Summer in the Southeast Division

[To start off we need a give a big hat tip to PensBurgh, SBN's Penguins blog for coming up with this idea.]

Over the last several weeks, more than a couple NHL teams have undergone significant makeovers, be it via the draft, trade, or signing every high-school sized NHLer on the free agent market.  Here at Japers' Rink we've naturally focused most of our attention on the Capitals, with an eye on what some of the other contenders in the Eastern Conference have been doing.  While it's certainly given us a lot to discuss, we haven't talked about the Southeast Division a whole lot.

That changes now, as we take a look at what each of the Capitals' division rivals did this summer and whether we should expect them to be better or worse for it in 2009-10.

Atlanta Thrashers (35-41-6, 76 points, 4th in Southeast)

Acquired: Nik Antropov (UFA, New York Rangers), Evander Kane (draft), Pavel Kubina (trade, Toronto), Anthony Stewart (UFA, Florida)

Lost: Garnet Exelby (trade, Toronto), Eric Perrin (UFA, unsigned), Colin Stuart (trade, Toronto)

Bottom Line: After last season, the Thrashers have nowhere to go but up, but they might be rising faster than most people realize.  Antropov's never going to produce numbers that reflect his natural talent but he fills a number of needs for the Thrashers, giving them a legitimate offensive presence to play with Ilya Kovalchuk and size down the middle.  The addition of Pavel Kubina to a defense corps that includes Ron Hainsey, Tobias Enstrom, and Zach Bogosian gives the team quality on the blue line (especially considering Bogosian and Enstrom are still developing) and should give the team an asset to move at the trade deadline to help with their continuing rebuild, similar to what the team did with Mathieu Schneider this past season.  They'll still finish below .500 in 09-10, but the Thrashers and definitely trending upwards for the time being.

Carolina Hurricanes (45-30-7, 97 points, 2nd in the Southeast)

Acquired: Andrew Alberts (UFA, Philadelphia), Zack Fitzgerald (UFA, Vancouver), Tom Kostopoulos (UFA, Montreal),  Aaron Ward (trade, Boston)

Lost: Anton Babchuk (UFA, unsigned), Ryan Bayda (UFA, unsigned), Patrick Eaves (trade, Boston), Dennis Seidenberg (UFA, unsigned)

Bottom Line: The Hurricanes appeared to have three goals in mind this offseason: keep the team together (check: Erik Cole and Chad LaRose signed), upgrade on defense (check: Alberts and Ward are solid depth guys), and add toughness: check, signing Kostopoulos and Fitzgerald helps there).  What the team didn't do was make any big splashes, something they're arguably in need of if they want to be Cup contenders.  It's possible the Hurricanes notch a few more points in the regular season with their new defensemen and with Cole on the roster for the entire season, but they're probably not going to be one of the East's elite contenders.

Florida Panthers (41-30-11, 93 points, 3rd in the Southeast)

Acquired: Scott Clemmensen (UFA, New Jersey), Ville Koistinen (UFA, Nashville), Jordan Leopold (UFA, Calgary), Graham Mink (UFA, Capitals)

Lost: Craig Anderson (UFA, Colorado), Jay Bouwmeester (trade, Calgary), Nick Boynton (UFA, Anaheim), Jassen Cullimore (UFA, unsigned), Steve Eminger (UFA, unsigned), Ville Peltonen, (UFA, unsigned), Steven Reinprecht (trade, Phoenix), Karlis Skrastins (UFA, Dallas), Richard Zednik (UFA, KHL)

Bottom Line:  There's been a heck of a lot of turnover in South Florida, and most of it's not good.  Reinprecht, Clemmensen, Leopold, and Koistinen are all solid players but they're simply not going to be able to replace Zednik, Anderson, Bouwmeester, Boynton, and Cullimore (should he wind up signing elsewhere).  The Panthers are still young enough to improve and Tomas Vokoun is still good enough to keep his team in it most nights, so the team should be competitive, but don't expect the Panthers to reach 93 points against this season.

Tampa Bay Lightning (24-40-18, 66 points, 5th in the Southeast)

Acquired: Todd Fedoruk (trade, Phoenix), Kurtis Foster (UFA, Minnesota), David Hale (trade, Phoenix), Victor Hedman (draft), Antero Niittymaki (UFA, Philadelphia), Mattias Ohlund (UFA, Vancouver), Stephane Veilleux (UFA, Minnesota), Matt Walker (UFA, Chicago)

Lost: Marek Malik (UFA, unsigned), Josef Melichar (UFA, Czech Extraliga), Cory Murphy (UFA, New Jersey), Matt Pettinger (UFA, unsigned), Karri Ramo (UFA, KHL), Noah Welch (UFA, Atlanta),

Bottom Line: Tampa Bay spent most of the 2008 offseason acquiring forward after forward, ignoring their blue line in the process; not surprisingly, that strategy came back to bite them and the team suffered through an awful 08-09 season.  The summer of 2009 has been all about upgrading the defense the Lightning -- with the additions of Ohlund, Hale, Hedman, and Walker the team's defense corps will be made up of more new faces than familiar ones.  And that's a good thing for the team.  Like the Thrashers, the Lightning will have a hard team reaching .500 this year, but they're going to be a lot more difficult to play against.

Washington Capitals (50-24-8, 108 points, 1st in Southeast)

Acquired: Mike Knuble (UFA, Philadelphia), Brendan Morrison (UFA, Dallas)

Lost: Donald Brashear (UFA, New York Rangers), Sergei Fedorov (UFA, KHL), Viktor Kozlov (UFA, KHL), Michael Nylander (ineffectiveness)

Bottom Line: The Capitals addressed their two biggest needs (a defensively responsible and offensively capable second line center and a net-crashing top six right wing) in the offseason via reasonable contracts both in terms of dollars and length and didn't suffer any major losses.  The team is trending up and should repeat as Southeastern champions.

---

When all is said and done, here's how we see the offseason's impact on the Southeast:

Trending up:

Atlanta Thrashers

Tampa Bay Lightning

Washington Capitals

Trending down:

Florida Panthers

More or less the same:

Carolina Hurricanes

What do you think?  Is Florida not going to miss Bouwmeester as much as everyone seems to think?  Is Knuble such a good fit for the Capitals that it's going to make the team even better than we expect?  Is Tampa's revamped blueline going to be enough to get them in the playoffs?  Take the poll and let us know who you think made the most significant strides the offseason and tell us why in the comments.

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