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Southeast
Sarah Kwak
October 13, 2008
WASHINGTON Capitals
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October 13, 2008

Southeast

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LAST SEASON
43-33-6, 9th in East

KEY ADDITIONS
D Josef Melichar, D Joni Pitkanen

KEY LOSSES
LW Erik Cole, D Bret Hedican, LW Darcy Hordichuk, D Glen Wesley

WHEN THEY missed the playoffs last season, the Hurricanes became the first team to win the Stanley Cup and then fail to reach the postseason in the next two years. That doesn't sit lightly. "We were a playoff team the past two years," goalie Cam Ward insists. "We've been underachieving."

Carolina's 2007--08 season was also compromised by injuries to captain Rod Brind'Amour and winger Ray Whitney, both of whom are now healthy. But no Hurricane is in better shape—statistically, physically or financially—than first-line center Eric Staal (above). After leading the team with 82 points in 2007--08, he added six pounds of muscle and reduced his body fat in the off-season, then signed a seven-year, $57.8 million contract extension.

Though Carolina wisely acquired minutes-eater Joni Pitkanen (he averaged 24:07 per game in Edmonton) to help on defense, that unit remains suspect. And Ward's .904 save percentage last year was 26th among goalies who played in at least 40 games. Carolina is likely to become the first Cup champ to miss the playoffs in the next three years.

TAMPA BAY
Lightning

LAST SEASON
31-42-9, 15th in East

KEY ADDITIONS
D Matt Carle, G Olaf Kolzig, LW Ryan Malone, Coach Barry Melrose, D Andrej Meszaros, C Vaclav Prospal, F Gary Roberts, RW Radim Vrbata

KEY LOSSES
D Dan Boyle, G Marc Denis, D Filip Kuba, D Brad Lukowich, Coach John Tortorella

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