The Southeast Division has rightfully earned its nickname of "Southleast" over the years due to the small number of teams sent to the Stanley Cup playoffs since its inception in 1998-99. In the 12 seasons its existed, just 19 teams have advanced to the postseason, compared to that of the Northeast (38), Atlantic (39), Central and Northwest (30), and Pacific (36) divisions.
It's also the only division to not send more than two teams to the big dance in a single season since 1999; but it has produced two of the last seven champions, and only the Atlantic Division has more Cup banners in the last 12 seasons in regards to the Eastern Conference.
This season the trend is looking like it will continue. For a while, it was setting up to be a year where either you win the Southeast Division or you miss the playoffs, and that may very well be the case with the Buffalo Sabres back in the mix, but recently we've watched the Winnipeg Jets and Tampa Bay Lightning make some noise, not only for the division title, but also for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.
But does anyone want to win the division?
Here's what things look like as of this morning:
While playoff races are fun to follow, the members of the Southeast Division aren't bringing any excitement to the proceedings, at least not by winning.
The Panthers have led the division for most of the season, but in recent weeks they've slowly failed to separate themselves from the pack, allowing the Jets, Capitals and Lightning to sneak their way into making things interesting down the stretch. Of course, while the three teams chasing Florida have made up ground, those teams have also done their part in failing to take that next step in making the divisional race tighter.
Florida's lost eight of 12. Winnipeg's dropped five of eight. Tampa's won three of their last seven; and Washington's lost six of 10.
Luckily for the Panthers their division rivals have been making up ground one day and falling backwards the next. But, of course, Florida's struggles have made it so the Jets and Capitals sit three points behind them heading into tonight's games. At this rate, we won't know who the East's No. 3 or 8 seeds will be until the very last day, and that's fine.
Aside from putting all 30 teams in action on the season's final day, the schedule-makers must have known the Southeast would be up for grabs late in the year. Looking at the final three games for each team, it's very heavy on the intra-division match-ups:
Winnipeg: at FLA, at NYI, vs. TB
Florida: vs. WPG, at WSH, vs. CAR
Washington: at TB, vs. FLA, at NYR
Tampa Bay: at MTL, at TOR, at WPG
With under a month to play in the regular season, the Southeast is sputtering and it's going to be quite the fight knowing there may not be the safety net of the No. 8 seed if a team should fail to win the division. That could make a very favorable opening round match-up for whoever finishes in the sixth spot.
Follow Sean Leahy on Twitter at @Sean_Leahy