NHL Season Preview: Central Division

Kwals

For our second division preview we head to the new and improved Central Division. We have a lot of teams that haven’t seen a lot of each other that will be getting to know each other a lot better in the next few months. This division is also home to the defending Stanley Cup Champions Tampa Bay Lightning. There is an absolute boatload of young talent spread across the division and it should be pretty competitive in this shortened 56 game season. So let’s get into our team by team preview….

Carolina Hurricanes(38-25-5, 81PTS) 4th in Metropolitan, Lost to Bruins in First Round

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I hate this team, but like not actually. I hate that I can’t like them as much as I would like to simply because they are typically in the Flyers division. The Carolina Hurricanes are the most fun team in the league in my opinion. These “Bunch of Jerks” have made hockey fun again and have brought excitement back to hockey in the south. They also have a boatload of young talent that is helping them do that. Guys like Andrei Svechnikov, Sebastian Aho, and Martin Necas have made the Hurricanes a young and hungry team that just never seems to go away. They also added Vincent Trocheck who brings more talent and experience to this lineup. On defense they have a solid group of young but experienced guys. Jacob Slavin, Dougie Hamilton, Jake Gardiner, and Brady Skjei provide Carolina with a lot of experience and make up a tough top four to go against. Then you add in a guy with a lot of potential like Haydn Fleury and this is a great looking defensive core. To me their biggest issue still remains between the pipes as I still don’t trust any of the goalies on their roster to lead them to the promise land. I refuse to root for Petr Mrazek to succeed and that’s nothing against him I’m sure he’s a great dude but he sucked with the Flyers and I can’t have him winning anything before Carter Hart. James Reimer is getting older and he just seems to always be that average goalie that can’t get a team over the hump. I don’t expect that to change this year either. Finally Alex Nedeljkovic, seems like he could be the sleeper for them in net. He was impressive in the games he played last year and I could definitely see him coming in and taking over the net. The Canes are in a tough division but the shortened schedule may help them as they tend to get off too fast starts during the regular season.

Key Additions: Vincent Trocheck, Jesper Fast

Key Departures: Justin Williams, Trevor Van Riemsdyk

 

Chicago Blackhawks(32-30-8, 72PTS) 7th in Central, Lost to Golden Knights in First Round

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The Blackhawks had no business being in the playoffs last year but were gifted an opportunity due to COVID and they took advantage. They won their qualifying round series before getting bounced by the Knights in the first round. I like the Blackhawks team but they are still a few years away from making any real noise. They already lost a key part of their team as Kirby Dach was injured during the World Juniors. They also lost Jonathan Toews due to him suffering from a medical issue and we don’t know when he will be back. That means a lot is going to fall on the shoulders of Patrick Kane, Alex DeBrincat, and Dylan Strome. Are they capable of handling the load? Of course they are, but this team just isn’t deep enough to be a real threat. Their defense isn’t what it used to be but they do have a stud in Adam Boqvist who really showed what he could do last season. Duncan Keith is still around but he’s not getting any younger, they did add Nikita Zadorov who will definitely help but I don’t think he’s going to make a drastic impact. Now we get to the really interesting situation with this team…Can you name the Blackhawks Goalie? Go ahead and try without looking it up or continuing to read this….I’ll wait………No but seriously I have no clue who is actually gonna be the starter for the Blackhawks and that could be a problem. A team is only as good as their goalie and I don’t see Malcom Subban, Collin Deila, Matt Tomkins, or Kevin Lankinen hoisting the Stanley Cup at the end of the year. Who knows maybe they will shock the world….probably not though.

Key Additions: Nikita Zadorov, Mattias Janmark, Brandon Pirri

Key Departures: Corey Crawford, Drake Caggiula

 

Columbus Blue Jackets(33-22-15, 81PTS) 6th in Metropolitan, Lost to Lightning in First Round

 

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I feel bad for Blue Jackets fans, I really do. It seems like every time they look to be going in a positive direction somebody leaves or just something happens. I want to be the first to say, I think they have a pretty decent team in Columbus with some young talent and solid goaltending. John Tortella is a great coach and always has his guys ready to play and holds them accountable if they arent. After losing some big names last offseaon not many thought they would have as good as a year as they did last season. Well they shocked a few people and ended up in the playoffs before losing to the eventual Stanley Cup Champions. Led up front by Cam Atkinson, Nick Foligno, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Boone Jenner. The Jackets have a solid group of forwards, even with Dubois not fully wanting to be in Columbus you can bet he will still play hard and provide much needed scoring for this Blue Jackets team. With the addition of Max Domi he will also provide a little added scoring depth to go along with his pest like play. On the backend its pretty much a two man show with Seth Jones and Zach Werenski who are tow of the top defenseman in the league right now. These guys are great defensively and also provide a lot of offense from the point as well. In net I think Columbus is pretty set with Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins. They have a solid tandem that will both be able to play a decent amount of games and are both more than capable of going on a hot streak. Goaltending with be the strength of this Blue Jackets team it’s really just a matter if they can put the puck in the back of the net on a consistent basis.

Key Additions: Max Domi

Key Departures: Alexander Wennberg

 

Dallas Stars(37-24-8, 82PTS) 3rd in Central, Lost to Lightning in Stanley Cup Final

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What a year for the Dallas Stars, yeah they came up a little short in the Stanley Cup Final but they had an impressive run. So how do they top last years success? Well the obvious answer is to go out and win the Cup this year but that’s easier said than done. When you have a successful year like the Stars you tend to not make many changes which is what the Stars did. Their big guns are back with Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov and breakout star from last year Roope Hintz. Their forward group is solid and they proved last year they are a tough team to play against and can compete with anybody in the league. On the defensive end of things they are led by workhorses Miro Heiskanen and John Klingberg. I mean these guys just eat up minutes and can also help out in the offensive zone as well. They also have Esa Lindell who will play solid minutes along with newly acquired Mark Pysyk. Those four guys alone provide the Stars with a solid core of defenseman. In net they will roll with the same duo from last year with Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin. These guys proved last year they can get the job done and with the solid play in front of them they are a real Cup contender once again this year.

Key Additions: Mark Pysyk

Key Departures: Mattias Janmark, Corey Perry

 

Detroit Red Wings(17-49-5, 39PTS) 8th in Atlantic, Missed Playoffs

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Talk about unlucky, this team was god awful last year and the only hope they had was the potential of getting the number 1 overall draft pick. Well….That didn’t happen it ended up going to the New York Rangers. The Red Wings actually ended up falling all the way to the 4th overall pick and they got a solid guy in Lucas Raymond but I’m not sure if we see him in the NHL this year. I don’t have many good things to say about this Detroit team other than they might be good again in a few years but I’m not sold on that yet. Up front they have some solid pieces with Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha, and Filip Zadina. They did add a few veteran pieces during the offseason with the additions of Bobby Ryan and Vladislav Namestnikov. I just don’t see where they get there scoring from unless Zadina comes in and just lights it up. Larkin can put up points, I just don’t know if he can do enough to really make this team any sort of threat. Their defense is a whole other story. They don’t have much going for them back there I’m not even sure what their top pair is going to look like. They have a lot of young guys like Filip Hronek who might be their best one should be good and they also have veterans Marc Staal and Jon Merrill. In net the Red Wings are going with Jonathan Bernier and Thomas Griess which isn’t a horrible combination but again it’s not going to make them a playoff team. I full expect Detroit to be towards the bottom of the league again and the realigned divisions for this year definitely are not going to help them either.

Key Additions: Thomas Greiss, Vladislav Namestnikov

Key Departures: N/A

 

Florida Panthers(35-26-8, 78PTS) 4th in Atlantic, Lost to Islanders in Qualifying Round

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The Florida Panthers are an interesting team and I’m not sure what to think about them. They have great players at all positions and they have a great coach with Joel Quinnville. Their forward group is solid and they added some key pieces to really help improve their depth. Jonathan Huberdeau, and Aleksander Barkov are their top guys but they got some quality offense last season from guys like Frank Vatrano and Noel Acciari which for their sake will carry over to this year. Then they went an added Anthony Duclair, Patric Hornqvist, and Alex Wennberg who should really add more depth to their forward group. Aaron Ekblad is one of the best defenseman in the league and only seems to be getting better every year. Pair him with the SOOOOOOOOONNNNNKKKKKK king Keith Yandle and the Panthers have one of the best defensive pairs in the league. MacKenzie Weeger really came onto the scene last year and played really so I expect him to have another solid year this year and Anton Stralman is just a consistent guy for them on the backend. Finally, we get to the goaltending…..Sergei Bobrovsky was signed to a huge deal last year by the Panthers and it’s safe to say he did not live up to that last year. He never really got into a consistent groove and was allowing more goals than what is typical for Bob. Maybe it was just him adjusting to the new team and new area or maybe it was just an off year. Whatever the case was Florida will only be as good as Bobrovsky is, if he struggles again then the Panthers are going to have a tough time making the playoffs in this division.

Key Additions: Anthony Duclair, Patric Hornqvist

Key Departures: Mike Hoffman, Evgeni Dadonov, Erik Haula

Nashville Predators(35-26-8, 78PTS) 4th in Central, Lost to Coyotes in Qualifying Round

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After a tough loss in the qualifying round to the up and coming Coyotes the Nashville Predators will be looking to get back to their dominate ways. Loaded with talent on offense this team should have no issues putting the puck in the back of the net. Filip Forsberg, Matt Duchene, Ryan Johansen, Mikael Granlund just to name a few of their big guys should put up a boatload of points for this Predators team. They also have some solid depth but to me they have a possible up and coming star with Eeli Tolvanen who should be on the team on opening night and could provide a spark to this team. The Predators defense has a solid top four with Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm and Dante Fabbro. The goaltending for the Predators should be one of the best aspects of their team. Pekka Rinne while getting older is still capable of putting up solid numbers. Juuse Saros might end up being the number one goalie for the better part of the year if he plays as well as he’s capable of. The window for the Preds to win a cup hasn’t closed just yet but with some of their bigger names starting to get a little bit older and the teams around them getting better it could be shrinking quicker than we think.

Key Additions: Erik Haula,

Key Departures: Kyle Turris, Craig Smith

 

Tampa Bay Lightning(43-21-6, 92PTS) 2nd in Atlantic, Won Stanley Cup

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A team that has been so dominate in the regular season for the last few years and after coming up short in the playoffs time and time again, last year the Tampa Bay Lightning finally got over the hump and brought home the Stanley Cup. So what can we expect from the defending champs this year? Well, they have a lot of cap issues that they are still trying to get situated but seem to have it handled for now. Arguably their top player in Nikita Kucherov will miss more than likely the entire season but this team is still so stacked up front that they might not miss him too much. Steven Stamkos should be fully healthy and ready to go and he is still a top player in the league when healthy and Brayden Point has established himself as another dangerous scorer for the Lightning. Their defense is also pretty much set with just about everyone back from last year with the exception of Braydon Cobourn who was recently traded. Victor Hedman and Mikhail Sergachev lead the way on defense and contribute a lot on the offensive end of things. Ryan McDonagh had a big bounce back year last year and will look to build off that. Him and Erik Cernak will be a solid second pairing and as for the third pair Luke Schenn will most likely be in the lineup but they will probably rotate guys in and out all year with the third pair. I don’t even think I need to mention the goaltending because Andrei Vasilevskiy is the best goaltender in the league and will once again be in the conversation for the Vezina Trophy. In a condensed season he will see a lot of action and he is more than capable of carrying the load. As long as he stays healthy the Lightning should still be one of the top two teams in this division.

Key Additions: N/A

Key Departures: N/A

 

Final Standings Prediction:

  1. Tampa Bay Lightning
  2. Dallas Stars
  3. Florida Panthers
  4. Nashville Predators
  5. Carolina Hurricanes
  6. Columbus Blue Jackets
  7. Chicago Blackhawks
  8. Detroit Red Wings

 

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-Walsh

 

 

 

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