NHL training camps are a couple months away—barring any collective bargaining agreement issues—and free-agent signings are shaking things up, but it's never too early to talk playoffs.
Thursday, the Carolina Hurricanes picked up Alexander Semin from Southeast Division foe, the Washington Capitals (per NHL.com). The one-year deal could be the best, or worst, $7 million the 'Canes have ever spent.
If the signing makes Carolina the team to beat in the Southeast, as evidenced in the Southeast Division power rankings. What the signing may do, however, is provide the division with another playoff team.
The Southeast hasn't had three playoff teams this century. Could 2012-13 be the first year it happens? It's a fairly tight division with Carolina, Tampa Bay, Florida (2011-12 division champions) and Washington.
Could three of them make the playoffs?
The Eastern Conference playoffs have been dominated by the Atlantic and Northeast Division in recent years.
When the Capitals won the Presidents' Trophy in 2009-10, they were the only team out of the Southeast.
That same year, 88 points earned two teams playoff spots. Last year, 92 points earned two teams playoff spots.
The Atlantic Division dominated the postseason in 2011-12 with four teams recording over 100 points. The New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers and New Jersey Devils all hit the century mark.
The Rangers earned the top seed with 109 points. New Jersey finished fourth in the division at 102, still eight points higher than the Florida Panthers.
The Northeast had a down year, relatively, with only two playoff berths. That is the first time the Northeast had just two playoff teams since 2008-09.
The Western Conference has earned the Presidents' Trophy in four of the last five seasons (Washington 2009-10), but that hasn't helped the top seed much in the playoffs.
It's an odd contradiction: The two divisions that have taken the backseat in the postseason are on opposite sides of the continent. What the Eastern Conference has in the Southeast, the Western Conference has in the Northwest.
The Northwest Division hasn't earned more than two representatives to the postseason since 2007-08. Each of the last two seasons, Vancouver has been the only team to make it out of the Northwest.
The Pacific and Central Divisions are constantly jockeying for conference supremacy. When one division nets four playoff teams, the other responds in a few years.
Both divisions seemingly always have three representatives in the postseason.
The Northwest got two teams in. The Central racked up four, leaving out the Nashville Predators who were just three points out of a spot.
In 2011-12, the Central notched four playoff teams again. Columbus was left out and wasn't anywhere near a spot.
Again, the Northwest had just one berth and the Pacific added three. That includes the eventual Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings.
Sixteen Teams, Six Divisions, Two Conferences
The teams that qualify for the postseason are way too hard to predict at this point. The regular season will decide that in time.
But, based on talent in each division, teams beating up on each other and history, you can speculate how many berths each division will get.
Here is how I see it:
Look at all that talent in this division. That said, I believe these teams will hammer at each other until two fall behind.
I like what the Southeast has done to improve. They have added some good talent from divisions like the Atlantic (Matt Carle). This could be the year the Southeast gets three teams in.
The Northeast has playoff fixtures in the playoffs. Without naming who I feel will get in, I see two spots from this division.
This may surprise some, especially with the improvements and additions to this division. Zach Parise and Ryan Suter add Minnesota to the talks. The Avalanche have improved. The Flames have improved and Edmonton is getting closer.
Oh, Vancouver, two-time defending Presidents' Trophy winner, is in this division too. Still, I see just two getting in.
The Central Division gets three teams in. It's tough to assume anything less with the talent in this division. Excluding Columbus, the Central Division won 57 percent of its games against conference opponents last season. That's good enough to get three in.
The Pacific qualified three teams last season and could be even more talented this season. Again, I won't name who I feel will be in but I think there are four teams that have the talent to make the playoffs. Realistically, only three will earn a spot.