The Southeast Division: Happy New Years Review
Well, unless you've been in a cave, or amidst the worst New Years hangover of your life, by now you've heard that the biggest news in the division this week came from your Tampa Bay Lightning.
The story needs no introduction. The Lightning traded for
WWII veteran goalie Dwayne Roloson on Saturday. Speculation abound as to what the Lightning are going to do with their evident backlog of "NHL-claibre" goalies, but you guys can read that for yourselves. There's some great articles on this site alone about what the Lightning's plans will be once Mike Smith returns.
It should be noted though, that the move shook up the division. According to Elliotte Friedman (#21/22), the Caps were not exactly thrilled about how Roloson improves the Lightning. More on them later, but does this move provoke some moves by other teams in the suddenly competitive Southeast? Will the other teams join the chess match, or wait and see? Do the Lightning now have the upper hand? Time will tell.
Let's take a look at what may have flown under the Roloson-induced radar.
Atlanta Thrashers: The Thrashers are still struggling a bit, but got a big win Sunday against Montreal in which Dustin Byfuglien scored the OT winner, and Ondrej Pavelec stopped 47 of 50 shots. If you predicted at the beginning of the year that Byfuglien would lead the league in points by a defenseman and that Pavelec would be second in the league in Save Percentage at this point of the year... then well, you deserve to be Sports Prognosticator of the Year. Or in the looney bin. Or both.
Carolina Hurricanes: The Canes took advantage of an easy schedule (Toronto, Ottawa, New Jersey) and ripped off an undefeated week that saw them score 14 goals. They now sit just five points behind Montreal for the last playoff spot in the East. The scary part of that is that both Jussi Jokinen and Joni Pitkanen did not play the last two games. Factor in that Cam Ward is back, Eric Staal is still a point-per-game player, and they have games in hand on everyone ahead of them in the division, and it becomes downright frightening.
Florida Panthers: Making good on last week's article, the Panthers now sit at 17-17-2, which makes the Southeast the only division in the Eastern Conference with every team at or above .500.
Unrelated: Steven Reinprecht cleared waivers over the weekend. GM Dale Tallon hopes to move him to another team. Reinprecht has 4 goals and 10 points in 29 games with the Panthers this season, but at 34, doesn't really fit into the younger, faster mold that Tallon has historically preferred. With the rest of the NHL preferring that mold too now, it may be hard to find a suitor.
Washington Capitals: The Capitals managed to keep pace with the Lightning points-wise, while still having played one more game. The biggest one, being of course the Winter Classic. After the game, Boudreau said it was "as close to the Stanley Cup as we've gotten." I'm no expert, but if a meaningless game in January is as close as you've gotten, that's probably not good.
Going back to the Roloson talk, there has been some loose speculation that the Capitals may feel more pressure to make a move for a goalie now. All smoke and no fire to this point, but Evgeni Nabakov's name keeps popping up.
At that point though, the question must be again asked: Does it matter who is in net for the Capitals? With an offense-laden style that continually gives up good chances, would Nabakov make a difference? If the Capitals do make a move, do Varlamov and Neuvirth lose any confidence/development? The same could be said for the Lightning, but it seems like a move of that nature creates more questions than it answers.
With the number of inter-division games (most notably the Lightning at the Capitals in a battle for first place) this week, there could be a considerably different tone to the division's makeup after this week. Enjoy it. It's a great time to be a fan of the Southeast.