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Washington CapitalsTHN Prediction: Second in the East
Key Departures: Brent Johnson, G; Donald Brashear, LW; Sergei Fedorov, C; Viktor Kozlov, RW Though the team lost significant pieces when Viktor Kozlov and Sergei Fedorov bolted for Russia, the additions of Mike Knuble and Brendan Morrison actually make the team better up front. The question marks surrounding the Caps don't stem from the forward group, however, where they sport one of the league's best collection of offensive weapons, including reigning two-time NHL MVP Alex Ovechkin. If Washington is to fail this season, it will be because of a blue line that lacks depth and a true two-way stud and/or the goaltending duo of veteran Jose Theodore and rookie Semyon Varlamov ending up more mouse than monster. Of course, if the defensive youngsters step up and the back end corps plays to its potential with either Theodore (circa 2001-02) or Varlamov (circa last playoff) taking the reins, the Capitals will be a handful for any team in the East and true Cup favorite.
Carolina HurricanesTHN Prediction: Sixth in the East Key Additions: Stephane Yelle, C; Aaron Ward, D; Andrew Alberts, D; Tom Kostopoulos, RW
Key Departures: Dennis Seidenberg, D; Anton Babchuk, D; Frantisek Kaberle, D; Patrick Eaves, RW The Hurricanes were out-muscled in their own end during a four-game loss to the eventual Stanley Cup-champion Penguins in the East finals last season, so GM Jim Rutherford -- the league's most underrated executive -- set out to do something about it. Carolina repatriated gritty defenseman Aaron Ward and brought in plenty more toughness in the form of blue liner Andrew Alberts and forwards Tom Kostopoulos and Stephane Yelle. Beyond Eric Staal and Cam Ward, the Cane collection is a bit of a no-name bunch, but there's a lot to like about this squad from top to bottom and, most importantly, they respond well to coach Paul Maurice, who had the interim tag stripped this summer. Ward is also in the hunt for Team Canada's No. 3 goalie role at the Olympics, so you can expect his focus to be that much greater early in the season, which is bad news for opposing shooters.
Tampa Bay LightningTHN Prediction: 10th in the East Key Additions: Alex Tanguay, LW; Antero Niittymaki, G; Kurtis Foster, D; Stephane Veilleux, LW; Matt Walker, D; Mattias Ohlund, D; Drew Miller, LW
Key Departures: Radim Vrbata, RW; Vaclav Prospal, RW; Evgeny Artyukhin, RW; Cory Murphy, D If you're looking for a dark horse in the Eastern Conference, look no further than the Lightning.
Florida PanthersTHN Prediction: 12th in the East Key Additions: Dennis Seidenberg, D; Ville Koistinen, D; Scott Clemmensen, G; Steven Reinprecht, C; Jordan Leopold, D
Key Departures: Steve Eminger, D; Ville Peltonen, LW; Nick Boynton, D; Anthony Stewart, RW; Karlis Skrastins, D; Craig Anderson, G; Jay Bouwmeester, D; Richard Zednik, RW While the loss of Jay Bouwmeester won't have nearly the impact most predict, the Panthers are still a team closer to being moved to another market than they are to the playoff hunt. If it weren't for the goaltending duo of Tomas Vokoun and Scott Clemmensen and the coaching of Pete DeBoer, a draft lottery position would be a foregone conclusion. Without a permanent GM or a budget to spend, Cats fans can't hold out hope for any kind of addition that will help, either. As has been the case with this club since it last made a postseason appearance in 2000, Florida is in desperate need of leadership. Any who hold out hope that recently appointed captain Bryan McCabe will lift this team up by the scruff of the neck will be sorely disappointed. One reason for optimism: Nine of Florida's top 12 forwards are 26 years old or younger, so potential for success down the road is there.
Atlanta ThrashersTHN Prediction: 14th in the East Key Additions: Nik Antropov, C/RW; Pavel Kubina, D
Key Departure: Garnet Exelby, D For the Dirty Birds, the goal this campaign is -- or at least should be -- more about making a positive impression on UFA-to-be Ilya Kovalchuk rather than making the playoffs. A postseason run? Not so much. Atlanta will hit the ice with ostensibly the same crew that finished 13th in the East in 2008-09, plus a new first-line forward (who's much better suited for second-line duty) and a better puck-moving, but less physical top defenseman. A full season of Zach Bogosian, the 2008 third overall pick, who missed 28 games in his rookie year with a broken leg, will surely help, as will the scoring punch of 2009 No. 4 overall pick Evander Kane (should he stick with the club). Alas, any optimism built after winning 12 of 18 games to finish out last year will quickly dissipate after the reality that this team has next to no scoring depth and no true No. 1 goalie sets in. Edward Fraser is the editor of thehockeynews.com. His blog appears Thursdays. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. THN has provided the most comprehensive coverage of the world of hockey for more than 60 years.