I'm continuing my six-part series of division previews. Today I will give my predictions for the Southeast Division.
The Southeast will be one of the more wide open divisions in the NHL, as most of the teams in this division have a chance at first place and/or a playoff berth. Here are my predicted standings for the Southeast:
Washington Capitals: 97 points
Tampa Bay Lightning: 92 points
Florida Panthers: 90 points
Carolina Hurricanes: 88 points
Atlanta Thrashers: 74 points
It will be another exciting year for the Capitals and their fans. Washington has a multitude of young players.
The Capitals have a good amount of veterans who can chip in offensively and provide leadership. Players like Sergei Federov, Viktor Kozlov, Chris Clark, and Michael Nylander give the Capitals an abundance of experience and supporting offense. These supporting players help the superstars like Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, and Nicklas Backstrom shine, and ensure the Capitals have plenty of offensive firepower.
Defense seemed to be a problem for the Capitals in the past, but the surprising emergence of defenseman Mike Green helped to boost the Capitals' defensive corps. Defenseman Tom Poti and Jeff Schultz bring solid defense to the Caps, along with some offensive production.
Goaltending may be a problem for the Capitals. The loss of goaltender Cristobal Huet definitely hurt Washington between the pipes. Veterans Brent Johnson and Jose Theodore will be heavily relied on to bring the Capitals to the playoffs.
It was an offseason of change for the Lightning—but it may have been for the better, as it seems Tampa could make a playoff run.
The Tampa Bay Lightning made huge changes to their offense. Tampa Bay revamped their offense with key acquisitions. The Lightning drafted superstar Steve Stamkos and signed Vaclav Prospal, Ryan Malone, Mark Recchi, Gary Roberts, among others. These moves will definitely ensure they have one of the best offenses in the Southeast division.
Defense will be a problem for the Lightning. Tampa traded veteran defenseman Filip Kuba and Andre Picard for Ottawa defenseman Andrej Mezsaros. The Lightning also traded number-one defenseman Dan Boyle to the Sharks for defenseman Matt Carle. The Lightning are extremely thin on experience at the blue line. This lack of experience could keep Tampa from achieving a playoff berth.
The Lightning's goaltending is the main reason people don't think they can make the playoffs. Goaltender Olaf Kolzig is good, but too old to carry the load. Goaltender Mike Smith will be relied on to share the load with Kolzig, but Kerri Ramo also will have to chip in a bit. The Lightning's goaltending is their biggest weakness, and could really hurt their high-powered offense as well.
The Florida Panthers will once again stay in the playoff hunt until the end of the season, but, once again, will falter.
The Panthers offense will be their biggest question. If young players like Nathan Horton, Stephen Weiss, Kamil Kreps, and Rostislav Olesz reach their potential, the Panthers' offense will become much stronger. The addition of Cory Stillman will also provide the Panthers with experience and offensive production.
The Panthers, on paper, seem to possess the best defense in the Southeast. The acquisitions of Nick Boynton, Keith Ballard, and Bryan McCabe will help make a decent defense much better and stronger. These defensemen will help lessen the offensive load on Panthers' defenseman Jay Bouwmeester. Veterans Bryan Allen and Karlis Skrastins will also provide the Panthers with more experience and physicality.
Tomas Vokoun and Craig Anderson will provide Florida with the best goaltending in the Southeast division. Goaltending will keep the Panthers in games, and allow them to steal wins in games they shouldn't.
The Carolina Hurricanes will have another disappointing season. They made few moves to change their team, and will be very average this season.
The Hurricanes offense will remain strong, even with the loss of Erik Cole. Players like Eric Stall, Ray Whitney, and Sergei Samsonov will keep the offense strong. Rod Brind'Amour coming back from injury will also help the Hurricanes' offense.
The Hurricanes will have a very average defense. They acquired defenseman Joni Pitkanen from the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for Erik Cole. Joe Corvo will also help add offensive production to the Hurricane blue line.
It seems goaltending will be decent, as Cam Ward has looked great at moments and horrible at others. Back-up goaltender Michael Leighton will give Carolina a solid one-two punch in between the pipes.
The Atlanta Thrashers will actually be worse than they were last year. It is gonna take a few years before Atlanta rights this ship.
Ilya Kovalchuck, Colby Armstrong, and Jason Williams will give the Thrashers solid offense. Vyacheslav Kozlov and Todd White will be solid support players for the Thrashers on the offensive end of the ice.
The drafting of defenseman Zach Bogosian will help the Thrashers in the future, but in the present the Thrashers' defense is suspect at best. Tobias Enstrom became Atlanta's best puck-moving defenseman last season. Garnet Exelby and Ron Hainsey will also bring physicality and experience to the Thrashers' blue-line.
The Thrashers will be solid between the pipes. Goaltender Kari Lehtonen has been good but inconsistent, and will need to improve for the Thrashers to be competitive. Johan Hedberg is a solid backup, and will continue to provide quality starts in net for Atlanta.
The Southeast Division will be very unpredictable, but I see the Capitals and Lightning making the playoffs, but both Carolina and Florida will be in the hunt until the very end. It should be an interesting race.