Last season, the Colorado Avalanche were able to shock the hockey world by sneaking into the playoffs after a fourth place finish in the Central Division. They were able to navigate an incredibly tough schedule to grab the second Wild Card spot on the final day of the season.
The Central has become one of the most competitive divisions in hockey. A mere three wins separated the third-place Minnesota Wild from the sixth-place Dallas Stars last year.
With big additions in both St. Louis and Dallas, making it back to the playoffs is going to be a tough road for the Avalanche this season. There is really only one bad team in the division - the Chicago Blackhawks - so predicting how the Central will shake out is complicated.
Here is a look at each of how each of the teams in the Central Division look going into the 2018-19 NHL season:
2017-18 result: 7th in the Central (76 points)
Key Additions - Cam Ward (G), Brandon Manning (D), Chris Kunitz (LW) [EDITOR'S NOTE: LOL]
Key Subtractions - Marian Hossa (RW), Vinnie Hinostroza (F)
The loss of Hinostroza is going to have a bigger impact than many would believe. He has looked great at camp in Arizona and is going to cause some depth issues up front for the Blackhawks. Kunitz was an uninspired addition, and beyond that, the team is bringing back a forward group that struggled to score last season.
The core is old and their goaltender has a lot of injury concerns. However, Alex DeBrincat should continue to develop into a bonafide NHL sniper, and 2017 first round pick Henri Jokiharju is a very good young defender that will bring some excitement to the blueline. But beyond that, there isn’t a whole lot to be excited about in Chicago. Perhaps that aging core has a bounce back season, but it’s not overly likely as the rest of the division seems to have passed Chicago by.
2017-18 result: 4th in the Central (95 points)
Key Additions - Philipp Grubauer (G), Ian Cole (D), Matt Calvert (W)
Key Subtractions - Jonathan Bernier (G), Blake Comeau (W), Nail Yakupov (W)
With a bonafide goalie battle in the works this season, we could see a passing of the guard. Semyon Varlamov is in the last season of his contract and is going to be pushed by Grubauer in a way he hasn’t experienced before in his career. Hopefully the competition leads to outstanding play from both players.
This young team is a year older and will benefit from a lot of internal growth overall. Sophomores Alex Kerfoot and Tyson Jost are going to be counted on to give the team a secondary scoring punch that we didn’t see last season.
A weakness of the team in the past, the blueline could be the strength of the team this season. Samuel Girard is only 20-years-old, and he already looks poised to take that step and become a legitimate top-paring defender. Along with Erik Johnson, Tyson Barrie and Nikita Zadorov, Girard gives the team one of the strongest top-4 groups in the division. Seriously.
2017-18 result: 6th in the Central (92 points)
Key Additions - Anton Khudobin (G), Blake Comeau (W), Roman Polak (D), Valeri Nichushkin (W), Connor Carrick (D)
Key Subtractions - Kari Lehtonen (G)
The Stars were one of the biggest disappointments last season. Expected to contend at the top of the division, they fell flat and finished outside of the playoffs.
Like the Avalanche, the biggest downfall for the Stars was a lack of secondary scoring. The line of Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and Alex Radulov were - and are - outstanding, but after that, no other Dallas forward recorded 35 points last year.
John Klingberg - one of the most underrated defenders in the league - leads a blueline that could be incredibly fun to watch. Esa Lindell is really good, Julius Honka has a ton of potential, and Miro Heiskanen could very well win the Calder trophy this season.
They didn’t bring in much help up front, but a bounce back season from Jason Spezza and a decent contribution from Nichushkin would give the Stars a big boost offensively.
With Ben Bishop’s injury concerns, the fact that the Stars drastically upgraded their backup goalie could be huge this season.
2017-18 result: 3rd in the Central (101 points)
Key Additions - Greg Pateryn (D), Eric Fehr (C)
Key Subtractions - Matt Cullen (C)
If anyone in this division is going to take a big step back this season, it’s likely the Wild.
With a new GM in place, it was a little surprising that the Wild didn’t do more this offseason. They’re an aging team. Last season’e leading scorer turns 34 this month. They rely heavily on veterans like Eric Staal, Ryan Suter and Mikko Koivu. The young-ish group of Mikael Granlund, Matt Dumba and Charlie Coyle is a decent group, but is it enough to push the Wild to contention?
Dumba and Jason Zucker are going to look to justify the big contracts they got this past summer.
Jordan Greenway should provide a spark up front, and a healthy Nino Niederreiter would be a big upgrade from last season, but all-in-all, it’s hard to see Minnesota making it back to the playoffs this year.
2017-18 result: 1st in the Central (117 points)
Key Additions - Dan Hamhuis (D)
Key Subtractions - Mike Fisher (C)
We all know how good the Nashville Predators can be. They come into the season as one of the favorites to win the Western Conference, and it’s thanks in large part to their incredible blue line. Thanks to the tremendous depth, they were able to give up an incredible young defender in Sam Girard in order to bolster the group up front. Thanks for that, by the way!
The team didn’t make any big moves this summer - apart from the Ryan Ellis extension - but they didn’t really have to. A healthy Filip Forsberg is among the best left wingers in the NHL. On the top line with Ryan Johansen, Forsberg has the potential to put up close to 90 points this season.
With a potential cap crunch coming as a result of Roman Josi’s contract expiring after next season, this Nashville team is in win-now territory. Shocker, I know.
Pekka Rinne let the team down in the playoffs last year and is now facing free agency next summer. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that we see Juusi Saros start to take on a heavier work load.
St. Louis Blues
2017-18 result: 5th in the Central (94 points)
Key Additions - Ryan O’Reilly (C), Tyler Bozak (C), David Perron (LW), Patrick Maroon (LW), Chad Johnson (G)
Key Subtractions - Carter Hutton (G), Patrik Berglund (C), Vladimir Sobotka (C), Tage Thompson (C)
No one made a bigger splash this summer than the St. Louis Blue. Doug Armstrong went all out to improve an offense that had a division-worst 226 goals for last season. They added depth down the middle and a couple of decent scoring middle-6 wingers. Add to that rookie sniper Jordan Kyrou and the Blues will be a lot more dangerous this season.
Not only will they be improved offensively, but the Ryan O’Reilly blockbuster gives them one of the best two-way pivots in the entire league.
Unfortunately for the Blues, Robby Fabbri is hurt again. The youngster is immensely talented, but his legs simply won’t allow him to stay in the lineup. The Blues will have to proceed under the assumption that he won’t ever be around to contribute.
Their biggest problem is going to be in net. Jake Allen is a good goaltender when he’s on his game, unfortunately, he hasn’t been for large portions of the past two seasons. If the Blues get 2015-16 Jake Allen, they could contend at the top of the Central.
2017-18 result: 2nd in the Central (114 points)
Key Additions - Laurent Brossoit (G)
Key Subtractions - Paul Stastny (C), Steve Mason (G)
The Jets did their heavy lifting this summer by extending a number of key members of the club. Blake Wheeler, Connor Hellebuyck, Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrissey all received new contracts.
The Jets very well could be the best team in the entire NHL. It’s not a stretch to say that Mark Scheifele could be a Hart candidate, and that’s just the start. Veterans like Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little and Mathieu Perreault are around to provide the leadership while Kyle Connor, Patrik Laine, Jack Roslovic and Nikolaj Ehlers make up one of the most talented young forward groups in the league.
To add to the embarrassment of riches, 19-year old Kristian Vesalainen has stormed his way into the top-9 with a jaw dropping training camp.
With a strong blue line and a Vezina-caliber goalie, this Winnipeg Jets team has all the tools to win the West and make a push for their first Stanley Cup.
Central Division Prediction
- Winnipeg Jets
- Dallas Stars
- Nashville Predators
- St. Louis Blues
- Colorado Avalanche
- Minnesota Wild
- Chicago Blackhawks