A few years ago, the Southeast Division was considered one of the weakest in the league. That is not the case anymore. All of these teams have improved over the offseason and in my opinion, will be one of the closest and most exciting to watch. Last season, only the Washington Capitals made it to the postseason. Look for two teams to make it to the postseason where two possibly three of the other teams will be fighting for the last spot.
Atlanta Thrashers: (83 points last season, 10th place in East)
State of the Union: The Thrashers had a disappointing season last year, missing the playoffs for the fourth straight season. They were forced to trade star winger Ilya Kovalchuk when they failed to resign him to a long term deal. The Thrashers are led offensively by Nik Anthropov, Rich Peverley, and Evander Kane. The defense is led by Zach Bogosian, Tobias Enstrom. The Thrashers also have a solid goaltending duo of Chris Mason and Ondrej Pavelec.
Off-Season Moves: The Thrashers were very busy this offseason. They brought in Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, Ben Eager and and Brent Sopel, all from the Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks. They also added veterans Chris Mason, Freddy Meyer and Ron Hainsey.
Biggest Question: How will the Thrashers find scoring in the post-Kovalchuk era?
Prediction: 4th in the Southeast Division.
Carolina Hurricanes: (80 points last season, 11th place in East)
State of the Union: Eric Staal and Cam Ward sustained injuries last season and were the key reasons why the Hurricanes didn’t make the playoffs. Both are healthy now and looking to bring back the glory days of 2006. Staal is aided by Jussi Jokinen and Brandon Sutter on offense. Joni Pitkanen and Tim Gleason lead the defense.
Off-season Moves: The biggest loss on and off the ice was Rod Brind’Amour who hung up the skates this summer. They also lost star foward Ryan Whitney while signing Joe Corvo and bringing back Anton Babchuk.
Biggest Question: Will Eric Staal be able to carry the Hurricanes into the playoffs?
Prediction: 3rd in the Southeast Division.
Florida Panthers: (77 points last season, 14th place in East)
State of the Union: The Panthers had a rough season last year finishing 14th in the East. An injury to key players David Booth and Thomas Volkoun really hurt the Cats last season. With both players healthy, the young Panthers are looking to rebound. Stephen Weiss and Michael Frolik will put up points while Bryan McCabe and Denis Wideman will be solid on defense.
Off-Season Moves: The Panthers made a splash by sending sniper Nathan Horton to the Bruins for Denis Wideman. They also brought in Scott Clemenson, Michael Grabner, and Steve Bernier.
Biggest Question: Will aging Thomas Volkoun be able to remain solid in net?
Prediction: 5th in the Southeast Division.
Tampa Bay Lightning: (80 points last season, 12th place in East)
State of the Union: The Lightning have undergone a major renovation with just about all front office positions being filled by new shoes. The Lightning have a very potent offense boosting Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier, and Simon Gagne. The defense is led by Mattias Ohlund, Pavel Kubina, and Victor Hedman. The combo of Mike Smith and Dan Ellis will provide solid goaltending.
Off-Season Moves: The Lightning resigned Steve Downie and extended Martin St. Louis for four more years. An extension for Stamkos is a priority for Yzerman now. Yzerman also signed Brett Clark, Pavel Kubina, Dominic Moore, and Dan Ellis. Yzerman acquired Cedric Dejasdins, Simon Gagne, and a 2nd round draft pick in exchange for Kari Ramo, Matt Walker, and Andrej Mezsaros. Enforcer Zenon Konopka and defenseman Kurtis Foster left via free agency.
Biggest Question: Will the goaltending combo of Mike Smith and Dan Ellis live up to their expectations from Steve Yzerman?
Prediction: 1st in the Southeast Division.
Washington Capitals: (121 points last season, 1st place in East)
State of the Union: The Capitals are fresh off of a President’s trophy run but an early exit from the playoffs. Ovechkin, Semin, and Backstrom will provide primary scoring while Knuble, Fleischman, and Laich will give the secondary scoring necessary. Mike Green and Tom Poti lead the defense. Semyon Varlamov (injured for first month) and Michal Neuvirth will be expected to put up big numbers.
Off-Season Moves: The Capitals had a very quiet offseason with the only major move being the loss of Jose Theodore via free agency.
Biggest Question: Will Alexander Semin be able to get back on track during his contract season?
Prediction: 2nd in the Southeast Division.
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