Season Preview: Central Division? ConferenceIII? The Blackhawk Division?
We’ve finally arrived at the Division you all really need (want) to know all about: the plainest sounding goddamn division in the NEW AND IMPROVED NHL. We’re going to assume that you mostly know what’s going on with the Blackhawks. Jimmy Hayes, Ben Smith and the intriguing Joakim Nordstrom made the team while Jeremy Morin and Brandon Pirri find themselves back in Rockford yet again. Once can’t help but feel a little sorry for Morin and Pirri, in the weeks following the Stanley Cup, it seemed most people just assumed they’d both be Blackhawks this year. They’ll probably get a look at some point down the line, but it can’t bode very well for either of them that they’ve been passed over yet again.
Joel Quenneville has decided to keep eight defenseman to start the year. Mike Kostka beat out the now Vancouver Canuck Ryan Stanton for the last spot. Sheldon Brookbank is still around in the 7th slot.
That’s where the Blackhawks are at. What about the other teams in the Central?
In: Seth Jones, Viktor Stalberg ( unfortunately injured already) , Matt Cullen, Carter Hutton (!!!), Eric Nystrom and Matt Hendricks. Eric Nystrom and Matt Hendricks might actually be the same guy.
Out: Sergei Kostitsyn (KHL), Brandon Yip, Hal Gill (/Adam applauds), Matt Halischuk and Chris Mason.
Last Year: Dead last in the now old Central. Awful offensively.
The Predators suffered last season on the back-end without Ryan Suter and scored the fewest number of goals in the entire league. They were unbelievably lucky to land Seth Jones in the draft, but filling up the net is still going to be a major issue. It’s hard to expect anything more than a modest improvement in that category. I guess Filip Forsberg could have a breakout season, but banking on that seems risky in the extreme. Hell, even if he did, they probably don’t have personnel around him to capitalize on it. Viktor Stalberg provides speed, Matt Cullen should help out on the power play and Seth Jones is going to be a pain in the ass for a long time. Did any of those moves cure what ails them at present? Most likely not.
They’ll likely grind out a few more wins than they did last season with all the GRIT they acquired in the offseason. They easily have the deepest bottom six in the league. We’d guess a lot will depend on how quickly Seth Jones can acclimate himself. It was rumored that he would begin the season with Shea Weber, but it looks like he’ll start off on the second pair with Kevin Klein. Whatever happens up front for this team, you know Barry Trotz is going to have the defenseman playing solid hockey.
Nashville should be better than they were last year. That’s still probably not going to be enough.
REMINDER: #CONFERENCEIII Godfather JR Lind, is simply the goddamn best and you should frequent his website.
In: These disappointing new uniforms, Tyler Seguin, Valeri Nichushkin (terrifying), Shawn Horcoff, Sergei Gonchar, Rick Peverley and Dan Ellis.
Out: Eric Nystrom, Reilly Smith , Matt Fraser and Tom Wandell.
Last year: The Stars were as middle of the road as a team can possibly be last season and somehow still ended up in last place. They finished 22-22-4. 11-11-2 at home and 11-11-2 on the road. This is weird, yes?
Unfortunately, last year doesn’t really matter when it comes to the Stars because they’re rolling out a radically different group of forwards. Just take up a look up above at the ins and outs. Offensively, Dallas is going to be a threat to score goals every single night. Their top line has the talent to be among the best in the league. If Nichushkin ends up with Jamie Benn and Seguin he’ll be set for life. Peverley and Horcoff will provide a layer of depth they haven’t seen in a long time. I’d be pretty excited if I were a Stars fan, which I am most certainly not.
Even with the addition of Gonchar, the defense is still decidedly mediocre and that’ll be the rub this year. 6’7 monster Jamie Oleksiak will make things interesting, but they’ll eventually need to improve upon guys like Trevor Daley and Aaron Rome if they want to take the next step.
At the end of the day, the Stars should be good enough to find a way into the playoffs, unless of course it comes down to the last game of the season and they lose to the Wild and the Blackhawks get in instead ahahahahahahahaha. But seriously, this team is going to be a royal pain in the ass down the line.
In: Nino Niederreiter (NINO!) Matt Cooke and Keith Ballard.
Out: Tom Gilbert and Matt Cullen
Last year: After signing Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to huge contacts, Minnesota claimed the #8 seed and were promptly annihilated by the Blackhawks.
Minnesota’s good, not great, which is all you need to be here to compete for a travel friendly #3 spot in the Central Division. The Wild continue to develop young, offensive depth with players like Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle and Jason Zucker*. After being horribly mismanaged by the Islanders, Nino Niederreiter will finally get a chance to show the world what he can do in the NHL. Will the top guns be able to deliver? There’s always questions about Dany Heatley’s health and Mikko Koivu can’t keep doing this forever. Still, the Wild should be better in the offensive zone this year.
Like last season, their weak spot is the blue line. Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin and Jared Spurgeon are fine players, but Clayton Stoner and Keith Ballard? C’mon. Maybe Matt Dumba will make the team. I dunno.
The Wild are the upper middle class of the Central. They’re probably not ready to challenge the Blackhawks or Blues yet, but they’re getting there.
*Update: They sent Zucker down. Surprising move, as he was pretty good against the Blackhawks in the playoffs.
In: Michael Frolik , Devin Setoguchi, Mark Scheifele and Adam Pardy (CAN YOU FEEL THE EXCITEMENT!).
Out: Alex Burmistrov, Nik Antropov and Ron Hainsey.
Last year: 24-21-3 in a laughably bad division. They finished in 2nd place and still missed the playoffs.
The Jets are one of those teams that look a whole hell of a lot better on paper than they actually are. They have a respectable top six, but their goaltending is awful and the defense leaves a lot to be desired, especially defensively, which is kind of important for a defense. Letting Burmistrov walk will probably prove to be a terrible mistake. We still love Andrew Ladd and Buff.
What’s the bottom line here? This team blows and may never make the playoffs in this new format. This is the ticket you season ticket holders look to pawn off on your brother-in-law who thinks DA HOCKS SHOULDA NEVER TRADED BIG BUFF.
In: Patrick Roy, Nathan MacKinnon and Alex Tanguay. Unbeknownst to me, Tanguay left Colorado after the 2003-2004 season.
Out: Chuck Kobasew and Milan Hejduk.
Last Year: 16-25-7. They won just four road games. Four. 4.
Joe Sakic installed Patrick Roy as the new head after Colorado finished with the second fewest wins in the league under Joe Sacco last season. They selected MacKinnon with the 1st overall pick, which probably means they’ll look to ship out Paul Stastny for a defenseman at some point during the season. While they have a number of respectable forwards, the defensive group is arguably the worst in the entire league and will probably prohibit any sort of playoff run. Seymon Varlamov, who’s coming off a forgettable 11-21-3 season, will be back in net. His record looks awful, but most Colorado fans would tell you that record reflects a lot more on the horrible defense than Varlamov.
You can’t sleep on the Avs this year because of their offensive potential, but they’re still a couple of years away.
St. Louis Blues
In: Derek Roy, Brenden Morrow (for some stupid reason) and Magnus Paajarvi.
Out: David Perron (traded to the Oilers) and Jamie Langenbrunner.
Last Year: 29-17-2. 2nd in the Central. They lost in the 1st round to the Kings
We hate these loathsome bastards just as much as you do, but it doesn’t change the fact that things are looking pretty good for the Blues this year. They added veteran center Derek Roy and traded David Perron for Magnus Paajarvi. They will feature some of the deepest forward depth in the NHL. Young studs Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz continue to scare the hell out of me and Chris Stewart looks like he’s finally back on track. The only questionable decision this offseason was the acquisition of Brenden Morrow. Why would they create a logjam in front of guys like Tarasenko, Schwartz and Paajarvi?
Like the Blackhawks, they’re brining back the exact same defense they iced last year. I believe that, by and large, that’s a good thing. Barrett Jackman sucks, yes, but Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk are studs and Jay Bouwmeester and Jordan Leopold are good enough.
The Blues are probably the only team that can challenge the Blackhawks for the Division title this year. Even if they fall short, finishing behind this Blackhawks team isn’t anything to be ashamed of. I fully expect to see this team in the 2nd Round, and what a series it will be.
1. Blackhawks 2. Blues 3. Wild 4. Stars 5. Predators 6. Avalanche 7. Jets
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