by PuckStopsHere on 10/01/13 at 01:03 AM ET
I am continuing my pre-season predictions today. Yesterday I posted my predictions for the Pacific Division and today I move on to the Central Division. The new alignment makes my predictions a little uncertain. I don't expect to have my predictions completed for the East Conference until a few games have been played and those games may affect my predictions. I don't care much about a single game result. It will be long term trends that become clear (for example a key longterm injury) that would affect my predictions.
Here are my Central Division picks:
1. Chicago Blackhawks - They are the defending Stanley Cup champions and were clearly the best team in the NHL last year. There will likely be a Stanley Cup hangover but they have a lot of talent. It will be hard to beat the team of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. If there is a weakness it is in goal where Corey Crawford has never proven himself to be a top flight NHL goalie.
2. St Louis Blues - Ken Hitchcock is a very good coach and will get the most out of this team. Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk lead a very good defence but I am not so sold on their forwards. Chris Stewart was their only forward who exceeded 28 points. In goal Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott have looked good at times but have been largely inconsistent. This isn't a top flight team but they will likely exceed their talent levels.
3. Minnesota Wild - This team made a big step forward by making the playoffs when they added Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. They already had some offensive talent in Mikko Koivu and added Jason Pominville. Nicklas Backstrom is a solid goalie although he is starting to get older. This team is going to be solid in a division that isn't very deep.
4. Dallas Stars - Dallas made a nice addition to trade for Tyler Seguin this summer. He joins Jamie Benn and some older forwards in Ray Whitney and Erik Cole. Alex Goligoski is likely the top defenceman. Stephane Robidas provides some depth along with Sergei Gonchar. Kari Lehtonen is a solid goalie. Jim Nill may be righting the ship here but it will take some time.
5. Nashville Predators - Shea Weber is an excellent defenceman but he has little to help him. Roman Josi was the second highest scorer on defence last year. Weber also led the forwards in scoring. David Legwand and Mike Fisher are some of the few forwards with above average talent. Pekka Rinne is a strong goalie and the Preds will need him to steal a lot of games for this team to have any success.
6. Colorado Avalanche - Matt Duchene, Peter Stastny, Ryan O'Reilly and PA Parenteau give this team some frontline offensive skill. The problem is keeping the puck out of their net. Jan Hejda led the team in defensive ice time last year and Tyson Barrie led their defence in points. Semyon Varlamov is their top goalie. He is young and could take a big step forward but is yet to prove himself as a top NHL starting goalie.
7. Winnipeg Jets - I think the Jets will see a drop from an increased quality of opposition with fewer games against Southeast Division teams. Andrew Ladd, Blake Wheeler and Evander Kane offer some offensive talent. Dustin Byfuglien is a good offensive defenceman but offers little in his own zone. Tobias Enstrom is probably the best defensive defender. Ondrej Pavelec is their top goalie and he scares more Jet fans than opponents.
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