1. Washington Capitals
Washington is by far the class of the Southeast, with or without above average goaltending. Having the league's best goal scorer (Alex O) and best goal scoring defenseman (Mike Green) makes the Caps scary ... accounting for two other elite forwards in contract years (Backstrom and Semin) is simply terrifying.
2. Carolina Hurricanes
The Hurricanes are a tough team to figure out. While the team's hard charging style and solid array of forwards make them a fun team to watch when they're at their best ... it's pretty difficult to maintain any kind of consistency when your best defenseman is Joni Pitkanen.
It makes sense, then, that the team's fate rests so heavily upon Cam Ward's shoulders.
While I'm not a huge fan of the 'Canes defense and think they rely too heavily on Ward and Staal, this division is still the worst in the NHL so they'll probably place in second or third merely by not being terrible.
3. Tampa Bay Lightning
While the whirlwind of roster changes leaves the Lightning looking like a bigger mess than the script to another horrible Saw sequel, I must say that I actually found myself mildly impressed by some of the Lightning's additions.
Alex Tanguay is an absolute steal at $2.5 million and while Ohlund's contract seemed excessively long, he's still the best blue liner the Lightning currently employ. He's their best D guy, that is, until Victor Hedman justifies the Bunyan-sque hype that followed him to the NHL.
Naturally, the Lightning also boasts the still slightly underrated Martin St. Louis and the still slightly overrated Vincent Lecavalier but the team's offensive depth is as good as it's been for a while. Along with newly signed Tanguay, Tampa Bay could see the benefits of Steve Stamkos' sophomore season as well as support guys like Ryan Malone.
Are they going to be a powerhouse? Absolutely not, but Tampa Bay could pleasantly surprise some people.
4. Florida Panthers
Well, I'm a fan of Litter Box Cats, David Booth and Tomas Vokoun. That's about all, though.
5. Atlanta Thrashers
Apparently Atlanta thinks that adding a bunch of crappy Russians will appease Ilya Kovalchuk because adding hard working, talented players was not an option. I'm not a big fan of Pavel Kubina or Nik Antropov, to be honest. The Buffalo Sabres couldn't even get rid of Max Afinogenov.
When you consider all of these factors - as well as the team's dicey goaltending situation - it's pretty difficult to provide a sunny forecast for the Thrashers.