2011-12 NHL Preview: Southeast Division

Washington Capitals

2010-11 Result: 48-23-11, 107 points, 1st in East, 1st in division

Who’s in: G Tomas Vokoun, D Roman Hamrlik, W Joel Ward, W Troy Brouwer

Who’s out: G Semyon Varlamov, W Marco Sturm, W Eric Fehr, W Boyd Gordon, C Jason Arnott, D Scott Hannon, D Tyler Sloan, W Matt Bradley

Big question: Can the Caps finally continue their regular season success into the playoffs?

Outlook: GM George McPhee was once again forced to re-align his roster after division rival Tampa Bay swept the Capitals in the second round of the playoffs. With a busy off-season, the Caps look like they’ve replaced quality for quantity, but the core of the team that has brought such success during the regular season is still in tact. With that in mind, Washington’s success seems imminent.

Keep a close eye on Vokoun though as he signed a cheap one-year deal and is clearly looking for a Stanley Cup ring this season. He has an average .922 save percentage over the last six seasons, four of which were spent with the lackluster Panthers.

Tampa Bay Lightning

2010-11 Result: 46-25-11, 103 points; 5th in East; 2nd in division; Lost in Eastern Conference final to Boston in seven games

Who’s in: G Mathieu Garon, W Ryan Shannon, C Tom Pyatt, D Matt Gilroy

Who’s out: G Mike Smith, W Simon Gagne, W Sean Bergenheim, D Mike Lundin

Big question: Will the ageless Dwayne Roloson be ready for primetime between the pipes, or is his career-clock running out?

Outlook: With superstar Steven Stamkos, who is the only player to score 96 goals over the past two seasons, along with Victor Hedman, Martin St. Louis, and Vincent Lecavalier, there is no shortage of talent on the team already. But when you add the fact that there are several exciting young players in the pipeline, including centre Brett Connolly and Carter Ashton, who are both expected to see larger roles this year, the sky is truly the limit for an incredibly talented young Lightning team.

Tampa was left with a sour taste in its mouth after being ousted from the playoffs in a heated Game 7 against Boston and will look to build on a successful 2010-11 campaign.

 

LISTEN NOW: The Observer’s Patrick Kiernan discusses the Southeast division

 

Carolina Hurricanes

2010-11 Result: 40-31-11, 91 points; 9th in East; 3rd in division; missed playoffs by two points

Who’s in: W Anthony Stewart, G Brian Boucher, D Tomas Kaberle, W Alex Ponikarovsky

Who’s out: W Erik Cole, W Cory Stillman, D Joe Corvo

Big Question: Did management bring in and get rid of the right players to catapult Carolina into that eighth and final play-off spot in the East?

Outlook: The Hurricanes have added stability on defence with the addition of Kaberle and now find themselves with more depth up front, having Ponikarovsky play the wing on the third line. But the Canes will need more of the same from their first line, which will likely include newly acquired Stewart, as well as captain Eric Stahl and quite possibly the most important piece to the puzzle, last year’s rookie sensation Jeff Skinner.

If Carolina doesn’t want to once again be on the outside looking in, Skinner will be looked on to produce more of the same numbers as last year.

WINNIPEG JETS

2010-11 Result: 34-36-12, 80 points, 12th in East; 4th in division; missed the playoffs

Who’s in: W Eric Fehr, W Tanner Glass, D Randy Jones, D Derek Meech, C Mark Scheifele

Who’s out: W Anthony Stewart, D Freddy Meyer, W Radek Dvorak, C Rob Schremp, W Eric Boulton

Big question: Will the relocation of Atlanta to Winnipeg rejuvenate and energize a team that missed the playoffs last year and made little changes in the off-season?

Outlook: While the club’s on-ice talent hasn’t changed dramatically from last year, it is about the only thing to remain somewhat static over Winnipeg’s hectic off-season. Before the relocation became official, True North cleaned house in the organization, buying out the remainder of GM Rick Dudley’s contract and replacing him with former Chicago assistant GM Kevin Cheveldayoff.

With Fehr setting up shop on the second line (upon return from the IR) and Glass bringing grit to the third, the team appears to have added depth where they need it most. It all depends on if coach Claude Noel can form a bond with his new team and captain Andrew Ladd, as well as mold his youngsters like Mark Scheifele, Zach Bogosian and Evander Kane, into solid players.

Florida Panthers

2010-11 Result: 30-40-12, 72 points; 15th in East; 5th in division; missed playoffs

Who’s in: D Ed Jovanovski, D Brian Campbell, G Jose Theodore, W Scottie Upshall, W Kris Versteeg, W Tomas Fleischmann, W Tomas Kopecky, W Sean Bergenheim, C Marcel Goc, W Matt Bradley

Who’s out: G Tomas Vokoun, C Marty Reasoner, W Niclas Bergfors

Big Question: Will the signings and trades of these big-name players and hiring of Kevin Dineen make the Panthers a legitimate threat for an Eastern Conference playoff spot?

Outlook: Dale Tallon was forced to become the league’s busiest GM during the off-season to ensure the Panthers would reach the newly lifted cap floor and, as such, it is an entirely different team from last year.

Florida has clearly added firepower up front and experience on the blue line. One player to keep an eye on is rookie Erik Gudbranson, who will likely be paired with veteran Ed Jovanovski, and his ability to step in and excel at his role as a top-four defenceman.

Also, with goaltender Tomas Vokoun being shipped within the division to Washington, it remains to be seen is whether Jose Theodore will be able to stand between the pipes and provide the same stability and calm demeanor that Vokoun did.