Kukla's Korner

The Puck Stops Here

Central Division Predictions

I am moving on today with my regular season predictions.  Here are my Northwest Division predictions and here are my Pacific Division predictions.  Today, I move to the Central Division

1. Chicago Blackhawks - This is a team with a very good core of Duncan Keith, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.  It is possible that any of this group could post career best seasons.  If they still had the depth of their 2010 Stanley Cup winner, this team would be the favorite this year.  The loss of depth moves the a few steps back as a Stanley Cup contender, but they still have a good team.  Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa are very good depth forwards.  Dave Bolland provides a very good defensive game, but they don’t have the depth to be the top team in hockey.  On defence, Brent Seabrook is a very good partner for Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson is counted upon to give a good season.  Corey Crawford is a solid goalie, but he has shown little reason to believe he can be a great one.  This team will rely on all star seasons from Keith, Toews and Kane and they should get them.  It is strong enough to win the division and a couple years ago had the depth that they could have been Stanley Cup favorites.

2. Detroit Red Wings - It will be interesting to see the state of their defence.  Niklas Lidstrom may have won the Norris Trophy last year but it was by far his weakest Norris performance and was won to some degree on the nostalgia vote.  Some writers even suggested he should retire at the end of last year.  He returns at age 41.  His partner Brian Rafalski did retire.  Niklas Kronwall and Ian White will have to pick up a lot of the slack.  Let’s hope they are capable.  At forward, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg have been two of the top forwards in the league for several years, but with both into their thirties, I doubt they will post career years.  Much of the top forward depth in Johan Franzen, Todd Bertuzzi and Tomas Holmstrom are also aging.  Valtteri Filppula is the top forward under 30 and he scored 39 points last year.  Jimmy Howard is a solid but unspectacular starting goalie.  This team has seen better years.  They have enough talent to be a good team, but they years at the top have passed with this group.  Mike Babcock is a very good coach who will keep them competitive, but i think Chicago will have moved well past them by the end of the year.

3. Nashville Predators - The one-two punch of Shea Weber and Ryan Suter is the best defensive pairing in the league.  That alone will keep the Predators in contention.  Kevin Klein provides some depth, but this defence will thrive on the play of their top two.  Pekka Rinne had a career best season last year behind that defence.  I suspect he is somewhat a product of the defence and is unlikely to repeat his numbers, but he should post solid ones.  Nashville has never had a big offence.  Sergei Kostitsyn and Martin Erat led the team last year with 50 points each.  Patric Hornqvist and David Legwand provide solid depth.  Mike Fisher is a solid defensive forward.  Barry Trotz will keep this team a top defensive force.  They lack the offence to make a Stanley Cup run, but they won’t be easy to play against and should be a playoff team.

4. St Louis Blues - A big season from goaltender Jaroslav Halak would go a long way toward propelling this team upward in the standings.  His first year with the Blues was solid but unspectacular.  More is expected.  Chris Stewart could take over as their offensive star.  This young power forward was acquired via trade from Colorado and has potential to dominate games.  David Backes led the team in scoring last year and played a solid defensive game as well.  Patrik Berglund, Alexander Steen and Andy McDonald provide depth.  This group has been unspectacular in the past, but the potential is there.  Alex Pietrangelo is a good young defenceman who could take a big step forward.  Barret Jackman and Kevin Shattenkirk provide some depth.  There are a lot of pieces here that look like they are ready to take a step forward in the standings this year.  If that happens it probably makes the Blues a playoff team.

5. Columbus Blue Jackets - This team should have trouble keeping the puck out of their net.  Steve Mason is the starting goalie and he has had trouble following up his Calder Trophy season.  There is no proven backup in the system.  Their top defencemen look like they will be Fedor Tyutin and James Wisniewski.  That doesn’t inspire confidence.  They have some offensive players with ability.  Rick Nash and newly acquired Jeff Carter can score.  RJ Umberger, Antoine Vermette and Kristian Huselius supply some depth.  In a tough division where four teams could be above average Columbus is the odd man out.  They should finish well back of a playoff berth.

Filed in: | The Puck Stops Here | Permalink
 

Comments

bezukov's avatar

Maybe I’m just a Detroit homer, but I don’t see how the Hawks got so much better (I think the same thing about the Sharks).  The additions of Dan Carcillo and Jamal Mayers will do nothing but ensure that Chicago spends more time on the penalty kill.  Sure the Hawks won’t be on a hangover anymore, but they made no moves in the offseason to make them better offensively or defensively.  The Hawks will be a good team, but its going to take a lot of work from Chicago to convince me that they are going to finish ahead of Detroit or Nashville.

Posted by bezukov from the kids are alright. on 10/02/11 at 04:25 PM ET

Avatar

I would say that Crawford’s playoff performance smacked of greatness.

Posted by tuxedoTshirt on 10/02/11 at 05:11 PM ET

Avatar

Maybe I’m just a Detroit homer, but I don’t see how the Hawks got so much better (I think the same thing about the Sharks). 

Maybe I’m just a Sharks homer but I do think they made themselves significantly better on the backend, which has always been a weak point.  They sacrificed some of their forward depth but I don’t think they will miss Heatley at all and by adding Handzus they should have a more traditional 3rd line.  Plus they have plenty of cap space to add a winger later in the year if need be.

I’m not sure the Hawks are significantly better than they were last year but I also don’t see how the Wings are any better than they were last year.  They still have a lot of great players but their best players are all 1 year older at an age where that 1 year starts making a big difference over the course of 82 games.  I doubt they will drop off the map completely but I’m not sure they are a top 3 team anymore unless they find a way to supplement their aging stars with some quality young players, particularly an offensive defenseman and some scoring up front. 

Can you honestly say the Wings are better than last year when they were behind the Sharks and Canucks?

Posted by RoneFace on 10/02/11 at 07:40 PM ET

Avatar

Are there any goalies you think are elite other than Luongo, who is pretty provably anything but when the games matter most?

Posted by RoneFace on 10/02/11 at 09:07 PM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

Are there any goalies you think are elite other than Luongo, who is pretty provably anything but when the games matter most?

The question is completely out of place here, but I would have to list Tim Thomas, Ryan Miller, Henrik Lundqvist and Tomas Vokoun as elite goalies.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 10/02/11 at 09:11 PM ET

Avatar

cant wait until the end of the season when all these “writers” are standing around with their thumbs up their rear ends wondering how the Red Wings managed to be at the top of the central division yet again!

Posted by nostradamus from virginia on 10/02/11 at 09:29 PM ET

John W.'s avatar

I also don’t see how the Wings are any better than they were last year.  They still have a lot of great players but their best players are all 1 year older at an age where that 1 year starts making a big difference over the course of 82 games

Could say the same thing about the Sharks’ top players.  Thornton, Marleau, Boyle, and Havlat are all 30+ (Boyle is 35) just like Datsyk, Zetterberg, Franzen, and Kronwall.  Lidstrom is really the only Wings old guy they are leaning on and he’s still better than 95% of the players in the league.  Holmstrom is up there, but he won’t be getting many non-PP minutes this season.

Posted by John W. from a bubble wrap cocoon on 10/02/11 at 10:00 PM ET

Avatar

The question is completely out of place here, but I would have to list Tim Thomas, Ryan Miller, Henrik Lundqvist and Tomas Vokoun as elite goalies.

It’s not out of place because you’ve said in almost every team’s preview that their goalie is average or below average so I was curious who you thought was above average.  No doubt Thomas was awesome last year but his career is not littered with elite seasons and I’m not sure Vokoun has ever made his team better.

Posted by RoneFace on 10/03/11 at 12:50 AM ET

Avatar

Could say the same thing about the Sharks’ top players.  Thornton, Marleau, Boyle, and Havlat are all 30+ (Boyle is 35) just like Datsyk, Zetterberg, Franzen, and Kronwall.

Right but the Sharks also have Couture, Pavelski, Clowe, Burns, Demers, and Vlasic who are under 30 and provide the type of quality younger depth the Wings don’t really have.

Posted by RoneFace on 10/03/11 at 12:53 AM ET

mrfluffy's avatar

Right but the Sharks also have Couture, Pavelski, Clowe, Burns, Demers, and Vlasic who are under 30 and provide the type of quality younger depth the Wings don’t really have.

Then you haven’t watched this preseason.

Posted by mrfluffy from A wide spot on I-90 in Montana on 10/03/11 at 01:09 AM ET

Avatar

Then you haven’t watched this preseason.

You’re right I haven’t because it means absolutely nothing.

Posted by RoneFace on 10/03/11 at 01:11 AM ET

mrfluffy's avatar

Yeah…like the depth the Wings don’t have taking it to the top three lines of the Blackhawks. But no, it doesn’t mean anything. Keep on hoping your depth will carry you to the WCF.

Posted by mrfluffy from A wide spot on I-90 in Montana on 10/03/11 at 01:21 AM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

Depth matters.  Of course it does.  That is a big part of the reason I pick San Jose to win the West Conference.  It is also very important to have a core of young players coming into their prime who are among the most talented players in the league (Chicagi has that in Keith, Toews and Kane).  Detroit can’t match the depth in San Jose (or Vancouver) and the core in Chicago.  Hence I pick them for fourth in the West.  A team with an aging core is picked to drop from 3rd in the conference to 4th and you protest like its a crazy prediction.  That kind of protest is a sign you are a biased Red Wing fanboy.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 10/03/11 at 01:27 AM ET

bezukov's avatar

Maybe I’m just a Sharks homer but I do think they made themselves significantly better on the backend, which has always been a weak point.  They sacrificed some of their forward depth but I don’t think they will miss Heatley at all and by adding Handzus they should have a more traditional 3rd line.  Plus they have plenty of cap space to add a winger later in the year if need be.

I’m not sure the Hawks are significantly better than they were last year but I also don’t see how the Wings are any better than they were last year.  They still have a lot of great players but their best players are all 1 year older at an age where that 1 year starts making a big difference over the course of 82 games.  I doubt they will drop off the map completely but I’m not sure they are a top 3 team anymore unless they find a way to supplement their aging stars with some quality young players, particularly an offensive defenseman and some scoring up front. 

Can you honestly say the Wings are better than last year when they were behind the Sharks and Canucks?

Posted by RoneFace on 10/02/11 at 05:40 PM ET

Well I’ll start by pointing out that I never said the Wings were going to be world beaters or that they would be better than San Jose or Vancouver.  I do think they’ll be better than Chicago as I said before.

As far as the Wings defense goes, I think they got better.  Rafalski was turning into a liability as the season wore on.  He was regularly turning the puck over and being beaten in puck battles.  It was his time to retire, and I am glad he did.  While Ian White and Mike Commodore are no substitute for Rafalski’s offensive prowess, the Wings will be better defensively.  Furthermore, there is now some serious competition between Ericsson and Kindl for the last spot.  I agree with you that it isn’t all rosy on the Wings blue line, but I think the poor ratings they’ve been getting from the hockey press is premature.

As far as the Wings being one year older…. aren’t the Sharks?... and everyone else on this rock?  Big deal.  I’ve been fed that line about the Wings since the nineties.  Allow me to use the same logic on the Sharks, how many disappointing playoff seasons can go by before the Sharks get too old and go away?

Michal Handzus is a pretty poor replacement for Heatley and Setoguchi.  Of course the Sharks blue line got better with the addition of Burns, but I’m unsure that the math will balance out in the Sharks favor. 

Anyway I wasn’t trying to tear the Sharks all the way down to the ground dude, chill.  You don’t have to be so reactionary to every Wings fan you meet.  I just think the praise party the Sharks have gotten over the Burns trade has been a case of counting chickens before they’ve hatched, is that fair enough?

Posted by bezukov from the kids are alright. on 10/03/11 at 02:24 AM ET

arice89's avatar

Detroit can’t match Chicago’s core?

Datsyuk is arguably the best player in the NHL. The same can’t be said for Kane and Toews. Lidstrom just won the Norris. Zetterberg is the best two-way player in the league (if he were Canadian, people would call him a top-5 player like Toews).

Before Datsyuk got hurt last year, the Wings were on pace to have one of their best seasons ever. He’s their most important player now. If he stays healthy, they can win the central. 

Franzen and Hudler are due for a rebound years. This might finally be Filppula’s breakout year. Helm and Abdelkader will be a year older and better. Mursak is going to add lots of speed & youth when he comes back. Brunnstrom has been great in the preseason and will add some size and skill. Nyquist looks to be like their next stud forward: two goals and an assist tonight agains the Penguins. Ian White’s going to have 40 points this season and will be a substantial upgrade defensively over Rafalski.

Campbell’s contract may have sucked, but the guy is a good puck mover. That’s something the Hawks will miss.

To quote your the Hawks section above, this isn’t a “very good” blog.

My predictions? Sharks first in the conference, Wings second, Canucks third, Hawks fourth.

Don’t forget that the Wings have $6 million in cap space to work with during the season. Obviously they’re not going to look as good on paper as some of the other teams that spent all of their money. What if Holland goes out and picks up Jarome Iginla?

Posted by arice89 on 10/03/11 at 02:24 AM ET

bezukov's avatar

Depth matters.  Of course it does.  That is a big part of the reason I pick San Jose to win the West Conference.  It is also very important to have a core of young players coming into their prime who are among the most talented players in the league (Chicagi has that in Keith, Toews and Kane).  Detroit can’t match the depth in San Jose (or Vancouver) and the core in Chicago.  Hence I pick them for fourth in the West.  A team with an aging core is picked to drop from 3rd in the conference to 4th and you protest like its a crazy prediction.  That kind of protest is a sign you are a biased Red Wing fanboy.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 10/02/11 at 11:27 PM ET

I wasn’t sure if you were responding to me there or not, because I am most definitely a Red Wing fan boy.  Anyway, I hope my first post didn’t come off as a temper tantrum, I didn’t mean it to be.  I’ll happily admit the Wings are in a sort of rebuild phase.  I just happen to think Detroit or Nashville will take the division, the Hawks won’t be THAT good in my mind.

I just disagree with the popular forecasts so far this preseason that the Hawks are gonna be back to their Stanley Cup form.  It isn’t possible.  They’ve had too much talent walk over the past two seasons, and “gooning up” won’t get them a division title.  Detroit will still be strong and so will Nashville, strong than Chicago.  But hey, thats just my take.

Posted by bezukov from the kids are alright. on 10/03/11 at 02:35 AM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

When your attempt to sell the Red Wings includes talking up Jan Mursak and his one career NHL, Fabien Brunnstrum who was a 35 point scorer in the AHL last year and predicts 40 points for Ian White, your hold on reality should be called into question.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 10/03/11 at 02:35 AM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

Chicago was a much better team than their finish in the standings suggested last year.  Look at their 3rd best in the conference team +/- or 3rd best in the conference Corsi rating to get a better idea of where a team of their calibre would have been expected to have finished last year.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 10/03/11 at 02:38 AM ET

Avatar

Keep on hoping your depth will carry you to the WCF.

It has.  2 years in a row, and past the Wings both times.

As far as the Wings being one year older…. aren’t the Sharks?... and everyone else on this rock?  Big deal.  I’ve been fed that line about the Wings since the nineties.  Allow me to use the same logic on the Sharks, how many disappointing playoff seasons can go by before the Sharks get too old and go away?

Michal Handzus is a pretty poor replacement for Heatley and Setoguchi.  Of course the Sharks blue line got better with the addition of Burns, but I’m unsure that the math will balance out in the Sharks favor.

Of course the Sharks are a year older, but as I pointed out above they have some quality depth that is under 30 and aren’t totally reliant on players 30 and over.  I’m not burying the Wings yet because I’ve seen too much of them to count them out but the fact that they haven’t developed any quality offensive depth in the last 5-6 years is going to catch up to them eventually.  Maybe not this year, maybe not next year, maybe not even 2 years from now but it will catch up to them some day. 

Handzus is not going to replace Setoguchi or Heatley because he’s a completely different kind of player.  What his addition means is that Pavelski is not stuck in a third line role playing with Torrey Mitchell and Kyle Wellwood anymore and can go back to the top 6 role his talent and scoring ability justifies.  As I said, the Sharks will have a more traditional 3rd line this year which I think will benefit them in the long run.  They may score fewer goals this year (although I don’t think any dropoff will be significant) but I also think they will be giving up fewer 3rd period leads with Handzus and the added blueline depth.  Had it not been for an inability to close out games in the first half of the season the Sharks would not have been 12th in the conference in January and may have had a shot at catching Vancouver.  I don’t know that the Sharks are more talented than they were last year, I just think the talent is better balanced between the forwards and the D than it was last year and fewer players are being asked to play roles they aren’t naturally suited for.

I like Ian White as a player having watched a lot of him last year and I think he was a solid pickup by the Wings (I was hoping the Sharks would keep him since he signed for a relatively low number).  I’m less optimistic about what Commodore can bring to the table but the Wings didn’t sacrifice anything to see what he’s got left in the tank.  At the end of the day though, while White is an able replacement for Rafalski, I just don’t see where the Wings are better than they were the last 2 years.

Posted by RoneFace on 10/03/11 at 02:43 AM ET

Avatar

One other thing I forgot to add to my last post: when people called the Wings old in the 90’s they weren’t wrong, it’s just that they had some elite players who were ready to emerge and supplement the aging core.  I’m talking about Datsyuk and Zetterberg and Lidstrom, who at that time was just approaching 30.  Right now I don’t see who that next generation of great Wings is and that’s the biggest reason they haven’t gotten back to the finals the last couple years.  There’s nothing wrong with the core group the Wings have but even players as great as Datsyuk, Zetterberg, and Lidstrom can’t do everything on their own.  That’s the difference right now between the Wings and the Sharks (and Canucks and maybe even Kings and Hawks).  As much as I respect Ken Holland I really don’t think he’s done enough to address that issue for the last couple of years.

And lest you think I hate those guys I wrote a blog post wrapping up the WCQF last year in which I said Datsyuk was probably the best player on the planet considering what he did in that series despite being injured.

Posted by RoneFace on 10/03/11 at 02:49 AM ET

arice89's avatar

When your attempt to sell the Red Wings includes talking up Jan Mursak and his one career NHL, Fabien Brunnstrum who was a 35 point scorer in the AHL last year and predicts 40 points for Ian White, your hold on reality should be called into question.

Well, we’ll see at the end of the season. Dan Cleary and Mikael Samuelsson were garbage when they came to the Wings. They’re now good for 20 goals season.

Mursak at the very least is going to add a ton of speed to the bottom-six.

White is playing with Lidstrom to start the season and will likely get a lot of PP time since he’s a righty. He had 26 points in 56 game with Toronto a couple years back, then 26 playing between SJ, Carolina, and Toronto last year—including 9 in 17 games in the playoffs. It’s not a stretch to think he can hit 40 points on a team with as much skill as the Wings. Sorry.

Posted by arice89 on 10/03/11 at 02:58 AM ET

Avatar

So, the 8th place team adds a bunch of journeyman type players on one year deals and shoots to the top?

Okkkkkkkkkk…...

Wow.  Sorry, they have to prove it.  As for that “core” they were the main reason they finished eighth!  That team lost more points at home, and on the road, in the third than anyone that is considered a good team all last year!

Adding Carcillo and Mayers only means the 25th PK gets to kill more penalties. Brunette is no superstar, and Odonnell and Montador ( I watch half their preseason games )  were getting danced by fast teams all the time!

Not impressed until they get there. Honestly, that team is maybe 5th to 8th until proven otherwise.

A bad start, a step back by Crawford, and they could miss the playoffs!

Detroit is still the class of that division as long as they have Datsyuk, Zee and Lidstrom, no matter what the supposed great “core” of Chicago did a couple years ago.

That entire great core was mainly healthy last year, and were the main reason they finished eighth!  How they can suddenly be first is kinda funny, actually.

Posted by vancitydan on 10/03/11 at 05:09 AM ET

J.J. from Kansas's avatar

When your attempt to sell the Red Wings includes talking up Jan Mursak and his one career NHL, Fabien Brunnstrum who was a 35 point scorer in the AHL last year and predicts 40 points for Ian White, your hold on reality should be called into question.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 10/03/11 at 12:35 AM ET

1. Jan Mursak has one career NHL?

2. Fabian Brunnstrom (Brunnström if you want to get technical) - remember, “strom” is like the Swedish version of “son”. You’ll almost never see it spelled “strum”.

3. What’s crazy about predicting Ian White jumps from 26 points to 40 playing for one team and on their top defensive pairing and top power play unit?  His point-per-game pace in San Jose would have had him at 36 points over a whole season and he didn’t play on their top power play unit.

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 10/03/11 at 10:19 AM ET

bezukov's avatar

Posted by RoneFace on 10/03/11 at 12:49 AM ET

The person who posted in response to you about the preseason was talking about Detroit’s depth.  Detroit gave most of the ice time to their rookies and they looked pretty good.  They’ve got a lot of young guys in the stable right now.  I don’t think Detroit’s young guns are ready for full time NHL duty like the Shark’s people are, but Detroit isn’t as far behind as they look.

Posted by bezukov from the kids are alright. on 10/03/11 at 03:17 PM ET

Avatar

The person who posted in response to you about the preseason was talking about Detroit’s depth.

I got that, and I still don’t put any stock in preseason performances.  Guys might look good but more often than not they’re playing against significantly weaker opponents than they would be during a regular season NHL game.  I mean, Douglas Murray had a hat trick in the preseason either last year or the year before. 

Douglas Murray has 6 G 46 A 52 Pts in 362 career games over 6 years.  So yeah.

Posted by RoneFace on 10/03/11 at 06:42 PM ET

Avatar

Detroit’s young players for the most part aren’t going to get time in the NHL THIS YEAR, right? They’re mostly a couple of years away, I think. This season, the Red Wings will again be relying on Datsyuk/Zetterberg/Lidstrom. These next 3-5 years are going to be transitionary.

Posted by Anonymous on 10/03/11 at 09:39 PM ET

Add a Comment

Please limit embedded image or media size to 575 pixels wide.

Add your own avatar by joining Kukla's Korner, or logging in and uploading one in your member control panel.

Captchas bug you? Join KK or log in and you won't have to bother.

Smileys

Notify me of follow-up comments?

Feed

Most Recent Blog Posts

About The Puck Stops Here

imageThe Puck Stops Here was founded during the 2004/05 lockout as a place to rant about hockey. The original site contains over 1000 posts, some of which were also published on FoxSports.com.

Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.

Why am I blogging? I want to.

Why are you reading it? ???

Email: y2kfhl@hotmail.com