The Tampa Bay Lightning and Atlanta Thrashers were two teams to watch in the offseason; competing re-builders, if you will. Both with new general managers (Steve Yzerman and Rick Dudley, respectively) who brought expectations, many hockey pundits heralded the Southeast as the most improved division in hockey, where Tampa and Atlanta would be duking it out to challenge the Washington Capitals. After all, Dudley had a hand in building the Blackhawks' Stanley Cup champion squad, and Steve Yzerman is an NHL superstar who was expected to finally bring hockey sense back to the Bay.
After five weeks in the season, it appears that Yzermans' winning, though it's difficult to trace that back necessarily to the offseason moves. Simon Gagne is on injured reserve, and the Lightning's big free agent signing only has three games under his belt, with no goals and no assists. On the flip side, offseason acquisitions for the Thrashers are lighting the lamp (Dustin Byfuglien - 5-8-13, Andrew Ladd - 4-9-13, Ben Eager 1-2-3). Defenseman Brent Sopel is also impressing, blocking 32 shots so far.
However, the Bolts already had Steven Stamkos, Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis to score goals, and the Thrashers lack any sort of firepower of that caliber. Maybe that's why Tampa is barely ahead in the standings. Grit and balanced scoring from the Thrashers and firepower from the Bolts will keep them neck in neck - Tampa Bay is 7-4-2 for 16 points, and Atlanta is 6-5-3 for 15 points.
(updated 11.9.2010 at 8:40 AM EST)