2011 NHL New Year’s resolutions: Southeast Division

For many people around the world, the beginning of 2011 elicits the creation of a list of new year’s resolutions. Many scoff that odes to stop smoking or lose 20 lbs. are pipe dreams, but what’s wrong with a little optimism as the world cleans the slate of its calendar?

With that in mind, we decided to recommend a few changes (or sometimes with successful teams, what not to change) for each NHL team. We’ll go division by division in alphabetical order, because one of our resolutions is to be fair.

Click here for the Atlantic Division post.

Click here for the Central Division post.

Click here for the Northeast Division post.

Click here for the Northwest Division post.

Click here for the Pacific Division post.

Now, our final resolutions post: the Southeast Division.

Atlanta

Don’t ask Dustin Byfuglien to lose weight

Really, just tell him to keep doing what he’s doing. Even if you disagree with my opinion that he’s had a Norris-worthy first half of the season, he’s been an enormous (literally and figuratively) presence for the Thrashers.

Keep Ondrej Pavelec fresh

So far, Atlanta has a decent ratio going with Chris Mason making 18 appearances and Pavelec playing in 30 games. That is a little misleading, though, since Pavelec missed a big chunk of the season with his scary fainting spell. The Thrashers should be careful not to over-work their potential Vezina candidate, as the 23-year-old goalie’s NHL career high for games played is only 42.

Carolina

Take advantage of easier second half

Much has been made of a tough beginning schedule for the Hurricanes, but the flip side of that is the second half will be much easier. Carolina has a shot to make a late playoff run – seemingly an every other year tradition – if they take advantage of six more home games than road contests going forward.

Improve special teams

The Canes rank in the NHL’s lower third in penalty kill (79.4 percent for 23rd overall) and power play efficiency (16.6 percent for 21st overall). Those numbers need to improve if Carolina hopes to get the occasional easy win, something most playoff teams squeeze in here and there.

Florida

Now or later? Make it later.

Year after year, the Panthers fall short of the playoffs. For a while they fell way, way short but lately they’ve been within an arm’s reach in many cases. Quitting isn’t something pro teams do openly, but at one point will the franchise acknowledge that they aren’t there yet and the best course might be to get blue chip prospects?

Trade Tomas Vokoun

There might not be much of a market for Vokoun anymore (his $5.7 million cap hit won’t be easy to stomach, even if it’s reduced since it won’t be for a full season), but if someone’s willing to give up some value for him, the Panthers should seize that opportunity.

Tampa Bay

Like Carolina, they need to exploit easy second half

The Lightning hold seven more home games than road contests during the rest of the season, so they should use that disparity to hold off the Capitals and hang onto the division lead.

Don’t settle

You really never know when your best chance to win big might be, so the Lightning shouldn’t just assume that these opportunities will come along every season. If they get the chance to improve their short-term future without significantly hurting their mid and long-term outlooks, they should pull the trigger.

They also shouldn’t just say “Well, we traded for Dwayne Roloson” and give up on looking out for goalie improvements. If the 41-year-old netminder cannot get it done, they should keep their eyes open for other options.

Washington

Get tougher on the road

The Capitals have altered their game plan a bit to be more playoff-friendly, but a barely above .500 (9-8-1) doesn’t instill much confidence that they can get over their Game 7 struggles if they don’t take a top three seed.

Don’t forget who you are

It would be a shame if Washington totally abandoned their high-octane offensive approach because let’s face it, they’re never going to smother people defensively like Boston does with their roster.

There’s a fine line between evolving to become a better playoff team versus just trying to keep up with the Joneses. We’ll see if the Capitals can walk that line effectively.

2011 NHL New Year’s resolutions: Pacific Division

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    Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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    Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY Sports
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    Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

    The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

    Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

    After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

    Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

    Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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    MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

    But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

    “I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

    Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

    “I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

    Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

    Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

    Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

    All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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    SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

    Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

    The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

    Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

    Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.

    Kuzmenko signs 2-year extension with Canucks

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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Forward Andrei Kuzmenko signed a two-year contract extension with the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.

    The deal has an average annual value of $5.5 million.

    The 26-year-old Kuzmenko has played in 47 games for the Canucks this season with 21 goals and 22 assists, four penalty minutes and a plus-4 defensive ranking.

    Kuzmenko ranks second on the team in goals and power-play goals (nine) this season.

    His 43 points are also tied for third on the team in overall scoring, while his 32 even-strength points (12 goals, 20 assists) are second on the Canucks.

    Kuzmenko leads all Vancouver skaters in shooting rate (24.7%) and ranks third in the NHL in that category (minimum of 20 games).

    He leads all first-year NHLers in almost every offensive category, including goals, assists, points, points per game (0.91), power-play goals, and power-play points.

    He has also had 14 multi-point games so far this season (second most on the Canucks), highlighted by his first-career NHL hat trick and season-high four-point game against Anaheim on Nov. 3.

    A native of Yakutsk, Russia, Kuzmenko spent his first eight professional seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) with CSKA Moscow and SKA St. Petersburg, getting 200 points (85-115-200) in 315 regular-season games. He set career highs in goals (20), assists (33), and points (53) last season, ranking second in the league in scoring.

    Kuzmenko has also represented his country on the international stage on multiple occasions, totaling 16 points (10-6-16) and six penalty minutes in 37 games played. He was originally signed by Vancouver to a one-year, entry-level contract on July 13, 2022.