Kevin Brown

In The Crease

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Southeast Conference Recap

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Washington Capitals – 48-23-11 record – 224 GF – 197 GA

After taking the league by storm in 2009-10 and racking up 318 goals, the Caps implemented a more balanced attack this season and repeated as Eastern Conference Champions, despite finding the back of the net almost 100 fewer times. As a result of the team's new philosophy, virtually all of Washington's key fantasy assets saw a drop-off in offensive production and failed to provide the type of return commensurate with their draft position. The biggest reason for the team's success was the offsetting reduction in goals allowed, from 233 down to just 197, thanks to the solid job performed by goaltender Michal Neuvirth.

Breakout Player of the Season: Entering the season, Neuvirth was prepared for a battle with favorite Semyon Varlamov for the job of number one netminder, but an injury to Varlamov (the first of many he would suffer this season) handed the role to Neuvirth; a role he would never relinquish. All told, Neuvirth was a boon for his fantasy owners as he posted a 27-12-4 record with a 2.45 GAA and a .910 save percentage. Although we likely haven't heard the last from Varlamov or even Braden Holtby, the number one gig in Washington seems to be Neuvirth's to lose right now.

Biggest Bust of the Season: Realistically, any of Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom could qualify for this unwanted distinction, but we'll give Green and Semin a pass due to injuries. Ovechkin's late season surge redeemed him enough to earn him a reprieve as well. That leaves only Backstrom, who disappointed fantasy owners by registering just 65 points in 77 contests, a drop of 36 points from his 2009-10 season, in which he crossed the century mark for the first time in his career. The fact that he plays alongside the league's most explosive player makes us believe he's due for a big rebound in 2011-12, but there's no denying the fact that Backstrom, who was likely a top-five pick in most leagues, failed to live up to his massive expectations.

Tampa Bay Lightning – 46-25-11 record – 247 GF – 240 GA

After a season in which they failed to reach the postseason, the Lightning bounced back in a major way in 2010-11. After leading the way in the Southeast Division for much of the year, the team eventually ceded the top spot to the surging Capitals, but the season was a success nonetheless. The story of the Tampa Bay offensive attack begins and ends with two men: Martin St. Louis and Steve Stamkos. For the second straight year, each of them recorded over 90 points and both were among the league's scoring leaders. Team captain Vincent Lecavalier, hoping to rebound from a sub-par campaign, suffered a broken hand just 11 games into the year, but returned from the ailment in strong fashion and eventually posted 54 points in 65 games played. While the offense was the most impressive part of the Lightning's game, the mid-season acquisition of Dwayne Roloson could turn out to be the most important move of the team's season. After newly-signed Dan Ellis and incumbent Mike Smith took turns mishandling opportunities to claim the starter's job, Rolsoon was brought in from the Islanders and immediately solidified the position.

Breakout Player of the Season: After failing to live up to the expectations that hung over his head as a member of the Los Angeles Kings, Teddy Purcell flourished in his first full season with the Bolts and recorded 51 points in 81 games in Tampa. Purcell's role as a power play specialist was a good fit for the talented winger. He registered 21 of his points with the man advantage. It's hard to imagine Purcell will take another step forward next season, but we have seen enough from him to believe he'll finally stick as an NHL regular.

Biggest Bust of the Season: Expected to fill a noticeable void on the Lightning power play, the set-up for Pavel Kubina entering the season seemed perfect. Little did his fantasy owners know the Czech blueliner had little left in the tank. The hulking defender finished the season with only four goals and 19 assists for 23 points (only five on the power play) and showed with his play that his days as a power play quarterback are likely behind him.

Carolina Hurricanes– 40-31-11 record – 236 GF – 239 GA

Looking back at the season in its entirety, it's hard to figure out where the Hurricanes went wrong. The campaigns turned in by offensive leader Eric Staal and number one netminder Cam Ward were both perfectly fine. The former notched 33 goals, including 12 on the power play, while the latter amassed 37 wins, a 2.56 GAA and a career-best .923 save percentage. The Canes also received better-than-expected contributions from rookie phenom Jeff Skinner and gritty veteran Tuomo Ruutu, but the depth of skill in the Eastern Conference was simply too much for Carolina to overcome. Despite a late-season charge, the Hurricanes were unable to catch the Rangers, Sabres or Canadiens down the stretch and finished on the outsidelooking in at the playoffs.

Breakout Player of the Season: It's pretty obvious that this honor must go to the formidable Jeff Skinner. In fact, Skinner may have been the biggest breakout star in the entire league. As an 18 year-old playing in his first NHL season, Skinner wowed the league by totalling 31 goals and 32 helpers for a grand total of 63 points, which is a fantastic result for a player of his age. The dynamic Hurricane was named as an All-Star replacement for this year's game, which was held in Carolina, but we're willing to bet this isn't the last time he laces up his skates for this game.

Biggest Bust of the Season: After registering 40 points in just 72 contests in 2009-10, Brandon Sutter had many believers in NHL circles and the consensus seemed to be there was still room for improvement from the 21 year-old. Those expectations are what make this year's 29 point campaign such a disappointment. Sutter spent the majority of his time this season on one of the Hurricanes' checking lines, as evidenced by the fact that he recorded only three points with the man advantage. It is yet to be determined whether Sutter's ultimate future in the league is that of a top-line scorer, but this season doesn't make us very hopeful of that possibility.

Atlanta Thrashers– 34-36-12 record – 223 GF – 269 GA

The Thrashers started the season in typical fashion, with just seven wins through 19 contests, but the team caught fire in late November and rattled off eight wins in their next nine games and found themselves in a playoff position in December. But alas, it wasn't meant to be. The club leaked oil down the stretch and found themselves tumbling down the Eastern Conference standings through the season's final days. Surprisingly, the Thrashers managed to score a reasonable number of goals, led by Andrew Ladd's 29, but the team was dreadful at keeping pucks out of their own goal. Ondrej Pavelec grabbed hold of the starting job and didn't look back, although he was let down by his teammates on a number of occasions in the season's second half.

Breakout Player of the Season: Prior to the season, who would have guessed that a move back to the blueline would transform Dustin Byfuglien from a third-line grinder to Mike Green, circa 2009? Big Buff was arguably the most valuable fantasy rearguard in the league as he amassed 20 goals, 33 assists and 93 penalty minutes in what will likely go down as his career season.

Biggest Bust of the Season: It would appear that Byfuglien's gain was Zach Bogosian's loss. The former third overall pick failed to find his offensive game playing on the team's second defensive pairing and earning precious little power play time. Call us stubborn, but we're still optimistic about Bogosian's future in the league, although we're beginning to wonder whether his breakout will come in a different uniform.

Florida Panthers – 30-40-12 record – 195 GF – 229 GA

Years from now, the 2010-11 season might be remembered in South Florida simply as "rock bottom". After a couple of uneven months to begin the campaign, the Panthers' rebuilding process saw them deal away everything that wasn't nailed down prior to the NHL trade deadline and what was left of their roster was remarkable in its ineptitude down the stretch. General Manager Dale Tallon undoubtedly has designs on putting together a winning team in the future, but a lineup that was led in scoring by Stephen Weiss's 49 points is definitely a long way from respectability.

Breakout Player of the Season: It wasn't easy to find a silver lining in the dark cloud that was the Panthers' season, but if there was one, Mike Santorelli had to be it. The former Predator took advantage of the expanded role he was afforded by finding the back of the net 20 times and recording 21 helpers, which placed him second in team scoring. On a club boasting more offensive depth, Santorelli would likely fade into the background, but on the goal-starved Panthers, he's a reliable option.

Biggest Bust of the Season: I have driven the David Booth bandwagon for some time so color me surprised at his lack of results this year. With 23 goals, 17 assists and a whopping minus-31 rating, Booth has yet to regain the form he showed when he tallied 31 times in 72 games in 2008-09. If you're looking for a reason to remain optimistic about his prospects, the fact that he directed 280 shots on goal, good for 12th in the league, would be a good place to start. Keep the faith.

Kevin Brown is fantasy hockey writer for Rotoworld. You can find him on Twitter @kbrownroto.
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