Deservedly or not, the now-defunct Southeast Division had earned a reputation over the years as something of a lightweight in the NHL.
Never mind that teams from the division advanced to the Stanley Cup finals in 1996, 98, 2002, 04 and 06, winning the latter two times. Still, in more recent years, playoff berths from division were harder to come by, especially after the division champion, which earned an automatic No. 3 seed.
With the NHL contracting from six to four divisions and the Carolina Hurricanes lumped into one of the more competitive groupings, their bid to end a four-year playoff drought next season could be even more difficult.
The Hurricanes will participate in one of the two eight-team divisions (the Western Conference groups have seven teams apiece), while also taking on perennial power Pittsburgh, New Jersey (last year's Eastern champs), the New York Rangers (who reached the 12 conference finals and annually spend to the salary cap limit), free-spending Philad...