Commentary

Southeast Division preview

A look at the Thrashers, Hurricanes, Panthers, Lightning and Capitals from for fantasy

Updated: September 28, 2009, 6:14 PM ET
By Sean Allen | Special to ESPN.com

Atlanta Thrashers

Additions: Nik Antropov, C/RW (Rangers); Pavel Kubina, D (Toronto)

Subtractions: Garnet Exelby, D (Toronto)

Depth chart

First line: Ilya Kovalchuk, Nik Antropov, Bryan Little
Second line: Slava Kozlov, Todd White, Maxim Afinogenov
Third line: Eric Boulton, Rich Peverley, Colby Armstrong
Fourth line: Jim Slater, Marty Reasoner, Chris Thorburn

First pairing: Pavel Kubina, Tobias Enstrom
Second pairing: Ron Hainsey, Zach Bogosian
Third pairing: Boris Valabik, Anssi Salmela

Starting goalie: Ondrej Pavelec
Backup: Johan Hedberg

Just Missed: Brett Sterling, LW; Angelo Esposito, C; Anthony Stewart, RW; Noah Welch, D; Kari Lehtonen, G (out with back injury); Evander Kane, C; Manny Legace, G

The Lineup and Plus/Minus Effect

Nik Antropov
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesNik Antropov could be in a very advantageous position in Atlanta.

As much as Rich Peverley had chemistry with Ilya Kovalchuk and Bryan Little fit in with Todd White, the Thrashers will look to load up the top line this season and skate the newly acquired Nik Antropov between Kovalchuk and Little. Antropov is a proven performer when playing with top talent, having played a wing with Mats Sundin for several seasons in Toronto, and Little is on the verge of big things in the NHL after a slow but steady adjustment over the past two years. … Coach John Anderson has lots of options for lining up his scoring lines, though, with Maxim Afinogenov as the club's wild card. Even though Afinogenov has suffered through two subpar seasons in Buffalo, he still possesses breakaway speed and scoring ability. On a line with Slava Kozlov and White, Afinogenov could do some damage.

Power Play

The Thrashers possess a deceivingly dangerous power play, as Kozlov, Kovalchuk, White and Little all finished with 12 power-play goals each. Kozlov and White are specialists on the man advantage; 77 of their 149 points last season were on the power play. Expect a nice mix of those players, plus newcomer Antropov, to play the power play with regular minutes. … On the blue line, both Tobias Enstrom and Pavel Kubina are established power-play quarterbacks, but the Thrashers mix in four forwards on the man advantage, so both defensemen will have to settle for splitting time. Still, Enstrom, Kubina and maybe even Ron Hainsey and Zach Bogosian will find a way to weasel in some value on the power play. The top four is just that good.

Keep An Eye On

The goalie situation is very much in flux. Kari Lehtonen is the starter when healthy, but he's already hurt again, and the Thrashers' patience might be wearing thin. Johan Hedberg is the boring but unspectacular backup who isn't good enough to be a starter, but he'll be around in case of a cascade of injuries. Ondrej Pavelec is supposed to be the future between the pipes and appears to be ready to take over, but the logjam might hold him back. And why not throw in Manny Legace, who is close to being put out to pasture, just to add an extra element of confusion. Now, if either Pavelec or Lehtonen were assured to be the primary starter, they would actually have value on an improving Atlanta team, but with so many questions about how the starts will be divided up, this situation should be avoided in shallow leagues.

Carolina Hurricanes

Additions: Aaron Ward, D (Boston); Stephane Yelle, C (Boston); Tom Kostopoulos, C (Montreal); Andrew Alberts, D (Philadelphia)

Subtractions: Patrick Eaves, LW (Detroit)

Depth chart

First line: Ray Whitney, Eric Staal, Erik Cole
Second line: Sergei Samsonov, Rod Brind'Amour, Tuomo Ruutu
Third line: Chad LaRose, Matt Cullen, Scott Walker
Fourth line: Jussi Jokinen, Stephane Yelle, Tom Kostopoulos

First pairing: Joni Pitkanen, Joe Corvo
Second pairing: Tim Gleason, Andrew Alberts
Third pairing: Aaron Ward, Niclas Wallin

Starting goalie: Cam Ward
Backup: Michael Leighton

Just Missed: Brandon Sutter, C; Zach Boychuk, LW

The Lineup and Plus/Minus Effect

Erik Cole
Daniel Plassmann/US PresswireLook for Erik Cole's "spark" in Carolina to carry over.

Pretty much the same lineup returns for Carolina to play a full season under coach Paul Maurice, and that is just fine with fantasy owners. The Hurricanes were a bit of a mess to begin last season, and they chugged along at 24th in the league with 2.50 goals per game until the All-Star break. But that's when a midseason coaching change to Maurice took hold. After the All-Star break, the Hurricanes were the third-highest-scoring offense in the NHL, scoring 3.41 goals per game from that point on. … It seems it was prodigal sons who reinvigorated the Hurricanes; besides Maurice, Erik Cole returned to the team at the trade deadline and lit a fire under Eric Staal. In the 17 games following the trade, Cole had 15 points and Staal had 25. Wow. Let's just say these two are well-matched and complement each other.

Power Play

Coach Paul Maurice likes to use the traditional setup of two defensemen on the point to run the power play, so Joni Pitkanen and Joe Corvo both should see plenty of ice time on the man advantage. Ray Whitney remains the king of the power play in Carolina, leading the team with 30 power-play points last season.

Keep An Eye On

With many returning names and not much room for rookies, we must default to Sergei Samsonov for someone to keep on the radar. As always with Samsonov, he has the talent, but injuries and lack of drive have consistently held him back. He responded well to coach Paul Maurice last season, finishing with 23 points in his final 30 games. Samsonov has 60 or 70 points in him if he can persuade Maurice to give him a lot of responsibility on offense.

Florida Panthers

Additions: Ville Koistinen, D (Nashville); Jordan Leopold, D (Calgary); Scott Clemmensen, G (New Jersey); Steve Reinprecht, C (Phoenix)

Subtractions: Jay Bouwmeester, D (Calgary); Craig Anderson, G (Colorado); Nick Boynton, D (Anaheim); Karlis Skrastins, D (Dallas); Richard Zednik, RW (Russia); Ville Peltonen, LW (Russia)

Depth chart

First line: David Booth, Stephen Weiss, Nathan Horton
Second line: Cory Stillman, Steve Reinprecht, Michael Frolik
Third line: Rostislav Olesz, Gregory Campbell, Radek Dvorak
Fourth line: Nick Tarnasky, Kamil Kreps, Shawn Matthias

First pairing: Bryan McCabe, Jordan Leopold
Second pairing: Keith Ballard, Bryan Allen
Third pairing: Ville Koistinen, Dennis Seidenberg

Starting goalie: Tomas Vokoun
Backup: Scott Clemmensen

Just Missed: Michal Repik, RW; Dmitry Kulikov, D

The Lineup and Plus/Minus Effect

Nathan Horton
Joel Auerbach/US PresswireLook for a better plus/minus from Nathan Horton this season.

The Panthers are always stronger than expected in the plus/minus category, and coach Peter DeBoer instilled his hard-nosed defensive philosophy in his first season behind the bench. The top six in Florida should earn solid value thanks to strong two-way hockey and decent offense. … Nathan Horton finished last year with a minus-5 after being plus-15 the previous two seasons. Obviously, he was an outlier, as his own linemate, Stephen Weiss, was plus-19. Look for Horton's rating to stabilize and help his overall value.

Power Play

On forward, look for Cory Stillman, David Booth, Stephen Weiss and Nathan Horton to play big into the power-play plans of the Panthers. The question is who joins Bryan McCabe on the blue line for the man advantage in place of Jay Bouwmeester. Recent top draft pick Dmitry Kulikov is a long shot for the roster because of problems with the KHL, so Ville Koistinen might be the defenseman of choice. Koistinen had strong offensive numbers playing for six years in the Finnish Elite League but was buried behind several options in Nashville.

Keep An Eye On

First-round pick Dmitry Kulikov has shown he is ready for the NHL, but there remains turmoil with his contract in the KHL. In fact, he might end up being absent from the final roster for the Panthers only because the Russian league is slow to respond to requests to buy out his contract. If he does make the team, he's a fantasy sleeper. … Steve Reinprecht might be as boring as they come in fantasy hockey, but after approaching 50 points in a limited role for the lowly Coyotes, Reinprecht is a solid choice while playing on a good scoring line in Florida. We aren't expecting a sudden surge, but in deeper leagues, locking up 55 points late in the draft can be very advantageous.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Additions: Alex Tanguay, LW (Montreal); Mattias Ohlund, D (Vancouver); Antero Niittymaki, G (Philadelphia); Kurtis Foster, D (Minnesota); David Hale, D (Phoenix); Drew Miller, RW (Anaheim); Matt Walker, D (Chicago)

Subtractions: Radim Vrbata, RW (Phoenix); Vaclav Prospal, LW (Rangers); Evgeny Artyukhin, RW (Anaheim)

Depth chart

First line: Alex Tanguay, Vincent Lecavalier, Steve Downie
Second line: Ryan Malone, Steve Stamkos, Martin St. Louis
Third line: James Wright, Jeff Halpern, Stephane Veilleux
Fourth line: Todd Fedoruk, Ryan Craig, Adam Hall

First pairing: Mattias Ohlund, Victor Hedman
Second pairing: Andrej Meszaros, Paul Ranger
Third pairing: Kurtis Foster, Lukas Krajicek

Starting goalie: Mike Smith
Backup: Antero Niittymaki

Just Missed: Brandon Bochenski, RW; Matt Walker, D; Matt Lashoff, D; David Hale, D; Riku Helenius, G; Paul Szczechura, C

The Lineup and Plus/Minus Effect

Vincent Lecavalier
Andre Ringuette/Getty ImagesLightning stud Vincent Lecavalier will have plenty of help from his linemates this season.

The Lightning boast an impressive top six coming into this season. Coach Rick Tocchet has the option of assembling what looks like two perfect lines on paper: Playmaker, finisher, gritty power forward, then rinse and repeat. On the first line, Alex Tanguay can feed Vincent Lecavalier while Steve Downie roughs it up in the corners; on the second line, Martin St. Louis will set up Steve Stamkos for goals while Ryan Malone fights for the puck. Obviously, there are a couple variations on this, but the chemistry that was sorely lacking in Tampa Bay last season should be found in spades this year. … Plus/minus is still a tricky subject for the Bolts, as the goaltending and most of the defense is still suspect. While we don't think the negative ratings will be as devastating as last season, there is no reason to think they have turned the corner in that category either. Tocchet did preach a high-tempo game, which, without the proper checks and balances on defense, does cause troublesome ratings for fantasy owners.

Power Play

There are some power-play opportunities and roles up for grabs as some members of the first unit from last season have moved on to the New York/New Jersey area (Vaclav Prospal and Cory Murphy). Steve Stamkos joined Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier as staples on the power play by the end of the season, and Matthias Ohlund and Victor Hedman are natural choices for the blue line to help quarterback the man advantage. However, Alex Tanguay is sure to get into the mix somehow, and even Ryan Malone will get his minutes.

Keep An Eye On

Although the starter's role won't be all that valuable for the Lightning goaltenders, it's a situation worth monitoring for bench spots on your roster. If Mike Smith were to get hurt again, Antero Niittymaki is looking for a fresh start to his career outside of Philadelphia. Both are talented netminders who could put up decent ratios despite a lack of wins. … Steve Downie is looking to get back on the radar after a tough season that was spent either in the AHL or on suspension for another "incident." Downie plays with an edge that lands him in the penalty box more often than not, so if he can find his scoring touch on a top line, he becomes intriguing in the same way Alexandre Burrows, Scott Hartnell and David Backes are.

Washington Capitals

Additions: Mike Knuble, RW (Philadelphia); Brendan Morrison, C (Dallas)

Subtractions: Brent Johnson, G (Pittsburgh); Sergei Fedorov, C (Russia); Viktor Kozlov, RW (Russia); Donald Brashear, LW (Rangers); Staffan Kronwall, D (Calgary)

Depth chart

First line: Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Knuble
Second line: Alexander Semin, Brooks Laich, Chris Clark
Third line: Eric Fehr, Brendan Morrison, Matt Bradley
Fourth line: Dave Steckel, Tomas Fleischmann, Boyd Gordon

First pairing: Mike Green, Tom Poti
Second pairing: Shaone Morrisonn, Brian Pothier
Third pairing: Milan Jurcina, John Erskine

Starting goalie: Semyon Varlamov
Backup: Jose Theodore

Just Missed: Karl Alzner, D; Michal Neuvirth, G; Tyler Sloan, D

The Lineup and Plus/Minus Effect

Alex Ovechkin
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesThere shouldn't be any dip in Alex Ovechkin's play this season.

If it's possible, the Capitals' top line got even better with the departure of Viktor Kozlov and arrival of Mike Knuble. They are similar players, but Knuble has been more successful in his career with lesser linemates, and Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom are as good as linemates get. … Coach Bruce Boudreau hasn't preached a strong defensive game, but instead lets the Capitals' puck-possession style do the defense for them. That means plus/minus tends to favor only the strong players in Washington.

Power Play

No question Ovechkin will log a ton of time on the man advantage, with Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom pacing him. Those three players actually combined for 51 of the Capitals' 85 power-play goals last season. Joined by Alexander Semin and now Mike Knuble, the Caps should have little trouble repeating as the second-best power play in the league with a 25.2 percent success rate. … Knuble could add a lot to his value with this Washington power play, in fact. On a Flyers power play that couldn't touch this Capitals unit, Knuble had four straight years of double-digit power-play goals.

Keep An Eye On

This goalie situation is going to leave a lot of fantasy owners grumbling. Coach Bruce Boudreau has stated he intends to run a carousel for the first part of the season, leaving Jose Theodore and the more lucrative Semyon Varlamov with limited potential for many fantasy leagues. If something unexpected opens up the starter's job for one player, Theodore would be a No. 2 fantasy goalie but Varlamov has the potential, with better ratios, to be a No. 1. Lurking in the AHL will be Michal Neuvirth, who has shown he has as bright a future in the NHL as Varlamov. Should there be an opportunity for Neuvirth, he will no doubt seize it.

Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He was named the 2008 Fantasy Sports Writers Association, Hockey Writer of the Year award winner. You can e-mail him here.

Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He was the 2008 and 2009 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Hockey Writer of the Year. You can tweet him @seanard.