Why the Capitals Will Win the Southeast Division
The Capitals seem to have turned into the San Jose Sharks of the East. They blow it during the playoffs, but during the regular season they are money.
The Caps made arguably the best free -agent signing of the offseason when they added top-notch goaltender Tomas Vokoun for $1.5 million. That's a huge upgrade in an important area, and Washington will be that much better off for it.
That move alone could put the Presidents' Trophy within their reach.
But the other additions they made were savvy as well. They are so sick of losing in the playoffs that they went out and picked up Joel Ward, a guy who has only proven that he can play during the playoffs. Adding him to a mix that already includes a Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Semin and Alex Ovechkin adds a depth to the attack that wasn't there before.
Ditto for Troy Brouwer, another proven winner with a playoff-type attitude that could help change the culture in Washington. There may be a little pressure on him to perform since he cost the Caps a first-round pick, but it isn't something that should be an issue.
All these pieces add up to at least another Southeast Division title for a team that is capable of so much more.
Why the Rest of the Southeast Won't Win the Division Title
The Florida Panthers finally found an excuse to try and ice a competitive hockey team come October. The cap floor raised so much that it gave them the space to pick up a plethora of players that they may not have been able to sign a year ago.
With each passing signing and trade, I got the feeling that Dale Tallon was just throwing darts at the names of free agents, and then spinning a roulette wheel to determine salary, but that is besides the point.
This is a considerably better version of the Panthers, but that isn't saying much. By my count they added eight new players to their roster, all of them adding a little something that wasn't there prior. Could Brian Cambell and Jose Theodore combine for a winning record? Perhaps.
But this is still a team a ways away from being able to down the mighty Caps for the division crown. There is youth here, a lot of winners and perhaps a newfound energy, but that isn't going to cut it this year.
Winnipeg finally has their hockey team, and unlike their aforementioned southern counterparts, will sell out every home game no matter what the on-ice product is. There is a good foundation here, but what stands out the most here is an abundance of cap space.
No team in the NHL has more than the new Jets.
They have an exciting group of young forwards that includes the likes of Evander Kane and Bryan Little, and Andrew Ladd will be one of the most popular athletes in Canada by the end of the season. Outside of the top five or six guys, however, the goals and point sources dry up considerably.
No disrespect to Tanner Glass or anything.
The strength on this squad last year was points from the defense, but that may be in question now as Dustin Byfuglien has apparently put on a lot more weight than he should have this summer. Like, a lot more weight.
Ondrej Pavelec and Chris Mason will continue to soldier on in net, and a playoff appearance is not totally out of the question for the Jets, but is a bit unlikely. Not as unlikely, however, as taking down the Capitals from their high perch.
Some winds of change were blowing for the Carolina Hurricanes this summer, as the team made several noteworthy moves during free agency. Overlooked were the additions of players like Anthony Stewart and Brian Boucher—who could actually allow Cam Ward more than five or six games worth of rest this season.
The biggest shakeup came in the form of Tomas Kaberle, fresh off of a Cup run with the Boston Bruins. He brings his big shot to the Carolinas, where talented blueliners Jame McBain and Joni Pitkanen await.
Eric Staal is still in place as Captain 'Cane, while Brandon Sutter and Jeff Skinner will need to continue to mature for this offense to reach full capacity.
Cam Ward won't lose many games for you, and he'll be sturdy as always as the Hurricanes try to get back into playoff contention. While the changes were positive, it still isn't enough to knock the Capitals out of the air. (I'm done with Hurricane plays-on-words forever now...I think.)
Tampa Bay Lightning
The Tampa Bay Lightning have a feeling about them. Much like the Chicago Blackhawks did before their Cup run, this squad has a touch of destiny to it that is hard to ignore. The pieces are falling into place in rapid succession, and the squad isn't far off from competing for the Cup (if they are far off at all).
It's hard to write it, but the biggest hiccup for the Lightning could come in net. Dwayne Roloson is just getting old. He was the savior of the season last year, and one of two brilliant trades made by GM Steve Yzerman—I will never get used to typing that—that pushed the Lightning further than most thought they could make it in the playoffs.
Which was up and over the heavily favored Capitals.
The second trade acquisition, Eric Brewer, was kept on board as he was pivotal in securing Tampa's blue line. Victor Hedman won't win any scoring races for you, but he will concuss league-leading scorers and play good stay-at-home D.
No big moves were made on offense, and none were needed. This forward corps is as dynamic as any in the league, and Steven Stamkos could be primed for a monster season after a summer of ridiculous training.
All the firepower in the world isn't going to keep the Caps from winning the division, though if the two squads meet again in the playoffs the story could very well be the same.