The Southeast Division was the closest in the NHL last season, with only 12 points separating the last place Carolina Hurricanes and first place Florida Panthers. Going into the 2012-13 campaign, the race for the division title seems equally open.
So, as an extension of this being Lightning day, we’re passing along the question to you. However, before we do that, let’s take a quick look at the arguments for each team.
Why the Florida Panthers could win: They did it last season and have only gotten stronger. Yes, Jason Garrison’s gone, but Peter Mueller was a great diamond in the rough pickup and this might be the year that Jonathan Huberdeau breaks into the NHL. Who knows if they’ll end up acquiring Roberto Luongo, but their current combination of Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen, with Jacob Markstrom ready to take over should an injury occur, is pretty solid.
Why the Washington Capitals could win: If Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green stay healthy, then the Capitals are a pretty imposing team. It would certainly help if Alex Ovechkin bounces back, but even in a bad season he gets 30-40 goals. They have a pair of promising young goaltenders in Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth. There’s also plenty to like about their summer acquisition of Mike Ribeiro and their decision to name Adam Oates as their new head coach.
Why the Tampa Bay Lightning could win: I don’t think I really need to sell you on Tampa Bay’s top-six forwards. Last season they bet on Dwayne Roloson having one more good year left in him and that didn’t work out. They’ve adapted over the summer by getting two young goaltenders in Anders Lindback and Riku Helenius. They also bolstered their defense to help balance the squad.
Why the Winnipeg Jets could win: The Jets were a team that had to make huge adjustments last season and that won’t be an issue this time around. They have two of league’s the best offensive defensemen in Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom. Their top goaltender, Ondrej Pavelec, was terribly inconsistent last season, but he’s still young and might bounce back. Plus there’s always a chance that Evander Kane meshes with Olli Jokinen or just otherwise takes another step towards stardom.
Why the Carolina Hurricanes could win: Uniting Jordan and Eric Staal is a move that should pay dividends this season. Jordan has a lot of offensive potential and should shine if given the opportunity to play with his brother on the top line. Another one of their major off-season acquisitions, Alexander Semin, is more of a gamble, but if he bounces back after two rough seasons, then the Hurricanes will have a very effective one-two-three attack. That’s not even getting into their solid supporting cast led by Jeff Skinner and their goaltender Cam Ward, who was dominant after the All-Star break.