Tag:Steve Yzerman
Posted on: March 5, 2012 5:36 pm
 

Hockey Canada tabs Yzerman to lead for 2014

Yzerman led Canada to gold in 2010. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

Things went so well the first time with Steve Yzerman at the helm, Hockey Canada is going back to the well and the Lightning GM for another go.

Yzerman, who was the man in charge of Canada's gold-medal winning team at the 2010 Olympics Games was bestowed the right to do it again for the 2014 Games. It's up to him (and his large staff) to assemble the team that will compete at the Games in Sochi.

Joining Yzerman on the Hockey Canada contingent will be Blue GM Doug Armstrong, Red Wings GM Ken Holland, Oilers GM Kevin Lowe and then Hockey Canada executives Bob Nicholson and Brad Pascall.

Lowe will be responsible for handling the GM duties for the upcoming World Championships with Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli and Maple Leafs VP David Nonis assisting.

"I am very pleased with the group that we have assembled to lead us through the next two seasons," Nicholson said. "Steve, Doug, Ken and Kevin provide a great deal of experience gained from their involvement in 2010 and their long-time involvement with our program."

The question remains what will the team look like for Yzerman? More to the point, will it include any NHL players? That will be determined with the upcoming round of CBA negotiations because right now it's no guarantee. Don't expect the owners to be happy about it, but it should be a point that will be conceded. The players all enjoy the prospect of playing for their nation at the Olympics.

Either way, it's going to be up to Canada's latest golden boy to repeat the feat and hold the gold.

“I would like to thank Bob Nicholson and Hockey Canada for the opportunity to return to this role of executive director,” said Yzerman. “While winning in Vancouver was something unique and extraordinary, I am as excited about taking on another great challenge. I look forward to working with Doug, Ken, Kevin, Peter and Dave and the Hockey Canada staff to put a plan in place to bring Canada success internationally.”

The contingent that will head USA Hockey has yet to be announced.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

Posted on: February 21, 2012 4:31 pm
Edited on: February 21, 2012 5:06 pm
 

Avs' Quincey goes to Wings in 3-way deal with TB

By Brian Stubits

There's one team that's ready for the trade deadline, and that's the Tampa Bay Lightning.

After making two deals already this month, the Lightning made two more on Tuesday in rapid succession. They began by dealing Steve Downie to the Colorado Avalanche for defenseman Kyle Quincey. The Bolts then turned around and flipped Quincey to the Red Wings for a first-round draft pick and prospect Sebastien Piche. Both moves were first reported by TSN's Bob McKenzie.

Oh, this is rich. The Red Wings and Avalanche may not have the burning hatred for each other that they once did, but that rivalry still burns, particularly for Avs fans. So to see them get played by a former Wing to help out the Wings? That can't be fun to see.

But when you sum it all up, it makes Bolts GM Steve Yzerman look like a genius. The sum of the two moves from Tampa Bay's perspective is that Steve Downie was just traded for a first-round draft pick plus more. So a guy who might score 20 goals a season -- might -- while racking up a lot of penalty minutes turns into a first-round pick and a prospect. Not a bad day at the office, I'd say.

Although there is a little irony here in that Downie was originally drafted by the Flyers with the 29th pick overall in the draft. With the season the Wings are having, that's certainly a potential spot for their pick to come in at. But at this point in his career, getting a first-round pick for Downie seems like a pretty good deal to me.

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Combine it with getting a second-round pick for Dominic Moore earlier this week and a couple picks as well for Pavel Kubina, the Lightning are loading up for a major farm system influx to come. They now hold two first-round picks, three-second picks with the possibility of a fourth in next year's draft. The possibility hinges on Florida's conditional pick for Kris Versteeg, just deciding whether the pick is in 2012 or 2013.

For Detroit it gets some defensive support. A weak spot coming into the season, this helps shore up a defensive corps that they are hoping can bring Lord Stanley's Cup back to Detroit. It's a moderately expensive price to pay for Quincey, particularly when you consider he was drafted by the Red Wings and got away on waivers back in 2008. But he's a good, puck-moving defenseman who will shoot and can carry a little scoring load.

The good news too is that Quincey is a restricted free agent, so this isn't a rental situation for Detroit. It makes the first-round pick asking price a little easier to swallow.

Meanwhile, there is Colorado. They get Downie in the deal, a scrappy and physical player that everybody loves to hate. He has some skill for a guy who fills that role, he might get you 20 goals in a good season. He brings the Avs a little more toughness as they try and chase down a playoff spot in the West. They enter Tuesday three points back of the eighth spot.

I can't help but feel like Colorado is the loser in all of this. Even though Quincey was expendable for them and they had been considering trading him with a full stable of young defensemen, it burns a little to see a guy they traded away turn into a first-round pick.

That's not to say they come out awful here, they don't. Moving Quincey out isn't the biggest thing in the world considering he has a salary of more than $3 million and does tend to turn the puck over. It just comes across not looking all that favorable for the Avs to me.

To the other GMs in the league, take note of Yzerman: This is how you sell at the trading deadline.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: February 16, 2012 3:50 pm
 

Lightning sitting Kubina while exploring trades

Kubina is being held out while the Bolts decide what to do. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

It took Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman some time, but he finally hopped off the fence and landed on the side of deadline seller. He held out as long as he could while his team heated up, but it didn't get the Lightning very far in the end.

So now is the time he'll start looking at his assets and moving them along to help restock the shelves in Tampa. What that means for now is that veteran defenseman Pavel Kubina is going to be shelved while the Bolts figure out what to do next.

"In the interim, we've decided to protect our interest and keep Pavel off the ice until this situation is resolved," Yzerman told the Tampa Tribune on Thursday.

Like seemingly half the players available in trade talks, Kubina does have a no-trade clause in his contract that expires after this season. In his case it's a limited one, but a hurdle for the Lightning nonetheless.

"We're making our decisions on a player-by-player and opportunity-by-opportunity basis," Yzerman said. "We see potential opportunity to improve our club with regards to Pavel.

"The broader strategy is we want to be a better team in the future. We want to be a Cup contender at some point, and we're going to have to do some things to become that."

At 34, Kubina is at that point where he's losing a step. Or so it would appear. His numbers are down across the board in recent seasons. This year he has three goals thus far with eight assists.

But he is reliable. Not counting his first season, only once has Kubina failed to play 68 games in a season. He still eats up just about 20 minutes of ice time per game, clocking in at 19:55 this season.

With teams always looking for defensemen, you'd figure Yzerman sees a chance to get a decent return here. A team like Chicago, who is known to be on the prowl for defensive help, could be one interested suitor. A veteran rental like Kubina can often pay off for squads, particularly at defense.

The speculation won't end with Kubina, though, that's just the start. It's probably a matter of time before Dominic Moore and maybe even Ryan Malone are mentioned more.

Ahhh, trade season.

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For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: February 9, 2012 3:08 pm
Edited on: February 9, 2012 3:12 pm
 

Winter Classic Alumni Game possibilities

By Brian Stubits

Part of the fun -- and there are a lot of parts to it -- of the Winter Classic is the Alumni Game. There's nothing like seeing some of the best and most iconic players lacing up the skates again in their old, familiar sweaters.

The next rendition will pit some old Norris Division rivals in the Red Wings and Maple Leafs from Detroit's Comerica Park. It's the revival of an old hatefest, one of the great Original Six rivalries the game has.

Quite frankly, the Alumni Game doesn't seem to be all that fair to the Leafs. The Wings have the last 20 years worth of playoff rosters to pick from of guys who are still in good health and shape while the Leafs? Well let's just say they have hit hard times.

But nobody really cares about the competitive nature of the game -- except maybe for the guys on the ice. It's more about the nostalgia, the fun of honoring some past greats on the ice again.

With that said, here is a look at some potential players for the Alumni Game rosters, the Maple Leafs presented by Adam Gretz and myself bringing the Red Wings.

(Just spitballing here and this is in no way a comprehensive list.)

Toronto Maple Leafs

Goalie: Not one of the strongest positions in recent years, but there are certainly some options. It could probably come down to either "the cat," Felix Potvin, Toronto's starter between 1992 and 1998, or perhaps Curtis Joseph (also a Red Wing for a brief period in the early 2000s) who had some of his best days with the Leafs in the late 90s. One of the newest members of the Hall of Fame, Ed Belfour, spent some time with the Maple Leafs as well, so he could be a possibility to work his way into the game if he's interested.

Defensemen: The trouble with trying to project an entire roster for this game a year in advance is that it's not always made up of players that you would normally expect, or players that spent a great deal of time with the organization or had a ton of success. Example: Dan Rosen of NHL.com passed along the word on Twitter that Brian Leetch would play in the game if asked by the Maple Leafs. Leetch, of course, only spent 15 games in Toronto at the end of the 2003-04 season. Borje Salming seems like a pretty easy choice as he was one of the best players to wear a Leafs uniform over the past 30 years, one of the best offensive defensemen of his era and a hockey Hall of Famer. For purely selfish reasons I'd like to see Al Iafrate suit up just to see how hard he can still shoot a puck.

Forwards: The first three names here should be pretty easy to pick: Mats Sundin, Doug Gilmour and Wendel Clark, a nice mix of skill, grit and as Brian Burke likes to call it, "truculence."

Other players to consider: Alexander Mogilny, Tie Domi, Gary Roberts, Steve Thomas, Dave Andreychuk.

Detroit Red Wings

Goalie: Chris Osgood. That pick is too easy. He just retired, hanging up the skates after last season. He spent 14 of his 17 NHL seasons playing for the Wings, which included three Stanley Cups. Hard to imagine Ozzy won't be there.

Defensemen: This is assuming Nicklas Lidstrom will still be active with the Red Wings, otherwise he would be in this spot. So I'm going to go with Chris Chelios for one and let's say Mark Howe for another, even if he only played three seasons in Detroit. Larry Murphy could be another. There's a long enough list of guys who spent some quality time in Detroit to fill out a corps.

Forwards: Here's where it gets fun. Brendan Shanahan will be in town any way, might as well skate up for the event. Apparently he's eyeing it too, and will try to get Steve Yzerman to join him. Can't imagine Stevie Y won't show. The best of all, though, is that Gordie Howe could make an appearance for a shift. The list of guys up here goes on and on.

Others to consider:

Kris Draper, Sergei Fedorov, Darren McCarty (needs to happen), Colin Campbell (Shanny and Campbell? Too good to pass up), Alex Delvecchio, Kirk Maltby, Brian Rafalski.

Others who passed through like Brett Hull could also have spots. So many to choose from.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: December 28, 2011 5:05 pm
Edited on: December 28, 2011 5:21 pm
 

What happened to the Tampa Bay Lightning?



Pucks and Numbers:
a weekly statistical look at what's happening around the NHL. This week: A look what has gone wrong for the Tampa Bay Lightning.


By: Adam Gretz


It was less than a year ago that the Tampa Bay Lightning were a 1-0 loss to the Boston Bruins in Game 7 from representing the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals. Thirty-five games into the 2011-12 season and Tampa Bay finds itself in 13th place in the conference, six points out of the eighth and final playoff spot. As we talked about last week, that's already a deficit that is dangerously close to being too much to overcome at this point in the season, especially with five teams ahead of them for the last playoff spot.

So what has changed for Guy Boucher's team in a span of eight months, going from potential Stanley Cup team to what is currently one of the worst teams in the league?

The easy answer is goaltending, as the duo of Dwayne Roloson and Mathieu Garon has been dreadful, currently owning the second-worst team save percentage in the league, barely ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets for the 30th spot. The position was a major problem in the early part of last season as well, and it was covered up with a short-term band-aid thanks to general manager Steve Yzerman's New Years Day trade that landed Roloson from the New York Islanders. He ended up getting hot at the right time and helped lead the Lightning through the first two rounds of the playoffs as the team upset Pittsburgh and Washington, overcoming a 3-1 series deficit against the former, and sweeping the latter in four straight games.

Entering this season the Lightning decided to stick with the 42-year-old Roloson, a risky maneuver given his age and the number of miles that were already on the tires. So far, it hasn't worked out.

While the Lightning have become synonymous with their 1-3-1 neutral zone trap and have faced their share of criticism for playing such a "boring" system (no, we haven't forgotten about this), the team has given up a ton of goals over the past season-and-a-half. A lot of that has to do with the bad goaltending, as the Lightning do a pretty good job limiting the number of shots taken by the opposition (though, they are worse in that area this season). Still, they were 21th in the NHL in terms of goals allowed last season, and after 35 games this season are 27th.

There are a couple of things working against the Lightning this season.

While the team has young Stars in Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman, and great veteran players like Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier, it also has some older parts that, obviously, are now a year older than they were a year ago. Even worse, they've also been without defenseman Mattias Ohlund for the entire season, a player that handled some of the toughest minutes and assignments last season. He didn't provide any offense, but he was the go-to guy in terms of defensive assignments. His absence has not only impacted the overall depth on the team's blue line, but also forced Hedman and Eric Brewer into playing all of the tough assignments that Ohlund would have ordinarily handled.

And, of course, there is more.

Let's just look at some numbers through the first 35 games of the past two seasons:

Tampa Bay Lightning 2011-12 vs. 2010-11 Through 35 Games
Year W-L-OTL Goals For Goals Against Shots For/Game Shots All. Game PP Goals PP OPP PP %
2011-12 15-17-3 95 117 28.8 30.6 18 123 14.6%
2010-11 20-10-5 109 114 32.5 27.1 35 149 23.0%

So here we are. Lightning beat writer Erik Erlendsson has been pointing out over the past week on Twitter that the Lightning have given up nearly the same number of goals this season as they did through the same number of games last season. And he's right. But that's not necessarily a good thing because the number is way too high. And again, the Lightning had a trade in their back pocket on Jan. 1 last season that enabled the team to improve that area as the season went on. Roloson wasn't great, but he was good enough and enough of an upgrade over the alternative. He also hit the aforementioned hot streak at the right time. If the Lightning hadn't made that trade there's a good chance that playoff run never happens. Yzerman is going to need to pull off a similar move (or perhaps a bigger one, involving more of a long-term solution that isn't a player over the age of 40) to help get Tampa Bay back where it wants to be (and needs to be) in the crease if a return to the playoffs is in the team's future.

But while the goals against are nearly identical, there's a pretty large difference from one year to the next that sticks out like a sore thumb: the power play.

Both the number of power play opportunities and the frequency in which they've been able to score on the man advantage. The Lightning didn't win many games last season by keeping their opponents off the scoreboard, they won a lot of games by outscoring them in some of the highest scoring games in the league. A lot of that was the result of a power play that was pretty much unstoppable when it was on top of its game.

A year ago Tampa Bay had the sixth-best power play in the league, converting on 20 percent of its chances. This season? 25th. And even worse, it's a unit that's not generating a ton of shots when it does get an opportunity.

It's been a perfect storm for Tampa Bay this season. Some aging players, bad goaltending, the absence of the best and most reliable defensive defenseman on the team and a power play that's regressed. Basically, a little bit of everything.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: December 13, 2011 1:22 pm
Edited on: December 13, 2011 1:36 pm
 

Jets claim Miettinen on waivers

am1By: Adam Gretz

On Monday the Tampa Bay Lightning signed Antti Miettinen, a forward that had started the season playing for Ak Bars Kazan of the KHL, to a two-year, $3 million contract in an effort to add some forward depth to their struggling team that, after Monday's 5-4 loss to New Jersey, sits near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings.

According to league rules, because Miettinen had started the season playing overseas he was forced to pass through waivers before he could officially report to the Lightning. And he's not going to get the chance to do that, as the Winnipeg Jets claimed him on waivers on Tuesday morning.

The Lightning did all of the work, and the Jets end up getting the player.

We saw this exact scenario play out multiple times last season. The St. Louis Blues lost players they had signed on two seperate occassions, one involving Marek Svatos and the other time with Kyle Wellwood. The Detroit Red Wings ran into an issue when they attempted to sign veteran goalie Evgeni Nabokov after he was left go by his KHL team only to have the New York Islanders, desperate for a veteran goalie due to an in-season trade and multiple injuries, snag him on the waiver wire. Nabokov then refused to report the team, sat out the remainder of the season, and then finally joined the Islanders this season.

I still find it amazing that the same general managers who refuse to make offer sheets to restricted free agents because of some unwritten, gentlemens agreement have no issue taking part in waiver claims like this. There's nothing wrong with it, of course, as it's how the system works and if you can add a player that you think can help your team, you should absolutely go for it.

After the signing was announced on Monday Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman acknowledged there was a possibility that Miettinen could be claimed by another team, telling Damian Cristodero of the St. Petersburg Times, "There's a possibility. We sat around here waiting for a week to see if anyone would sign him. We'll see what happens."

The 30-year-old Miettinen spent the previous three seasons in the NHL with the Minnesota Wild after starting his career with the Dallas Stars. In 472 NHL games he's scored 89 goals, including at least 15 in each of the past four seasons.

During his brief stay with Ak Bars Kazan this season he scored two goals to go with six assists in 20 games before he was let out of his contract with the club.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: November 30, 2011 3:27 pm
 

Lightning strike five-year extension with Hedman

By Brian Stubits

The Tampa Bay Lightning signed young defenseman Victor Hedman to a five-year contract extension on Wednesday, locking up their No. 1 draft pick in 2009 until the age of 26.

“We are extremely pleased to announce that we have agreed to a five-year contract with Victor,” general manager Steve Yzerman said. “He has shown tremendous growth as a player in just more than two seasons in the NHL while also becoming a key member of our team. We look forward to his continued development in a Lightning uniform.”

Since he was drafted, Hedman has been with the Lightning, making the team's roster and sticking. He is still coming into his own at the NHL level, obviously, but he has a nice foundation. Last season in 79 games the tall defenseman had three goals and 23 assists.

This season he has a couple of goals and is second on the team in average ice time. The idea is that Hedman will be around for a long time to anchor the blue line.

But his defensive effort that has been just as big for the Bolts. With his big frame, he's already shown he's capable of throwing his weight around a bit on the ice and deliver some big hits. He showed some mistakes early in his career in his own zone, but those have largely been cleaned up. That's to be expected with an 18-year-old.

"I'd like to thank our owner, Mr. Vinik, and of course GM Steve Yzerman for helping me move forward in my career," Hedman said. "I love it in Tampa Bay with the Lightning and I will do all I can to help this organization be successful on and off the ice."

Like most teams, the Lightning didn't release any financial numbers with the contract. However, the almost always reliable Bob McKenzie reported he was hearing the deal is worth about $4 million per season.

If that is correct, and there's no reason to think it wouldn't be, you have to like the deal for Tampa Bay. They don't have to worry about any restricted free-agency headaches with one of their most important players, a building block for the future to complement Steve Stamkos in front of him. With the clear potential to become one of the better all-around defensemen in the NHL, it's a nice deal for both sides.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: September 23, 2011 1:41 pm
Edited on: September 26, 2011 2:09 pm
 

Southeast Division preview: Still chasing Caps

By Brian Stubits

The days of the South-least Division are slowly fading away.

For the last half decade, the Southeast Division has been the Washington Capitals' playground with four teams chasing. Of course the Caps have been very good through that time, but fattening up on their division "rivals" undoubtedly helped them to four straight division championships.

Just take the 2009-10 season as an example. That year the Capitals had 18 more points than the next closest team in the East while no other team in the division finished even in the top nine of the conference standings. That's especially amazing when you consider there are only 15 teams in the East.

They stil finished atop the East despite a transformation. Head coach Bruce Boudreau changed the way the team plays, trying to lock down on defense. As a result, the league's highest-scoring team the past few years dipped all the way to 19th in scoring. Alex Ovechkin had a very good season by almost anybody's standards. Just not his own.

The trick for Boudreau is to find that happy medium. They showed defense is something they can and in the past they showed they can score. Now they need to show they can do both. If they don't, especially early, Boudreau will hear the calls for his firing. The most successful regular-season team hasn't done enough after it to satisfy the increasingly antsy and demanding fan base.

But the somewhat surprising emergence of the Lightning last year has beefed up the division's rep. Tampa Bay figured to be on its way back up the NHL ladder, but the boom that came out of last season seemed to be ahead of schedule. Now the division has two of the game's elite scorers in Steven Stamkos and Ovechkin. With the Bolts unceremoniously sweeping the Caps in the playoffs last year, we just might have the beginning of an actual division rival for Washington.

The division also features something new: the most amped up fan base in the league, at least for one season. The Winnipeg Jets are still stuck playing in a division that will have them being true fish out of water. To say the Jets will suffer from jet-lag isn't just a fun pun but a reality they face. With that said, what was one of the easiest road trips in the NHL just became one of the toughest, especially for the teams in the Southeast that should look into taking the Concord to Manitoba.

Southeast Division (in order of predicted finish)

Washington Capitals: The Caps have become one of the league's elite teams and have done a pretty remarkable job of keeping their core together. Well this offseason owner Ted Leonsis and crew decided it was time to shake up the roster a touch to try and find the missing recipe to move Washington deeper into the playoffs. Enter Joel Ward, Troy Brouwer and Tomas Vokoun among others. I don't think there was a bigger offseason addition in this division than the Caps getting Vokoun, especially when you factor in the salary he'll be getting. Vokoun's talents have been hidden in Florida in the past four seasons, but he's an excellent goaltender but he is (or at least was) prone to prolonged slumps. As for Ward and Brouwer, they considerably beef up the Caps' toughness up front along the boards who are very capable two-way players.

Strengths: They have shown they can do every facet of the game well. It is a challenge to find a more talented team in hockey, including on the blue line. That's not something you could say in the past, but John Carlson and Karl Alzner complement each other well enough to make one of the best young defenseman duos in the NHL.

Weaknesses: It is tough to pinpoint any with this team, it is very well-rounded. It will be interesting to see how they handle expectations and increased heat when they hit some rough patches. Also, from an organizational standpoint the team has very little room to maneuver under the salary cap. That could be worth monitoring if/when GM George McPhee decided to tweak the roster.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Everything came together for a great run to a seven-game series in the Eastern Conference finals last season under new coach Guy Boucher. He brought in the ol' 1-3-1 system that seemed to be a magic trick for the Bolts. Now the question becomes can they repeat or was last year lightning in a bottle (that pun really was not intended)? One thing strongly in their favor is that the return almost the entire roster intact from last season. They did lose a couple of players such as Simon Gagne, but not much in the way of being unable to repair. one player who is back is Eric Brewer, and he'll be better for having spent camp and beginning the season in Tampa Bay. It will be interesting to see how this team fares with expectations on their shoulders.

Strengths: They roll out two excellent lines at the top. The Ryan Malone-Stamkos-Martin St. Louis line is one of the best in the game and the second group of Nate Thompson-Vincent Lecavalier-Teddy Purcell isn't too shabby, especially if Purcell continues his growth. They also had excellent special teams last year, ranking in the top 8 of both power play (it helps to have Stamkos, who scores 17 on the PP last year) and penalty kill a season ago. I also love the man on their bench as Boucher is a star in the making among coaches.

Weaknesses: I am still not in love with the goaltending situation. Dwayne Roloson was very good after being picked up by GM Steve Yzerman (he would qualify as another strength), but he just doesn't inspire a lot of confidence in me to keep it up. The addition of Mathieu Garon to back him up is a good one, though. Moreover, consistency might be an issue, especially for Stamkos. He really slowed down last season, failing to score 50 goals when he appeared to be on his way to 60 midseason.

Carolina Hurricanes: If the playoffs were a night club, the Hurricanes have been the guy standing at the front of the line until the bouncer says they're full. Every year it seems they are squarely on the playoff bubble, including last season when it came down to Game 82, which was a sound defeat. This season figures to be more of the same for the 'Canes as they might just be the next-best thing to a playoff team the East has to offer. They had a very pleasant surprise in Calder Trophy winner Jeff Skinner last season and captain Eric Staal is still leading the show. Gone, though, is another Carolina long-timer in Erik Cole (now in Montreal). One thing you have to love about this franchise, though, is its consistency. GM Jim Rutherford has been there ever since they became the Hurricanes (and before). It seems like their best players don't leave the organization, either. Hopefully for them the consistency in their finishes doesn't stay the same, but instead they crack the postseason. But in a beefed up East, that will be tougher said than done.

Strengths: They have an excellent captain in Staal, both from a leadership standpoint and player quality. They also boast one of the better goalies in the league in Cam Ward, an All-Star last season. And there's that whole consitency thing they have going on, often helps in the old chemistry department.

Weaknesses: There is not much depth to talk about in Carolina. After Stall, Skinner, Jussi Jokinen and Tuomo Ruutu, they aren't likely going to find a whole lot of scoring. They also don't posses a ton of size among the forwards, hence the reason they brought in Anthony Stewert and Alex Ponikarovsky this offseason to help. There just doesn't seem to be enough to crack the postseason, but Rutherford admits to this being somewhat of a "rebuilding" phase. That's a pretty competitive team for one that's rebuilding.

Florida Panthers: The Panthers were incredibly active in the free-agent market in July, adding a slew of veterans to hold the tide while the youngsters develop. Undoubtedly the Panthers are better than they were last season, but how much better? They did lose arguably their best player in Vokoun and are replacing him with the combination of Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen, not exactly an exciting development. But it can't be denied that the Panthers now at least have NHL-quality players across their lines (and defensive pairings, led by Brian Campbell and Ed Jovanovski), but they still aren't high-quality players, not guys that you figure can get them into the playoffs, finally. The trick in Florida is not doing anything now to hinder the future, which is very bright as the system is loaded.

Strengths: I do like the defensive corps they are putting together, especially if 2010 No. 3 overall draft pick Erik Gudbranson makes the team as expected. It's very hard to say at this point with so many new faces coming together what kind of strenghts we're looking at, it's tough to predict how they will play together. But we do know something that isn't likely be a strength this year ...

Weaknesses: The aforementioned goaltender position. With Vokoun gone, the Panthers are relying on the combination of Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen. Now, both do have experience, Theodore more so than the Clemmer, but in no way do they make up for what Vokoun, Florida's best player in recent seasons, took with him. You also have to wonder about chemistry issues with this team having brought in so many new faces. We'll put new coach Kevin Dineen as an "unknown."

Winnipeg Jets: The virtue of such a home-ice advantage will likely make the Jets a little better than the Thrashers were last season, but not enough. Thankfully for them the new home crowd in Winnipeg will just be jacked to have hockey back. They will need to take advantage of the home crowd, especially with a stretch of 10 home games in 11 contests that stretches from the end of November through December. But they will need to find scoring punch, especially from the forward group. They have excellent point producers among the defensemen in Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom, but Ladd needs more help. Hopefully, that's where Evander Kane will fit in. In his third year since being drafted in the first round (all of his time spent at the NHL level) this could be the year he steps up his game and becomes a franchise fixture. He is already a popular figure partly by virtue of his Twitter account and the way he has taken to Winnipeg.

Strengths: They were above average on the power play last season, finishing 12th in the league thanks to Byfuglien and Enstrom. Thrown in the potential of Zach Bogosian as an offensive weapon and that's a lunch of firepower coming back the blue line. I like Ondrej Pavelec in net if he can get a little better support from his teammates. I will put one more in this category, and that's the patience of the front office. They have a lot of first-round talent on the roster and they don't seem willing to abandon the long-term plan for a quick fix to appease the riled up fans.

Weaknesses: The forwards need to show more. Outside of Ladd, nobody up front cracked the 20-goal barrier last season in Atlanta. They need to find a way to tighten down defensively after giving up the second-most goals per game in hockey last year at 3.20. The forwards doing a better job of creating scoring chances and possessing the puck will certainly contribute. The penalty kill was almost equally bad last year, clocking in at 27th in the NHL. Like the Panthers, we'll put new coach Claude Noel as an "unknown."

NHL season preview schedule
Wed., Sept. 21: Step-back players Tues., Sept. 27: Atlantic Division
Thur., Sept. 22: Breakout players Wed., Sept. 28: Central Division
Fri., Sept. 23: Southeast Division Thur. Sept. 29: Northeast Division
Mon., Sept. 26: Pacific Division Fri., Sept. 30: Northwest Division

Photo: Getty Images

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