As always, the NHL summer was an eventful one, with the rich becoming richer, and the poor becoming poorer, at least for the most part. Every team made at least one move on the ice, while several others made moves off the ice. Over the next week, I will examine each team’s movement (players primarily) to see who really improved, who got worse, and who stayed pretty much where they were. Today, part 3 of 6, the Southeast Division:
Team: Atlanta Thrashers
Points (Rk): 74(11)
In: Brian Swanson, Ivan Majesky, Tommi Santala, Randy Robitaille, Bill Lindsay, Greg Hawgood, Jason Bonsignore, Brendan Yarema, Ronald Petrovicky, Jani Hurme, Shawn Heins
Out: Andreas Karlsson, Dallas Eakins, Tony Hrkac, Jeff Odgers, Damian Rhodes, Ben Simon, Jean-Pierre Vigier, Lubos Bartecko, Mark Hartigan, Jeff Farkas, Uwe Krupp, Milan Hnilicka, Dan Snyder
Comments: The Thrashers for the most part, stayed put this summer, their most notable move having re-signed 70-point man Slava Kozlov to a multi-year deal. Atlanta did make a move on draft day to improve their defence, acquiring defenceman Ivan Majesky from Florida for a 2nd round pick. Despite a season-ending injury to Dany Heatley, the Thrashers will have most of the core of their team back from last season (Savard, Kovalchuk, Kozlov, McEachern, and Stefan), and will be banking on youngsters such as Santala and Kamil Piros, as well as recently signed Randy Robitaille to supply offence beyond the second line. Defence remains a concern for this young franchise however, as the team’s top four of Tremblay, Kaberle, Sutton, and Majesky are young and relatively unproven. Expect rookie Garnet Exelby to play a big role on D this season. In goal, both Pasi Nurminen and Byron Dafoe return and will battle for the number-1 job. Waiver draft pickup Jani Hurme will also fight for a spot. Prediction: Dafoe is the odd man out. As for those wondering whether Kari Lehtonen is ready, the answer is probably (at least in a backup role). However, a second question is, do the Thrashers want him now? The answer to that is no, Dafoe gives the team a veteran, albeit overpaid, goalie who will be useful down the stretch.
Next Steps: This team needs to acquire a solid veteran defenceman, as this is the team’s biggest concern. Last season, they brought in both Uwe Krupp and Richard Smehlik, but the former lasted just a handful of games and has since retired, while the latter didn’t last the whole season before being dealt to New Jersey as a salary dump. All Atlanta needs here is a solid, yet unspectacular veteran who knows his role and can help the young ones develop while bringing leadership to the dressing room.
Team: Carolina Hurricanes
Points (Rk): 61(15)
In: Joey Tetarenko, Glen Wesley, Danill Markov, Marty Murray, Bob Boughner, Ryan Vanbuskirk, Ian Forbes, Jamie Storr, Eric Staal
Out: Jan Hlavac, Kaspars Astashenko, Craig MacDonald, Shaun Fisher, Steven Halko, Brent McDonald, Ryan Murphy, Nikos Tselios, Tommy Westlund, Mike Watt, Greg Kuznik, David Tanabe, Jeff Heerema
Comments: The Hurricanes continue to show a dedication to defence, as shown by the acquisitions of Markov and Boughner to complement Bret Hedican and Sean Hill. However, like many other non-playoff teams, offence will be the primary concern for Carolina this season. Beyond Jeff O’Neill, Ron Francis, and a healthy Rod Brind’Amour, offence is minimal. A healthy Erik Cole, along with talented youngsters Radim Vrbata and Pavel Brendl are expected to continue their development and if all play to expectations, the ‘Canes may be better off at offence than many predict. Management has signed 1st rounder Eric Stall with the hopes that he can instantly produce offensively. However, if they struggle, Carolina will once again be a one-line team. On D, the team is solid, with a top-5 of Markov, Hill, Hedican, Wesley and Boughner, with solid veteran Aaron Ward and youngsters Bruno St. Jacques and Nic Wallin fighting for the final spot on the corps. In goal, the team is also in good shape with promising goalie Kevin Weekes between the pipes again this season. One thing is for sure, the Hurricanes will not be finishing last overall again this year.
Next Steps: Carolina has to figure out what to do with goalie Arturs Irbe. After an off-season last year, many expect the Hurricanes will release him instead of putting him in the minors. Others say he’ll remain with the team and not buy him out. Since he was not invited to training camp, he is currently sitting at home, waiting for assignment or a trade.
Team: Florida Panthers
Points (Rk): 70(13)
In: Kristian Kudroc, Maxim Birbraer, Lee Goren, Mikael Samuelsson, Valeri Bure, Eric Messier, Vaclav Nedorost, Jeff Paul, Travis Scott, Craig MacDonald, Kent Huskins, Tony Hrkac, Lyle Odelein, Daryl Andrews, Steve Shields, Nathan Horton
Out: Jim Campbell, Jamie Rivers, Igor Kravchuk, Stephane Matteau, Pierre Dagenais, Andy Lundbohm, Rocky Thompson, Tyrone Garner, Igor Ulanov, Pascal Trepanier, Peter Worrell, Ivan Majesky, Jani Hurme, Chris Mason
Comments: For a team that has missed the playoffs the last several seasons, it seems strange that the Panthers seem to just be flipping depth players for other depth players. This summer, Kristian Kudroc, Maxim Birbraer and Lee Goren are in, Jim Campbell, Jamie Rivers and Stephane Matteau are out. The team also brought back Valeri Bure via waivers, but now GM Rick Dudley says the team can’t afford him, so look for him to be moved. Judging by the way he played before he left the Panthers, that may be a plus. The team made some noise the summer, dealing enforcer Peter Worrell to Colorado for a pair of youngsters in Eric Messier and Vaclav Nedorost. Both should fit in well with the team’s concept, let the youth develop and hope to be a contender in the near future. Joining Messier and Nedorost on offence are leading scorer Olli Jokinen, along with veterans Viktor Kozlov and Matt Cullen, as well as inconsistent youngster Kristian Huselius. The depth players on this team are also youngsters, such as Jaroslav Bednar, Ivan Novoseltsev, Niklas Hagman, Marcus Nilson, along with 3rd overall pick Nathan Horton. Defence will be a huge concern this season as Jay Bouwmeester is back but has virtually no supporting cast. Those expected to be back on defence are: Pavel Trnka, Mathieu Biron, Andreas Lilja and Brantislav Mezei. Expect Lukas Kraijcek to see plenty of minutes this season. Lyle Odelein and Pascal Trepanier will fight for the 7th spot. In goal, the team is set, with rising superstar Roberto Luongo between the pipes, with veteran journeyman Steve Shields backing him up. The Panthers are a team on the rise, but the journey to the postseason looks to be a few years away yet.
Next Steps: Defence, defence, defence. Plenty of it at that. The team needs 2 or 3 quality veteran defenders to help protect Luongo, or it’s going to be another rough year for Florida (Odelein doesn’t count as a quality defender). Dudley has stated he talked to free agents Ken Klee, Oleg Tverdovsky and before he retired, Calle Johansson, but was unable to ink anyone. However, money is a concern, that’s why the team wants to move Bure. They need to bring at least one quality defenceman in soon, before it’s too late.
Team: Tampa Bay Lightning
Points (Rk): 93(5)
In: Cory Stillman, Pascal Trepanier
Out: Vaclav Prospal, Stanislav Neckar, Kristian Kudroc, Matt Elich, Kenton Smith, Harlon Pratt, Corey Foster, Boyd Kane, Ryan Tobler, Marc Bergevin, Sheldon Keefe
Comments: Dubbed by many media outlets as last season’s Carolina (at least of the Eastern Conference), the Lightning haven’t done too many changes in the hopes of returning to the postseason. However, the team did lose leading scorer Vaclav Prospal, as well as defencemen Stan Neckar and Marc Bergevin. GM Jay Feaster however, did a decent job in replacing those players, acquiring Cory Stillman from St. Louis for a second-round draft pick, and signing Pascal Trepanier as a 6th defenceman. Despite losing Prospal, there are still quite a few players who can put the puck in the net such as Brad Richards and Vincent Lecavalier. They create a solid 1-2 punch at centre, and will have quality wingers in Stillman, Fredrik Modin and Martin St. Louis. Dave Andreychuk is back for another campaign and can be counted on for around 15 goals. Youngsters Ruslan Fedotenko, Nikita Alexeev and Alex Svitov all should see regular ice time this year. Finnish rookie Eero Somervuori will get a long look this year. On defence, there are plenty of capable players, however there isn’t a household name in the mix. Dan Boyle is back after scoring a career-high 53 points last year, but he won’t put up the same numbers again this year. Pavel Kubina, Jassen Cullimore and Brad Lukowich are solid in their own end, and can put the puck in the net every so often as well. Cory Sarich and Trepanier round out the top-6. Rookies Andreas Holmqvist and Gerard Dicaire are expected to see some time in the #7 role. In goal, the team is set with Nikolai Khabibulin returning for another season. He will be pushed by John Grahame who has been the #1 goalie before in his career and believes he should be the main man in Tampa Bay.
Next Steps: The team is deep at all positions, at least at the NHL level. For yet another season, Tampa does not have their own farm team. They lost Springfield as their joint affiliate with Phoenix, so they have reached agreements with Hamilton (Montreal) and Hershey (Colorado), however they can only send 10 players combined to these 2 teams. This means that only half of their prospects have an AHL home this season, which could stifle the other players’ development. The Lightning need to find an AHL affiliate for these other players for this season, and then need to get a team of their own for next year.
Team: Washington Capitals
Points (Rk): 92(6)
In: Andrej Podkonicky, John Gruden, François Methot, Petr Sykora, Alexander Riazantsev, Darcy Verot, Scott Pellerin, Michael Pudlick
Out: Sergei Berezin, Calle Johansson, Ken Klee, Chris Ferraro, Peter Ferraro, Dmitry Yushkevich, Colin Forbes, Ivan Ciernik, Joel Kwiatkowski, Mark Murphy, Todd Rohloff, Krystofer Barch, Nathan Forster, Josh Green, Ryan Vanbuskirk, Mike Farrell, Glen Metropolit, Trent Whitfield
Comments: For Capital fans, it was a disappointing offseason, as Washington lost 8 players who spent time in the NHL last season (not including Yushkevich), while gaining no one who could claim the same. It seems that Washington is going to allow the youngsters to play this year, particularly on defence, in which only 3 regulars return from last season, Sergei Gonchar, Brendan Witt and Jason Doig. The team also lost a few regulars on offence, but the team has enough depth to replace them, so that shouldn’t be a problem. Speaking of offence, there are plenty of players who can supply it, although none can really produce on a regular basis. The enigmatic Jaromir Jagr is back, and fans hope he can repeat his performance towards the end of the regular season. He has a solid supporting cast in Robert Lang, Michael Nylander and Peter Bondra; the team hopes the latter can rebound from a sub-par season. Dainius Zubrus, Kip Miller, Steve Konowalchuk and Jeff Halpern all can put the puck in the net as well. Rookies Owen Fussey and Graham Mink are expected to add some character to Washington’s lineup this season. On defence, there is a large, gaping hole. Besides Gonchar, Witt and Doig, the cupboard is bare. Those expected to fill the voids are Nolan Yonkman, Josef Boumedienne, Rick Berry and Jakub Cutta. All of these players have seen NHL action, but not over a full season, which could prove disastrous in the long run. The team is also hoping Steve Eminger can win a full-time spot this year, after playing 17 games with the big club last year. The team is solid in goal. Olaf Kolzig is back after a solid season last year, in which he appeared in 66 games. His workload should be smaller this season, with backup Sebastian Charpentier ready to play his first full season in the big leagues.
Next Steps: This one is blatantly obvious, go get a defenceman (or two, or three, or even four). In order for this team to make the playoffs again this season, the Caps must be able to play well defensively. With forwards like Jagr and Bondra who are weak defensively to begin with, this becomes even greater a concern.