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A new week, which means it’s time for more predictions. This week I am predicting what will happen in the Central division this season.
Nashville Predators: A team who has been one of the favorites for quite a few seasons now, but has not yet been able to get it done. This past season they didn’t come even close. They finished first in their division during the regular season with 100 points, but were upset in the first round by the Dallas Stars. Because of the upset, they made a few significant changes to their roster.
Quality over quantity. That is exactly the saying Nashville followed this offseason. They only had one addition to their lineup, but it was a massive one in Matt Duchene. This is a team who has always been recognized as having one of the best bluelines in the entire NHL, but sometimes struggled to put the puck in the net. For awhile now they have been lacking a true number one centerman. That all changes now with Duchene added to the mix. This allows Ryan Johansen to slide into a more suitable second line role which will be more beneficial to both him and the team.
Departures: Subban, Boyle, Simmonds
The biggest loss here is obviously P.K. Subban. With Subban, Nashville had a four-headed monster on the back end with him, Josi, Ekholm and Ellis. Like stated above though, the issue in Nashville has been scoring. They wanted to sign Duchene but needed cap space in order to do so. Because of that, Subban became expendable. Brian Boyle and Wayne Simmonds were both brought in at the deadline to provide a boost for a team pursuing a Stanley Cup, but neither one provided much impact of any sort.
There is plenty to like about this team moving forward. They addressed their biggest issue in getting a scoring centerman in Duchene. Despite moving out Subban, their blueline is still very strong. They have some wingers with a lot of skill up front, especially in Filip Forsberg and Victor Arvidsson. Pekka Rinne will be 37 in just over a month, but has yet to show any signs of slowing down. The biggest thing he needs in order for Nashville to put it all together is consistency in the playoffs. He has had a tendency to play great one night and terribly the next the past few postseasons. I think Nashville improved this offseason, and they were already a great team prior to it. Because of that, I am predicting Nashville to finish 1st in the Central division.
Winnipeg Jets: Somewhat similar to what was written for Nashville. A team who has been one of the favorites for a while now, although granted not as long as Nashville. It felt in many ways like Winnipeg was poised to go on a big run this past year. Unfortunately for them they had a round one matchup against the hottest team in the league in the St. Louis Blues, and you all know what they ended up doing last year. Regardless, things still looked bright for Winnipeg. They had a great core of both veterans and talented youth. This offseason has changed some of that…
Pionk came over in a trade from the Rangers. He is a skilled defenceman and is still quite young. He will be a good player for years to come. He certainly didn’t come at a cheap price however…
Departures: Trouba, Myers, Hayes, Tanev, Chiarot
The price for Pionk was Jacob Trouba. Although this is easily a lost trade, it’s hard to blame the Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff. Trouba reportedly demanded a trade and made it clear he wanted to be in New York, so Cheveldayoffs hands were pretty tied up. Tyler Myers was a free agent who signed a big deal with Vancouver, one that the Jets couldn’t afford. He was a solid top 4 defenceman for the Jets and they will miss both him and Trouba plenty. Tanev and Chiarot are both nice pieces for any team, but are also fairly replaceable. Hayes came over as a rental at the deadline and was never able to really fit in with the Jets.
Tough offseason. They lost two of their top four defencemen in Trouba and Myers. Factor that in with the fact that Dustin Byfuglien hasn’t reported to camp and is considering retirement, the Jets could be in trouble. Losing three of your top four defencemen from the previous season is absolutely crippling to any franchise. They have also not yet signed Kyle Connor or Patrik Laine. This makes Winnipeg extremely hard to predict. They still have quite a bit of talent up front. The blueline is definitely a question mark now, but I believe Hellebuyck is good enough to make up for that. Going simply based off the fact that not often do RFA’s hold out, I will assume that Connor and Laine will be on the team at some point this season. However, it still hasn’t happened yet and is creating some negative headlines surrounding the team. That, along with the blow to their defence has me predicting the Jets will slide down the standings this year. I have the Jets finishing 4th in the Central this season.
St. Louis Blues: Well well well. What is there that needs to be said here. It was an incredible season for St. Louis with many headlines throughout. This was a team that was last place in the entire league in January. Before the season started, they were getting a fair bit of hype. They made some good offseason moves headed into last year and were supposed to get back into the playoffs. The first half of this previous season was a complete nightmare. They looked terrible. Somehow Doug Armstrong was able to keep his composure and not start making trades. It paid off big time. They ended up heating up in the second half of the season and carried it into playoffs where they eventually defeated the Boston Bruins to win the Stanley Cup. Congratulations Blues fans.
I was literally just writing about how St. Louis didn’t make any additions this offseason, which made sense because they just won the Stanley Cup. However, as I was writing I got a notification that they have acquired Justin Faulk from the Carolina Hurricanes. Faulk is a skilled puck moving defenceman, and although it is hard to say exactly where he will slot in, he should benefit their powerplay.
Departures: Edmundson, Maroon, Del Zotto
Again, I had to add on to this section because of this recent trade. Joel Edmundson is the main piece going back to the Hurricanes. He was a solid third pairing guy, but he was scratched certain times throughout the playoffs and may have fallen out of favour with the Blues. It didn’t take long for Patrick Maroon to become a fan favorite in St. Louis. He was a hometown guy who took a discount in free agency to play for the Blues and be closer to his son. How could anybody not root for him? Despite that, he actually struggled a bit throughout the season, putting up only 28 points in 74 games. During the playoffs though, he became a post season hero for the Blues, scoring the game seven overtime goal in the first round to eliminate the Dallas Stars. Del Zotto was brought in at the deadline as a depth defender and never ended up suiting up for any playoff games.
St.Louis will have a strong team again this season. They may get off to a slow start as many cup winners from the previous season tend to do. That shouldn’t be an issue though as they couldn’t have started last year any worse than they did, and it still worked out for them. Although it is extremely hard to repeat in the NHL, these guys have a solid roster with very few holes. The one question mark is Jordan Binnington. Last season he was the savior that seemingly came out of nowhere. Was it a fluke or was that the real Binnington? My guess is that he will have a good year, but not an out of this world season like last season. It will be good enough to keep the Blues afloat though, and I am predicting that they finish 3rd in the Central division.
Dallas Stars: What could have been in Dallas this past year. It may not seem like Dallas was close to winning the Stanley Cup because they were eliminated in the second round. However, it is important to remember they forced the Stanley Cup winning Blues to a game seven overtime. One bounce their way and it could have been a much different playoffs for them. It’s something that will no doubt have them hungry coming into this season.
Arrivals: Pavelski, Perry, Sekera
The trend in the NHL is teams wanting to get younger. Dallas did the complete opposite. This should however be very beneficial for the Stars. Adding older talent who knows what it takes to win is always great for a team on the cusp of competing for a Stanley Cup. Joe Pavelski is still a top end player in the league and will be a huge offensive threat on an already stacked top six. Corey Perry has certainly slowed down, but if he is paired with the right players and can find open ice to get his shot off, he has a great chance to have a bounce back season. Andrej Sekera has battled some very serious injuries the last two seasons. A torn ACL and a torn Achilles are both injuries that can be career ending for a player, but he was able to finish out last season with the Oilers. If he can get back to even half the player he was before the injuries, this is a very valuable add for the Stars.
Departures: Zuccarello, Pitlick, Ritchie, Nichushkin, Spezza, Methot
Although there are a lot of names on this list, they really didn’t lose any high impact players aside from Mats Zuccarello. Keep in mind too that Zuccarello was brought in simply as a rental player for their playoff push. The rest of these players are really just depth options which can be replaced from inside the organization. Spezza is a very big name player, but he has slowed down immensely the past few seasons and is a shell of what he once was. Methot was another fairly big name defenceman, but injuries have affected him a lot the past few seasons and as of now he remains a free agent.
A solid offseason for Dallas. Bringing in Pavelski was something that no one really expected, and it makes them that much more dangerous. A top six that features Pavelski, Seguin, Benn, Radulov amongst other talent they have makes them very tough for any team to handle. They also have two very solid young defencemen in Miro Heiskanen and John Klingberg. In the pipes, Ben Bishop is one of the top goaltenders in the league, and has one of the best backups in the league in Anton Khudobin. I’m expecting Dallas to be pissed off at how last year ended and come out of the gates flying, and because of this I’m predicting they place 2nd in the Central this season.
Colorado Avalanche: What an exciting season this was for Avs fans. They possessed arguably the top line in the entire league with Mackinnon, Rantanen, and Landeskog. The problem with this team was the lack of scoring from anyone outside of those top 3, which is something they addressed this offseason.
Additions: Kadri, Burakovsky, Donskoi, Bellemare, Connauton, Rosen
Colorado shook some things up this offseason. They made a huge trade in acquiring Nazem Kadri and Calle Rosen for Tyson Barrie and Alexander Kerfoot. Kadri is a complete player in every facet, and will provide some much needed offence behind Colorado’s first line. Burakovsky and Donskoi both figure to get chances on the second line with Kadri. The skill level is there for both of them to put up some points. Bellemare and Connauton are both nice role players, and Rosen is a depth player, likely an AHL guy who is the first to get called up if needed.
Departures: Barrie, Kerfoot, Varlamov, Soderberg, Andrighetto, Nemeth
Unfortunately, in order to acquire talented players such as Kadri, it often means you also have to part with talent from your current roster. That is what happened here when Colorado had to ship off Tyson Barrie. Barrie is one of the elite puck moving defencemen in the entire NHL. However, Colorado figured they needed more help up front, which is hard to argue. It’s also important to note the play of Cale Makar in last years playoffs. He is a defencemen who it appears is going to be a superstar sooner than later, which made it easier to be able to ship off Barrie. Kerfoot was also moved in the trade for Kadri, and is a nice player who you can count on for 40-50 points a year. The Avs decided to move on from Varlamov after a long stint as their starting goaltender. His tenure was frustrating to say the least, as one game he could play like the best goalie in the NHL, the next game he could play like the worst. He was consistently inconsistent. The rest of the players on this list were depth / role players which shouldn’t impact the club at all.
Colorado is a very promising team. They have so much young skill that it appears they could become a powerhouse of the league for years. There are a few things that concern me this season though. The first concern is that Mikko Rantanen has not yet signed. The latest news on this was his agent last week saying that the sides weren’t close to a deal. Rantanen and Mackinnon are the best two players on Colorado, and losing either one of them would be a devastating blow. If a deal can’t be reached before the season starts, they could be in big trouble. A second concern is goaltending. Philipp Grubauer was brought over from Washington with a lot of promise, and is getting the shot to be their starting goalie this season. Although his numbers last season look stellar, he really struggled for a big chunk of the season. It was near the end of the regular season and the playoffs that he really showed how good he can be. This will be his first ever time getting a starting gig, so it is tough to say how he will handle his consistency with a heavier workload. The final question. Defence. Losing Barrie is a big loss as he helped forwards such as Rantanen and Mackinnon with his great puck moving. Cale Makar is expected to fill in, but it is a lot to ask of a rookie. Depending on whether or not he’s up to the task will prove whether or not Colorado can become a top team this year. Because of the question marks this team faces, I am predicting them to finish 5th place in the Central.
Chicago Blackhawks: It seems weird to think of the Blackhawks as a team on the outside looking in, but that is what happened as they missed the playoffs last season. This team was basically a dynasty just a few years back, winning three cups in six years. That would’ve been an extremely impressive feat even without the salary cap. However, all dynasties eventually come to an end and that appears to have happened to Chicago. They have made some nice moves recently bringing in some young talented players, so maybe they can get back to their winning ways sooner rather than later.
Arrivals: De Haan, Maatta, Lehner, Shaw, Smith, Carpenter, Nylander
Calvin De Haan and Olli Maatta are both defencemen who can benefit Chicagos third or possibly even second pairing. Maatta has struggled the past couple of seasons but was highly regarded when he first came into the league. Perhaps a change of scenery will help him find his game back. Robin Lehner was one of the best goalies in the league last year with the Islanders and would’ve easily received a Vezina nomination if he had gotten a few more starts. Andrew Shaw is an old familiar face and one that Blackhawks players and fans alike are very excited to have come back into the fold. He is a heart and soul type player who gets under the opposing teams’ skin and can also put the puck in the net. Alex Nylander was a high draft pick by Buffalo that never worked out. His AHL numbers are nothing outstanding, but he does have loads of talent that Chicago is hoping to utilize.
Departures: Anisimov, Kruger, Kahun, Kunitz, Jokiharju, Ward
Artem Anisimov is a skilled player who can often leave a lot to be desired. They traded him for a less skilled, harder working Zack Smith. Because of the many talented wingers they have, Anisimov was likely not going to be featured on the top six, and Smith is the more effective bottom six forward of the two. Dominik Kahun had a solid rookie season with Chicago and provided some good secondary offense, but with the talent they already have up front they decided he was expendable and dealt him for Maatta. Jokiharju is a skilled up and comer they moved for Nylander. Kunitz and Ward both had very decorated careers, especially Kunitz who won four Stanley Cups. At this point, it was time for both of them to call it a career as they were no longer helping their teams’ success.
I don’t think this is a team who is able to attain a playoff spot this year. I do however think they are better than they were going into last season. Goaltending was a big question mark last year because of Corey Crawford’s health, and all they had as a backup plan who was Cam Ward. That plan failed miserably. This year they went and added Robin Lehner as insurance, a much smarter bet. Their back end could use some improvement, as both Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are no where near what they used to be. I do think the forward lineup is quite solid though and should keep them competitive for the majority of the season. Unfortunately, I don’t think it will be enough to push them back into the playoffs and I have the Blackhawks finishing 6th place in the Central division.
Minnesota Wild: This has to be the most boring team in the league, right? No offence Wild fans. It just feels like the same thing every single year. Usually just good enough to make the playoffs, but always eliminated early and not putting up much of a fight. This year they weren’t able to make the playoffs, but were still close enough in the race that they also weren’t able to get a high pick for the draft. It feels like a team with no sense of direction.
Arrivals: Zuccarello, Hartman
The Zuccarello signing really ties into the no sense of direction theme. This is a team that is already very old and should be looking to bring in more youth. Instead, they sign 31 year old Zuccarello to a five year deal worth 30 million. Zuccarello is a very good player, but when your team is already old, signing a guy on the back end of his career to an expensive five year deal doesn’t seem like the brightest move. Ryan Hartman is a gritty player who can play up and down the lineup and will likely become a fan favorite in Minnesota due to his hard working style of play.
Departures: Bitetto, Aberg
Really nothing here at all. Both Bitetto and Aberg are depth players at best. The fact that a team doesn’t make the playoffs and makes almost no changes in the offseason roster wise seems very odd.
Minnesota went into last season as an old team. They kept the exact same roster while adding Zuccarello, so they are even older now. It’s tough to figure out the philosophy of this team. Perhaps that is why they fired General Manager Paul Fenton recently. He made many strange moves and signings in his year tenure there, such as the Zuccarello deal. Bill Guerin was hired as his replacement and hopefully for Minnesota he comes in with a better game plan. It is tough to be excited about the Wild for this season at all. There are zero improvements here which is why I am predicting they finish last in the Central division for a second straight season.
September 27, 2019