NHL preview: Southeast Division
JAN 10, 2013 10:31a ET
2011-12 Record: 38-36-8 (10th place)
Additions: G Anders Lindback, D Sami Salo, D Matt Carle, F B.J. Crombeen, F Benoit Pouliot, D Matt Taormina, F Kyle Wilson
Subtractions: G Sebastien Caron, D Bruno Gervais, F Brandon Segal, F Michel Ouellet
Where We Last Left Off: The Tampa Bay defense was blitzed to the tune of a league-worst 3.39 goals per game as the team finished eight points out of a playoff spot. Steven Stamkos became the first player since Alex Ovechkin in 2007-08 to score 60 goals.
2013 Outlook: Few teams fell off the map in 2011-12 quite like the Lightning, who were never really in the thick of the playoff hunt a season after qualifying for the Eastern Conference Final. Goaltending was the main culprit. Dwayne Roloson has left to tend to the red-light sunburn on the back of his neck, giving way to first-time No. 1 Anders Lindback. Acquired over the summer from Nashville when other options – Roberto Luongo? Jonathan Bernier? – were available and a deep talent pool could support a trade, the 6-foot-7 behemoth who has made 28 career starts is the biggest question mark on an improved team capable of a rebound. He’ll be aided by a reinforced defense, led by free agent signee Matt Carle. Carle won’t necessarily make the goalie’s job any easier defensively, but he’s a minutes-eater who puts up points and can resuscitate last year’s 25th-ranked power play. Veteran Sami Salo will be deemed a worthy investment if he stays healthy, while Victor Hedman had a terrific experience in Kazakhstan as one of the KHL’s best defensemen and is eager to take an elite step in his development as a 22-year-old. There is a lot to be excited about in Hedman’s 2013 season. Eric Brewer provides toughness and character to a defensive corps that appears to be vastly upgraded. Up front, Steven Stamkos is coming off the league’s first 60-goal season in four years and is at the point of his career where he’s a perennial Hart Trophy candidate if healthy. With Stamkos, Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, Teddy Purcell and perhaps sophomore Brett Connolly benefiting from the improved power play personnel, Tampa could improve on its eighth-ranked 2.83 goals per game from a season ago. The Lightning’s AHL affiliate Norfolk at one point won 29 games in a row on the road to a Calder Cup title and should be a fountain of valuable reinforcements – consider Binghamton’s Calder Cup influence on Ottawa a season ago. Because of the shortened season, Lindback must avoid some early spotty play that puts the Lightning in a position to have to fight from behind to make the playoffs. There have been improvements made defensively to cushion him with enough support so that they probably won’t have to. This is a playoff team.
2011-12 Record: 42-32-8 (7th place). Defeated Boston (4-3) in quarterfinals. Lost to New York Rangers (4-3) in semifinals.
Additions: F Mike Ribeiro, F Joey Crabb, F Wojtek Wolski, D Jordan Henry, C Zach Hamill, F Ryan Stoa
Subtractions: F Alex Semin, G Tomas Vokoun, D Dennis Wideman, F Jeff Halpern, F Chris Bourque, F Keith Aucoin, F Cody Eakin
Where We Last Left Off: Midseason coaching replacement Dale Hunter led the Capitals within one game of the Eastern Conference Final before stepping down to return to the Ontario Hockey League. Former New Jersey Devils assistant coach Adam Oates takes over for a team that has won four divisional titles in five seasons.
2013 Outlook: Any success in the nation’s capital rests on whether Nicklas Backstrom is able to return from a December neck injury sustained in the KHL during the lockout. If he returns, Washington may be the slight favorite to with the Southeast. If he misses any substantial time, the Capitals will be in a struggle. Alex Ovechkin, down to a career-low 65 points last year – numbers reduced because of Backstrom’s head injury – certainly needs him. Mike Ribeiro is an excellent pickup, having averaged 67.8 points over his last six seasons; he shouldn’t find much trouble in surpassing the production lost from Alex Semin’s departure. Forward depth is filled with role players and experienced character types like Troy Brouwer and Jason Chimera. On defense, the Caps showed in the playoffs that they were a better team than the regular season outfit that allowed 2.76 goals per game. John Carlson had a better postseason than regular season. Mike Green was inked to a three-year, $18.25 million dollar contract and, if healthy, is an able replacement for the offense produced by Dennis Wideman, who left for Calgary. Dmitry Orlov is out with an upper-body injury and unlikely to be ready for the start of the season, while Tom Poti is in the final year of his contract and attempting to return from a hip injury that gravely threatened his career. Roman Hamrlik, still ticking at 38, is a veteran of three NHL lockouts who still has plenty to offer in his own end. The goaltending situation will be interesting in Washington, as always, and it is expected that playoff hero Braden Holtby will earn the right to lead the team out of the locker room on most nights. If he’s able to immediately seize the starting job out of the gates and forge some consistency out of what has largely been a platoon situation, the Capitals have the pieces for a division title. They’re still probably closer to last year’s team than the dominating regular season teams of recent seasons, but there’s enough here to contend for a mid-level playoff spot . . . if Backstrom is able to play.
2011-12 Record: 33-33-16 (12th place)
Additions: F Alex Semin, F Jordan Staal, D Joe Corvo, D Marc-Andre Gragnani
Subtractions: F Brandon Sutter, D Bryan Allen, D Brian Dumoulin
Where We Last Left Off: One of the league’s poorer defensive teams, Carolina allowed a league-worst 32.4 shots per game and made life awfully difficult for a besieged Cam Ward. They finished in the Southeast Division cellar and 12th in the Eastern Conference, 10 points out of a playoff spot.
2013 Outlook: Encouraging progress was made over the summer in Raleigh, and if the Canes can further the development of their young studs, this could be a dangerous team in the East. Plenty of defensive questions remain, but this should be a capable offensive outfit led by Jeff Skinner, who wasn’t always fully healthy in his sophomore campaign and should be counted on to have his scoring prowess return. The addition of Jordan Staal is an upgrade over Brandon Sutter and reinforces Carolina down the middle. Jiri Tlusty took a step forward last season and is ready for his first career 20-goal campaign, while Marc Staal rebounded well after a disastrous first half. He may skate with free agent signee Alexander Semin, who comes of back-to-back 54 point seasons. Tuomo Ruutu is out indefinitely following hip surgery, but there are still plenty of pieces up front for Carolina to feel good about itself offensively. Questions remain on the blue line. Having allowed the most shots in the league, Carolina let its leading shot blocker, rugged 6-foot-5 defenseman Bryan Allen depart for Anaheim. Tim Gleason remains the physical, stay-at-home pillar, but Carolina needs another player to emerge from the mix. Immense promise lays in Justin Faulk, whose 22:50 average ice time was the most on a well-rotated blue line. He played the way one would expect a 19-year old rookie defensemen who led his team in ice time to play. He made mistakes. Since then, he’s been blasting away shots for the first-place Charlotte Checkers and appears immediately ready to step in and continue his trajectory as an elite, well-rounded young defenseman. Carolina can’t afford for him to take a step back. Joe Corvo returned via free agency and brings high-risk offensive production. Cam Ward should be prepared to see a ton of rubber again, though the Hurricanes’ offensive improvement should stem the flow of offense in his direction. They’ll hang around the mix for the Southeast Division title, though it’s likely that their results over the final week of the season will determine whether they’ll be a playoff team or not.
2011-12 Record: 38-26-18 (3rd place). Lost to New Jersey (4-3) in quarterfinals.
Additions: D Filip Kuba, F Peter Mueller, F Casey Wellman, F Jean-Francois Jacques, F Andre Deveaux
Subtractions: D Jason Garrison, F Mikael Samuelsson, F Wojtek Wolski, F Bill Thomas, F Krys Barch, F Bracken Kearns, D Sean Sullivan
Where We Last Left Off: Playoff hockey – and the celebrated rat infestation – returned to South Florida for the first time in 12 years, bringing scores of Panthers fans out of the woodwork. Adam Henrique ended the party in the first round with a double overtime, Game 7 goal as New Jersey advanced.
2013 Outlook: The Panthers were a tough team to figure out a year ago. They were middle of the road in most statistical categories, had a minus-24 goal differential, won as many games as 10th place Tampa Bay, and still came within a deflection of upending the eventual Eastern Conference champs in the first round. They’ll hang a divisional banner at the BB&T Center, a testament to the culture and confidence coach Kevin Dineen instilled in a locker room that required jigsaw puzzle assemblage in his first year. Florida has a good work ethic and skates well, though there’s no enormous upside amongst a forward corps mostly comprised of second-line types. The line of Tomas Fleischmann, Stephen Weiss and Kris Versteeg carried the scoring a year ago and should be expected to maintain its production. The much more interesting (and pivotal) line is the second line, which should feature some combination of Peter Mueller, Scottie Upshall, Marcel Goc, Sean Bergenheim and 19-year-old rookie Jonathan Huberdeau, who may need to add weight. Though Mueller has plenty of speed and untapped goal scoring ability, it’s not a good sign if too much bearing is placed on an oft-injured winger yet to replicate a 22-goal rookie season five years in the past. Defenseman Brian Campbell is the most important player on this team. He hardly left the ice for Florida, appearing in all 82 games and averaging 26:53 of ice time, tying former Chicago teammate Duncan Keith for the most in the league. If he misses any extended time due to injury, the Panthers are in trouble, especially considering Dmitry Kulikov’s up-in-the-air status as an unsigned RFA. Filip Kuba was signed to replace Jason Garrison’s 16-goal, 33-point contribution, which will not be possible. The power play, one of Florida’s strengths a season ago, will suffer, while Kuba will experience post-Karlsson syndrome after leaving his Ottawa defensive partner and Norris Trophy winner. In net, promising prospect Jacob Markstrom can beat out either Jose Theodore or Scott Clemmensen, can’t he? Can’t he? Probably not. For an organization as committed to limiting expenses as Florida, it isn’t likely that Theodore or Clemmensen (curiously re-signed to a two-year deal in the offseason) will be moved. Theodore is a serviceable veteran starter who has seen his goals against average drop every year since 2008-09 and is in the final year of his contract. Tampa Bay and Carolina should improve in 2013, making Florida’s defensive questions and offensive mediocrity alarming. We still have faith in Dineen’s ability to get the most out of his Panthers, who will be in a major dogfight to make the playoffs.
2011-12 Record: 37-35-10 (11th place)
Additions: C Olli Jokinen, F Alexei Ponikarovsky, G Al Montoya
Subtractions: D Brett Festerling, F Tanner Glass, G Chris Mason, F Tim Stapleton
Where We Last Left Off: The Jets put on a show for the home fans in their return to Winnipeg, posting a 23-13-5 home record amidst the cacophony of the NHL’s most intimidating home ice advantage. They also had to play 41 games on the road, lost most of them, and sputtered down the stretch before finishing eight points out of a playoff spot.
2013 Outlook: Now that the honeymoon has wound down in Winnipeg, the 2013 season will provide a better window into the direction of a franchise that has experienced more lockouts than playoff berths. Anything is possible in the shortened season, but this doesn’t appear to be a Jets team capable of making any noise outside the walls of the raucous MTS Centre. There are reasons to be optimistic up front, where Evander Kane has seen his goals, assists and points rise in each of his three NHL seasons; the 21-year old was a 30-goal scorer a year ago. Blake Wheeler shook off some early-career inconsistency and impressively led the team in scoring with 64 points. Alexander Burmistrov had a respectable 20-year-old season but never really broke out last year and returns as one of the league’s most pristine breakthrough-worthy candidates. Olli Jokinen had a fine year last season and strengthens the Jets down the middle. This team will struggle again defensively. There are plenty of puck-moving and offensive types on the blue line – Dustin Byfuglien tied for second in league defensive scoring and combined with Tobias Enstrom to generate 86 points – but Zach Bogosian is likely to miss the early part of the season as he recovers from offseason wrist surgery. Winnipeg lacks a collection of stay-at-home defensive stalwarts, so more pressure will fall on the shoulders of Ondrej Pavelec, who has to prove that he’s a quality starting goaltender, not a mediocre one. He was unimpressive during the lockout while playing for HC Liberec of the Czech Extraliga. Though the Southeast Division is fairly wide open, a playoff berth will be a longshot for Winnipeg in 2013. And with the compacted schedule, how will travel to and from Winnipeg affect this team? There is some skill here, but not enough depth to challenge for anything above of the East’s last playoff spot. The Jets are still a year or two away – which may as well be this franchise’s battle cry.
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