WINNIPEG, MB – Hello all you Habs fans! I know what you’re thinking: It’s summer and there is very little news, so let’s sit back and wait for training camp to start. Luckily for you, I have just the cure for your summer boredom! ANOTHER DIVISION PREVIEW!
Sorry for the delay between posts, but I got a little carried away with summer vacation, and being nowhere near a computer for the proper amounts of time to write anything of worth. If you need a recap, feel free to read up on my Atlantic Division and Metropolitan Division previews. Thanks to my All Habs colleagues who have been pumping out informative, engaging content every day of the summer. Be sure to check out the main page for some great reads.
Looking at the Central Division, nothing seems to be easier than last season. With five of the eight playoff spots locked up among the teams playing here, it looks to be a competitive and tough division for years to come. But who will take home the crown this year, and who might slide back into an early tee time?
Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup. Again. This team has a well-stocked cupboard of prospects that keep performing well at an NHL level, which is one of the reasons they remain as one of the best teams in the NHL, year after year.
In the upcoming months, more will be made of the off-ice issues of Patrick Kane, but I don’t want to speculate on that. For the purpose of this post, we will assume that Kane is in the lineup once October rolls around.
The Blackhawks have a number of notable departures, with Brandon Saad and Patrick Sharp leaving via trade, and Johnny Oduya and Brad Richards taking deals elsewhere through free agency. They did get back some decent pieces though, with Trevor Daley, Artem Anisimov and Marko Dano coming to the team through the two trades mentioned above.
If Duncan Keith can keep playing half of every game, the bottom half of the Chicago defense can hold up through some slightly sheltered minutes. If Keith starts to falter, this team may start to spring some leaks.
Colorado Avalanche might be very bad this season. With a confusing off-season behind them, we can finally take a look at the Avalanche roster. Though maybe it’s better to just look the other way, and hope for the best.
Colorado had a terrible relationship with one of their best players, Ryan O’Reilly. As such, they traded him to the Buffalo Sabres for a bunch of lottery tickets (or prospects, depending on your particular valuation of the players received). An attempt to fill the gap left by O’Reilly was made by acquiring Carl Soderberg from the Bruins, but that is a severe downgrade.
Semyon Varlamov did not steal as many games as in Patrick Roy’s first season, and with this regression, the Avs finished last in the Central. The defensive corps for the upcoming season is full of question marks, and the forwards outside of the Top 6 are quite possibly a tire fire. I expect the Avalanche to repeat their performance from last season, and finish at the bottom yet again.
Dallas Stars fans hope that this is finally the year where the team stays healthy, and that the team finally can take another step towards the team’s second Stanley Cup in Dallas. They have the offensive talent to do it, but can the goaltending hold up under the pressure?
They have over ten million locked up in the VERY questionable goaltending tandem of Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi, with no clear cut starter in line. Combining this with a fairly mediocre defensive group, and you might be looking at some serious problems on the back end. The hope in Dallas has to be that Lehtonen returns to form, and can lead the team again.
Bringing in Oduya from Chicago will help, but it still may not be enough for a defense that struggled at times to keep the play out of the Dallas end. The offense should have no problems, with Jason Spezza, Tyler Seguin, and Jamie Benn looking to continue their pace. Adding Patrick Sharp into the mix will definitely give them the ability to score all the goals.
Minnesota Wild are a team with their biggest cap hits performing well below expected value. Their biggest move in the off-season was resigning Devan Dubnyk to a multi-year contract.
I don’t think many fans of the team would suggest that any of the big contracts really lived up to expectations. On offense, Zach Parise, Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville, and even Mikko Koivu performed under what you would expect 26 million in salary to get you.
Defensively, things don’t look a whole lot better. Ryan Suter has not looked the same since his days in Nashville, which should be expected as his partner on defense is no longer Shea Weber. Matt Dumba needs to take some big steps for this team to contend.
I think that the Wild miss the playoffs this year, mainly due to the fact that I think the Pacific will look better this season than last.
Nashville Predators were incredibly quiet over the off-season, with no real moves. They have a solid, if not terribly exciting, offensive group, and play an excellent defensive game. The emergence of Roman Josi, along with the continued development of Seth Jones, should allow them to remain competitive for the next few seasons.
Their biggest issue has been injury for the last few seasons. If Pekka Rinne can stay healthy this year, they should again contend for the top of the division.
St. Louis Blues Sneakily had a very good off-season. I like the trade of T.J. Oshie for Troy Brouwer for both teams. But in Brouwer, the Blues picked up a responsible forward who can play solid minutes for the team. The problem for the Blues going forward was signing all their offensive talent, and by committing to Vladimir Tarasenko, they were forced to make a tough decision in regards to Oshie.
With some question marks in net, as neither goaltender has truly established them as a number one option, the Blues are definitely a bit of a tossup this season. They certainly have the offensive firepower to contend, but some questionable decisions on the back end may make this a bit of a stretch.
Winnipeg Jets the hopes and dreams of my hometown hinge on a youth movement that continually gets derailed by short-sighted offseason moves from one Kevin Cheveldayoff. Their biggest off-season splash was NOT resigning Michael Frolik, much to the chagrin of analytically-minded fans.
Maneuvering this team for the future, when Mark Scheifele, Nikolaj Ehlers, Joshua Morrisey, Nicolas Petan, and others come into their prime should be a huge priority for the management group. There will be tough decisions made on veterans like Toby Enstrom, Dustin Byfuglien, and captain Andrew Ladd.
While I don’t agree with jettisoning Evander Kane, Tyler Myers’ resurgence last season will hopefully continue to trend upwards under Paul Maurice. Goaltending will continue to be a constant headache for fans, as long as Ondrej Pavelec sits number one on the NHL depth charts.
Overall, I think we see very similar results to last season in the Central Division. I think the top three teams are still St. Louis, Nashville and Chicago. But outside of this, no team really has a lock on a playoff spot.
I’m expecting at least 4 spots to go to the Pacific Division this season, but you’ll hear more about that in my next piece. Feel free to comment below with your predictions for the Central Division, and who you think we’ll see in the playoffs next April.