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Hockey Prospectus 2012-13 is here! Download Sample Chapter - Penguins!

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June 18, 2012
Plugging Holes
Southeast Division

by Ryan Wagman and ESPN Insider


With the Stanley Cup finals in the books, it's time for every NHL team to tinker with its roster and see how it can retool for next season. The analysts of Hockey Prospectus provide some help, identifying the biggest shortcoming on every NHL roster using their GVT valuation metric and offering a unique suggestion on how to fix it for 2012-13. The series continues with fixes for the five teams in the Southeast Division, where the Capitals need to add an ingredient that would have been unthinkable two seasons ago.

Washington Capitals

The hole: Scoring depth

As the New Jersey Devils and Los Angeles Kings have taught us this postseason, playoff success is derived from forcing the opposition to concentrate on all four of your lines. Teams with a very clear top-six and bottom-six have found the going a little bit tougher as their skill players were more easily neutralized. The Capitals had a divide that was among the clearest in the league this year, with Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin on one side along with Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson getting the lion's share of the offensive-zone draws, while grizzled muckers such as Joel Ward, Mike Knuble and Troy Brouwer were charged with the tougher assignments. The result was a Caps team that was tighter in the back, but struggled to score.

The fix: Sign UFA C Olli Jokinen (8.9 GVT)

The Finnish forward has had a bit of a snakebitten career, playing only six postseason games in 13 seasons in the NHL. There was a time when Jokinen was considered a front-line scorer, although that day has passed, as he last scored at a point-per-game pace in 2006-07. That said, the big Finn can still score at a top-six forward rate, generating 1.8 points per 60 minutes at even strength last year with Calgary, a slight uptick on the 1.75 he scored the year prior. For a chance to increase his career playoff numbers, Jokinen should be available for close to the $3 million cap hit he had last year.

Florida Panthers

The hole: Scoring depth

Although they surprisingly won the division last season, ultimately taking eventual Stanley Cup finalist New Jersey to a seventh game in the first round, this is an organization more geared to compete in 2013-14 than in 2012-13. Of the many high-end prospects in the pipeline, only last year's third overall choice, C Jonathan Huberdeau, looks ready to contribute. For a team that ranked 27th in the NHL with a mere 2.4 goals scored per game, the first order of summer must be to add some offensive firepower.

The fix: Trade for RFA winger Alexander Radulov from Nashville (2.2 GVT in 9 games)

After his late-night shenanigans during the first round of the playoffs and years of frustration trying to get him to return to the NHL at all, the Predators apparently feel it is finally time to cut their losses with Radulov, and Florida certainly has the organizational depth to entice Preds GM David Poile, and considering the lack of leverage for Nashville the price may not be that high. The Panthers also have more than enough cap room to make it worth Radulov's time to stay in North America for the long haul. Presuming Huberdeau's NHL arrival next year, Radulov should give him someone with puck skills to play with. The alternatives (Jack Skille, Sean Bergenheim, Tomas Kopecky) do not inspire confidence.

Tampa Bay Lightning

The hole: Goaltending

Despite above-average ability to score goals, the Lightning had no ability to prevent them, torpedoing their chances at reaching the postseason again after a surprise Eastern Conference finals appearance in 2010-11. Dwayne Roloson, so instrumental to the previous run of success, finally saw his age (42) catch up with him, as his save percentage dropped by nearly 30 points, while his GAA rose by more than a full goal per game. Now an unrestricted free agent, the late bloomer's career might (or rather, should) finally be over.

The fix: Trade for G Roberto Luongo from Vancouver (12.4 GVT)

After Luongo was benched for each of the Canucks' final three playoff games, it seems that Cory Schneider has finally supplanted the Olympic gold medal winner from the starting job in Vancouver. The writing now on the wall in permanent ink, coach Alain Vigneault has admitted that Luongo wants out. Under contract for another nine years at a cap hit of $5.333 million per season, the former Jennings Trophy recipient would be a hard purchase for most clubs. Although the Lightning already have five players on long-term contracts with cap hits of at least $4 million (Lecavalier, Stamkos, St. Louis, Hedman and Malone), the rest of the roster is cheap enough that Luongo can be safely squeezed into place. In spite of his recent playoff difficulties, Luongo has been in the upper echelon of NHL goaltenders in the regular season since he became a Florida Panther at the turn of the century. If, as expected, the Lightning go with youth on the blue line this year (Hedman, Lee, Aulie, Barberio -- with only Lee older than 22), a reliable goaltender may be the difference between an April golf and late-May playoff hockey.

Winnipeg Jets

The hole: Goaltending

Both parts of the Jets' subpar goaltending duo from last season, Ondrej Pavelec and Chris Mason, will have their contracts expire in a few weeks' time. The younger Pavelec is a restricted free agent, while the elder Mason is unrestricted. While rumors suggest that Pavelec might move to the KHL, expect the Jets to attempt to bring him back. Do not expect the same for Mason, who was never more than average between the pipes, even in his peak years. The Jets need to bring in a goaltender who could take the reins if Pavelec can't -- or won't -- while serving as a trustworthy backup if he does.

The fix: Sign UFA G Martin Biron (-1.6 GVT)

Imminently affordable, Biron is coming off his second poor season in the last three. Known as a consummate professional, Biron was more than serviceable in two seasons as the starter in Philadelphia, compiling a 31.4 GVT between the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons. While his GVT was poor last year, Biron was the victim of a small sample size, as any season of only 21 games played can be skewed by a few stinkers. While his save percentage was at a lofty .924 before the trade deadline, two clunkers and a couple of so-so starts dropped him 20 points by the time he made his final regular season appearance. Also, GM Kevin Chevaldayoff may have a higher regard for Biron's abilities after the former first-round pick shut out the Jets in early November. The biggest hiccup is the likelihood that he re-signs with the Rangers before July 1.

Carolina Hurricanes

The hole: Scoring from the wings

With injuries limiting Jeff Skinner to 64 games in his sophomore campaign, the Hurricanes struggled to add offense from their wingers. Anthony Stewart actually scored at a decent clip (1.81 even-strength points per 60 minutes), but he only received bottom-line minutes. Right wing, in particular, was an offensive black hole, as neither Tuomo Ruutu nor Chad LaRose profile as anything better than good third-line forwards. A more potent winger will provide more space for Skinner and Eric Staal to create offense.

The fix: Sign UFA RW Petr Sykora (9.1 GVT)

Bearing in mind the aforementioned Skinner injury, Sykora's production would have placed him second behind only Staal on the Hurricanes last season. At age 35, Sykora proved that he can still contribute in an offensive role in the NHL, after a season spent lugging up and down the lines in his native Czech Republic and in the KHL. Sykora scored 21 goals for the Devils this season, despite often playing against the opposition's stronger skaters. However, his production slowed down somewhat in the playoffs. Nevertheless, while he should be shielded in terms of zone starts, Sykora will still be able to produce at a reasonable second-line clip for another season or two.

A version of this story originally appeared at ESPN Insider Insider.

Ryan Wagman is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Ryan by clicking here or click here to see Ryan's other articles.

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