By Leslie Silvey
When the Washington Capitals finally hit the ice for training camp in the fall, they won’t be the only Southeastern Division team with more than a few new faces in the room. With 28 players on new teams within the Caps’ division (including of course, the recently relocated Winnipeg Jets), many Southeast teams made the significant off-season moves they deemed necessary to rejuvenate their teams and reach post-season success.
Of course the Southeastern rival that experienced the most obvious ‘ambush makeover’ is the Florida Panthers – who will see former Washington fan faves Matt Bradley, Jose Theodore and Tomas Fleischmann sporting the Panther Paw sweaters this season. The Cats also bolstered their defense with the acquisition of former Phoenix d-man Ed Jovanovski and former Blackhawk (yes, “that Campbell” that Ovechkin flattened a few seasons back), Brian Campbell. In addition to Flash and Bradley, GM Dale Tallon also did quite a bit of retooling on the offensive end, acquiring Tomas Kopecky, Marcel Goc, Scottie Upshall, Kris Versteeg and oh yeah, that pesky former Tampa kid that lit up the playoffs with his magnificent 9-goal run – Sean Bergenheim.
Caps fans will also see another beloved player on the opposing side of the ice when the boys meet up with the former Atlanta Thrashers – now the Winnipeg Jets. Eric Fehr returns to his home province of Manitoba to join fellow new team mates (also new to the organization, that is) Tanner Glass, Rick Rypien and Randy Jones.
While the Tampa Bay Lightning were busy making minor renovations to their lineup, the St. Pete Times Forum is undergoing a $35 million dollar facility renovation that will be mostly completed by the time the puck drops on the 2011-2012 season. The Bolts charged through to the Eastern Conference Finals, losing a Game 7 to the current Cup Champion Boston Bruins. Much of their playoff success (certainly that against our Capitals) rested in the hands of veteran goaltender Dwayne Roloson. GM Steve Yzerman added another veteran presence in the crease when the team picked up 33-year old Mathieu Garon from the Columbus Blue Jackets. Despite the elite talent of Steven Stamkos, Vincent LeCavalier and the pint-sized warrior that is Martin St. Louis, the Lightning saw much of their post-season scoring from the lunch pail bunch made up of Sean Bergenheim, Steve Downie, Nate Thompson and Teddy Purcell. The off-season brought the addition of even more worker bee types as Yzerman picked up Ryan Shannon from Vancouver and shot-blocking center Tom Pyatt from Montreal. Meanwhile the Caps will see fresh faces on the Bolts’ blue line in the form of former N.Y. Ranger and college star Matt Gilroy and former Islander Bruno Jervais.
The youth movement that is the Carolina Hurricanes will shoulder most of the load next season as GM Jim Rutherford didn’t make any major overhauls during the free agency period. Brian Boucher was brought in to lend a hand to the popular Cam Ward in net. The biggest ‘star’ added to the Carolina roster was Tomas Kaberle, coming straight off a Stanley Cup run with the Bruins after spending almost 11 years playing in Toronto white and blue. He’ll be joined by another former Leaf and more recently L.A. King, left wing Alexei Ponikarovsky. Yet another Maple Leaf will be headed South to join the Caniacs with the addition of center Tim Brent, who along with Anthony Stewart (Atlanta Thrashers) completed the Canes’ off-season signings.
While it won’t take long for Caps fans to get used to new players Tomas Vokoun, Roman Hamrlik, Troy Brouwer, Joel Ward and hometown hero Jeff Halpern, it’s going to be an adjustment getting familiarized with all the roster additions amongst our conference rivals (never mind seeing Matt Bradley in a Florida jersey)!