You can check out Part I, and Part II at their respective locations.
The Dirty South East:
This division is full of teams that I would like to see out of the NHL entirely, as I've documented previously. Their shitty revenue kills their operating budget erasing any chance of being competitive on a consistent basis (see Cups to the can for Tampa (2004) and Carolina (2006)). Hope is limited to those teams fortunate enough to draft Alex Ovechkin:
-- We'd all be more excited if Christobal Huet hadn't bolted for Chicago. This move opened the door for Jose Theodore, whose decent career numbers mask his failure to live up to the standards he sat 4-6 years ago (which assuredly erodes his confidence and fosters his inconsistency). I'm not holding my breath for a return to form, but the AO-led '08 Caps showed their offensive abilities are strong enough to compensate for average netminding. Defenseman Karl Alzner will get a sniff of the big dance potentially alongside the surprisingly-productive Tom Poti. They are joined on the blue line by a formidable contingent of young potential All Stars (Green, Morrisonn). Playing with Ovechkin will help stud-'08-rookie Nik Backstrom avoid a sophomore slump in the same way another years' experience should facilitate improvement in their secondary scoring (courtesy of Semin, Kozlov and Fleishmann). They were narrowly clipped by the Flyers ending their Cinderella playoff run in '08 adding fuel to the competitive fire that should keep them climbing the rankings in the East.
2008 Record: 43-31-8, 1st Southeast
'09 Projection: 45-27-10, 1st Southeast
Tampa Bay Lightning
-- had a massive off-season. Their completely over-hauled roster was the mandate of new ownership (Oren Koules and Len Barrie). Accordingly, the Bolts' new coach (ex-WWL analyst 10-years removed from his last coaching stint, Barry 'The Mullet' Melrose) will put together the jigsaw of a line-up stocked with players also well removed from their old glory. Tampas' opening day lines will display some permutation of the following: forwards (Ryan Malone, Adam Hall, Gary Roberts, Mark Recchi, Radim Vrbata and the reacquired Vinny Prospal -- Jesus himself is reportedly at training camp with a shot a 4th line role), and defensive addition (Matt Carle) who'll have the impossible task of replicating the puck-moving ability of departed PP QB Dan Boyle (to San Jose). True to their reinvented form, the goaltenders (deadline acquisition Mike Smith, and free agent Olly Kolzig) are unaware of their place on the team. I expect 50 starts for the much younger Smith, and the Lightning hope he'll outplay Kolzig keeping him humble in the back-up role. Lofty contributions are also expected from seenstamkos.com star Steven, riding his 1st Overall selection to a shot at centering the second line behind venerable offensive contributors Marty St. Louis and Vinny Lecav, who will lead this motley cast in concert with shoot-out machine Jussi Jokinen. If they find the chemistry and stay healthy I'd anticipate a last-minute scrap for a playoff position. Otherwise, lets chalk their frantic roster shuffling and continued stagnation up to growing pains.
2008 Record: 31-42-9, 5th Southeast
'09 Projection: 37-33-12, 3rd Southeast
-- With a dearth of offensive D-men GM Jim Rutherford wisely exchanged fan-favourite Eric Cole for Joni Pitkanen; a deal that met the ire of fans whose love for the name and his story obstructed their managerial-assessment capabilities. Carolina is stocked with talented forwards (Staal, Whitney, Brind'Amour, Walker, LaRose) who put up tallies on a per-game basis at elite levels on balance. With the mobile Pitkanen anchoring their PP, I like Carlina to sneak into the tournament as a 6-8 seed in the East. Cam Ward is older, more mature and has steadily posted better numbers. Contingent on Wards progression, the 'Canes success will hinge on their health (which has shattered Carolinas' potential in recent years) and the consistency of Eric Staal (whose ability to take over games and provide a compliment to the fine leadership of the ageless Rod-the-Bod Brind'Amour will be vital).
2008 Record: 43-33-6, 2nd Southeast
'09 Projection: 42-31-9, 2nd Southeast
-- This franchise is a joke. They gave away Robbie Luongo a few seasons ago, swapped their best skater (Olli Jokinen) for two non-impact players (Nick Boyton and Keith Ballard), and have their best defensemen desperately seeking employment elsewhere (see Bouwmeesters' arbitration issue and subsequent 1-year deal). Corey Stillman is in, but too old to be a saviour and goaltender Tomas Vokoun can only make so many saves. They miss the playoffs -- again -- and hopefully re-locate to Southern Ontario.
2008 Record: 38-35-9, 3rd Southeast
'09 Projection: 34-37-11, 4th Southeast
-- I'd like to avoid an entry for them altogether, but since the development of these OCD-like symptoms that make incompletion more annoying than a hockey team in Atlanta, I'll highlight the one reason you might care about the Thrashers: Ilya Kovalchuk. Teams know that ATL couldn't compete in the AHL, let alone the 'N', so they slack off and beat them 6-3, 5-4, 7-4, etc. But who's racking up all those snipes in a losing cause? Mr. Kovalchuk. If the impending captaincy motivates him sufficiently he could make another legit run at the Rocket Richard. There: some hope for Thrashers fans...
2008 Record: 34-40-8, 4th Southeast
'09 Projection: 33-39-10, 5th Southeast
Thanks for reading. Also, subscribing is a great idea as the NFL/NHL seasons are fast approaching. Cheers, Derek.