Washington Capitals: Can They Compete with the Lightning and Hurricanes?

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Washington Capitals: Can They Compete with the Lightning and Hurricanes?
Rob Carr/Getty Images

The NHL is like a desert, an ever-changing landscape where what was solid and static one day can literally vanish overnight and be replaced by something starkly different the very next.

Take the Southeast division for instance. For the past few years, the Washington Capitals were the dominant team: the leaders of the pack, the alpha dogs.

Last season though, the Caps faltered and the Florida Panthers rose from nowhere to claim the division for their own.

As we now head towards (hopefully) the 2012-2013 season, the Southeast division looks poised to change yet again. For the first time in years, it is anyone's guess who will come out on top. All five teams have made moves and choices designed to give themselves a leg up.

The Winnipeg Jets went out and acquired Olli Jokinen (NHL.com) although most would agree that the Jets simply have too many holes to fill for them to make a serious challenge for the divisional title this year.

The defending champion Panthers really did not do too much, although rumors of a trade for Roberto Luongo continue to be reported in places such as the Sun Sentinel. For whatever reason, the Panthers seem to be getting overlooked by many as being a real threat to repeat as Southeast division champions this coming season.

No, it is the other three teams—the Carolina Hurricanes, Tampa Bay Lightning and Washington Capitals—who have made the most noise in the offseason and all of whom seem determined to gain a leg up on the other.

The Hurricanes first went and made a huge draft day deal with the Penguins to acquire Jordan Staal to bring him to Carolina and play with his brother Eric (NHL.com): an immediate upgrade for the Hurricanes on offense.

Not satisfied, the Canes then went and snagged Alexander Semin from their division rivals via free agency (NBC Sports). As any Caps' fan knows, Semin has a huge amount of talent and potential, but he has a tendency to come up small when it counts most.

Meanwhile, the Lightning went in the other direction trying to shore up a defense that was a train wreck a year ago.

First they signed free agent defenseman Sami Salo (The Canadian Press via The Hockey News). They then signed perhaps the best defenseman on the market whose name was not Ryan Suter when they inked Matt Carle for six years (USA Today).

They then sought to perhaps find a new starting goalie as they acquired Anders Lindback from the Nashville Predators (ESPN).

The Capitals, perhaps the most balanced of the three teams, took a different approach and instead addressed the biggest need the team has had the past few years—finding a second line center—by executing their own draft day trade with the Dallas Stars for Mike Ribeiro (Washington Times).

The Caps also added some role players to the squad by acquiring players like defenseman Jack Hillen (Washington Post) and winger Wojtek Wolski (Washington Post).

Perhaps the biggest move the Caps made was taking a gamble that Mike Green would remain healthy, and that he could return to his prior form that resulted in consecutive 70 plus point seasons, as they signed Green to a new three year deal (Washington Post).

Oh and of course there is a new head coach in Washington as the Caps have brought in Adam Oates to take the reins (ESPN).

The question that Caps' fans everywhere have to be wondering—aside from whether there will be a season at all—is whether the team has done enough this offseason to counter the moves made by both the Hurricanes and Lightning? Can they compete with the Hurricanes and Lightning for the Southeast division title—or have they been passed by their rivals from Raleigh and Tampa?

It is a difficult question to answer or analyze. So let's break this down, piece by piece, to see if the Caps still have what it takes to reign supreme in the Southeast.

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