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A look at how a busy offseason has reshaped the Southeast Division.
The summer of 2012 was a pretty eventful one in the NHL – more so than usual, too, as the wheeling and dealing of the offseason smashed head-on into the expiring CBA and resulting lockout.
Before the owners padlocked the arenas and put away the wallets, however, there was plenty of notable movement around the League, with the Southeast Division often right smack in the middle of it. Big names headed south, old foes became teammates (and vice versa), and the result was a division that could be quite competitive this season... that is, if it ever gets underway.
Carolina Hurricanes (33-33-16, 82 points, 5th in the Southeast, 12th in the Eastern Conference)
Bottom Line: Of all the division teams, Carolina easily made the biggest splashes of the offseason. First they capitalized on Jordan Staal’s desire to play alongside big brother Eric, locking him up for six years to do just that, then pulled the trigger on a lucrative one-year deal for former Cane-killer and division rival Alex Semin. The moves give them a potentially lethal top six, adding Staal and Semin to a lineup that already included Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner... although it remains to be seen whether it will be enough to overcome a still-suspect defense (headlined by Joe "fool-me-three-times" Corvo).
But hey, the ol’ "win by outscoring the other guy" method has been known to work a time or two. Ahem.
Florida Panthers (38-26-18, 94 points, 1st in the Southeast, 3rd in the Eastern Conference)
Notable Losses: Wojtek Wolski (F, UFA - WSH), Krys Barch (F, UFA - NJD), Jason Garrison (D, UFA - VAN), Mikael Samuelsson (F, UFA - DET), Marco Sturm (F, UFA), John Madden (F, Ret.), Matt Bradley (F, UFA)
Bottom Line: Coming off of their first ever division title (and their first playoff berth in over a decade), the Panthers have plenty to prove this season. Whether they'll be able to do so with only minor tweaks this summer, however, remains to be seen. The Panthers lost a few of their depth players as well as arguably their best defenseman in Jason Garrison, who rode the free agency train all the way to a lucrative 6-year deal with Vancouver, but the additions of Mueller and Kuba (as well as top rookie prospect Jonathan Huberdeau) could make up for that.
For Florida, though, their success may very well revolve around who is - or isn't - in net, whether they're able to finally swing a deal to bring back Roberto Luongo or whether they'll have to continue with a tandem of Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen (although that duo could be bolstered by Jacob Markstrom's continued development).
Tampa Bay Lightning (38-36-8, 84 points, 3rd in the Southeast, 10th in the Eastern Conference)
Bottom Line: With Steven Stamkos, Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis (along with a slew of role-playing goal-scorers), the Lightning have had plenty of firepower up front; what they've lacked in recent years was a strong defense and a goaltender who didn't remember the 60s. Those were two key areas that they clearly set out to address over the summer, bringing in a couple of strong blueliners in Sami Salo and Matt Carle as well as a young, 6'6" Swedish goalie to replace Roloson. They've still got question marks in their lineup, particularly since St. Louis isn't getting any younger, but the moves made this summer by GM Steve Yzerman may have given them a boost they needed.
Washington Capitals (42-32-8, 92 points, 2nd in the Southeast, 7th in the Eastern Conference)
Bottom Line: This was not a summer of big, sweeping moves and lucrative free agent signings for GM George McPhee. Instead it was an offseason consisting largely of locking up homegrown pieces, adding a few complementary roster players and, most importantly, finding a new coach. The biggest loss for the Caps was arguably that of Alex Semin, who takes his sniper abilities south to division rival Carolina, leaving the role of secondary scoring to a committee that now includes new Cap Wojtek Wolski; the biggest gain, Mike Ribeiro, who will hopefully fill the long-vacant job of second-line center behind Nicklas Backstrom.
The biggest change? A new face behind the bench in rookie head coach Adam Oates, who will be tasked with not only bringing out the team's potential but giving them an identity and a unity that's been lacking in recent years.
Winnipeg Jets (37-35-10, 84 points, 4th in the Southeast, 11th in the Eastern Conference)
Bottom Line: For a team outside the playoff picture last season, the Jets had a relatively quiet offseason, adding a few key forwards in Jokinen and Ponikarovsky but ultimately staying out of a lot of the summer's bigger deals. They've likely got a bit of a honeymoon period left as they kick off their second season in a city that's been craving hockey since the original Jets bolted for Phoenix in '96, but with news that stud defenseman Zach Bogosian is out for four-to-six months
and an as-yet-unsigned Evander Kane , that honeymoon period could end pretty fast. No worries, though, because Al Montoya's on his way.