Wednesday, September 07, 2011

New Look Division - Panthers

The Washington Capitals might have made the Southleast Division into one of the toughest divisions in the NHL. After winning the division title for the last 4 years (regular season eastern champs for the last two), the division is wising up and bettering their teams to make the playoff push. The influx of better talent into the division makes this year's division champ a toss up. But all the pundits agree, it is Washington's to lose.

Florida Panthers:

If anyone took the new look thing to a whole new level, it was the Florida Panthers. Just when it looked like it was about to blow up their organization and start from scratch, they instead rebuilt through free agency.  Of the twelve forwards in this new look roster, 7 are new faces to the Panthers. But it is not just new faces, the club went and got players that can add to the team dynamic now. Add some new coaching and the Panthers could be the wild card of the division. It is still remains to be seen if the new-comers can translate to wins.

Who's in: I guess the better question is who isn't in. Scotty Upshall, Kris Versteeg, Tomas Fleischmann, Sean Bergenheim, Tomas Kopecky, Marcel Goc, and last but not least, tough guy and easy bleeder Matt Bradley. That is just the forwards, Brian Campbell, Keith Seabrook, Nolan Yonkman, Ed Jovanovski, and Erik Gudbranson were acquired on defense. Shake in one Jose Theodore and it's a team almost on it's own.

Who's out: Rostislav Olesz was involved in the trade with Campbell as was Bryan McCabe traded to the Rangers at the deadline. Marty Reasoner, Darcy Hordichuk, Sergei Samsonov and Tomas Vokoun were lost to free agency.

As with any team with a slew of new coming players, success lies with chemistry. The head brass made it clear that things have been cleaned out from the top down just hours after the season ended and Peter DeBoer was shown the door. New bench boss Kevin Dineen definitely has the resume to coach at the NHL level after his years as a player and his success at the American Hockey League level.

The Panthers are not just looking for some wins. They want to put the organization back on the playoff map. So far, on paper anyways, it looks like they have taken the step in the right direction. It could easily look like DC south with the additions of Fleischmann, Bradley, Theodore and Yonkman. All alum from the Capitals organization.

The only setback or downgrade in the team is in the goaltending ranks. With Vokoun chasing a championship with the Capitals, the Panthers really need to find a stand out starter to fill out the roster. The problem is, the goaltending in free agency was not the best. They got what they could in Theodore who should give them a good 50 to 60 games as a starter. But whether he is the answer in net remains to be seen.

The rest of the team looks to be pretty solid. Upgrades in defense, offense and even their special teams should improve with the new additions. Plus add the core of young talent they have kept. Dmitry Kulikov and David Booth now have the tools to expand their talent with out taking the brunt of the work. It could be a break out year for the pair if the Panthers can find their chemistry in time.

Caps Notes:
  • In a press conference today, Alex Ovechkin took his gear in a different direction. Dropping the CCM label for Bauer gear. He is also helping youth hockey in both Washington DC and Moscow Russia with some new Bauer gear. It was not a surprise that Ovi went in a different direction. He often would use Alex Semin's stick when the going got tough. 
  • In more touchy, feely good news, per Caps PR:
    The Capitals have donated $25,000 to the Potomac Valley Amateur Hockey Association (PVAHA) to help grow the sport of hockey, the Washington Capitals announced at a press event today. In addition, Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin and Bauer Hockey have donated 108 full sets of youth hockey equipment to Kettler Capitals Iceplex and PVAHA.

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