Hurricanes, Capitals Lead Charge as Favorites in NHL’s Wide-Open Southeast Division

Hurricanes, Capitals Lead Charge as Favorites in NHL's Wide-Open Southeast DivisionThe NHL is officially locked out. While it's hard not to be discouraged by the league's fourth work stoppage since 1992, the hope is that cooler heads will prevail. The last lockout was forced because of systemic flaws in the game but this time around, it's just a matter of how the owners and players split the revenues. As we saw in the recent NFL and NBA labor disputes, these types of issues might delay the start of the season but aren't likely to lead to a full-out cancellation.

There will be hockey — at some point — so next up on the tour of the divisions, here is what's in store for the Southeast teams in the 2012-13 season:

Carolina Hurricanes
Odds: 22-1

The Carolina Hurricanes boosted their offense in a big way with the acquisitions of Jordan Staal and Alexander Semin. That tandem combined with Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner could give the Hurricanes one of the best scoring units in the division, which is why the odds makers have made them the favorite.

The problem for Carolina is that their blue line is not only very thin, it's among the worst in the NHL. Goaltender Cam Ward might be a former All-Star but he proved last season that he can't do it on his own. Expect Carolina to play in a number of high-scoring affairs this season.

Washington Capitals
Odds: 25-1

The Washington Capitals are one of the NHL's enigmas and it appears that will be the case again heading into the 2012-13 season. They're on to their third head coach in the last year as Adam Oates is now tasked with the job.

The Capitals are not as talented as they used to be with Semin and Jeff Halpern gone, and there are some serious questions about their scoring depth. Also, the team is banking on goaltender Braden Holtby playing like he did in the postseason, Alex Ovechkin regaining his MVP-like form and defenseman Mike Green recapturing his former All-Star stature. There are a lot of questions for Washington to answer this season.

Tampa Bay Lightning
Odds: 28-1

The Lightning could be a dark horse Stanley Cup contender if they've solved their goaltending woes. The Lightning acquired Nashville Predators backup Anders Lindback to compete with Mathieu Garon for the No. 1 role but if he's no more reliable than Garon or last year's original starter, Dwayne Roloson, the Lightning will again miss the playoffs.

Scoring isn't a concern for the Lightning and the blue line was bolstered by the additions of veterans Sami Salo and Matt Carle. Goaltending is the X-factor that makes this team either a dangerous foe in the postseason or a team that watches the playoffs from home.

Florida Panthers
Odds: 40-1

The Panthers aren't getting much respect considering they won the division last season. Part of that is because they lost defensive cornerstone Jason Garrison to free agency and did nothing to replace him.

This team is viewed with plenty of skepticism because most people think they caught a lot of breaks last season. In other words, down years by Tampa Bay, Washington and Carolina allowed Florida to take advantage and win the NHL's weakest division. Their minus-24 goal differential and league-high 18 overtime losses encourage the skeptics.

The Panthers will have to play even better just to get back to the playoffs but with the Lightning and Hurricanes improving, it's looking like Florida will start a new playoff drought in 2013.

Winnipeg Jets
Odds: 60-1

The Jets are the longshots in the Southeast and it's easy to see why. They finished with just 84 points last season and did little to improve their roster other than adding mid-grade veterans Olli Jokinen and Alex Ponikarovsky.

They've made offseason news for all the wrong reasons as goaltender Ondrej Pavelec was charged with a DUI and defenseman Dustin Byfuglien was also fending off drunk boating allegations. These are two cornerstones of the Jets foundation and clearly they aren't setting the proper example.

The Jets should improve slightly based on the fact that their young roster is gaining more experience but that's not enough to get them out of the basement in the Southeast.

Photo via Flickr/Jamie Kellner

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