To make this an easy read we will publish our assessment of each division: The South East today. The grade doesn't mean how well the team will do this season, but how we feel they addressed heir needs this offseason.
Atlanta Thrashers: The Thrashers' biggest hole will be at center, where Marc Savard was lost as a free agent and Patrik Stefan traded to Dallas. This only leaves Bobby Holik, Niko Kapanen and Steve Rucchin as their 1-2-3 down the middle. They upgraded their defence by snapping up Vitali Vishnevski from Anaheim and if he works out as well as Niclas Havelid, then the Thrashers may challenge for a playoff spot for the first time in franchise history. Especially if goaltender Kari Lehtonen stays healthy and starts to live up to his potential. Johan Hedberg, is a steadier back-up than what they had last season. Grade C+
Carolina Hurricanes: The Hurricanes lost a few good of players off last year's Cup team, including Gerber, their No. 1 goaltender until the playoffs; along with 2nd line forward Matt Cullen and top 6 defender, Aaron Ward, plus their two rent-a-players, Doug Weight and Mark Recchi. Cam Ward, the Conn Smythe trophy winner, now has the # 1 spot. He'll be backed up by ex-Lightning netminder, the inconsistent John Grahame. The Hurricane picked up leadership with former Nashville Predators captain Scott Walker and then plugged a few more holes with the signings of Trevor Letkowski, Brad Isbister and Tanabe. Sophomore forward Andrew Ladd should have a more enhanced role early, as off-season shoulder surgery could keep 76-point scorer Cory Stillman out for the first three months. Grade C
Tampa Bay Lightning: The decision to sign Brad Richards to that huge contract largely handcuffed them from the moves that they could make. They tried to address their goaltending issues by acquiring Marc Denis from Columbus, who has never been the next Patrick Roy as advertised years ago, and had to give up Freddie Modin, a 31-goal man, to get it done. Kubina was lost as a free agent and was replaced by Filip Kuba. The ever-slow, Luke Richardson was also added as blueline insurance. Richards, Vinnie Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis)should ensure that they're competitive again. Or at least able to score some goals. Grade C
Florida Panthers: Biggest change is the revamping, to their detriment, the entire goaltending crew to acquire Bertuzzi. Now leaving it in the hands of elderly Ed Belfour, and the untested as a #1 Alex Auld. If they can get the job done between them, the Panthers could be improved. Their better young players (Nathan Horton, Stephen Weiss) are beginning to develop. Bertuzzi certainly needed this change of scenery to get his career back on track. The free agent signing of Ruslan Salei will help, and Bryan Allen adds a big body on defence. Former general manager Mike Keenan — tried but failed to land Pronger or Jovavoski in July, the signing of Finn Ville Peltonen to play with leading scorer Olli Jokinen adds more scoring depth to a club that only had three players with more than 50 points. Grade B-
Washington Capitals: They have the NHL's most exciting players Alex Ovechkin, but little else. Pothier will help the defence; Zednik could add a little more scoring up front. The Caps have unrealisticly high hopes for former 1st rounder Alexander Semin, who returns after a messy contract dispute. The only other news of the summer was signing goon winger Donald Brashear. Most believe the Caps overachieved last season and still were bad enough to finish 14th in the conference. Grade D+