The only other team that made some significant changes besides the Capitals in the Southeast Division would have to be the Florida Panthers. A team that seemed to have a Roberto Luongo hangover after trading the goaltender to Vancouver, the Panthers were high on promise and low on achievement in last years campaign.
The biggest problem the Panthers had was in net. With Luongo traded to Vancouver, Florida had hoped their prospect Alex Auld would step in and veteran Ed Belfour could mentor the youngster. Well, that didn't happen and Florida felt the crunch. Hence the trade that needed to be made. Tomas Vokoun moved from a turbulent season in Nashville where Chris Mason wrestled the starting job away from the all star goaltender. Vokoun will bring stability to the Panthers net that they once enjoyed with Luongo.
The offense is basically the same for the Panthers this year, just tweaked. Florida was able to resign some important players in Jozef Stumpel, Nathan Horton and Stephen Weiss. As well as able to sign some veterans in Richard Zednik and Brett McLean to a 2 year and 3 year deals respectfully. The Panthers offense should be filled out a little more, but whether there is any chemistry that will return with the resignings remains to be seen.
Jay Bouwmeester may want to forget his off season as the Florida defense looks to remain intact for the most part. The 23 year old blue liner plead guilty to a DUI charge in Edmonton. Doesn't look like that will stop him or resigned Bryan Allen as the Panther defense looks to be solid and a little more confident with a secure goaltender to back them up.
Florida did show it's dominance over the Capitals with a 5-3-0 record last year. The Caps desperately need to solve this problem if they want to leap frog the Panthers to avoid ending in last again. But this is a retooled team and could be making a move to make the playoffs themselves. I think though the Panthers are another year from making the dance. Look for them to finish 4th or 5th in the '07-'08 season.
Tomorrow: Tampa Bay
The big news yesterday wasn't the new sweaters for Toronto, it was the 15 game suspension the league handed down to Mark Bell for a DUI charge in California in September. The league wanted to make an example of Bell who will be serving a 6 month jail sentence in a county jail at season's end. "Playing in the National Hockey League is a privilege, and with that privilege comes a corresponding responsibility for exemplary conduct off the ice as well as on it," said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. Looks like public executions may not be out of the question in the NHL either.
The Nashville Predators name Jason Arnott their captain. Kimmo Timonen was the Preds captain before they traded the defenseman to Philly. Hopefully the same fate doesn't fall on the new leadership.
Many NHL teams open their camps today and tomorrow. Caps will go through some off ice training exercises and media interviews. Official camp opens tomorrow at 10:30 am at Kettler Capitals Iceplex with the team split into 3 squads. Both ice surfaces will be used at the new training facility in Arlington, VA. Alex Ovechkin is returning with a little fire in his belly for the new season. Check out the pumped up all star in the Wash Post.