Saturday, March 08, 2008

Carolina Builds Up Southeast Lead

The Southeast Division is the worst division in the NHL. For a long time, it looked as though whichever team wins the division might not have a good enough record to qualify for the playoffs were they not a division champion. However, lately the Carolina Hurricanes have done well and might get above that mark. Carolina has won six of their last seven games at sits atop the Southeast Division with 77 points. This point total would have them in seventh in the East Conference.

Carolina holds a five point lead over the second place (in the division) Washington Capitals. It is interesting to see how each team approached the trade deadline. Carolina made a significant trade with Ottawa a couple weeks before the deadline. They gave up Cory Stillman and Mike Commodore (both free agents this summer) for Joe Corvo and Patrick Eaves (neither unrestricted free agents this summer). They got the lesser players in return, but it was not a big downgrade. It was a forward thinking move that made some concessions to this season, but did not totally write it off. Meanwhile, Washington made moves that are most concerned with winning now. They acquired Cristobal Huet from Montreal and Sergei Fedorov from Columbus. Both of those players will be unrestricted free agents this summer. However, both players came relatively cheaply. Huet cost a 2009 second round draft pick and Fedorov cost NCAA freshman Ted Ruth. Neither is likely to be important to the Capitals future. Washington made moves to win today without it costing too much future. Should Washington convince Huet to resign with them, it will turn out to be a very good move to have acquired him.

The Washington Capitals were seen as one of the more improved teams at the trade deadline and Carolina was seen as a team that took a step backwards. Nevertheless, post-deadline results have Carolina taking a step forwards and building up a sizeable lead in their division. While it is too early to have an certainty in the prediction, it looks as though Carolina will win the Southeast Division and be the only southeast team in the playoffs. Washington will be criticized for their trade deadline moves (unless they resign the players), but since neither Huet nor Fedorov were expensive acquisitions, the moves were not bad ones.

The Southeast Division has been a weak one. It would be a bit of a mockery of the NHL playoff system if the southeast champion has less points than a team that misses the playoffs. However, this looks unlikely to happen because of Carolina's good play lately. It looks like Carolina will win the division and make the playoffs and Washington, despite their trade deadline additions, will miss playoffs.

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