Atlanta has New York Islanders syndrome. They never get better. Lehtonen has had his chances as #1 goalie and has not been able to endure the season or stay consistent. Time for him to go. Kovalchuk will once again be required to do all the scoring. Jason Williams, Colby Armstrong and Erik Christensen will be looked at for secondary scoring. Problem is, those guys are on the first line where your primary scoring should come from. Less pucks should be going in their net with Ron Hainsey and new drafted Zach Bogosian on D, but just as few pucks will be going in the opposing net.
Again, not much improvement here. They traded Jokinen and replaced him with Cory Stillman. Who is good, but won't put up the same numbers that Jokinen did. Kieth Ballard and Nick Boynton came over from Phoenix in that trade and that will shore up the Panthers blue line in a big way. Unfortunately, rumours suggest that Jay Bouwmeester is looking to get out of Florida when his contract expires. New coach, Peter DeBoer will be hard pressed to find the offence he needs on this team.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa looks to be built quite solid this year. They've added a lot of offence in the likes of Prospal, Malone, and Steven Stamkos. Their goaltending is set with Mike Smith starting and fully capable backup, Olaf Kolzig behind him. The defence took a hit when it lost Dan Boyle, but Matt Carle should evolve into a top notch D-man in the next two years. That all said, it's hard to put some faith in the team that finished in last place the previous season. They should be much improved, but as far as a playoff team? I'll say a very conservative "no".
Anything can happen when Alex Ovechkin is on your team. This is the same hungry team as last season. The big change though, is in net. Kolzig and Huet are out, and Jose Theodore is in. Will the Capitals get one time Vezina and Hart Trophy winning Theodore? Or six time, most inconsistent player of the year winner, Jose Theodore? In my opinion, Theodore was a flash in the pan. When Theodore goes down, you have more of the same with Brent Johnson, who is a career journeyman, once thought to be the future of goaltending in St. Louis. The goaltending is the reason the Caps won't win the division, lets hope it is not the reason for them missing the playoffs.
This is almost a copy of the team that lost the division title on the last two days of the regular season. Out is Erik Cole and in is his defensive equivalent, Joni Pitkanen. Good move considering the Canes' offence was 5th last season, but their defence was 25th. Glen Wesley is also out after retiring, but a full healthy season from Frantisek Kaberle should replace the hole. Cam Ward is going to need to be spectacular and an ironman. The backup situation is weak and unproven with Mike Leighton and Justin Peters. The amount of scoring should carry the Canes this season. Brind'amour's 150% faceoff success should also help.