The NHL regular season is right around the corner. Many transactions took place this summer that altered the balance of power in the NHL for better or worse. The Central Division looks a bit different with a few key additions that could tilt the balance of power away from the defending conference champions.
It’s prediction time and we all like predictions. Here is how I see the Central Division shaping up.
The Predators are going to be a trendy pick, but it's justifiable. They’re a pretty good team. Somehow they dumped the aging zombie-like shell of Shea Weber with his giant contract on the Montreal Canadians. Dumped probably isn’t appropriate because somehow they got star defenseman P.K. Subban in return. The only man capable of pulling off a baby vomit yellow jersey with style now gets to wear one regularly.
Pekka Rinne isn’t anything special at this point in goal, but they just have so many quality players. Ryan Johansen, James Neal, Filip Forsberg, Roman Josi, Craig Smith, and quality depth make them a tough out. This isn’t a perfect team, and four different teams could win the division, but I’ll go with the fighting P.K.’s.
Hopefully I finish writing this before another forward drops (editor's note: phew).
I picked last year's Stars to win the Central Division. They could do it again this year, but they’re going to start so far behind the 8-ball with injuries. I like Dan Hamhuis, Stephen Johns, Esa Lindell, and Patrik Nemeth, but that’s a lot of hoping and wishing for a defensivee corps on a team expecting to be really good.
In the interest of not beating this horse further to death, the goaltending is poor. It’s probably the worst goaltending situation in the NHL, and I’m honestly shocked it didn’t get addressed this offseason. The Stars are so good up front that they’re a playoff team whether they improve in net or not, and they can realistically wait until the trade deadline to address it and still be a high-seed playoff team.
Also: miss you, Alex Goligoski.
Chicago ended up making the best signing of free agency by luring Brian Campbell back to town; essentially paying him with mothballs, pocket change, and an opened pack of bent O-Pee-Chee hockey cards from 1986 they swept out from under the couch.
They’re another year older. They were quality last year, as usual, but they’re really going to need Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa to be good and healthy again to get back fully to the level they’re used to reaching.
4. St. Louis
The Blues will still be good, but what did they really do to improve? Their marquee move was dealing goalie Brian Elliott to the Calgary Flames. They’re going to be a pain to play against and if Ken Hitchcock doesn’t murder him they have Vladimir Tarasenko to score all of the goals.
Lord, they signed Mike Yeo to be the “coach-in-waiting” or something too didn’t they? Maybe they should be lower.
Head Coach Patrick Roy randomly resigned about a month ago. Then mysteriously the Avalanche hired analytics consultants. Insert deep thinking emoji. These changes will probably make the Avs better, but it would be a pretty big leap of faith to expect it to happen so quickly. They have too much talent to be as terrible as they’ve been. MacKinnon, Duchene, Landeskog, Barrie, Varlamov….how are they so bad?
Is it a bad sign that when writing this I completely forgot the Minnesota Wild were in the division? They added Eric Staal on one of the more reasonable contracts handed out in free agency. They also brought in Bruce Boudreau to try to turn the ship around. Thomas Vanek got pushed off said ship with a buyout. Maybe they’ll be ok, but they aren’t likely to be as good as the top four. They certainly don’t have the talent of Colorado. So here they sit.
The Winnipeg Jets are a microwaved veggie burger with a dab of expensive stone ground mustard at a Fourth of July cookout. You see that nice looking mustard on the off-color patty and think there might be some hope, but once you take a bite you quickly understand that you’ve been hoodwinked, bamboozled into eating something other than meat.
The Jets just kind of exist. At least they were interesting when they were they Atlanta Thrashers. At some point the novelty of just having hockey back again has to wear off up there. Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele are quality players. Dustin Byfuglien is fun. The goaltending is mediocre, and they’re running their top pairing 22 year old defenseman out of town because they want him on the bottom pair.
Jacob Trouba’s situation probably tells you all that you need to know about how dysfunctional the Jets are. A team this mediocre can’t even identify how good of a player they have that he already wants out. Number two overall pick Patrik Laine may ultimately save the Jets and make them interesting, but it’s going to take more than Laine to fix how poorly they’ve been run,
Conference III is strong. Any of the top four could realistically win it, but I think the Nashville Subbans will take it unless Pekka Rinne falls off a proverbial cliff.
For more veggie burger metaphors and Stars analysis, you can follow Josh Lile on Twitter at @JoshL1220