Monday, October 1, 2007
Preview of the NHL Season-Southeast Division
Strengths: Though Eric Staal had a down year last season, he should bounce back to once again produce upwards of 90 points....Rod Brind'Amour's veteran leadership is essential to this team's success. There's few better at providing such an asset....The Hurricanes should have a healthy Cory Stillman back in their lineup. He missed a large portion of last season with a shoulder injury.
Weaknesses: The health of the defensive corps is a huge concern. Frantisek Kaberle, Bret Hedican and Glen Wesley all missed significant time last year....Cam Ward will have to play better in goal this season for Carolina to reasonably expect to do well. The depth behind him is too weak to provide any relief....The team as a whole must bounce back from last year's disappointing finish.
Prediction: 1st in Southeast Division
Tampa Bay Lightning:
Strengths: It would be hard to count out any team that boasts Vincent LeCavalier, Martin St. Louis and Brad Richards in their lineup....The Lightning added bulk and toughness to their defense in the off-season....They also added Michel Ouellet and expect him to boost the power play.
Weaknesses: Dan Boyle's freak injury puts a pall on the early season for the Bolts. Boyle was expected to be the number one defense from the beginning and will now miss considerable time....Though they added toughness to the d-line, the loss of Corey Sarich in free agency will hurt....Goaltending is a major issue. If neither John Holmqvist or Marc Denis can handle the job, Tampa Bay will not achieve it's potential.
Prediction: 2nd in Southeast Division
Strengths: Washington made a big splash in the free agent market this past summer, obtaining Michael Nylander, Viktor Kozlov and Tom Poti. These additions should produce immediate dividends....Alex Ovechkin, already an All Star, now has a better cast around him and should produce even results....The Capitals expect Niklas Backstrom to contribute this year as well, making them very deep at the center position.
Weaknesses: Washington hopes they addresses their special teams' woes with the new additions. Their Penalty Kill was especially weak last year....The defense also suffered last season. The Caps found themselves on the wrong end of way too many late game losses....Washington has to hope that Olaf Kolzig can still stand the rigors of the game at his age. If not, there's not a good answer behind him.
Prediction: 3rd in Southeast Division
Strengths: Marian Hossa and Ilya Kovalchuk form a strong tandem that drives the Atlanta offense....The Thrashers are strong in goal. Either Kari Lehtonen or Johan Hedberg could emerge as the starter.....Slava Kozlov had a career season last year and is a veteran presence in the locker room.
Weaknesses: The team as a whole must put the meltdown they experienced in the playoffs behind them. It will be easier said than done....The Thrashers lost Andy Sutton in free agency to the Islanders. Sutton, though slow and at times plodding, provided a toughness and snarl on the blueline that they will have to replace....The defense is a bit on the old side and lacks playmakers.
Prediction: 4th in Southeastern Division
Strengths: Olli Jokinen is a superstar presence whose consistent play will once again anchor the offense....Florida added some very good veteran talent in the offseason to compliment their youth. Tomas Vokoun, Ville Peltonen and Josef Stumpel will greatly aid Jokinen in putting the puck in the net....Vokoun should bring stability to the Panther's goaltending situation. He's the best they've had since the horrific Roberto Luongo trade.
Weaknesses: If Vokoun is not the answer in nets, it will be a very long season in Miami as there is no one behind him capable of shouldering the load....The young players on the team need to continue their forward progress in their development....The Panthers have to hope that Mike Van Ryn's surgery on both wrists has corrected the problems he had last year.
Prediction: 5th in Southeast Division