Let’s face the facts … the Southeast division has been a bad joke for years. Each season, the Washington Capitals seem to end any doubt about its division title winner by, what, November? Even though they’ve won two Stanley Cups fairly recently, those Carolina and Tampa Bay teams fell apart in the blink of an eye. The 2009-10 season might be the lowest point for the division, as they only managed to send one team to the playoffs.
If a summer of bold moves and dramatic change is any indication, though, the days of the Capitals sleepwalking through the Southeast may be numbered.
While the Carolina Hurricanes largely lay dormant or even regress, the Capitals’ three other divisional roommates have been making some big changes in the front office as well as on the ice.
The Tampa Bay Lightning hired hockey legend Steve Yzerman to be their GM and named the highly touted Guy Boucher as their coach. Dale Tallon is already dramatically revamping the wayward Florida Panthers. Finally, the Atlanta Thrashers are going in a new direction with GM Rick Dudley, eschewing the offense-laden Ilya Kovalchuk days in favor of size, grit and defense.
Now, there’s no guarantee these gambles will pay off. Will the surprisingly star-packed Lightning get their act together or continue to underachieve? Florida had three first round, second round and fourth round draft picks, but their current roster boasts lateral moves at best. Atlanta paid quite the ransom to land flighty former Chicago Blackhawk Dustin Byfuglien, but they still lack answers in net and regarding high-end talent. It’s quite possible that all three teams will take a year – maybe a few – to get out of the hockey outhouse.
Either way, these teams are now active movers and shakers in the NHL after years of irrelevance, incompetence and general indifference. One of these days, they might even make the Capitals break a sweat.