The Island of Misfit Toys:
2009-10 Southeast Division Preview
By Ryan Cooper
Oh my beloved Southeast Division. So intriguing, yet so misunderstood. Since 2000, it’s witnessed success (Carolina’s multiple Stanley Cup runs and victory in 2006, Tampa’s Cup win in 2004), and multiple embarrassing failures (Capitals rebuilding process, the Barrie/Koules/Lawton/Melrose era in Tampa Bay, and Don Waddell’s stewardship of the Atlanta Thrashers). It’s a Division that’s home to the team with the worst logo in the NHL (Carolina, or as my fiancée calls them, “the toilet bowl team”), the worst jerseys in the NHL (Atlanta’s), and probably the most mismanaged team of the last 20 years (would you believe Florida has a 50 million dollar payroll? I STILL don’t believe it). It's the home of the best player in the world (Alex Ovechkin), the guy who used to be the best player in the world (Vincent Lecavalier), and Joe Corvo. It truly is the NHL’s own Island of Misfit Toys, a place with not much tradition but fun hockey and good fans who have been through more than most fans deserve. Anyway, here’s my breakdown of the Division.
5. Florida Panthers (Dolly For Sue)
Key Additions: Chris Higgins, Marty Reasoner, Steve Bernier, Dennis Wideman, Party City sponsorship of empty seats
Key Departures: Nathan Horton, Gregory Campbell, Alexander Salak
Deadline Dandies: Tomas Vokoun, Cory Stillman, Marty Reasoner, Bryan McCabe
Ryan Miller has the Vezina, but for my money, the best goaltender in the world last year was poor, unloved Tomas Vokoun. He faced more shots per game than Miller, with none of the offensive support (which was more robust in Buffalo than you think), and put up comparable SV% and GAA. He played for a team that gainfully employed Bryan McCabe (and still does). That being the case, I don't think there will be a more sought-after guy this season than Vokoun, who's had the unfortunate propensity to play on terrible teams throughout his career (11 career playoff games in 12 years, which is fewer playoff games than Semyon Varlamov has played). Wherever he goes, be it Washington (if the Varlamov/Neuvirth combo fails) or San Jose (if the Niemi/Niittymaki combo fails) or some other place, he'll be a definite game changer. If I’m George McPhee, do I pull the trigger on a Varlamov or Neuvirth, another prospect, and Fleischmann deal all for Vokoun? You bet I do.
4. Carolina Hurricanes (Spotted Elephant)
Key Additions: Joe Corvo
Key Departures: Rod Brind'Amour's nose, Rod Brind'Amour's jawline, Rod Brind'Amour's hair, Rod Brind'Amour, Ray Whitney
Deadline Dandies: Erik Cole, Jussi Jokinen, Chad LaRose, Joni Pitkanen, Anton Babchuk, Sergei Samsonov
Does this team have polka dots, or measles? They could either be terrible and finish in last, or finish just out of a playoff spot. They'll have Cam Ward for an entire year (hopefully), which will help (side note: Marc-Andre Fleury and Cam Ward are virtually identical in statistics, Stanley Cups, and they're also 9 months apart in age, which means either Cam Ward is really overpaid, or Marc-Andre Fleury is really underpaid. I'm voting the former). All joking aside, they've had a terrific program there for a really long time, and it’s odd sometimes how they never get mentioned with the really "good" teams in the game. A guy like Pitkanen with an expiring contract could get them a pretty nice return at the deadline. And I’ve always loved the way Chad LaRose plays.
3. Atlanta Thrashers (Trainer, The Train with Square Wheels)
Key Additions: Half the Chicago Blackhawks, Chris Mason
Key Departures: Pavel Kubina, Johan Hedberg, Maxim Afinogenov
Deadline Dandies: Brent Sopel
Noted scribe/poet Sir Mix-A-Lot once wrote of a particularly attractive female, that she was "little in the middle but she got much back." If there's any team that describes, it's the Atlanta Thrashers, who have a world-class back end, with guys like Tobias Enstrom, Zach Bogosian, and Johnny Oduya, but up front they resemble Amy Winehouse. Other than Antropov, Bergfors, Kane, Little, Peverley, and (maybe) Byfuglien, is there anyone up front there that makes you go more than "meh"? Ondrej Pavelec performed heroics at times last season, and the tandem of him and Chris Mason isn’t bad, but what they have isn’t good enough to contend.
2. Tampa Bay Lightning (Charlie in the Box)
Key Additions: Steve Yzerman, Simon Gagne, Paul Holmgren's lunch money, Pavel Kubina, Dan Ellis, Dan Elis’ Twitter feed, Randy Jones
Key Departures: Andrej Meszaros' contract, Antero Niittymaki, Zenon Konopka, Alex Tanguay, Kurtis Foster
Deadline Dandies: Mike Smith, Randy Jones, Simon Gagne
Stevie Y has been one of the big stories of the offseason, and mostly for good reasons, which is kind of different for Tampa. Usually when you hear "Tampa" and "GM" in the same sentence, it's about as fortuitous as when Ruby decided to take her love to town. But he flat out stole Gagne from Philadelphia for Andrej Mesazros' mega-terrible contract (Paul Holmgren seems to have lost a little of the zip on his fastball); signed a guy I thought the Caps should have gone after hardcore, Pavel Kubina (would have been a perfect fit here); and he added Dan Ellis to form a pretty decent goaltender combination between him and Mike Smith (with Dustin Tokarski in the wings). The pieces are here to have a really nice season, but they’re still missing just a little bit (few more pieces at the deadline could make them really, really dangerous). To be honest, I’m just glad Niittymaki is gone. The Caps NEVER beat that guy.
1. Washington Capitals (King Moonracer)
Key Additions: DJ King, Eric Belanger (?)
Key Departures: Jose Theodore, Shoane Morrisonn, Brendan Morrison, Joe Corvo, Milan Jurcina, Eric Belanger (?)
Deadline Dandies: Alexander Semin, Tomas Fleischmann, Bruce Boudreau's Heart
I’ll cover the Caps more extensively in another column, but I don't think they should have much of a problem winning the Division. They're just too loaded offensively. It won’t be as big a cakewalk as last year was inside the Division (everyone has improved), but as the season goes on, they should still be flying around, kicking people off the island at will.
Box Seats blogger
September 11, 2010; 11:49 AM ET
Categories: Capitals , Ryan Cooper | Tags: Capitals, Ryan Cooper
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