Seven Eastern clubs on the outside looking in

BY foxsports • September 21, 2009

With NHL preseason camps under way and the upcoming campaign fast approaching here's a look at the seven Eastern Conference clubs that could finish outside the playoff picture.

  • Ottawa Senators: With the Dany Heatley trade saga finally behind them, the Senators look to rebound from missing the playoffs for the first time in 12 years. Goaltender Pascal Leclaire, acquired late last season, should be an improvement between the pipes but there is concern about his injury history. Recent additions Alex Kovalev, Jonathan Cheechoo and Milan Michalek should provide much-needed offensive depth, but Kovalev and Cheechoo have had consistency issues and Michalek won't replace Heatley's offense. Their defensive depth is also a potential problem area.

  • Tampa Bay Lightning: The Lightning should be a better club this season after crashing and burning in 2008-09. Vincent Lecavalier will be healthier, Steve Stamkos should have a strong sophomore season and the addition of Mathias Ohlund and promising Victor Hedman will improve the defense. Winger Alex Tanguay should boost their offense and if goalie Mike Smith makes a full recovery from last season's concussion injury the Bolts could finish higher than last in the Southeast Division. Despite this promising news, however, the Lightning still lack significant defensive grit up front and shut-down capabilities on the blueline. It remains to be seen if they've fully overcome last season's circus-like atmosphere.

  • Toronto Maple Leafs: Brian Burke wasted little time in his first offseason as Leafs GM, significantly bolstering the defense by adding Mike Komisarek and Francois Beauchemin as well as signing promising Swedish netminder Jonas Gustavsson. Toronto should be better defensively this season but there's concern over offensive depth. Mikhail Grabovski, Matt Stajan, Niklas Hagman and Alex Ponikarovsky need to have career years or the Leafs could be in trouble. If Burke doesn't address this soon it could adversely affect the Leafs' playoff chances.

  • New York Rangers: They dumped center Scott Gomez and added talented but oft-injured winger Marian Gaborik via free agency. But in moving Gomez they now lack a skilled first-line center. Brandon Dubinsky is penciled into that role but it remains to be seen if he's ready for the responsibility -- or if he'll even be a Ranger, given his contract status. The performance of blueline veterans Michal Rozsival and Wade Redden has been cause for concern. Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist will keep the Rangers competitive but he could wear down over the course of the season if the Blueshirts defensive game doesn't improve. And the offense could suffer if Gaborik gets sidelined again by injury.

  • Atlanta Thrashers: They bolstered the roster by adding Nik Antropov up front and veteran defenseman Pavel Kubina to their blueline. Promising Bryan Little and Zach Bogosian could also help if they continue to make significant strides in their development. There could be a potential goaltending duel between Ondrej Pavelec and the oft-injured Kari Lehtonen, which could ultimately decide the Thrashers' playoff hopes. Management hopes to re-sign superstar winger Ilya Kovalchuk to avoid his contract status being a potential distraction but the Thrashers will still need a lot of things to go right if they're to make the postseason.

  • Florida Panthers: Trading blueline stalwart Jay Bouwmeester will be a blow to the Panthers as there's nobody comparable to fill his skates. They'll hope that depth in the form of Keith Ballard, Bryan McCabe, Jordan Leopold and Dennis Seidenberg can offset his absence. Goaltender Tomas Vokoun will keep them competitive but their defensive game needs improvement. Offensively, the Panthers have some scoring punch in Nathan Horton, David Booth, Stephen Weiss, Michael Frolik, Cory Stillman and Steve Reinprecht and they must have better performances this season if they're to make a serious run for the playoffs.

  • New York Islanders: While expectations will be high for 18-year-old rookie John Tavares, he won't be able to turn this team around on his own. The Isles bolstered their goaltending by adding veterans Martin Biron and Dwayne Roloson, which suggests star Rick DiPietro hasn't fully recovered from hip surgery. There's plenty of promise in young forwards Tavares, Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey but this team is still in the midst of rebuilding and isn't expected to be a playoff contender this season.

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