The Southeast Division has to be, without question, the weakest division in the NHL. Sure, the Northwest has some bottom feeders in Calgary and Colorado but it also boasts contenders in Vancouver and Minnesota. The Southeast, meanwhile, is currently being paced by the Washington Capitals, a squad that would find itself in fourth place, at best, if it played in any other division. But while there are plenty of lows in the league’s worst division, it’s not all bad – it is, after all, home to the NHL’s leading goal scorer in Steven Stamkos (25). So, without further ado, here is a look at the good, the bad and the ugly of the lowly Southeast.
After an absolutely miserable start to the season, the Washington Capitals are starting to adjust to new coach Adam Oates’ system. As a result, the Caps seem to be coming on strong while most of their division rivals fade into the night. While Washington and Winnipeg have each earned 38 points to top the division, the Caps have the tie-breaker and two games in hand. Furthermore, the Capitals are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games while the Jets are just 3-7 and have lost five in a row. Clearly, these are two teams going in opposite directions.
Washington’s turnaround has coincided with the rebirth of Alexander Ovechkin as “The Great 8” seems to have rediscovered his passion for the game. Putting up 10 goals and five assists in his last 10 games, Ovie appears to have battled through the constant question marks regarding the regression of his game over the past few seasons. In fact, his recent scoring surge has catapulted him to fifth in league in goals (20) and 13th in points (37). Not bad for a guy who had supposedly lost his game.
With offensive defenseman Mike Green — who has five goals in his last four games – finally healthy, Washington has the making of a dangerous opponent in the playoffs. Boasting the NHL’s top power play and eighth ranked offense, the Caps are looking to make some noise in the post-season. With the way they have been playing lately, they just may do that.
Umm, pretty much any team (other than the Caps) or individual associated with this division not named Steven Stamkos or Martin St. Louis, who rank second and third in the league scoring, respectively. After taking the division title last year, for example, the Florida Panthers season has gone so poorly that they may want to consider bringing in a new concession staff for next season to aid with the rebuilding process. About the only thing that has gone well in South Florida this season took place on opening night when 40-year old Alex Kovalev led the Panthers to a 5-1 win over Carolina with a three point night; 14 games into the season, he was off the team as the Panthers sunk to the basement in the Eastern Conference standings. But, hey, at least Miami still has Lebron to get behind.
Meanwhile, virtually all of Washington’s competition within the division seems to be wilting. The aforementioned Jets are still tied in the standings with the Caps but have lost five in a row. Carolina, a team that caught fire early in the season, has won only once in their last ten and trail the division leaders by four points. Finally, despite some inspired play as of late, Tampa is buried in 14th place in the East. It appears the only thing Lightning fans will have to cheer for in the near future is another Rocket Richard trophy for Steven Stamkos.
Although not a perfect plan, one of the major perks that realignment will bring about next season is the abolition of the Southeast Division. Far too often, the Southeast has produced only a single playoff participant, an outcome that is likely to occur again this year. In fact, the last five seasons have seen the Southeast as the only division in hockey to send two squads or less to the playoffs each year. Furthermore, the Capitals’ 2009-2010 President Trophy winning campaign is the only year during the same time period that the Southeast champs accumulated more than the league average of points it took to win a division.
With the Southeast consistently producing so few playoff participants, one would think that the division’s cream of the crop would be able to beat up on their rivals and bolster their point totals. Taking a look at the league standings for the last five years, however, shows that this is clearly not the case. While the Capitals have basically owned the division, they have produced only one dominant season in which their point totals were head and shoulders above other division winners.
Simply put, the Southeast has consistently been the weakest division in hockey for several years. Thankfully, realignment will break up this futility and increase the competitive balance in the Eastern Conference.
Sean Griffin is a lead writer for the Pittsburgh Penguins at The Hockey Writers. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.