The Central Division in the NHL is the toughest division of the entire league.
With several teams skilled enough to be considered contenders for the Stanley Cup this coming season, let’s take a look at how I feel this division could play out moving forward.
1. Nashville Predators:
The Nashville Predators are coming off a franchise best season, winning the President’s Trophy and yet again making another deep run in the playoffs.
However, coming off a second round elimination by the Winnipeg Jets, it appears management and staff have a good feeling about this group as the roster has stayed exactly the same, minus the retirement of Mike Fisher and Scott Hartnell.
The Predators have the best top four Defensemen in the league, which that alone makes it extremely difficult for at least half the league to compete with them.
If Pekka Rinne can have another Vezina Winning season, and carry that performance into the playoffs, unlike last season where we saw Rinne’s stats suffer, the Predators will be in a good position defensively.
Up front the list just goes on and on and on, with Forsberg, Johansen, Arvidsson, Fiala, Turris, Watson, and several other young talents, scoring should not be a problem for Nashville.
If Nashville plays up to their potential and gets scoring from both their Forwards, and Defense, we are looking at another Central Division Title for the Preds.
2. Winnipeg Jets:
Many people have the Jets stealing the division this season.
It is possible for them to do so, however I feel the Predators are a deeper team when comparing rosters.
The deciding factor for me with the Jets is if Connor Hellebuyck can continue to develop after his incredible season last year.
Simply stating, if Hellebuyck can out perform Rinne, first and second seed in this division can switch very easily.
Following young super star Patrik Laine, the Jets have Scheifele, Ehlers, Wheeler, Little, Connor, and Perreault to produce offense.
Out back Winnipeg has power house Dustin Byfuglien, Morrissey, Myers, Morrow, and Trouba to help Hellebuyck keep the scoring down.
Even though I expect Nashville and Winnipeg to be fighting for the top seed in the Central Division, there is no doubt that both teams have to playing for nothing less than the Stanley Cup.
3. St. Louis Blues:
Some people may find this placing for the Blues to be a little bold, but hear me out.
With a strong off season, St. Louis now has a roster that can come to as close as matching Nashville and Winnipeg as a team is going to get.
With Maroon, O’Reilly, Schenn, Bozak, Tarasenko, Perron, and several other solid Forwards, the Blues have a threatening offense.
They do lack in Defense in my opinion when compared to Winnipeg and Nashville, however they do still have a solid group anchored around Pietrangelo, Parayko, Bouwmeester and Bortuzzo.
Let Allen have a solid season in net, and the Blues are ready for a playoff appearance after last season’s disappointing outcome.
4. Colorado Avalanche:
The Avalanche are fit to take another Wild Card spot this year.
After a 49 point turnaround last season, Colorado has ramped up their depth on Defense and gained a solid back up in Philipp Grubauer.
Now with Johnson, Barrie, Girard, Cole, Nemeth, Lindholm, and Zadorov on Defense, the Avalanche no longer lack in that aspect of the game.
Up front they do lack some depth after their top six featuring MacKinnon, Rantanen, and Landeskog.
This seems to be the biggest hold back for the Avalanche heading into this season, however the experience and momentum this team gained making a playoff appearance last season will greatly help their chances of making another appearance this season.
5. Dallas Stars:
The best the Dallas Stars can do this year relies on how much the duo of Seguin and Benn can score.
Do not get me wrong, this is a better Dallas Stars team than last season, but if the Stars can’t take the second Wild Card spot from a Pacific Division team, or top Colorado, there will be no playoffs for Dallas this season.
Bishop should have a strong year in net with Khudobin backing him up, but after Klingberg, Lindell, and Johns on Defense the Stars appear to be a little light when comparing them with other teams above them.
With the Central Division being a deeper division than the Pacific Division, a playoff appearance is not far out of reach for the Stars, it is just a matter of how well can they compete within their power house of a division.
6. Minnesota Wild:
This is the toughest placing for me in this prediction.
I have no clue what to expect from Dubnyk in net, and with not much help besides Suter, Spurgeon, and Dumba on Defense, games can get out of hand easily.
Especially against highly skilled offensive teams such as Tampa Bay, Nashville, and Toronto.
Up front Parise and Koivu will lead the way again for the Wild, with hopefully some bonus production from Foligno, Niederreiter, Staal, and Coyle.
By no means is this placing supposed to be an insult to Minnesota, they are just stuck dead in their tracks in the middle of a traffic jam called the Central Division.
7. Chicago Black Hawks:
It is sad to think that a Chicago team with Kane and Toews still playing would finish last in their division.
But the even sadder thing is that besides Kane and Toews up front, Chicago is WEAK.
Throw in Saad, and Kunitz for Veteran experience but do not expect much more out of this offense unless a young star is born in Chicago.
There could be some goalie competition between Crawford and Ward as Crawford has been a part of several Stanley Cup winning Black Hawk teams, and Ward is also a Stanley Cup winning goalie.
With aging Keith and Seabrook leading the way on Defense, Chicago needs Manning, and Murphy to step up and hold back the onslaught.
Unless Jonathan Toews, and Patrick Kane but the entire team on their backs and take on the league by force, this is going to be another disappointing season for a storied Original Six team.
St. Louis: http://www.nhl.nbcsports.com
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