NHL Power Rankings: Southeast Division

Eric SteitzAnalyst IIIJuly 26, 2012

NHL Power Rankings: Southeast Division

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    The Alexander Semin question found an answer on Thursday. Semin left the Washington Capitals and joined Southeast Division rival, the Carolina Hurricanes.

    Semin has been inconsistent but he could be a valuable piece for the 'Canes, and could cause a changing of the guard in the Southeast.

    Last season, the Southeast Division finished with all five teams within 12 points. Up until the final few weeks of the season, it didn't look like anyone wanted to win the division.

    Eventually, the Florida Panthers claimed the division crown with 94 points, two ahead of the Washington Capitals.

    The Caps also made the playoffs as the seventh-seed in the Eastern Conference. They nearly won the division title by finishing 6-2-2 in the last 10 games of the season.

    The Panthers sputtered down the stretch going 2-3-5 in the final 10 games, but held on.

    Tampa Bay was plagued by injuries on defense and in goal. They finished third with 84 points.

    Winnipeg, in their first season since moving from Atlanta, looked a little jet-lagged at points. They tied with the Bolts with 84 points but had the best record against division teams.

    Carolina claimed the division cellar with 82 points and was the only team with a losing record against teams in the Southeast.

    The offseason has seen some big names come to the division, causing a change in the pecking order.  

5. Winnipeg Jets

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    The Winnipeg Jets finished tied for third in the division last season and have added some firepower.

    The Jets added Olli Jokinen and Alexei Ponikarovsky this offseason.

    Ponikarovsky had 33 points in a split-season with the New Jersey Devils and Carolina Hurricanes.

    Jokinen netted 63 points in Calgary but was criticized by some of the big guns in Calgary about his efforts.

    Also, consider the Jets have Dustin Byfuglien, Evander Kane and Andrew Ladd to provide a significant amount of offense.

    Winnipeg did boast the best record against division teams last season (14-6-4) but the division is much tougher now. The question is can Ondrej Pavalec improve on his 29-28-1 record?

    The Jets finish fifth in the Southeast this season.

4. Washington Capitals

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    The Washington Capitals went 12-8-4 against division opponents last season and lost a few big names this offseason.

    One of those names is Alex Semin, who just signed with division foe Carolina.

    The Caps re-signed Mike Green and still have Alex Ovechkin and Nick Backstrom.

    A new head coach will help, as well. Adam Oates steps behind the bench next season. He will bring an offensive-minded system to Washington.

    The offensive-minded system should help Ovi and Backstrom to score more points, but the Caps may not stop a lot of goals, and the Southeast division can score; the Southeast hosts the reigning Rocket Richard Trophy winner—Steven Stamkos.

    I think it will take a year to get this new system figured out—especially for some of the more emotional players like Ovi.

3. Carolina Hurricanes

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    The Carolina Hurricanes have done a solid job of improving this offseason; they are moving up to No. 3 based more on what is already on the roster.

    Goaltender Cam Ward has won at least 30 games in five of his last six seasons. His 30-23-13 record last season was considered a down year.

    If he has a good year, he may add another six to eight wins. In a division this close, an additional 12 points can go a long way. Ward is the goaltender to do it.

    The signing of Alex Semin is a risk for the 'Canes, but it could pay great dividends. If it does, the Staal brothers have another weapon.

    Carolina gets a great year from Ward and the Staal brothers produce to move the 'Canes out of the division cellar.

2. Tampa Bay Lightning

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    It's tough to put a team that has done so much to improve this offseason at third, but that's where the Lightning sit currently.

    Tampa Bay had the league's worst defense last season but brought in big-name defensemen Sami Salo and Matt Carle.

    The Bolts also got tougher up front with the addition grinder B.J. Crombeen. And in goal, the Bolts brought in Anders Lindback from Nashville.

    The Mathieu Garon/Lindback tandem is unproven.

    New faces will take some time to develop the chemistry needed to fit into Coach Guy Boucher's system. With offensive talent like Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier and Steven Stamkos, it's tough to not give the Bolts a chance in the division.

    The Bolts finish second in the division and get back to the playoffs.

1. Florida Panthers

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    I reordered the top three a few times before settling on the Florida Panthers taking the top spot.

    The reigning division champions have the most proven goaltenders in the division in Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen. And in case you want more depth, Jacob Markstrom isn't too shabby either.

    The Panthers went 33-19-12 against Eastern Conference teams last season and tested the New Jersey Devils in the first round of the playoffs.

    The Cats are a fairly young group offensively, but Tomas Fleischmann could be ready to break out and don't sleep on Stephen Weiss.

    Florida also has the top-rated prospect group in the league. That could pay dividends if injuries bite the division like they did last season.

    Offseason additions like Filip Kuba, Casey Wellman and Peter Mueller should help the Panthers get to the top of the Southeast.

    It's a wide-open division but the Panthers look like the favorites to take the division crown at this point in the offseason.