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As Deadline Day approaches: Southeast Division

by Corey Masisak
Where does each team stand as the trade deadline approaches? Let's take a look around the League, one division at a time, and try to decipher which direction the teams might be leaning as the 3 p.m. deadline on Feb. 28 approaches. Next up is the Southeast Division, which features four of the top nine teams in the Eastern Conference ... and the most intriguing team to watch this month in the NHL.

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING (32-15-5, 69 points)

The Lightning have already made one big move, adding goaltender Dwayne Roloson. There is also plenty of positive momentum for hockey on the Gulf Coast side of Florida. Fans are starting to show up at St. Pete Times Forum in big numbers again, and the club is doing a week's worth of events including new uniforms and arena renevations.

As currently constituted, the Lightning could be a dangerous team in the playoffs and have plenty of cap space to make more improvements. Will the new owners allow GM Steve Yzerman the financial leeway to make another move or two? Other top teams in the East are probably hoping the answer is no. Tampa Bay could be a top-four defenseman away from being really scary this spring. Verdict: BUYERS

WASHINGTON CAPITALS (27-15-10, 64 points)

If the Capitals have three needs, they are: 1) a No. 2 center, 2) a guy to center the second line and 3) someone to play in the middle of the line that comes after the first one. Is there another team that has one clear, definitive need like the Capitals?

Rookies Mathieu Perreault and Marcus Johansson have combined to play 64 games, most of them as the team's No. 2 and 3 centers, and have a total of 10 assists. That's a bad number for any team's No. 3 center, let alone the 2/3 combo. Perreault's wildly inconsistent production can't be counted on in the postseason, though the hope is Johansson will be OK as the No. 3 guy behind Backstrom and another veteran after a full season of NHL seasoning. There is cap room for GM George McPhee to add the No. 2 center this team has been searching for two years since Sergei Fedorov left. Verdict: BUYERS

ATLANTA THRASHERS (24-21-9, 57 points)

Well, the Thrashers are in freefall mode, having lost 9 of 11 games and GM Rick Dudley has already made his intentions clear. He wants to add two forwards and a defenseman if the current group doesn't provide some answers in short order.

Count the Thrashers among the teams that we're not sure how much money they can add despite having plenty of cap space. Atlanta could use a top-six forward, but the Thrashers need a shakeup of any kind. Maybe a veteran with Cup-winning experience would inject some renewed confidence? Remember, this franchise is trying to find some fans in that market and has never won a playoff game. Have to imagine Dudley is going to do something. Verdict: BUYERS

CAROLINA HURRICANES (25-21-6, 56 points)

The Hurricanes surged back to the brink of the top eight in the Eastern Conference, but have lost five of six and continue to squander chances to pass the foundering Thrashers. This is about where everyone expected the Hurricanes to be, fighting for a playoff spot, but being so close and not getting there would be a big disappointment.

GM Jim Rutherford has retooled his roster from two years ago and has plenty of young talent. The trick for him is be able to make a move or two that doesn't cost much either in the way of assets or money. Maybe most pundits didn't expect the Hurricanes to make the playoffs, but just getting there would be great for the development of some of Carolina's young players. Verdict: BUYERS

FLORIDA PANTHERS (22-23-6, 50 points)

The Panthers seem to end up here every year, just on the fringes of the playoff race. Florida has left some points on the table in the past couple of weeks and hasn't taken advantage of the opportunity Atlanta has afforded like Carolina and Buffalo have.

In the past there has been a lot of pressure for the Panthers to break their long playoff drought, but new GM Dale Tallon seems intent on building a contender, not a team that can squeak into the playoffs. Should Tallon decide to continue his remodeling job, he has some of the best potential rentals available in goalie Tomas Vokoun, defenseman Bryan McCabe and forward Chris Higgins. Those 13 draft picks from the 2010 Entry Draft have restocked a depleted farm system, and Tallon could continue to add to his coffers this month. Verdict: SELLERS
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