by PuckStopsHere on 01/19/13 at 01:47 PM ET
As today is opening day, it is fitting that I am posting the final division in my pre-season NHL predictions - the Southeast Division. This is home of teams in the sunbelt of the US like Winnipeg. I have already written predictions for the Northwest Division, Pacific Division, Central Division, Northeast Division and Atlantic Division. I have also predicted a probable order of finish for the West Conference.
In a few hours when games begin we will start to see how right or wrong I am. Trades, injuries, streaks, slumps, emergence of unknown players and all kinds of other events will change things. The only safe prediction is that I will be wrong and i will be wrong in a manner we cannot predict at this point. That is the nature of sports predictions. In a shortened season predictions will be even harder because short-term unpredictable trends that last a few games will be magnified significantly due to the smaller sample size of games to be played.
At any rate, here are my predictions for the Southeast Division:
1. Washington Capitals - This is the most talented team in the division. Alexander Ovechkin is a top player and I would be surprised if he doesn't find himself among the top scorers in the league. Niklas Backstrom is also highly talented. Mike Ribiero, Brooks Laich and Marcus Johansson provide some solid depth. On defence, Mike Green is an outstanding offensive defenceman if he can stay healthy. John Carlson and Karl Alzner are a strong young defensive pairing. They have an unproven young goaltending pairing in Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth, but they should succeed. This team has the front-line talent to succeed. They will need a strong comeback from Ovechkin for it to happen. His KHL numbers during the lockout suggest that will happen.
2. Carolina Hurricanes - The Canes had a good off-season bringing in Alexander Semin and Jordan Staal. They join an already solid offensive core including Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner. Depth is provided by Jussi Jokinen, Jiri Tlusty and Tuomo Ruutu. Cam Ward is a strong goaltender. The question mark is defence. Joni Pitkanen, Jamie McBain, Tim Gleason and Justin Faulk make up their core. It is hard to imagine any of them being considered all-stars. They will give the Caps a run for their money and may even win the division.
3. Tampa Bay Lightning - Last season awful goaltending from Dwayne Roloson kept this team down. This year they will have Anders Lindback in goal. He is no all-star, but he should be an average performer and that alone will lift the team. Offensively, they have a strong group including Steve Stamkos, Martin St Louis and Vincent LeCavalier. Ryan Malone and Teddy Purcell provide depth. Defence may be a question mark. Victor Hedman and Eric Brewer are joined by Matt Carle and Sami Salo. Power play specialist Marc-Andre Bergeron is also still here.
4. Florida Panthers - The Panthers were a surprise division champion last year and I don't think they have the talent to repeat that result. Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen is an aging pair of goalies. On defence, Bryan Campbell is a solid offensive player with Ed Jovanovski, Dmitry Kulikov and Mike Weaver attempting to provide depth. Their top offensive players are Tomas Fleischmann, Stephen Weiss and Kris Versteeg and that doesn't put fear in many goalies. 2011/12 was a great result for the Panthers and I doubt they can repeat it.
5. Winnipeg Jets - As the misplaced member of this division, travel will be an issue. As will be a lack of talent. Ondrej Pavelec is their goalie. He will likely be adequate but unspectacular. Tobias Enstrom is their most talented defenceman and Dustin Byfuglien is their top offensive one. Zach Bogosian and Ron Hainsey will provide depth. There are no all-stars at forward. Blake Wheeler, Evander Kane and Andrew Ladd will likely be the best they can offer. I think it will not be a strong season in Winnipeg.
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