Tomas Vokoun, Tomas Fleischmann, Marcus Johansson

Southeast Division: As wide-open as it is pathetic

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In the bigger picture, the Southeast Division-leading Florida Panthers are one of the most pleasant surprises of the season.

Yet after the Anaheim Ducks shut them down 2-0 to give them their third consecutive loss, the Panthers helped to paint a larger picture of a group so weak that they might make the sixth seed worth fighting for.

Portrait of putridity

If division titles didn’t guarantee a team one of the top three seeds, the Panthers would be the only playoff representative at seventh place, with the Washington Capitals, Winnipeg Jets and Tampa Bay Lightning taking spots 9-11.

Anyway you break them down, these teams are underwhelming. No squad has a positive goal differential. The two teams that seemed like potential contenders have been somewhere between depressing (Capitals) and a disaster (the Lightning).

There’s one saving grace for the Southeast, though: the race to find a winner could be downright fascinating.

Handicapping the Southeast

The Carolina Hurricanes (55 points in 59 games played) have been hot lately, but for the sake of simplicity, I’ll rule out the East’s bottom team. Here’s a real quick look at the rest of the division, as the streaking Lightning have a semi-reasonable chance now:

source: AP1. Florida: 27 wins, 65 points (24 regulation-OT wins) in 58 games played; 12 home and 12 road games left
2. Washington: 29 wins, 63 points (28 regulation-OT wins) in 58 GP; 12 home and 12 road games left
3. Winnipeg: 28 wins, 62 points (24 regulation-OT wins) in 60 GP; 13 home and 9 road games left
4. Tampa Bay: 26 wins, 58 points (24 regulation-OT wins) in 58 GP; 13 home and 11 road games left

Honestly, all four teams have interesting prospects.

  • The Panthers have the division lead and for all their flaws, they’ve fought through some tough injuries.
  • With Mike Green seemingly circling a return, tiebreaker advantages in the “wins” categories and all that talent, the Capitals are still my best guess for the division champs.
  • Winnipeg’s Games Played gap worries me a bit, but they started a lengthy homestand that could very well catapult them into serious contention. The Jets aren’t going to be as insignificant as many assume.
  • Speaking of dark horse candidates, the Lightning could be in a remarkably similar situation to the one the Jets face – especially if they get the four points necessary to tie them up via shootouts on the road. Tampa Bay’s been dreadful, but that could be a blessing in disguise; if the Bolts get better in their own end, they might have that “everything’s coming together” feeling.

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Kind of a fascinating situation, right? With a surprisingly intriguing race in mind, I cannot resist asking what you think. Who’s your choice for the division-winner? And could any of these teams actually do damage in the playoffs?

Note: despite the fact that they have basically zero chance, I included Carolina in the poll to be nice – and so people won’t yell at me.

Here are highlights of the Ducks’ blanking the Panthers:

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Report: Yes, Claude Julien’s job is in some danger with Bruins

MONTREAL, QC - DECEMBER 12:  Head coach of the Boston Bruins Claude Julien looks on as he walks across the ice during the NHL game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on December 12, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Boston Bruins defeated the Montreal Canadiens 2-1 in overtime.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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After the Boston Bruins squandered a 3-0 lead against the Detroit Red Wings and ultimately lost 6-5 via a shootout, plenty of fans and commenters had enough. Many called for Claude Julien’s head.

They might not be alone.

During the latest edition of TSN’s Insider Trading on Thursday, Bob McKenzie didn’t say that Julien was definitely going to be fired, but he said there’s a “credible threat” to the long-standing Bruins bench boss’ job security.

The phrase “impending doom” came up, too.

So … yeah, it sure sounds like Julien is on thin ice.

McKenzie indicates that Julien should be behind the bench on Friday and could improve his situation if he reels off some wins. That’s where things get extra interesting.

The Bruins play three of their next four games and seven of their next nine contests at home. Most of those games are against playoff-caliber teams, however, so it wouldn’t necessarily be “easy.” Still, the opportunities are there for the Bruins to solidify their spot in the East playoff picture.

Still, it sure sounds like the margin of error is pretty small for Julien, just as it might be for Boston in this playoff race.

Want more coaching hot seat talk from McKenzie? He also discussed Paul Maurice’s situation with the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday:

Video: There was no stopping John Tavares on this goal

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New York Islanders fans probably needed a moment like this, even ones who are more than happy that Jack Capuano was let go.

It’s no surprise that John Tavares provided such a moment.

Watch in the video above as he makes an obscene move against Dallas Stars defenseman John Klingberg, and then finishes with some really nifty timing. Wow.

Tavares now has 17 goals this season, reinforcing the thought that the team’s struggles aren’t on him.

Now catch up on all of the drama surrounding the team:

Bob McKenzie updates on the fuzzy future for the Isles

Liam McHugh grills Garth Snow on a variety of burning questions

Coyotes demote Duclair to AHL so he can ‘regain his scoring touch’

NEWARK, NJ - OCTOBER 25: Anthony Duclair #10 of the Arizona Coyotes skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on October 25, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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It’s been a tough season for both Anthony Duclair and the Arizona Coyotes. Even so, it’s still startling to see that he was demoted to the AHL on Thursday.

GM John Chayka explained the team’s logic for the demotion:

“Anthony is a good young player,” said Chayka. “Unfortunately, he has struggled this season. We felt this was a good time to send him to Tucson to work on a few things and hopefully regain his scoring touch. We hope to have him rejoin our team soon.”

Duclair’s been the subject of more than a few trade rumors, but this is probably the low point of a rough 2016-17 season for the 21-year-old.

It’s worth taking a second to consider the very different luck Duclair’s experienced in his breakout season last year vs. this one.

His shooting percentage was 19 in 2015-16, helping him score 20 goals on just 105 shots. By comparison, he’s only converted on 5.2 percent of his shots this year, nabbing three on 58.

In other words, Duclair’s work is probably somewhere between those extremes … but he’s also at that age where a player can make big leaps forward. So, it’s understandable that the Coyotes want to try to repair their prospect’s confidence, and it’s also reasonable that other teams might believe that they can get more out of him.

A trip to the AHL really might be good for his confidence but … still, wow.

The good news and the bad news for Roman Josi

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Roman Josi told Swiss Hockey News.ch that he suffered a concussion from that Anton Blidh hit you can see in the video above, according to a translation passed along by the Tennessean.

So, that’s the bad news for the Nashville Predators. The good is that he also told that outlet that he might be able to return for the Preds sometime next week.

Josi, 26, has dealt with concussion issues before, making this report a concern for the long-term. Still, the possibility of a return so soon is definitely a positive.

Here’s what the next week and change looks like for Nashville:

Tonight: at Flames
Friday: at Oilers
Sunday: at Wild
Tuesday, Jan. 24: vs. Sabres
Thursday: vs. Blue Jackets

The Predators aren’t out of the West picture altogether, but they need to make the most of their opportunities. Much like the Bolts with Victor Hedman, Nashville’s hanging in there OK without one of their key guys, but every point counts. Getting Josi back would be huge.