Well I figured as the free agent season for the summer progresses, I'd look at each division and the teams within moves this off season and jot down some thoughts.
As of this afternoon the following Free Agents of note are still available so things could still change where a team within a division could or will be positively or negatively affected by a free agent move I note my thoughts. I also figured I'd start with the Southeast Division for two reasons: 1) the Capitals are in the Division and 2) it seems to me a lot of the moves that need to or will be made in the Southeastern Division have already been made.
Here's the top UFAs that remain unsigned right now:
1. Alex Tanguay
2. Martin Biron
3. Saku Koivu
4. Jason Williams
5. Miroslav Satan
6. Mike Comrie
7. Manny Malhortra
Others of Note/Interest: Steve Eminger, Manny Fernandez, Martin Gerber, Mike Grier, Brent Johnson, Bobby Holik, Curtis Joseph, Manny Legace, Matt Pettinger, Michael Peca, Andrew Raycroft, Dmitri Kalnin, Joe Sakic, Antero Nittymaki, Mathieu Schneider, Daryl Sydor, Ossi Vaananen, Kevin Weekes, Kyle Wellwood, Maxim Afinogenov, Richard Zednick, Sergei Zubov and of course: Brendan Shanahan, Mats Sundin, and Chris Chelios (if fo no other reason than morbid curiosity for those last three names on the list...)
Now looking at the Southeast Division Team's finishes from last regular season. At the end of the 2008/2009 Regular Season, the standings were as follows.
1) Washington: 108 points (50-24-8) 2nd in Conference, 4th in League
2) Carolina: 97 points (45-30-7) 6th in Conference, 11th in League
3) Florida: 93 points (41-30-11) 9th in Conference, 14th in League
4) Atlanta: 76 points (35-41-6) 13th in Conference, 27th in League
5) Tampa Bay: 66 points (24-40-18) 14th in Conference, 29th in League.
Looking ahead to the 2009/2010 season I predict things will end up with the teams in the following finishing order and with the following total points.
1) Washington, 100+ points
2) Carolina, 93+ points
3) Florida, 80+ points
4) Atlanta, 80+ points
5) Tampa Bay - who knows? and will we care?
Current Situation and Roster Notes Looking Ahead to 2009/2010
Washington Capitals: The Capitals currently have 19 players on their roster and three openings, assuming you don't feel that one of the prospects in their solid talent pipeline doesn't move up. Right now the Capitals have an estimated salary cap payroll of $52.625M against an estimated budget/max Cap of $56.8M leaving them $4.175M of salary cap space. They are probably done with the free agent market for this season though the signing of veteran right wing Mike Knuble was a pleasant and pretty universally welcome surprise in "Cap-land". The Caps made qualifying offers to 8 Restricted Free Agents and the only one to file for arbitration was Milan Jurcina but he will likely get something out of it given his good showing in the playoffs and the fact he led the D-Corps in Blocked Shots and Hits during the regular season. That combined with the looming necessary contract extension offers to Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom later this season as well as the probable desire to have some space for a trade deadline pickup leave the Caps with little room and probably less desire to make any big moves at this time. Save of course the possible trade of Michael Nylander to a place that wants him, his $5+M cap hit and that he with an NMC wants to go to. In addition to picking up Knuble the Caps have also lost Viktor Kozlov and Sergei Federov from their lineup, enforcer/4th liner Donald Brashear has left town for the big apple and backup goaltender Brent Johnson is a UFA and not expected to return. The remainder of the Capitals lineup remains pretty firm and behind the team that racked up the fourth best record in the NHL last season is a pipeline that includes prospects on an AHL Affiliate that won that league's Calder Cup, and an ECHL affiliate that won that league's Kelly Cup last season. Right now it looks like the replacement for Fedrov will be a juggling of the top six forwards that moves Brooks Laich to the second line center spot; Knuble is a clear replacement, and scoring upgrade for Kozlov, Johnson's replacement is one of two excellent young goaltenders in the Capitals' pipeline - Seymeon Varlamov or Michal Neuvirth - either of whom , if they continue the form they showed in the post season, will be an upgrade and should give Jose Theodore competition for playing time next season. Last the "replacement" for Brashear appears to be an upgraded soring punch on the 3rd and 4th lines and an even more potent power play in the likeness of the Detroit Red Wings per statements from Caps General Manager George McPhee.
2) Carolina Hurricanes: The Hurricanes currently have 17 players signed and five openings on there roster; right now they have an estimated payroll of $48.142M against an estimated budget of $51M and a max cap of $56.8. That leaves them budget room of $2.858M and cap space of $8,658M. The good news so far this off season is the Hurricane's haven't lost anybody from a lineup that made the playoffs last season. The bad news is the Hurricanes haven't added anybody of note to upgrade a team that lost in the second round of the playoffs to the Penguins. The 'Canes still have to resign UFA Dennis Seidenberg and hang on to restricted free agents Anton Babchuk, Tuomo Ruutu and Jussi Jokinen for their roster to remain in tact. They could also use some additional firepower to augment their scoring punch and build around a core that is goaltender Cam Ward and star center Eric Staal. They haven't tried to do that yet this off season and given the remaining top UFAs it doesn't look like they will do so either. That said, they are coming off a great end of the season run and solid playoffs even though they were ousted by the eventual Stanley Cup Winner. The way Carolina ended the last season, even without any major upgrades, they will give the Capitals a run for their money in the division, but there are still some "chinks in their armour" as well.
3) Florida Panthers: The Panthers, are the biggest question mark in the division. They finished last season with quite a good run and missed the playoffs only on a tiebreaker. They currently have 18 players on their roster and four openings; they've achieved this with a payroll of $49.42M against a estimated budget of $54.5M. That gives them $5.08M and $7.38M of space against their budget and the salary cap respectively. In the wake of Jay Bouwmeester's departure from South Florida, the Panthers have been making a few moves to try and ensure they do return to the playoffs next season. However, they also lost backup goaltender Craig Anderson to free agency, and that shouldn't be dismissed as Anderson filled in ably last season for an injured Tomas Vokoun for a period. Those moves include picking up veteran defenseman Jordan Leopold from Calgary and signing him to a one year $1.75M deal; resigning veteran forward Radek Dvorak to a 2 year $3.4M contract, and signing leading goal scorer, forward David Booth, who was an RFA, to a six-year contract worth $25.5 million. That said given the slow pace the Panthers are taking in possibly bringing back their other veteran free agents: D Nick Boynton, D Jassen Cullimore, F Ville Peltonen, D Karlis Skrastins, and F Janis Sprukts, they certainly also be leaving themselves a fair amount of room to build from within using their younger players ... but with a goaltender like Vokoun and solid forwards like Stephen Weiss and David Booth to serve as a core to build around, the Panthers will not be a push over this season - even without Boumeester in the lineup. I'm sure some South Florida hockey fans are wondering what the Panthers would be like with a star defenseman to anchor their blue line corps... kind of makes me wonder too.
4) Atlanta Thrashers. There's almost no doubt the Thrashers should be one of the most improved teams in the NHL this coming season. With the following guys as the possible free agent losses on July 1st: F Mike Hoffman, F Joe Motzko, D Nathan Oystrick, F Eric Perrin, D Brett Skinner, F Grant Stevenson - a bunch who as a group totaled 148 games played and 12 goals scored last season - the Bluebirds weren't at risk of loosing much in the way of team strength anyway. Then they went out and signed big free agent Nik "Borat" Antropov to a four year $16M deal to play alngside scoring machine Captain Ilya Kovalchuck and in front of a young but talented blue-line corps as well as talented younsters like Bryan Little, Rich Peverley, and Colby Armstrong as well. The Thrashers still need more talent to really compete for a Cup like their star wants but they have salary cap room and also seem convinced that goaltender Kari Lehtonen is ready to be the main man between the pipes for them as well. The Thrashers may do well picking up some of the now available, cheaper free agents and they may still have salary cap room to be one of the few teams in the league to actually play in the trade market. Hmmm - you think there's any chance they are looking for a 36 year old Swedish, puck control center? Probably not but I can dream can't I?
5) Tampa Bay: Okay despite some relatively rationale behaviour so far this off season, all of which seems to be well considered and likely to strongly improve this team, it's just a fact that the train wreck perptrated by the new ownership and Barry Melrose last off-season will take more than one year to remedy. So far this off season, discounting allegations of possible tampering, just because lets not get too surreal, th free agent pickups of defensemen Mattias Ohlund and Matt Walker, and forward Stephane Veillieux all will improve the team. Also the prices paid for Walker and Veillieux don't seem excessive and while there's lots of spectulation and conjecture going on about the Ohlund deal there can be no doubt he'll be a good mentor for first round draft pick Victor Hedman who also appears ready to make the transition from the Swedish Elite Leagure right to the NHL. Truth be told with Lecavilier, St. Louis, Malone, Prospal and Stamos up front and the improved blue line carved out this off season, if young goaltender Mike Smith can hold his own, and the ownership/management drama subsides, by mid-season Tampa Bay should be settled in and also looking good. That said their has just been so much turnover the past two seasons and so much drama this past season it'll probably take all year before the Lightning get in a groove. Like I said - it takes a while to clean-up a train wreck and get normal operations resumed - just ask riders of WMATA's RED Line.
Well what's it all mean Caps fans?- first, you don't have to read this blog to know your guys, those "Young GUns" Washington Capitals aren't going to sneak up on anyone this season. They along with Pittsburgh and Boston are picked to be "The Beasts of the East." So expect opposing teams to play harder than ever when they match up with the Capitals. Also expect oach Bruce Boudreau to emphasize more than ever that the Capitals need to make Verizon Center a tough place for opponents to come away with even a point. Last year set a bar and the young Caps aren't gearing to surpass it. Let's all keep hoping that ... "THIS will be THE year."
LETS GO CAPS!!!!!!!