We’re still about 60 days away from the season opening puck drop on October 1st, but my withdrawals are starting to get pretty bad, and I need some hockey. So until then, we can continue looking forward to next season, and I can begin by ranking the Central Division teams. With the new realignment and playoff plan, every division will send the top three teams. The final two spots will be taken by the teams with the next highest regular season point total.
The Central Division consists of Chicago, a bulk of mediocrity, and then Colorado. So who will come out in the three guaranteed playoff spots? There is a lot of talent in the Central, but only three teams made the playoffs last season, the fewest from any division. Chicago won the Cup, Minnesota lost in the first round to Chicago, and St. Louis lost in the first round to the Kings.
1. So where else is there to start rather than Chicago? Chicago came off of an amazing regular season last year, and capped it off by winning the Stanley Cup. The Blackhawks lost a few players in the offseason, but no real pivotal pieces to their puzzle. The Blackhawks should have no problem stealing this division away early in the season and never looking back.
2. Next, I have to give St. Louis the second spot in the Central simply because I love Ken Hitchcock, and he has a studded defense, and that’s what he does best. St. Louis is going to be a defensive nightmare this season if they can figure out what is going on in the net. Jaroslav Halak is rumored to be on sale with one final year on his contract, Brian Elliot is signed for this final season, and they just resigned 22 year old Jake Allen to a two year extension. If the Blues can find a bit of offense, this team could have a very good season, and I think they’re definitely the second best team in this division.
3. In the final garunteed playoff spot, the Minnesota Wild spent their money last offseason, and it didn’t pay off too well for them this year. Yes, they made the playoffs, but they were booted out almost instantly by the Chicago Blackhawks. The Wild are a talented team, and the additions of Matt Cooke and Keith Ballard, I think the Wild will be able to sneak in front of rest of the Central and grab the last spot. Ryan Suter finally found his footing, if he and Zach Parise can play up to their dollar amount, the Wild will be in the playoffs next season.
4. Just out of reach, but still a chance to make a wildcard spot, the Dallas Stars. Jim Nill has rebuilt the Stars over the span of the offseason. The Stars are looking to get into the playoffs for the first time since 2008. The Stars are solid up the middle, and the offense should come naturally to a lot of the talent that has been added. The only issue in Dallas, aside from bringing in so many new guys, the defense is a bit shaky. The addition of Sergei Gonchar will help, but the defense needs a bit more help. Kari Lehtonen has to stay healthy to give the Stars a fighting chance this season, but it can be done, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they snuck into the playoffs with one of the wildcard spots.
5. Nashville went out and added Matt Hendricks, Eric Nystrom, and Viktor Stalberg to 4 year contracts, and Matt Cullen to a two year deal. Hoping to add some pop to the offense that was lackluster last season, the Predators have added some speed and skill up front. The Predators have a decent team, but I don’t think they have a playoff team. It will take a good season to get into the playoffs, and the Predators will have to be at their best for most of it to get in.
6. The Winnipeg Jets made a few changes in the offseason, but mostly just made sure they resigned their own players first. The Jets acquired Devin Setoguchi in a trade with the Minnesota Wild, hoping to maybe give them a little more offensive firepower for the powerplay. The Jets special teams have to be better this season, and without any real upgrades outside of Setoguchi, I don’t think the Jets will see the playoffs for the first time just yet.
7. The Avalanche are rebuilding, and I don’t see them leaving the bottom of the division this season either. It’s a painful process, but they have to start somewhere, and they’re developing their players the way they want to. Colorado hasn’t made too many changes other than the trade for Alex Tanguay, so they still aren’t picture perfect yet, but Patrick Roy has stepped in as coach, and may be able to turn some things around in Colorado quicker than I think.
Will the Blackhawks be the first ever winner of the new Central Division? Or will one of the other six teams slip through the cracks and take the crown? You can see for yourself by visiting Gold Coast for NHL tickets for the 2013-14 season. Blackhawks tickets are the most expensive, with opening night a whopping $219 to get into the building.
Topics: Alex Tanguay, Brian Elliot, Central Division, Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Devin Setoguchi, Eric Nystrom, Jake Allen, Jaroslav Halak, Jim Nill, Kari Lehtonen, Keith Ballard, Matt Cooke, Matt Cullen, Matt Hendricks, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, Patrick Roy, Ryan Suter, Sergei Gonchar, St.Louis Blues, Viktor Stalberg, Winnipeg Jets, Zach Parise