For the past several seasons the Central Division has been one of the strongest in hockey. With the likes of the powerhouse Blackhawks they can make any division tough. Solid teams like the Blues, Predators, and Wild have typically gotten run over by Chicago over the years. The Stars have managed to fight their way to the playoffs twice over the four year tenure of the current layout. While the Jets and Avalanche have only managed one appearance each and neither have won a playoff round.
The central division is on the decline however as the Blackhawks have taken two first round losses in a row. The Blues have lost some big pieces in the past two seasons after a conference final exit in 2016. The Wild are stuck in cap hell as they are strapped by the large Suter and Parise contracts. Dallas can never seem to fully put it together outside of their offense. Winnipeg can’t find a goalie. Colorado is just completely hopeless. The only team I am really scared of in the Central is Nashville. Nashville finally went on a deep playoff run for the first time in 2017 making the cup final, running over powerhouse teams like the Ducks and Blackhawks. Their defense is the best in the NHL and they have many of their young assets locked in on excellent contracts.
7.) Colorado Avalanche (66 points)
I don’t think anyone disagrees when I say that there is no way Colorado is as bad as they were last season. 48 points in the cap era? They weren’t even trying to tank but yet they managed to break records in how bad they were. I don’t think it is going to change anytime soon due to the fact that Joe Sakic is a terrible GM. I don’t think Colorado is going anywhere for a long time.
6.) Winnipeg Jets (90 Points)
It was hard for me to keep the Jets out of the playoffs. They have an excellent core of forwards in Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine, Nikolaj Ehlers, and Kyle Connor. Their defense is not too shabby either with Byfuglien, Myers, Trouba, and Morrissey. Goaltending has always been the issuse in Winnipeg and I don’t think Steve Mason is the solution to their problem. He has been very streaky throughout his career and Winnipeg really needs a solidified number one guy. It’s too much of a “what if” scenario for me to put Winnipeg into playoff contention this year.
5.) St. Louis Blues (95 Points)
The Blues have lost quite a few key assets over the past two seasons in Kevin Shattenkirk, David Backes, David Perron, and Brian Elliott. I do like the moves they made this offseason however as they managed to get a first round pick and a prospect for Ryan Reaves. They extended Colton Parayko to a nice extension as he and Pietrangelo are now the anchors of their blue line. They also upgraded at the center position acquiring Brayden Schenn from the Flyers in exchange for Jori Lehtera. Overall, I think St. Louis will have a fairly similar season to the one they just had.
4.) Minnesota Wild (97 Points)
Last season Minnesota went on an awful stretch to end their season heading into the playoffs. Devan Dubnyk became human and their offense disappeared. Minnesota has always been a team that’s only good enough to get to the second round. They have never scared me much as they typically struggle in the playoffs. They are a consistent playoff team in the aspect that they have not missed since the 2012 season when they acquired Parise and Suter. I think this will be another middle of the pack season for Minnesota as they are accustomed to.
3.) Dallas Stars (98 Points)
Dallas had an excellent offseason in my eyes. They got a legitimate number one goaltender in Ben Bishop which could solve a huge problem they had in net with Lehtonen and Niemi. Radulov is only going to make their insanely good offense even scarier. Marc Methot should bring more stability to their shaky defense. Dallas won’t have problems scoring goals at all, it will be keeping the puck out of the net if anything.
2.) Nashville Predators (102 Points)
Nashville has never been an excellent regular season team but has improved their playoff play in the past two seasons. From pushing the Sharks to game 7 in the second round in 2016 to pushing the Penguins to game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final. I think this is the season Nashville becomes one of the top teams in the Central. Their lockdown blueline is the best in the National Hockey League. Their offense has continued to get better over the past few seasons with the development of guys like Forsberg and Arvidsson. Pekka Rinne is a bit of a mindsweeper however, you never know what you are going to get. Behind that defense however, it could be a breeze this season for Rinne and the Preds.
1.) Chicago Blackhawks (104 Points)
Everyone seems to think the Blackhawks are done. I disagree completely. Given how awful their offseason was, they are still the Blackhawks. They have Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, and Corey Crawford. For as much hate as Crawford gets, he is a very solid goaltender and gives his team a chance to win almost every night. Ryan Hartman and Nick Schmaltz have shown great signs of offensive promise as rookies. Alex DeBrincat is also looking to make the team after coming off his third consecutive 50+ goal season in the OHL. The Blackhawks may not have the most wide open window, but it’s still there. With the pieces they have, there is no reason they cannot repeat as Central Division Champions.