolts need Vincent Lecavalier to remain healthy. They’ve given him some help up front with the signing of Alex Tanguay. They are also another team with ownership issues, as co-owner Len Barrie has all but been banned from managing the day-to-day operations of the team. Currently, his ownership partner, Oren Kroules, is shopping for a new partner. This franchise needs some help in almost every department.
Hottie worth watching: Paul Ranger. Paul was out with a shoulder injury last season, so maybe this is why I completely overlooked this hottie. Now, we are all aware of him. (PS – Google image search this man. He looks adorable in a suit!)
Alright, so that’s the Southeast Division in a nutshell. It’s definitely considered one of the weaker divisions in the NHL, but, if the Florida Panthers can get their acts together, you could possibly have three Southeast Division teams in the playoffs this season. Let us know how wrong, right and/or awesome we are in the comments.