by PuckStopsHere on 01/16/13 at 09:50 PM ET
I am well into my pre-season predictions. Today I am looking at the Central Division. I have already done the Northwest Division and the Pacific Division. These predictions are especially tough this season because there will be fewer games and thus a few fluky results will be a bigger influence on the standings.
Even in the best of times there are a lot of NHL games decided by random chance. I have given a plausible explanation in my previous prediction threads that 80% or more NHL games are decided based upon random chance. This leaves only 20% of games to be won because a given team is better than their opponent. This is a relatively small signal in which to try to predict.
Here are my Central Division predictions:
1. Chicago Blackhawks - The biggest question mark for this team is goaltending. Corey Crawford and Ray Emery shouldn`t be one of the top pairings in the league. The hope is that they will be adequate given the talent in front of them. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa are a very good group of top forwards. There is solid depth in Dave Bolland and Viktor Stallberg. The defence has some top talent in Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, with Niklas Hjalmarsson as depth. This team has the largest group of top 50 level players in the NHL and as a result should be a top level team.
2. Detroit Red Wings - The defence has gone from a strength to a question mark with the retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom. Nicklas Kronwall and Ian White will have to try their hands as top line defencemen. There is some top talent on offence led by Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. Valterri Filppula and Johan Franzen provide some solid depth. Jimmy Howard is a very good goalie. There is a lot to like here. The question is how they will be able to make up for the loss of Lidstrom. Lidstrom has been their top player and led the team in ice time for several years. You can`t replace that. There is still a good team here, but it will be a step below where they were last season with Lidstrom.
3. Nashville Predators - The defence lost Ryan Suter - though it`s not as big a loss as Nicklas Lidstrom - it will hurt. The defence still includes Shea Weber and Kevin Klein, which is a solid pairing. Weber may be the best defenceman in the world today. Pekka Rinne is a top level goalie. This will make Nashville a tough team to score against. Their biggest weakness is a lack of top scorers, though they have some offensive depth. Martin Erat, David Legwand, Mike Fisher and Patric Hornqvist are all reliable players. They have put up some pretty good seasons on the strength of their defence and goaltending in the past and should be able to do so again this season
4. St Louis Blues - This team overachieved last season. Ken Hitchcock did a very good job coaching this club but they don`t have the talent to repeat last season where they tied for second overall in the league. Brian Elliott significantly overachieved his past levels last season. Jaroslav Halak`s season may be more repeatable, but it will be likely that their goaltending numbers decline a bit. Alex Pietrangelo has emerged as a top level defenceman. The depth behind him in Kevin Shattenkirk and Barret Jackman does not scare many people. Offensively David Backes and TJ Oshie led the way with 54 points last year and that is a low total for a playoff team. Alexander Steen, Andy McDonald and David Perron provide depth. I don`t see sufficient talent here to be a top team. I don`t think they can repeat their success of last season.
5. Columbus Blue Jackets - The last place team traded away their top scorer in Rick Nash. I don`t see how they will be any better this year than last. Steve Mason and Sergei Bobrovsky are young goalies who have had their ups and downs already in their careers. Both are young enough that they could take a big step forward but it isn`t a strong bet. Jamie Wisniewski, Jack Johnson and Fedor Tyutin are their top defencemen. None are likely all-star calibre. Offensively RJ Umberger, Derick Brassard, Vinny Prospal and Brandon Dubinsky are the best they have. This is less depth than most teams in the league. It is hard to remain last overall and random chance alone might move them up in the standings a bit, but they won`t compete.
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