Monday, August 24, 2009

NHL Summer Update: Eastern Conference Review

[Editor's Note: NHL Insider Darren Coslov is back and takes a look at this summer's action in the Eastern Conference.]

NHL Training Camp is less then a month away. General Managers are completing the final stages of their training camp rosters after what has been a very interesting off-season.

I raised my eyebrow on several occasions over moves that mortgaged the future of a franchise. I shook my head at the typical off-season signings which always seem to steer an organization further into the depths of the standings, rather than towards Lord Stanley. I was impressed with moves that filled necessary gaps, yet just as shocked at moves that brought in question marks as replacements for assets lost on July 1st. Welcome to the 2009 NHL off-season, another summer where we've seen a handful of General Managers getting the big picture, while others continue to completely miss the boat.

Question Marks A Plenty: Atlanta Thrashers and New York Rangers

The Atlanta Thrashers and New York Rangers are two Eastern Conference teams which have questions marks all over the board. Starting in the Big Apple with the Blue Shirts, the likes of Scott Gomez, Marcus Naslund, Nik Antropov, Colton Orr and Nikolai Zherdev are out. Headed to Broadway....injury prone Marian Gaborik, inconsistent (and now overpaid) Ales Kotalik, an expensive Tier 2 forward Vinnie Prospal, Christopher Higgins, Donald Brashear, Enver Lisin and Tyler Arnason. One thing we do know at this point is that gamebreaker Marian Gaborik must play 82 games in order for the Rangers to have any chance at surviving the vicious Atlantic Division this season. Much as the Minnesota Wild learned with the Slovakian winger, the Rangers hopes live and die with Gaborik (and his groin). The other additions are solid, but far from the answers. The additions fill voids, but do not improve the big picture. High-priced veteran question marks year after year. Doesn't this sound so familiar when discussing the Rangers? The Blue Shirts defense is also a work in progress with four spots currently in play. Be it developing youth or as usual via trades, the Rangers must improve the blue line to have a chance against the likes of Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, and the Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins. I'm not so sure if it happens.

The Atlanta Thrashers are dying to return to the win column. Ilya Kovalchuk not only wants to win, he wants to win and be successful with top tier forwards surrounding him. Thus far that has yet to happen in Atlanta. Colby Armstrong and Slava Kozlov are not the answers, but neither is the newly-acquired Nik Antropov. Don Waddell is having a difficult go with trying to bring in top-notch UFA’s to sunny Atlanta. Veteran players want to win, and most likely want to win with an organization that not only attracts top players, but does so on a consistent basis. Anthony Stewart, Marty Reasoner and Noah Welch are not the answers and would hardly crack certain lineups around the league, but one thing we know is this, the future is bright with young talent and it’s up to Don Waddell to build the necessary pieces around it.

GM's Glen Sather and Don Waddell, are officially on the hot seat.

Caps Lock: Washington Capitals

Let’s take a look at one team in the East who filled necessary gaps, and filled them well. The Washington Capitals lost Sergei Fedorov and Victor Kozlov to unrestricted free agency. Capitals fans, meet Brendan Morrison and Mike Knuble. The brilliance here is not only did GM George McPhee fill voids created by the UFA departures, he filled them with experienced players who have a tremendous game in several different areas: penalty kill, powerplay, and textbook 5 on 5. Knuble was tremendous on the powerplay in Philadelphia. The thoughts of what he could potentially do with Alex Semin and Alexander Ovechkin on the PP, well that’s yet to be seen, but the Southeast Division will find out soon enough.

George McPhee continues to build a winning franchise in the nation's capital. It’s only going to get better.

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