We talk an awful lot about the relative strength of divisions in the NHL.
The Atlantic, for example, is loaded with some of the best sides in the league. The Northeast has good top teams and utter dross at the bottom. The Pacific has some squads capable of serious success. The Central could be the second-toughest top-to-bottom division. The Northwest has Vancouver and a bunch of minnows. The Southeast, though? Well, who knows?
If nothing else, it's been a summer of change for the Southeast Division, perhaps moreso than any other in the league. There have been somewhat stunning significant player movements, coaching changes, additions, and subtractions throughout the division, and now it's more or less impossible to tell who is going to do what, and finish where.
Obviously the big headline grabber in all this is Carolina, which finished dead last in the division and 12 points back of the winners. Jim Rutherford made it clear that he was done casting about in the bottom of the conference, and spent huge money and assets to both add and extend Jordan Staal, then added Alex Semin from a division rival for good measure. It's probably a lot to ask of those two players to add the equivalent of six wins over the course of next season, but what makes Carolina a contender here is what everyone else can do as the season progresses.
The issue for Florida, which somehow won the Southeast with 94 points, is that regression is bound to happen. You cannot play two consecutive seasons with Jose Theodore as your No. 1 goaltender and expect to win a division both times. Especially when your only notable offseason addition to bolster your chances is 35-year-old Filip Kuba, whose numbers, both obvious and underlying, were significantly inflated by playing with Erik Karlsson. It's also probably a lot to ask to get to overtime in 25 games again next season, 18 of which they lost. To be fair, they also have a few very good young players that may be ready for next season, so maybe someone out there can replace Jason Garrison's power play contributions. Of course, all this changes appreciably if they acquire Roberto Luongo as we all suspect they will, but that's not guaranteed to happen any time soon.
Washington is, I think, a total mystery to everyone. The team was bad under Bruce Boudreau, and worse under Dale Hunter. It's now on its third coach in less than a calendar year. It also lost Alex Semin to a division rival, and made up for it by bringing on Wojtek Wolski. On top of that, George McPhee gave Mike Green the kind of contract he deserved two years ago, but doesn't now, given that he can neither stay healthy nor produce at an Erik Karlsson-like pace.
What becomes of Alex Ovechkin, meanwhile, remains a mystery. Will he continue to be a 35ish-goal scorer, or will he actually become Alex Ovechkin again (though to be fair, scoring 38 goals in a season is really good)? And after a disastrous campaign for Michal Neuvirth, what of Braden Holtby, who has played 21 regular season games in his life? This is a team with far, far more questions than answers.
Tampa Bay, too, has improved, but again the question is by exactly how much. The offense isn't a problem, given that it's powered by Steven Stamkos, but keeping pucks out of the net at the other end will be. As with Washington's Holtby problem, we don't know how good Anders Lindback will be, no matter how improved the Bolts' defense is. This is a team that finished 30th in the league in goals against, 17 back of the next-closest team. Anything is an improvement, but if you think giving Sami Salo and Matt Carle big money is going to solve this problem, Steve Yzerman would like to speak to you about taking Vinny Lecavalier's contract of his hands.
Finally we come to the Winnipeg Jets, who should be grabbing lots more headlines this offseason. They only finished two points up on Carolina, buoyed by that incredible home run in December, but just eight points out of the playoffs. Ondrej Pavelec's contract may be hilariously bad, but Kevin Cheveldayoff made up for that by inking Olli Jokinen to an hilariously good one. This team is better than it was a year ago, but by how much?
The problem with the Southeast is the same as last year: No one stands out as being heads and shoulders better than the rest. No one even comes close. There wasn't a person on Earth who would have picked Florida to win it last year, and yet an incredible run of luck combined with a brutal collapse in the nation's capital powered their doing exactly that.
Any one of these teams could catch that kind of streak and repeat the accomplishment (okay, maybe not Tampa), but if you were successfully pick a winner in this division today, you'd only do it by guessing more or less at random.
What We Learned
Boston Bruins: Bobby Orr believes it "unfair" to call players greedy in this latest round of CBA negotiations. And hey, if anyone knows unfair, it's the guy who was once represented by Alan Eagleson. Also, please take into account the fact that Orr is now an agent, who represents dozens of NHL players.sniffing around Jay Bouwmeester, whom Jay Feaster is loath to trade unless an offer really impresses him. If he goes to Detroit, he will become the second-highest-paid player on the team, which would be hilarious.
Carolina Hurricanes: Hey Jim Rutherford, you might wanna dial expectations for Justin Faulk back, like, a little bit. "We've had defensemen come into the League like Orr, Potvin and Housley, who were great offensive players, but I've never seen a player play so well defensively and offensively at his age." That's right, 20-year-old Bobby Orr is no Justin Faulk, despite going 21-43-64 in 67 games during the 1968-69 season, winning the Norris for the second consecutive year and leading the league in plus-minus (plus-65).
Chicago Blackhawks: I don't envy Steve Montador's position right now: he's still working on getting over a concussion and is on the NHLPA's negotiation committee. He hasn't even started taking contact in offseason workouts yet, and already the owners are hitting him over the head with these absurd demands.
Colorado Avalanche: Kroenke Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Avs, Denver Nuggets, Colorado Rapids and Arsenal FC, recently donated $100,000 to support victims of the Aurora shooting and recent wildfires. Which is pretty great.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Speaking of charity, Cam Atkinson recently partnered with other NHL-playing Connecticut native Jon Quick to raise money for an organization that grants wishes to very sick kids and teenagers. Several other NHLers were also invited, and there will be an auction and autograph session. So if you're in the Greenwich area, go to this.
Dallas Stars: On the Stars' decision to try for the playoffs by going much, much older, instead of younger. It's like putting a Band-Aid on a stab wound, but it just might work for this season.
Edmonton Oilers: Kevin Allen has the Oilers making the playoffs. Going from 74 points to somewhere between 96 and 99 seems extraordinarily unlikely, especially given that Jordan Eberle is going to regress harder than hard. Nail Yakupov, Justin Schultz and maybe a full season of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins don't add that many points to an end-of-season total, sorry.
Florida Panthers: Oooo here's a great question: "Can the Panthers survive another lockout?" Torching all that goodwill and excitement with a work stoppage would probably hit this team a lot worse than most others across the league. I can't think of anyone who might be more damaged by it.
Los Angeles Kings: Kevin Westgarth might get a hallway at a community center in his hometown named after him for winning the Stanley Cup in June. They might also name August 21, the day he brings the Cup to his hometown, as Kevin Westgarth Day. This is the most attention anyone has ever paid to Kevin Westgarth.
Minnesota Wild: Want to get real depressed about the potential work stoppage? Every game Zach Parise misses as a result — based on the numbers in his current contract — costs him $91,932. This contract was signed like a month ago, and owners are mad. When hockey comes back, maybe everyone should just stay home.
Montreal Canadiens: Max Pacioretty is holding a week-long youth hockey camp but for the love of god, no one let him take those kids to the movies.
Nashville Predators: The charter airline service used by the Predators — as well as the Bruins, Sabres, Blackhawks and Blues — recently filed for bankruptcy, leaving the teams with few answers about their travel arrangements for next season, whenever that happens. Haha, that headline says the travel plans are "up in [the] air." What a great joke.
New York Islanders: The 2008 NHL Entry Draft was rather a good one for the Islanders, as it netted them four guys who are now regular NHLers, and four more who look to be on that path. Not all are still with the team, of course, but hey, that's what happens when you get 13 picks I guess.
New York Rangers: The Rangers had three prospects (J.T. Miller, Brady Skjei and Steven Fogarty) at the recent USA Hockey National Junior Evaluation Camp, and all three performed well enough throughout the several games they played.
Ottawa Senators: Mika Zibanejad is staying in North America next season, and whether that's in Ottawa or Binghamton is totally up to him. Man, the Sens could be very, very good in a few years.
Philadelphia Flyers: Paul Holmgren says Andreas Lilja might be back before December and is now officially rooting for a lockout so all his severely injured defensemen can get healthy. No one wants Bruno Gervais playing 19 minutes a night.
Phoenix Coyotes: Today is Day No. 3 since Jude LaCava of Fox 10 in Arizona said Greg Jamison would have the deal for the Coyotes sewn up within the next five days. Anyone getting antsy yet?
Pittsburgh Penguins: The Pens have a large stock of good prospects, which goes to show the Red Wings that winning and loading up on talented youngsters actually aren't dichotomous ideas after all.
San Jose Sharks: Logan Couture is returning to the hometown rink where he first learned the game and will play a charity game with a few NHL friends. The game is expected to draw about 700 people, which doesn't sound like a lot until you consider the town's population is about 4,300 people.
St. Louis Blues: A few changes in the Blues front office last week, and hey wasn't John Davidson going to Calgary or something a few months ago? What happened there?
Tampa Bay Lightning: The Bolts and Republican National Committee split the cost of significantly upgrading the arena's sound for the upcoming political convention, but there is expected to be little improvement in audio quality at hockey games. Isn't that always the way?
Toronto Maple Leafs: Late last week, the Leafs signed former first-round pick Tyler Biggs, right around the time he was shredding everyone at the U.S. junior camp. He'll probably play in the OHL next season, but this was a good move.
Washington Capitals: Dave Steckel, a former Cap himself, has nothing but nice things to say about Adam Oates, under whom he played in New Jersey. The biggest thing he praised was mainly Oates' ability to draw up a power play, which should help Washington's 18th-in-the-league man advantage next year.
Winnipeg Jets: If the NHL gets locked out, the team's AHL affiliate will likely play a exhibition few games at MTS Centre. And they will instantly become the greatest team in the world, according to the Winnipeg media.
Gold Star Award
Minus of the Weekendthis type of contingency plan might already be in place.
Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week
User "Hooked on Ponics" has knocked it out of the park.
To Carolina: [Marc] Staal
To New York: [Tuomo] Ruutu, [Tim] Gleason, [Chad] Larose, [Bobby] Sanguinetti
Are you an angry man, Henry?
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