NHL Southeast Division: Offseason Grades

Alan BassSenior Writer IJuly 30, 2009

LAS VEGAS - JUNE 18:  Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals accepts the Hart Memorial Trophy during the 2009 NHL Awards at The Pearl concert theater at the Palms Casino Resort on June 18, 2009 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images for NHL)

Washington Capitals

Departures: Brent Johnson, G; Donald Brashear, RW; Sergei Fedorov, C;

Acquisitions: Mike Knuble, RW; Brendan Morrison, C; Boyd Gordon, RW;

Upcoming draftees: Karl Alzner, D; John Carlson, D; Simeon Varlamov, G;


The good, the bad, and the ugly

Good: The team is basically the same coming into this season. Plus, they have Simeon Varlamov, who is looking to pull a Ken Dryden (kind of) as far as having his first success in the playoffs, then having a good rookie season.

Bad: Losing Sergei Fedorov is a big blow to the leadership aspect of the organization, especially since he was a good mentor for the various Russians on the Caps’ roster. He didn’t contribute as much as he used to offensively, and Ovechkin surely no longer needs a mentor, but he was a good veteran presence in the locker room.

Ugly: The team has not upgraded its defense at all. They signed no defenders to fill out the back end. Karl Alzner and John Carlson are both ready for an NHL call-upAlzner is already a sophomorebut neither will be able to contribute on a nightly basis on the level the Capitals need.


You’re way too young to be an NHLer

Karl Alzner started the 2008-09 season with Hershey, but after putting up 20 points in 48 games on the future Calder Cup champs, he was called up to the big league.

He played all rightlike a rookie defenseman does. He has a lot to learn, but he will eventually be a big-time NHL defenseman.


He said what?

"[The Capitals] are a legitimate contender. Playing in the Southeast Division has always been seen as the lower-type teams, and I don't think that's the case now."Mike Knuble, on the Capitals’ chances.


Grade: B-

I like the signing of Mike Knuble, as the grit and physical aspect of the game is what the Capitals are missing. However, other than bringing him in, the Capitals made very few moves to improve their team.

With other rising contenders in the Eastern Conference, do not expect the Capitals to jump any higher on the charts.


Carolina Hurricanes

Departures: Frantisek Kaberle, D;

Acquisitions: Tom Kostopolous, RW; Aaron Ward, D; Brett Carson, D; Bryan Rodney, D; Mike Angelidis, C; Zack Fitzgerald, D; Andrew Alberts, D; Jay Harrison, D; Steven Goertzen, RW; Casey Borer, D; Justin Peters, G; Patrick Dwyer, RW; Michael Ryan, D;

Upcoming draftees: Zach Boychuk, C; Drayson Bowman, LW; Brandon Sutter, C;


The good, the bad and the ugly

Good: The good of the offseason is the fact that the Hurricanes did not lose anyone other than Frantisek Kaberle, who was recently bought out by the franchise. By not losing anyone, you almost guarantee that your team will not be worse than last season.

Bad: The only upgrade made to the team’s defense was Andrew Alberts, who is the equivalent of a garden gnometo coin a popular phrase used by THN Senior Editor Brian Costello. Carolina has some talented players in Joni Pitkanen, Tim Gleason, Anton Babchuk, Niclas Wallin and more, but the team cannot expect those four players, among others, to lead this club back to the Eastern Conference final.

Ugly: Captain Rod Brind’Amour is getting up there in years, while others on the roster aren’t getting any younger, either (Scott Walker, Matt Cullen, etc). The team is slowly losing depth on offense, and it needs to make some upgrades or bring in more prospects to be able to replace the veterans.


You’re way too young to be an NHLer

Drayson Bowman is one of the top prospects not talked about in the NHL.

On a weak-ish Western League team, the Spokane Chiefs, Bowman put up 80-plus points in just over 60 games two consecutive seasons.

He is expected to make the team out of training camp, and he will be a big part of the 2009-10 squad.


He said what?

"This move is part of our effort to restructure the Hurricanes' defense to become bigger and more physical.”Carolina GM Jim Rutherford on buying out Frank Kaberle.


Grade: B-

Most people will tell you that the Canes are not as good as their 2009 third-round berth indicates.

Others will disagree.

Nonetheless, there is a discrepancy among fans about what the fate of the Carolina Hurricanes will be. They have the talent availableafter all, it’s a very similar team that won the Cup in 2006but can they compete with the best of the East?


Tampa Bay Lightning

Departures: David Koci, LW; Vinny Prospal, C;

Acquisitions: Kurtis Foster, D; Stephane Veilleux, LW; Victor Hedman, D; Antero Niittymaki, G; Blair Jones, C; Lauri Tukonen, RW; Matt Smaby, D; Matthias Ohlund, D; Matt Walker, D; Lukas Krajicek, D;

Upcoming draftees: Victor Hedman, D; Matt Lashoff, D; Dana Tyrell, C;


The good, the bad and the ugly

Good: The defense of the Tampa Bay Lightning is much better than anyone would have expected at the end of last season. With Mattias Ohlund, Victor Hedman, Andrej Meszaros, Paul Ranger, and more, the Lightning have a fairly solid back end.

Bad: The rest of the team. On offense, Tampa Bay still has its top guys in Martin St-Louis and Vinny Lecavalier, yet the Lightning have serious problems with depth. Steven Stamkos, Evgeny Artyukhin, and others give Tampa Bay the potential for success, but many doubt that it will arrive.

Ugly: Mike Smith is not a starting NHL goaltenderthe way he plays simply shows that he does not have the talent to compete. Although he has shown flashes of brilliance, he is nowhere near consistent enough to win games for his team. Antero Niittymaki won’t be that great of a backup either, especially for a weak team.


You’re way too young to be an NHLer

Victor Hedman was voted the most NHL-ready player of anyone in the 2009 NHL Entry Draftyes, that includes John Tavaresby NHL scouts and GMs. He will step in immediately in a top-four role and be mentored by Mattias Ohlund.

You can bet Hedman will ultimately be a No. 1 defenseman on this team in a few years.


He said what?

“We had a really short list. There really wasn’t [a need for more signings]. The No. 1 need we had was to shore up our blueline.”Lightning GM Brian Lawton on free agency needs.


Grade: B

The Lightning made some minor moves, but they seriously improved their team.

Although they are still weak on their third and fourth lines, and although there is still a big question mark in goal, their solid defensive core will propel them a few spots up in the standings this coming season.

Expect them to be better than people expected, but still miss the playoffs.


Florida Panthers

Departures: Jay Bouwmeester, D; Nick Boynton, D; Karlis Skrastins, D; Craig Anderson, G;

Acquisitions: David Booth, LW; Radek Dvorak, RW; Scott Clemmensen, G; Ville Koistinen, D; Jordan Leopold, D; Clay Wilson, D;

Upcoming draftees: Jacob Markstrom, G; Shawn Matthias, C; Keaton Ellerby, D;


The good, the bad and the ugly

Good: The team’s defense is much better than people think, even without Jay Bouwmeester. The team may have lost three defenders, two of which are top-four guys, but they also signed three fairly good defenders to replace them: Leopold, Koistinen and Wilson. Now no lies, Wilson won’t be playing much, but Leopold and Koistinen are both top-six defensemen and will contribute a fair amount offensively.

Bad: The “trade” of Craig Anderson for Scott Clemmensen is not a good one. Although Clemmensen did very well in New Jersey filling in for an injured Marty Brodeur, he is a result of a great defensive Devils squad. Florida is not as good defensively, and Clemmensen will not have as much success in the Sunshine State in the games he plays.

Ugly: How can this team still not have a GM (technically)? Randy Sexton is filling in, but they have not yet officially named a new heir to the throne. Going into training camp without someone leading the team from up top is not a smart idea. It’s a recipe for uneasiness in the locker room.


You’re way too young to be an NHLer

Keaton Ellerby had a good year in his first pro season, putting up 23 points in 75 games with the Rochester Americans.

Ellerby should find himself fighting for a final roster spot out of training camp. The 10th overall pick of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, he has the potential to be a career top-three defender.


He said what?

“We will count on contributions from some of our young prospects such as Keaton Ellerby, Jason Garrison and Dmitry Kulikov. Our defense ranked second in the NHL scoring 49 goals last season and we expect a similar output from our blue line next season.”Peter Deboer, on replacing Jay Bouwmeester.


Grade: C+

Although they shored up their defense a bit, their offense is still among the weakest in the league.

They have a couple good players who can put up points, but altogether, this Florida team is once again going to be finishing in the bottom part of the Eastern Conference and the league.


Atlanta Thrashers

Departures: Garnet Exelby, D; Colin Stuart, C;

Acquisitions: Evander Kane, C; Scott Lehman, D; Grant Lewis, D; Tim Stapleton, C; Colby Armstrong, RW; Kari Lehtonen, G; Anthony Stewart, RW; Noah Welch, D; Jim Slater, F; Joey Crabb, RW; Nathan Oystrick, D; Joel Kwiatkowski, D; Jason Krog, C; Drew MacIntyre, G; Peter Mannino, G; Pavel Kubina, D; Chris Thorburn, C; Nik Antropov, RW;

Upcoming draftees: Evander Kane, C; Riley Holzapfel, C; Angelo Esposito, C;


The good, the bad and the ugly

Good: The Thrashers desperately needed to stock up on prospects and their farm system, and they did. They signed tons of minor leaguers this summer in hopes that perhaps a few of them might turn into bona fide NHLers. Everyone knows the Thrashers aren’t going to win right now, but by buffing up their American League team, they have almost guaranteed a brighter future for themselves.

Bad: It can’t get much worse for an Atlanta team that wound up with the fourth pick in the draft. There wasn’t too much Don Waddell could do this summer. Nonetheless, losing Exelby for Kubina was a bad trade in my opinion. Although both are iffy players, Kubina is surely winding down faster than Exelby is.

Ugly: Many media members were criticizing Waddell for thinking about making signings solely to keep Kovalchuk in town. However, he did not do that, so now I will criticize him. He needs to make some moves this season to lure Kovalchuk back to Atlanta. If he can’t do this, his superstar and his job may very well be gone.


You’re way too young to be an NHLer

Evander Kane is the next Jarome Iginla of the league. He compares himself to the Calgary captain, and his game is very similar.

He can score, he can hit, he can lead, and he can win. The Thrashers fans will absolutely adore this guy.


He said what?

“That's the my mindset going in—to make the team. From what I'm being told, I'm going to get an opportunity to do that."Evander Kane on the Atlanta Thrashers.


Grade: B-

The Thrashers couldn’t do much more this offseason without looking like the New York Rangerswho are buying a teambut they certainly did what they could to make the future a little bit brighter for their fans.


Alan Bass is a Senior Writer for Bleacher Report, the Community Leader for the NHL and Philadelphia Flyers’ section, and a writer for The Hockey News, Prohockeynews.com, Insidehockey.com and Hockey54.com. You can contact him at BergHockey24@gmail.com


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