by PuckStopsHere on 10/03/08 at 08:16 AM ET
My pre-season hockey predictions continue today with Central Division. My Northwest Division predictions are here and my Pacific Division ones are here. The Central Division has been the division of the talented Detroit Red Wings and a bunch of also rans for the last couple years. Some of these teams have made a step forward, but I find it hard to imagine anyone catching the Red Wings.
1. Detroit Red Wings They are the Stanley Cup champions and they added Marian Hossa to their roster. It should be very hard to stop them. However, it is not impossible. It is a long season and things can go wrong. The biggest favorite at the beginning of the year often doesn’t win. That is why the play the games. Detroit has a strong group of forwards with Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk joined by Hossa to give them the best group of three forwards on any team (and by a long shot). Their defence is strong with superstar Nicklas Lidstrom leading the way. He is 38 years old and has reached the age where he could slow down, but he showed no signs of it last year. Beyond him they have good defencemen in Brad Stuart and Niklas Kronwall, who are good but nowhere near Lidstrom’s level (nobody is). ln goal, Chris Osgood played well in their cup run, but he is no elite goalie. They have Ty Conklin as a backup this year, who is coming off a good season, but has had an up and down career. If Lidstrom is hurt or slows down or the goaltending fails, this team can be beaten, but if they perform like last year it’s likely they will win the cup.
2. Chicago Blackhawks Finally, the Blackhawks are going down the right path. They have two of the three Calder nominees from last year on their forward unit in Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. They are joined by the hopefully healthy Martin Havlat and Patrick Sharp. This gives them one of the better young forward units around. On defence they added Brian Campbell as a free agent to a group including Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. In goal, Cristobal Huet is a very good free agent pick up. He should give Chicago strong goaltending. Chicago should be a playoff team for the first time since 2002.
3. Columbus Blue Jackets The Blue Jackets have been a defensively responsible team under coach Ken Hitchcock, but they do not have a particularly great defence. Rotislav Klesla, Mike Commodore and Jan Hejda are hardly an elite unit. Pascal Leclaire provides good goaltending and benefits from the conscientious defence in front of him. At forward they have some talent in Rick Nash (who has never had a huge point total in his career - but has the talent) who is joined by Kristian Huselius, Raffi Torres and RJ Umberger. However, this is a team where the only returning players who scored 30 points last year are Nash, Mike Peca and Jason Chimera. They have a ways to go, but their defensive style will keep them close in most of their games.
4. Nashville Predators This team has done an admirable job of contending despite some very trying times. The trying times continue. Alexander Radulov departed to Russia. He was counted upon offensively. They still have Jason Arnott, JP Dumont and David Legwand, That is some offensive talent. On defence, they have some solid players in Shea Weber, Ryan Suter and Dan Hamhius, but ´this group will be weakened by the trade of last year’s top scorer on defence in Marek Zidlicky. Their goaltending is not trustworthy. Dan Ellis had a surprisingly good season last year, but had been a career AHL goalie up to that point. His ability to stay at that level is questionable and his backup Pekka Rinne is completely unproven in the NHL. Nashville faces another year of financial instability and it has taken its toll on the franchise. I don’t think they can maintain a playoff calibre team.
5. St Louis Blues This is the team that had a league worst 14 wins since January 2008 began. They had a good start last season, which held up as long as Manny Legace provided all star level goaltending. He couldn’t do it all season. At age 35, he is likely not going to be one of the top goalies in the NHL. Their defence took a hit when it was learned Erik Johnson’s knee should keep him out for the season. This leaves them with a group including Eric Brewer, Jay McKee and Barret Jackman, but no front liners. Their forward unit is led by Paul Kariya, Brad Boyes and a quickly slowing down Keith Tkachuk. It is not a deep unit. St Louis will likely be one of the weaker teams in the NHL.
The Central Division has the most weak teams in the West Conference. It also has the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings and the Chicago Blackhawks who are a rising team. It is unlikely anyone other than those two teams make playoffs in the Central
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