Teams listed in predicted order of finish.
Washington Capitals (2011-12: 42-32-8; lost in second round of playoffs)
With the roster that the Capitals had last season, they should have been a much better hockey club than the one that finished seventh in the Eastern Conference. A roster that had the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin and Nicklas Backstrom struggled with inconsistency on offence all season and seemed to disappear when the team needed them most.
That might all change the season because of the team’s new bench boss. Adam Oates will do everything he can to find a way to get Ovechkin going again, while other offensive players such as Backstrom, the newly acquired Mike Ribeiro, and Brooks Laich hope to follow along.
With Braden Holtby the likely starting netminder and a new coach with a new philosophy on board, the Southeast title should be theirs at the end of the regular season.
Key acquisitions: Mike Ribeiro, head coach Adam Oates
Key departure: Alex Semin
Carolina Hurricanes (2011-12: 33-33-16; did not make playoffs)
The Carolina Hurricanes got off to an extremely slow start last season, and unfortunately it did them in and the team missed the postseason for the third straight season. It sparked a coaching change, which led to improvement, but it was too little too late.
That said, the team did not have the likes of Jordan Staal or Alex Semin last season, both of whom were acquired by the Hurricanes this off-season. With a new-look offence led by Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner, some solid young defenders and a smart head coach in Kirk Muller, this should and could end up being a much better season in Raleigh for the team and their fans.
Key acquisitions: Alex Semin, Jordan Staal
Key departure: Brandon Sutter
Florida Panthers (2011-12: 38-26-18; lost in first round of playoffs)
For the first time since 1999-2000, the Florida Panthers made the postseason last year as Southeast Division champions and came within a goal of beating the New Jersey Devils and advancing to the second round. The team was led by players such as Krist Versteeg, Tomas Fleischmann, Stephen Weiss and Brian Campbell.
This season, much of the Panthers’ roster is the same, but something to look at could be the jump of Canadian junior star Jonathan Huberdeau, the third-overall pick of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, to the NHL. Huberdeau can put up points (16 goals and 29 assists in 30 games with the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League), has a lot of hockey smarts and is ready for the next level.
Key acquisition: Filip Kuba
Key departure: Jason Garrison
Tampa Bay Lightning (2011-12: 38-36-8; did not make playoffs)
The Tampa Bay Lightning may have had the offence last season to compete with a lot of teams, but they certainly did not have the goaltending. Ultimately, a weak defence and lacklustre goaltending led the Lightning to miss the playoffs after going to the Eastern Conference finals the season prior.
Goaltending could end up being the difference this season. Over the off-season, the team signed former Nashville Predators backup Anders Lindback, 25, to a two-year contract. Lindback is a young goaltender who played well when he got the chance to behind Pekka Rinne and is ready to see if he can be a starter.
If Lindback plays well and the team can get offence from Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis, and Vincent Lecavalier, Tampa Bay should stay competitive in a 48-game season.
Key acquisition: Anders Lindback
Key departure: Brett Clark
Winnipeg Jets (2011-12: 37-35-10; did not make playoffs)
While it was certainly great and exciting to have a team back in Winnipeg, 2011-12 ended much like the last four seasons did as the Atlanta Thrashers: no playoffs.
The pressure will once again be on the Jets to make the playoffs and give their fans something to believe in. With that said, the team will need the likes of defenceman Dustin Byfuglien and Evander Kane to shape up both their bodies and attitudes. This especially goes for Evander Kane as there have been rumors that he could be dealt at some point.
Hopefully, goaltender Ondrej Pavelec can steal some games for this team. If he doesn’t, it will be another disappointing season for the team formerly known as the Thrashers.
Key acquisition: Olli Jokinen
Key departure: Chris Mason
Hottest rivalry: Hurricanes vs. Panthers – Depending on how the Capitals finish as well as how the rest of the Eastern Conference shapes up, the eighth and final playoff spot might just end up coming down to one of these two teams.
Big question mark: Will the acquisitions of Alex Semin and Jordan Staal be enough to propel the Carolina Hurricanes into the postseason?
And the divisional champ will be… Washington Capitals
Who will win the Southeast Division?