First off we took a look at the Pacific Division and now it’s time for us to finish up the Western Conference with the Central Division!
7. Chicago Blackhawks
This might be considered by some as a “hot take” but the Blackhawks are the worst team in what is probably the best division in hockey. If they were in the pacific this might very well be a middle of the pack team.
The Blackhawks upgraded the middle of their defence this off-season with Calvin de Haan and Olli Maatta. They also brought back former Blackhawk Andrew Shaw and added talented prospect Alex Nylander.
This is by no means a bad team, but when they are constantly going up against teams like the Predators, Avalanche, Blues and Jets so often, this team is going to get warn down over time.
They did supply some insurance in case Corey Crawford can’t stay healthy again with the signing of Robin Lehner, who was one of the league’s best goalies last season. However, it’s tough to feel confident Lehner will post another .930 save percentage this season.
The Blackhawks finishing last in the division is a risky pick, but they just don’t have the depth to compete in the toughest division in hockey.
6. Minnesota Wild
The Wild are who the majority of people seem to think will finish last in the division, but they just aren’t that bad. Problem is, they likely aren’t good enough to make the playoffs, making them a team stranded in that danger zone of outside the playoffs, yet not likely weak enough to get a super high draft pick.
They have a very good defensive group, and just extended Jared Spurgeon long term, while also having a very solid net-minder in Devan Dubnyk. The issue for this team is going to be goal scoring.
Eric Staal has proven he can still be a very productive goal scorer, and Mats Zuccarello will help out in that area for sure. However players like Parise and Koivu aren’t the goal scorers they once were. They would need a bounce back year from both those players and have Kevin Fiala have his breakout season (which the Wild believe is going to happen soon) to generate enough offence to get into the playoffs.
They are better than the Blackhawks, but in a division like the Central they are likely stuck in the low-end, middle of the pack range, which is a brutal place to be in long term.
5. Dallas Stars
The Stars had a big off-season, bringing in guys like Pavelski and Perry to help spread out the offence on more than just their top line. Adding Sekera on defence also rounds out their top 6 pretty nicely. Many people have them as a sleeper pick to win the Stanley Cup, so it’s safe to say that expectations are very high in Dallas.
Too high, because this team will just barely miss the playoffs, even if it takes up until the last day of the regular season to be officially eliminated.
Every year there is a team who has massively high expectations going into a season and never live up to them. On paper the Stars absolutely looks like a playoff team, but this division is just to strong at the top and the Stars still don’t have the depth up front to compete. In an easier division, the Canucks will have a stronger chance to get that final wild card spot, while the Stars will just miss out by a sliver.
4. Winnipeg Jets
Gone are the days when the Jets were cup favourites. This summer was a tough one, even though it has looked better the past couple days with both RFA’s Patrick Laine and Kyle Conner agreeing to terms.
This teams defence got destroyed this summer. They traded away Trouba, lost Myers to free agency, and now have to suspend Dustin Byfuglien without pay because he didn’t report to training camp as he debates about his hockey future. Loosing all three players would turn a Jets defence which was one of the best last year to possibly one of the weakest in the NHL.
Although they do still have a solid goaltender in net with Connor Hellebuyck, and have a strong leadership group up front lead by Scheifele and Wheeler. Than looking behind those guys there is tons of elite offensive talent in Ehlers, Kyle Connor and Liane.
The Jets might no longer be a team projected to go all they way, but the sea of white will return this year as they will lock up the first wildcard spot in the West.
3. Colorado Avalanche
The Avalanche had an extremely interesting summer. For a team as good as they were, they suddenly had a ton of cap space available to them this summer and they used a lot of it up to make this team even better.
They traded away Barrie and Kerfoot to acquire centre Nazem Kadri, who before last season was coming off back-to-back 30 goal seasons with the Maple Leafs. They also signed Joonas Donskoi and traded for Andre Burakovsky.
This team was so depended on their top line last year with Rantanen, MacKinnon and Landeskog, but now with the acquisition of those three new players, plus hopefully the continued growth young forward Tyson Jost, this team will be a lot deeper up front than they were last year. You need more offence than just one line to win in this league.
Their defence took a hit with the loss of Barrie, who was one of the best offensive d-man in the league last year. However with young stars like Cale Makar and Samuel Girard leading the way moving forward, they will be just fine. Even if their defence this year isn’t quiet as good as last year.
Grubauer has proven he is capable of being a full time starter in the NHL. Is he good enough to lead this team to a Stanley Cup? We shall see, but he is good enough to help this very young and talented team make the playoffs for the second year in a row.
2. St. Louis Blues
The defending champs made a big addition in the pre-season in acquiring Justin Faulk from the Hurricanes. Faulk is possibly going to be playing on the bottom pair behind Pietrangelo, Dunn, Parayko and Bouwmeester. That in itself is enough to convince anyone that the Blues have one of the best defensive unit’s in the league.
Their offence is still deep and filled with talent and enough grit to dominate teams physically. The biggest question will be if last year breakout sensation Jordon Binnington will continue him insane success into the new season and prove he isn’t just a one year wonder.
Even if he does struggle a bit, the Blues are a stacked team. They will once again be a heavy favourite to win the Stanley Cup this season.
1. Nashville Predators
The Predators had to trade away Subban in need of cap space, but they were able to do so because even without P.K their defence is still elite. Josi, Ellis, and Elkholm make up a fantastic top three defensive group, one that is still one of the best in the NHL.
With their new cap space, the Predators went out and signed centre Matt Duchene to a 7 year, 56 million dollar contract. That gives Nashville a top 3 centre group of Duchene, Johansen and Turris, which is easily one of the best in the NHL. They also have wingers like Forsberg, Arvidsson and Jarnkrok to help support these centres.
The goaltending due of Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros remains one of the best in the league. Add in the mental drive of being so close to the cup yet not achieving it, and that will become a massive motivation to this team all season long, and a first place finish in the Central will be the end result (at least in terms of regular season).
There it is, where each team in the Central will finish up this season. Next up we move over to the East, starting in the Metropolitan Division!