Friday, September 02, 2011

New Look Divsion - Hurricanes

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.

Carolina Hurricanes:

The Hurricanes have been in a position to make the playoffs down the final few games of the season far too many times than they cared for. If they had just beaten the Lightning at home in game 82 last season, they would have been there. Instead, it's been a long summer. Not much changed for the 'Canes as they were pretty quiet at the free agency market. But the changes they did make seem more like minor adjustments to a struggling Eric Staal who Carolina would like to see him back in the 100 point range for next season.

Who's in: Alex Ponikarovsky, Anthony Stewart and Tim Brent signed on board to add some depth on the offense. The 'Canes resigned Joni Pitkanen after failing to draw bigger names in the free agent market. Also add free agent defensman Tomas Kaberle and back up netminder Brian Boucher.

Who's out: Eric Cole couldn't reach a deal to stay in Carolina, which has been the best place for him after he briefly played for Edmonton. Corey Stillman was also allowed to walk. Joe Corvo was traded for a draft pick to the Boston Bruins.

The 'Canes really had hoped to beef up their defensive squad. But instead seemed to have been stuck with what they got. After trying for Kevin Bieksa and Christian Erhoff, Carolina had to go back to Pitkanen. While they have a solid four blue liners in Pitkanen, Tim Gleason, McBain and Kaberle, the depth chart drops sharply after that. Unless they have some phenom rookie defenseman in the pipeline, look for the 'Canes to struggle all season with defensive talent.

They are really looking for solid second seasons from rookies Jamie McBain and Jeff Skinner. Both entering their sophomore years, the 'Canes are hoping some of the add-ons over the summer help accustom Staal and the youngsters to make a push for the playoffs. Ponikarovsky should add some offensive spark to replace the speedy Cole. It does not look like the 'Canes will have trouble generating some offense.

In net, they are solid. Cam Ward continues to be a consistent bright spot for the Hurricanes. Add in a capable back up in Brian Boucher who could steal a few games in relief. The 'Canes were below average on the power play and penalty kill last season (they were 24th and 20th respectively in the league). Both will need to improve for them to even consider the playoffs. Especially since the 'Canes have spent more time than any other team on the power play.

Caps Notes:
  • Tomas Vokoun's reported new mask is here, courtesy of I Love Goalies!. Some are already drawing similarities to Varly's mask. One thing is for sure, there is no nickname on the chin.
  • Enforcers are getting some acknowledgement for all the depressing reasons. Matt Hendricks and D.J. King shared their thoughts about the recent tragedies over the summer to the WaPo.
  • Alex Ovechkin will be in town, a few days more than he is used to. He is making a special announcement next week at Kettler. Maybe we get to see his six pack as proof he is in shape? Never know.

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