For those who have been following my Twins blog, you will remember that prior to each season, I will give my division predictions and then my world series and award winner predictions. So I would like to carry that over to hockey as well. So today, I kick off my first of eight (6 divisions, playoff/awards, and a Wild prediction post) posts on how this hockey season will go down. Today I am starting with the Southeast Division.
5. Winnipeg Jets-It will be really nice having hockey back in Winnipeg. But, remember, they inherited the Atlanta Thrashers. The team has some nice young talent featuring F Evander Kane, D Dustin Byfuglien, F Andrew Ladd, and G Ondrej Pavelec. But, the team lacks scoring and their defense is one of the worst in the NHL (They ranked 29th in defense in 2010-11). So don't look for the Jets to make any noise in their one year stint in the Southeast Division. Because all they will find is a last place finish.
4. Florida Panthers-Hard to believe I picked Florida ahead of somebody. But they made some solid additions this summer (D Brian Campbell, F Kris Versteeg, F Scottie Upshall, and F Tomas Fleischman), to help bolster a lineup that finished 28th in the NHL in scoring last season. The team brought in G Jose Theodore to man the net, after he had a decent season as Nik Backstrom's backup in Minnesota. The Panthers still won't be an easy team to watch in 2011-12, but they will be vastly better than their 2010-11 team.
3. Carolina Hurricanes-Last season the 'Canes finished just two points out of the final playoff spot. With their young players now breaking into the NHL, the Canes have higher expectations than 9th place this season. But, the team lost one of their best players, F Erik Cole this summer, and left to fill the spot from within their organization. They still have NHL stars Eric Staal and Cam Ward, and their Calder Trophy winner from last year Jeff Skinner. But a reasonable expectation for the 'Canes would be to be in the 8-9-10 seed range this year. Especially with the teams at the top being so good.
2. Tampa Bay Lightning-The Lightning boast one of the best offenses in the NHL. But, their defense is what holds them back from truly being one of the NHL's elite teams. The team is essentially bringing back the same defensive core, and resigned the "ageless" Dwayne Roloson to be the team's starting netminder for 2011-12. True, this was a team that was able to get within a game of the Stanley Cup Finals. But, their moves this offseason were minimal. Not exactly the best thing to do from a team that almost was the best in the East. The Lightning to have a bit of cap room, so they could add a solid D-Man at somepoint this year. But until they do, they will still be second best.
1. Washington Capitals-It hurts me to pick Washington first. Lets face it, they are a great regular season team. They have a good offense and a solid defensive core. But they have been lacking a solid presence in goal. And their answer for that problem this year is Tomas Vokoun. Not exactly the best solution. So once again, you will see this team will have a great regular season. But when it comes time to play when it matters most, who knows what will happen. I will say its possible they can win the east, but they have this thing about not making it out of the second round. So for now, I say its another second round playoff exit following a Southeast Division Title.
Tomorrow's post predicts the season in the Atlantic Division.