The Panthers' Tomas Vokoun makes a kick save of the Capitals Nicklas Backstrom (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
The Washington Capitals, defending Southeast winners, have become a sexy choice to make more noise in the East this season. And for good reason.
With the game’s top goal-scorer and arguably the game’s top offensive blueliner headlining a much-improved and hungry squad, it’s tough to argue the Capitals aren’t a force to be reckoned with.
But Bruce Boudreau’s bordello of bruisers (sorry, I love alliteration, even if it leads to an unjust description of a team’s makeup) isn’t the only southern squad Eastern Conference clubs should be worried about.
A rebuilt Florida blueline, coupled with a new leadership structure – including freshman head coach Peter DeBoer – and the best goalie in the division make the Panthers intriguing.
The completely overhauled Lightning can now strike fear with all four lines and, depending on the way the team gels, could make up for an iffy defense corps and goaltending duo by winning a bunch of 6-5 games.
And if Carolina can stay healthy - which, thanks to the fates frowning upon Rod Brind’Amour and Justin Williams, they haven’t so far - and Cam Ward can find consistency, the Canes have all the tools – top-end scoring, a true superstar and depth at forward and defense - to contend.
But what of Atlanta, you ask? Well, probably the less said about that mess the better. The only thing the Thrashers will be battling for this season is the right to draft Victor Hedman or John Tavares in June.
The Dirty Birds aside, a southern shift has taken place and any one of four teams could bring another Cup – following in the footsteps of Tampa in ’04 and Carolina in ’06 – to the division in the near future.
Of course, that begs the question: If the Southeast is no longer the NHL’s worst division, which one is?
Despite also being home to a couple of teams capable of doing damage, the dishonor goes to the Northwest. Thanks to the regression of Colorado, Minnesota, Vancouver and even, arguably, Calgary, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit to only see the division winner represent the quintet in the playoffs.
Edward Fraser is the editor of thehockeynews.com. His blog normally appears Thursdays.
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