Washington: Look for the Capitals to dominate the weak Southeast division again this year. Alexander Ovechkin and the high powered offense of the Caps is still there and will continue to own the South East, and perhaps the Conference. Washington didn’t make many off season moves as they remained relatively quiet after being knocked out in the first round by the Montreal Canadiens.
The defense for the Capitals is sub-par and the Goaltending is less than average which may cost them again this season. The two most important pieces that most teams build upon is the goaltending and defense, which Washington has virtually none of. The talents of their scoring alone will carry this team to another division title, but don’t look for this team to go very deep in the playoffs. Players to watch on the Caps will be Alexander Ovechkin as always, along with Mike Green.
Tampa Bay: This season I expect the Tampa Bay Lightning to finish 2nd in the South East Division because of the moves they made this off season. The Lightning acquired Simon Gagne from the Philadelphia Flyers, while also signing Pavel Kubina, Brett Clark, Dominic Moore, and Dan Ellis in the pipes. Ellis should make the goaltending more steady, but still not great. Clark and Kubina help out the young defense of the Lightning and can bring some offense to the point.
The additions of Clark and Kubina should also help out Victor Hedman, the young budding start of defenseman who will be entering his sophomore season. Moore won’t score the most goals (as Sabre fans know), but he is a very good 2-way forward. Tampa Bay’s top forwards don’t get much better as they have Lecavalier, Gagne, St. Louis, Malone, and Stamkos (who recorded 51 goals last season). Expect the Lightning to do much better from last season and be on the edge of making the playoffs. Player to watch in Tampa Bay this year is Steven Stamkos as he is becoming the star of this team.
Atlanta: The Thrashers have a very young core of players and they were very busy this Summer. Dealing with their first off season without Ilya Kovalchuk, they were very active in acquiring players like Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, Brent Sopel, Donald Brashear, and Chris Mason. Mason may finally solve the goaltending issue that seems like Atlanta has always had. Mason is a very underrated starting goaltender as he posted solid numbers with an equally as bad St. Louis team.
Byfuglien will be Atlanta’s best player on paper to start the season. He is coming off of a terrific Stanley Cup victory where he was one of the key players in the series with his grit and determination. Sopel and Ladd are also coming off of a Cup win, so bringing in some veteran leadership can only improve this Thrashers lineup. Atlanta won’t be making a deep run in the playoffs this season, but will be better than expected now that they have improved in almost all areas.
I predict a 3rd place finish in the South East division for Atlanta this year. The player to watch for the Thrashers this season is Zach Bogosian. Look for him to come into his own defensively.
Florida: The Panthers finished in 5th place in the division last season and expect more of the same this year. The Panthers gave up on Horton after injuries prevented him from reaching his peak as they shipped him off to Boston for Dennis Wideman. The Panthers also added Chris Higgins, Marty Reasoner, Michael Grabner, and former Sabres Nathan Paetsch and Steve Bernier.
Florida did make some solid acquisitions this offseason but it won’t be enough to get them into the playoffs. I expect them to finish 4th in the South East. The player to watch on the Panthers would be Stephen Weiss. Weiss can emerge as a star and become the player the Panthers have wanted him to be.
Carolina: The Hurricanes didn’t make many offseason moves and that is why they will finish in about the same spot as last year again. Missing the playoffs is a very likely scenario for this team after they lost their leader in Rob Brind’Amour to retirement. The rest of the team is still intact and by far this teams star player is Eric Staal. Staal carries this team along with Cam Ward, who hasn’t played up to expectations after he won the Cup in 2006.
Sergei Samsonov and Erik Cole are getting older and their games are starting to fall off. This team would need a big season from Tuomo Ruutu, Staal, and Ward to carry them to the playoffs, but it’s not likely. Look for the Canes to finish last place in the South East and miss the playoffs again this year. The player to watch this year for the Canes is Eric Staal as he is the most talented on this team.
Let’s hear your predictions for the South East Division. Leave a comment below.
This is the first of six division previews. The Atlantic division will be featured on August 21st.