Southeast Division

October 09, 2002|By Newsday

Washington Capitals

Last season: 36-33-11-2

Coach: Bruce Cassidy, first season

Pluses: Jaromir Jagr and ... Jaromir Jagr. He disappointed and sulked last season, but the Caps brought in his old Penguins buddy Robert Lang. Even at 75 percent, Jagr is the most skilled player in the league. They also have pure scorer Peter Bondra, the best offensive defenseman in Sergei Gonchar and reliable goaltender Olaf Kolzig.

Minuses: Need aging vets Calle Johansson and Sylvain Cote in top form to have a semblance of depth on defense. Jagr and Bondra are the scorers, and there's no one else.

Carolina Hurricanes

Last season: 35-26-16-5, lost to Detroit in Stanley Cup Finals.

Coach: Paul Maurice, ninth season

Pluses: Few could have foreseen last year's run to the Finals and the Hurricanes need more superb efforts from captain Ron Francis, forwards Jeff O'Neill and Bates Battaglia and the goaltending duo of Arturs Irbe and Kevin Weekes. Maurice is one of the best coaches in the league.

Minuses: Francis will turn 40 this season, and the defensive core (Bret Hedican, Glen Wesley, Sean Hill) is old. David Tanabe needs a vastly improved season.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Last season: 27-40-11-4

Coach: John Tortorella, third season

Pluses: Nikolai Khabibulin is the beast of the East in goal, good for 10 stolen wins this season at least. Brad Richards, Pavel Kubina and Martin St. Louis are budding talents, and maybe Vinny Lecavalier will give his all this year.

Minuses: Even with all the above players at full strength and capability, the playoffs are a stretch. Too thin up front and at the back, and special teams are weak.

Atlanta Thrashers

Last season: 19-47-11-5

Coach: Curt Fraser, fourth season

Pluses: Eagerly awaited second season for Ilya Kovalchuk and Dany Heatley, two of the game's top young stars. Dealt for mercurial Slava Kozlov, who could be a big help. Goaltenders Milan Hnilicka and Pasi Nurminen are respectable tandem.

Minuses: Not nearly enough depth behind the top two kids up front. Their biggest free-agent forward signing, Chris Herperger, was left unprotected in the waiver draft. They will not be good, but better than in the past.

Florida Panthers

Last season: 22-44-10-6

Coach: Mike Keenan, second season

Pluses: A full season of Keenan should be good for a flailing squad. Kristian Huselius is on the rise, with Marcus Nilson and Niklas Hagman not far behind. Sandis Ozolinsh and Dmitry Yushkevich add leadership on defense. Roberto Luongo should be able to handle the goaltending load.

Minuses: No stars to speak of, and now that Igor Ulanov is gone, they have nothing to show for the Pavel Bure deal.

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