Fire and brimstone has at least temporarily stopped raining down from the sky. The scars left from the festering wounds that were the 2017 season are merely reminders of what once was. The 2018 season is officially here in about a week and the Central Division landscape looks a bit different as the Dallas Stars prepare to host their inaugural meeting with the Vegas Golden Knights.
For those of you who like to call our mistakes to @FreezingColdTakes go ahead and bookmark this story. This is, without a doubt, how the 2018 season standings will look in the Central Division. Place your bets now and get rich off of these prognostications.
1. Winnipeg Jets
Hear me out.
The Jets were 6th in the NHL last year in goals. Mark Scheifele, Patrik Laine, and Nikolaj Ehlers are all a year older and should be even better. Josh Morrissey and Jacob Trouba are a year older. Bryan Little, Mathieu Perreault, and Tyler Myers are healthy. Nic Petan and Kyle Connor could add an extra boost offensively. Their biggest issue last year was goals against and they finally upgraded in net to Steve Mason. If Mason gives them an average performance this is a really fun team to watch.
2. Nashville Predators
The Predators weren’t a traditional 8th seed last season on their run to the Stanley Cup. They still have the best defense in the league led by PK Subban. Pekka Rinne will be their Achilles heel. Nashville swapped Mike Fisher for Nick Bonino. The loss of James Neal to Vegas is the only reason I don’t have them winning the division.
3. Dallas Stars
The Stars' changes are well documented. Ben Bishop is the new starter in net after signing a long term deal. Ken Hitchcock is back behind the bench. Marc Methot has been added to the defense corps where the Stars still have 75,000 bodies. Presumably Julius Honka starts the season in the NHL, but who knows at this point. Alexander Radulov, Martin Hanzal, and Tyler Pitlick join a forward group replacing numerous guys who couldn’t stay healthy.
I could see the Stars winning the division if everything breaks right, but I’m not convinced they have enough scoring to do so.
4. Minnesota Wild
The Wild are basically the same team every year. They’ll play a sound game and bore most viewers. Talent is there up and down the lineup, but realistically they’re just a collection of quality players without much in the way of real top-end standouts unless Mikael Granlund and Eric Staal count. They’re ok. This is where ok teams fit.
5. Chicago Blackhawks
Some people prepare to dance on the Blackhawks graves every offseason. I get it. It has always been premature until now. Chicago sent Artemi Panarin to the Columbus Blue Jackets to re-acquire Brandon Saad. Patrick Sharp is back in town, but we saw how little he had to offer firsthand in 2017. The vastly underrated Niklas Hjalmarsson got flipped relatively cheaply to the Arizona Coyotes. The talented Alex DeBrincat could help if he makes the roster, but this team is a shell of its former self. 2018 is the year they finally miss the playoffs again.
6. St. Louis Blues
The Blues just lost Robby Fabbri for the entire season. Mike Yeo is in his first full year as the team's head coach after they fired Ken Hitchcock. Patrik Berglund is out for months. Alex Steen isn’t ready to go for a few more weeks. Jay Bouwmeester has a broken ankle. Kevin Shattenkirk is a New York Ranger. Any questions?
7. Colorado Avalanche
The Avs were one of the worst teams I remember watching. You could put together a solid case that the team quit sometime last December. They still haven’t traded Matt Duchene despite several reportedly solid offers. Inexplicably they only have three NHL defensemen at the moment and Nikita Zadorov somehow doesn’t have a contract. General Manager Joe Sakic can’t have much leash left.
The Pacific will shake out a little strangely too. The Calgary Flames will take the division and the top seed in the Western Conference. The Edmonton Oilers and Arizona Coyotes will be the second and third seeds in the Pacific. San Jose will sneak in as a wild card, leaving Chicago, St. Louis, and the Los Angeles Kings on the outside of the playoff picture. Vegas takes the bottom position in the conference.
Bonus prediction 1: Jamie Benn wins the Hart Trophy. [editor's note: a $100 bet on Jamie Benn would currently get you $2,500 in Vegas if he was the NHL's MVP. We don't condone betting, but... ya know ;)]
Bonus prediction 2: Radek Faksa gets votes for the Selke Trophy.
Bonus prediction 3: Vegas sends a scoring winger to the Stars at the trade deadline.
For more bulletproof NHL predictions, follow Josh Lile on Twitter at @JoshL1220.