Monday, September 24, 2007

Predictions: Southeast Division

My pre-season predictions move on today. I have already posted predictions for the West Conference, Northeast Division and Atlantic Division. Today, I move on into the Southeast Division.

1. Carolina Hurricanes They were the 2006 Stanley Cup champs but experienced a bit of a hangover last year and missed the playoffs. They will likley make somewhat of a bounce back and that should be enough to win. Stanley Cup heroes Cam Ward and Eric Staal should bounce back from disappointing 2006/07 seasons. Their defence is not a strong one. Frantisek Kaberle, Mike Commodore and Glen Wesley and nothing special but they were not much stronger on the cup winners and in this weak division it could be enough. At forward, Rod Brind'Amour, Ray Whitney, Cory Stillman, Eric Cole and Justin Williams make a good bunch with Staal. I don't imagine this team coming close to another cup, but they can win a weak division.

2. Atlanta Thrashers Atlanta took their first ever trip to the playoffs last year. They did it in a year where Ilya Kovalchuk underachieved. He should be one of the top goalscorers in the NHL and rivalling Marian Hossa for the team lead in points. There is little depth beyond that, but Bobby Holik and Pascal Dupuis help. Their defence is built around Alexei Zhitnik, Steve McCarthy and Niclas Havelid. It isn't very strong or deep, but in this division no team is complete. Kari Lethonen is a good young goalie who could make a big step forward. When you make playoffs in a lacklustre year for Ilya Kovalchuk and with a still improving Lehtonen, it's reasonable to believe you could do it again when those situations improve.

3. Tampa Bay Lightning This team could easily win this division if they only had goaltending. With Marc Denis, Johan Holmqvist and Karri Ramo sharing the job this year, they likely will not have strong goaltending again. However, they do have three outstanding forwards in Vincent LeCavalier, Martin St Louis and Brad Richards. Beyond them, there is little depth Vaclav Prospal and Chris Gratton are some key veterans who hope to provide it. On defence, Dan Boyle is very good, though he will miss the start of the year with injury. Beyond him Filip Kuba, Paul Ranger and Brad Lukowich are solid but unspectacular. If they had a really good goaltender without damaging the core, this team could make some noise. However, their goaltending could be in the running for the league's worst.

4. Florida Panthers It is a not uncommon opinion that now that they have a good goalie in Tomas Vokoun, this team will possibly win the division. I disagree. Vokoun is a good goalie, but Ed Belfour was pretty good last year also. There is room for improvement in goal (but hardly on the level of Tampa). They have a pretty good defence with Jay Bouwmeester, Mike Van Ryn and Bryan Allen. They lack the game breaking forwards of Tampa or Atlanta but Olli Jokinen is pretty good. Depth is provided by Nathan Horton, Stephen Weiss and Josef Stumpel. Florida would have a big boost if Horton or Weiss took a big step forward offensively, but I am not sure either have the talent. Florida has a solid goalie and the best defence of a bad division, but should not have the offence to win.

5. Washington Capitals This is Alexander Ovechkin's team. He hasn't had much depth to work with in his young career. The Caps are trying to find him some offensive talent. Alex Semin is pretty good and they added Michael Nylander and Viktor Kozlov. That is a good group of supporting players but likely no gamebreakers. Their defence is not very good. The addition of Tom Poti gives them a moderate offensive weapon with defensive weakness. Beyond that Ben Clymer, Steve Eminger and Shaone Morrisonn will be outclassed by most good offences. This team has been kept in the game by the goaltending of Olaf Kolzig throughout the years. He is now 37 years old and may be due for a let down or an injury. If that happens they could lead the NHL in goals against.

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