Another week closer to the NHL season, another division preview.
Same disclaimer as last week, these teams are in alphabetical order. In other words, don’t look for hidden messages that aren’t there.
This week we will look at the toughest division since the realignment, the Central Division.
- Key Arrivals: [C] Marko Dano (Trade with Columbus), [C] Artem Anisimov (Trade with Columbus), [D] Trevor Daley (Trade with Dallas)
- Key Departures: [RW] Patrick Sharp (Trade with Dallas), [D] Johnny Oduya (Free Agent signed by Dallas), [LW] Brandon Saad (Trade with Columbus)
The reigning Stanley Cup champs are having an interesting offseason by losing a lot of players. Star players Toews and Kane have huge contracts taking effect this year and the GM was forced to make some cap room.
Losing high scoring player Patrick Sharp, defenseman Johnny Oduya, and youngster Brandon Saad will certainly hurt their depth but they are relying on their prospects to continue to make leaps and continue their dynasty.
Patrick Kane is still dealing with a serious rape allegation this offseason and that will certainly cause some concern in the locker room, one that’s had to deal with drama before with allegations that Patrick Sharp was having affairs with other players’ wives. Neither allegation has been proven true, so they remain allegations to this day.
Prediction: The Blackhawks have lost a lot of big-name players, but they are by no means any less of a threat as a hockey team. They may have some troubles to start the season as the new team gets in stride as well as the drama settling down. It should be no surprise that they make the playoffs…again.
- Key Arrivals: [D] Francois Beauchemin (Free Agent from Anaheim), [C] Mikhail Grigorenko (Trade with Buffalo)
- Key Departures: [C] Ryan O’Reilley (Trade with Buffalo)
The Av’s fell back into reality last season after making the playoffs in the 2013-2014 season. Their core is still developing with the young captain, Gabriel Landeskog, and even younger stars Matt Duchene and Nathan Mackinnon. The problem they had always faced was a strong defense.
Semyon Varlamov struggled without a solid defense in front of him, but the addition of Francois Beauchemin to play along Erik Johnson will definitely help. This team’s success is going to depend on their hot and cold streaks as a team.
Prediction: Patrick Roy is going to have to make some smart line changes to get their team to the playoffs in a crazy division. If the Av’s can find their play early they can certainly hit the wildcard spot in the West against a weaker Pacific division, but this team still has a few years before they become a terror in the NHL.
- Key Arrivals: [G] Antii Niemi (Trade with San Jose), [RW] Patrick Sharp (Trade with Chicago), [D] Johnny Oduya (Free Agent from Chicago)
- Key Departures: [D] Trevor Daley (Trade with Chicago)
The Dallas Stars were making headlines last offseason with the signing of Jason Spezza and this year they made a big splash for Patrick Sharp. Their offense is certainly scary in the front six with Art Ross winning Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Valeri Nichushkin, but that thing called defense is also important.
While Johnny Oduya is a great defenseman, he can’t do it all himself, and if the Stars’ goalies can’t get it together this year it’s just going to be another disappointing season in Texas. Aside from Oduya, who is their next notable defenseman, Jordie Benn?
Prediction: The Stars were close to the playoffs last year even with a struggling goaltending and a shallow defense. Kari Lehtonen is going to have to bounce back to his old ways to keep this team in the playoff race, but this is also a team to watch in the final weeks of the season for that wildcard spot.
- Key Arrivals: None
- Key Departures: None
Not really sure what to say about the Wild, they just didn’t do anything….wild. Goaltender Devin Dubnyk surprised many last year as he led the Wild on a great run to the playoffs and he just resigned with the Wild.
Aside from a few minor free agent signings and extensions, there weren’t any highlight trades or signings that made this team better, but they certainly didn’t get worse. Stars Zach Parise and Ryan Suter will keep this team a threat along with a good core of players, but will that be enough to make it to the playoffs again?
Prediction: The Wild didn’t make any additions or subtractions, not that they needed any. However, most teams in the West certainly got better, and the Wild just kind of stayed stagnant. The Wild are probably going to just miss the playoffs this year, but a good trade before the deadline can definitely change that.
- Key Arrivals: [D] Barret Jackman (Free Agent from St. Louis)
- Key Departures: None
The team from Smashville made a huge jump forward last season even with a new coach. This was because of a few things: Pekka Rinne was healthy; Filip Forsberg had his breakout season making Ex-Washington GM, George McPhee, look foolish for trading him; and their strong defensive core.
It’s no hidden fact that Nashville has an incredible depth at defense with arguably the best lock-down defenseman, Shea Weber, and young-gun, Seth Jones. Nashville’s major problem was offense, and Filip Forsberg has answered their prayers.
With the addition of Barret Jackman to their solid defense Nashville will certainly be in a good position to have another successful season.
Prediction: If the offense can perform just as well as last year (specifically Forsberg, Ribiero, and Fisher) and Rinne can stay healthy, Smashville will be back in the show in May and might make the jump to the second round.
ST. LOUIS BLUES
- Key Arrivals: [RW] Troy Brouwer (Trade with Washington), [G] Pheonix Copley (Trade with Washington)
- Key Departures: [RW] T.J. Oshie (Trade with Washington)
The Blues fell short of making it past the first round last year and hope that shaking up the roster will get them over the hump. A huge headline trade with Washington saw one of the Blues’ most loved players, Oshie, depart to DC as Oshie just wasn’t performing to their expectations in the post season.
The Blues plan on using Troy Brouwer as the Oshie replacement and are banking on Vladimir Tarasenko to have another big year, certainly not far-fetched of expectations. Copley is also a highly rated prospect that will be a great goaltending option in the future.
Prediction: Brouwer will be a good replacement for Oshie on the physical side, but not on the scoring side. Luckily the Blues have Tarasenko to worry about that. A solid, but aging, defense will keep the Blues in the race for the playoffs but it’s hard to see them past the first round.
- Key Arrivals: None
- Key Departures: Michael Frolik (Free Agent signed with Calgary)
Winnipeg was another surprise playoff team last year, but unlike the Flames they were swept in the first round by the Ducks. The “True North” Jets did not do much this offseason except lose a solid middle six player in Michael Frolik.
While most teams got better in the West, Winnipeg did not. The Jets will have to work even harder to reach the same level of surprise from last year, and it doesn’t seem likely it will happen twice in a row.
Prediction: Even with essentially the same core, the rest of the West only got better and the Jets’ competition only got more difficult. It will certainly be an uphill battle, and it is more than likely the Jets will fall out of the playoffs unless they make some trades.
- Chicago is still the team to beat in the NHL
- Dallas’ offense is scary
- Nashville will only get better especially if Rinne stays healthy
- Minnesota and Winnipeg didn’t add much to their rosters while everyone else did
- Dallas’ defense is scary
Be sure to check back next week for the next division’s preview!
If you missed a previous preview: Pacific Division
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Hockey and Lacrosse writer for International Sports Hub