2010-11 Southeast Division Preview

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It’s that time of year again!!! The air is getting colder, and the sweater are coming out.  The hockey sweaters that is.  From now until Opening Day of the NHL 2010 season, look out for new division previews, new in depth team outlooks, and big predictions and prognostications of the glorious season to come.  Today, we take a look at the Southeast Division, and what to expect this season.

2010-2011 NHL SEASON INFORMATION EXTRAPOLATION

By: Bryan Vickroy

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1. Washington Capitals

2009-10 Record:  54-15-13     2009-10 Leading Scorer:  Alex Ovechkin (50-59-109)

Offense

The highest scoring offense in the league last year doesn’t look like its ready to stop anytime soon.  The only thing that seems to stop this team from dominating the puck and scoring is frustration, lack of focus, and Jaroslav Halak.  This team has a lot to prove this season, more specifically this postseason.  They will spend 82 games waiting to avenge post seasons past.

Defense

This unit is young, fast, and has the ability to score a lot.  However, they have yet to grasp the concept of defending their own zone completely.  If they can protect their own end a lot better than they have, it will allow this team to go far.  A stronger defensive mindset this season might be just what this team needs.

Goalies

Possibly the one position in Washington with a lower approval rating than the Presidency.  Semyon Varlamov is the incumbent who must show that he has the skills, and calmed nerves, that he showed two years ago in the playoffs, and not the meltdown artist that he’s been in recent postseasons.  Michal Neuvirth is the new kid in town who will get a shot if Varlamov does not grasp the seriousness of Washington’s title chances.

Top Player:  Alex Ovechkin, LW.

The league’s most dynamic superstar, he needs to show he can control his emotions, not to mention show he can win a big game.  Ovie will score over 50 goals again, and will continue to lead the most explosive offense in the league.

Breakout Star:  Alexander Semin, RW.

While his linemates get the high praise and higher point totals, Semin has finally found his game.  Strong at both ends of the ice, look for him to keep Ovechkin reigned in and running at optimum scoring rate.

Outlook

Last years playoff failure has left a sour taste in the mouth of the Capitals, and leaving them with something to prove.  The other hot young teams of the league both already have Stanley Cups, and the Capitals need to prove that they can win when it counts, and maybe play some defense.  Best case scenario has them hoisting the Cup for the first time ever, with Ovechkin cementing his status as the game’s greatest.  Worst case scenario has them stumbling in the playoffs again, leading to another offseason of goaltending and defensive responsibility questions.

Tampa Bay Lightning

2009-10 Record:  34-36-12     2009-10 Leading Scorer:  Steven Stamkos (51-44-95)

Offense

The top two lines are downright scary, and can stand up to nearly any other throughout the league.  The depth beyond that is questionable.  So is the sustained ability of some of the older veterans to continue to produce in this new youth infused NHL.  Cohesiveness is key, and staying healthy and keeping lines together will be important as the season progresses.

Defense

While this corp looks good on paper, it is a mix of coveted  young prospects and aging stars whose game has slipped recently.  If everyone pulls together and plays right, this unit will not only keep other teams at bay, but will also at some scoring punch of their own.

Goalies

Mike Smith and Dan Ellis are friends from the minors, and will now battle for a spot as the #1 man in Tampa.  Look for both to get a good amount of crease time until one of them gets hot, or proves outright that the job is his.

Top Player:  Steven Stamkos, C.

The money and age made Stamkos the eventual face of the team.  The 51 goal season and Vinny Lecavalier’s diminishing talents have made the young sniper the focus of the team now.  Look for him to be one of the league’s leading scorers for a long time to come.

Breakout Star:  Mike Lundin, D.

The Minnesota product has been bounced around as the franchise continued to stabilize itself.  He now finds himself paired with veteran Mattias Ohlund, and the speed and ability to create rushes with the high flying forwards.

Outlook

Tampa Bay has improved tenfold from the turmoil of the last couple years.  There is stability in the front office and in the roster.  There is an infusion of highly talented kids who want to perform and and produce now.  The timing is right for this team, and they can capitalize on a soft division.  Best case scenario has the Bolts making the jump and become a bonafide contender in the East.  Worst case has this team struggling and missing the playoffs for another year, stunting the growth of a talented roster.

Carolina Hurricanes

2009-10 Record:  35-37-10     2009-10 Leading Scorer:  Eric Staal (29-41-70)

Offense

Carolina’s top lines are filled with guys, besides Eric Staal, who have shown flashes through their career, yet just can’t seem to put multiple strong seasons together.  If they play to their ability, they can score goals with ease.  Slack off, and they will find themselves behind and unable to find their touch.  The veteran core of this group needs to keep motivation up.

Defense

The Hurricanes have a reliable top group who can score points and shut down opposing top lines, but after that it falls off a bit.  Youth will be allowed to fight for the rest of the spots, so the strong overall unit of last year will likely see a slight breakdown.

Goalies

Cam Ward is a stone cold stopper with a penchant for clutch wins, and a Stanley Cup to his resume.  This is his job as long as he can stay healthy.  If not, sophomore Justin Peters will get a chance to show his moves as the full time backup this year.

Top Player:  Eric Staal, C.

The captain of this team will be the darling this year, especially with the All Star game being held in Raleigh.  Staal is a giant beast with deft hands when it comes to bashing a puck into the twine.  This team is now the face of the franchise, will be looked upon to perform as such.

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Breakout Star:  Jamie McBain, D.

That’s right, McBain is back.  The hulking defenseman from Wisconsin has already shot through the minor league system and will be called upon to log some heavy minutes at the back end this year.  Look for his big shot to be an asset on the power play for the Canes.

Outlook

This is a team in the process of overhauling the 2006 Cup championship team.  They are shedding the big contracts that have constricted them in the post lockout era, and are slowly funneling cheap, yet talented kids into the lineup.  Best case has them squeaking into the playoffs in the last couple of days of the season, while worst case has the team struggling with the roster changes and having a decent shot at the first pick in the draft.

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Florida Panthers

2009-10 Record:  32-37-13     2009-10 Leading Scorer:  Stephen Weiss (28-32-60)

Offense

This unit features a lot of high draft picks who are slowly coming along as they play their way into form at the NHL level.  Very few are proven, and even fewer seem to be able to score a goal.  Great goaltending will let them get away with some sloppy play, but not even Vokoun can score goals for them.

Defense

The future is bright for this unit, however most of them will be starting in juniors or the minors this year.  The pro level will feature some aging vets trying to mesh with some talented sophomores.  By the end of the year, expect the newest batch of d-men to be called up and start to gel for the future.

Goalies

Tomas Vokoun is the man in between the pipes on South Beach.  He will keep this very young team in games, unfortunately his superb stats and efforts will go by the wayside until this young team gets some experience and develops a bit of a swagger.  This job is waiting for young backup Jacob Markstrom next year.

Top Player:  David Booth, LW.

The most talented playmaker on this team, Booth has struggled with concussions, and needs to remain healthy above everything else.  When he can see straight, he is quite skilled and burying it in the net.  Should have a strong season if he keeps his head up.

Breakout Star:  Michael Frolik, RW.

The winger played in all 82 games last year and netted 21 goals.  Now that he has some quality experience under his belt, not to mention a lot of new money in the bank, look for him to up the goals to at least 30, giving the Panthers something of a sniper on offense.

Outlook

This team is still too young and immature to expect much from yet.  Once the green blue-liners get their legs under them, they will start to change the dynamic of their games.  Until then, expect them to lose a lot of close games, as they don’t have the finish that winning teams do.  Best case has the kids from South Beach battle the rest of the scrubs in the East for the eighth spot, while the worst case has them fighting for a less prestigious spot: #1 at the draft.

(Editor’s note: I’ve been dying to have a reason to embed this video for the longest time. It’s a one of a five part series, a collections of the Panthers’ radio announcer Randy Moller’s goal calls- complete with a picture that explains the pop culture reference)

Atlanta Thrashers

2009-10 Record:  35-34-13     2009-10 Leading Scorer:  Nik Antropov (24-43-67)

Offense

After making sure they got something in return for Ilya Kovalchuk getting out of town, the Thrashers officially are rebuilding.  This is a team that has collected some good young talent, and infused some grit and experience in a trade with the Blackhawks during the offseason.  Without a true superstar on the roster, it will be scoring by the committee for the Thrashers

Defense

Young, underwhelming, and have a penchant for giving up goals.  They will slowly grow with age, but there will be many lumps along the way, and many of those lumps leading to losses.  The future will be strong, just not this season.

Goalies

Chris Mason was the main man in St. Louis last year, and didn’t seem to fit into the youth movement after their trade for Jaroslav Halak.  He signed with Atlanta and is given the starting job over a young and unproven Ondrej Pavelec.  Steady and not particularly spectacular, Mason will definitely face a barrage of rubber this year.

Top Player:  Evander Kane, LW.

A rookie last year, he put up a decent 14 goals and did something most scorers refuse to do: play both ends of the ice.  Only 19 years old, look for him to become the new face of a franchise that had only know of Ilya Kovalchuk as its star.

Dustin Byfuglien traded to atlanta

Breakout Star:  Dustin Byfuglien, LW.

Yes, Buff became a household name during Chicago’s run to the Cup, but he was one of many cap casualities in the Windy City.  Byfuglien comes to Atlanta and will be moved back to his natural forward position.  His size and scoring touch will be welcome components to a rather soft Thrashers team.  Look for Big Buff to continue to smash home goals and become a fan favorite in Atlanta.

Outlook

This was a team who was only a few points out of a playoff spot last season, and they do play in a conference that is guaranteed to have the majority of poor teams.  A best case scenario would be battling for a playoff spot again.  A worst case scenario is that the youth stalls and they continue to vie for the #1 pick in the draft.

Bryan Vickroy has an addiction to hockey, and is willing to partake in all its forms.  He is skating extra shifts this season, covering the Minnesota Wild, the NHL, and NCAA hockey all year long.  Look for new articles throughout the week.  He can be followed on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bryanvickroy/ If you’d prefer to speak in more than 140 characters at a time to him, he can be reached at bryan.vickroy@gmail.com

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Comments

  1. love the randy moller goal calls…”HE SHOOTS, HE SCORES!!!!!! I DON’T SEE NOTHING WRONG, WITH A LITTLE BUMP N GRIND”

    “SCORES!!!!!! DO YOU MIND IF WE DANCE WITH YOUR DATES!!!”

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