The NHL 2013 realignment may not be a good thing for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Their new divisional rivals will likely be tougher opponents than in years past. The Lightning have had the blessing, or curse, to play in the historically weak Southeast division since it’s creation for the 1998-99 NHL season.
Out With the Old…
The original Southeast Division consisted of the Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers, Washington Capitals and the Tampa Bay Lightning for the 1998-99 season. In time for the 1999-2000 season the expansion Atlanta Thrashers were added to the middling division. Since then the only change has been when the Thrashers moved from Atlanta to Winnipeg to become the Jets in time for the 2011-12 NHL season.
The Southeast Division has largely been dominated by the Washington Capitals and the Carolina Hurricanes With the Capitals winning the division six times and the Hurricanes taking the title three times, for a total of nine titles, in the 13 year existence of the division.
Tampa Bay has managed two division titles while the Thrashers/Jets and the Panthers have each managed one during that time.
During these 13 years there have been two Stanley Cup Winners from this division. The first being the Lightning in 2004 and the second was the Hurricanes in 2006.
While the Southeast Division clearly contributed winning teams to the NHL there was a great lack of parity on a season by season basis. The Thrashers and Panthers were often two of the bottom tier teams in the NHL. The Hurricanes have had their share of success but it cannot be said that they have been a consistently top tier NHL franchise. The Capitals have been the greatest threat in the division throughout it’s existence.
In With the New…
In the yet to be named Division the Lightning will have to contend with the Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, and Toronto Maple Leafs.
Currently the Bruins are one of the top five teams in the NHL. The Canadiens, Senators and Leafs have seen a resurgence and appear to be legitimate playoff contenders for at least the next few seasons. The Red Wings are on a bit of a downward slope after losing Lidstrom, but Ken Holland has always found a way to keep that machine running.
The only two franchises that appear to be on a downward spiral are Buffalo and Florida. However even Florida could be seen as a team on the rise.
As can be seen the Lightning do not have a winning record against any of their new divisional opponents. While the past is not necessarily repeated in the future, this is definitely of some concern.
While I am sure the Lightning owner Mr. Vinnik is happy about the gate receipts that will increase with teams like Toronto, Montreal, Detroit and Boston coming to town much more often. Given that 29 games of the new schedule will be within the division.
However it would appear that the Bolts will have a tougher task getting out of their own division. This could be seen as a good thing as competition often breeds improvement in one’s self.
Special thanks to Hockey-Reference.com