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Regular Season Predictions: Central Division

Here is the second instalment of my pre-season NHL predictions for 2016/17.  Yesterday I posted my Pacific Division predictions and today I move onto the Central Division. 

Here we go with the Central Division:

1. St Louis Blues.  Ken Hitchcock has announced he will retire as a coach at the conclusion of this season and should go out with a strong season.  There is a deep defence built around Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeeter, Colton Parayko and Kevin Shattenkirk.  This group will be tough for any team to score on.  Jake Allen is the clear starting goalie.  It will be interesting to see if he can give a top flight performance or not, but one may not be necessary.  Offensively Vladimir Tarasenko is one of the better scorers in the game.  Alexander Steen, Paul Stastny and Robby Fabbri provide enough scoring depth that the Blues should be able to win most nights. 

2. Chicago Blackhawks.  I think Chicago may have the most talent of any team in the league.  They have no desire to win their division or the conference but will qualify for playoffs easily.  Patrick Kane is the reigning Hart Trophy winner.  He may not repeat that level of success but he is a top player in the league.  Jonathan Toews is a top player who will almost certainly improve on his 58 points last season.  Artemi Panarin and Marian Hossa provide some outstanding depth although there may be questions beyond that level - who is next Artem Anisimov?  Corey Crawford had atop season in goal last year.  As long as he can repeat at that level the Blackhawks should be fine.  On defence Duncan Keith is among the best in the game, but he is starting to age and starts the season hurt.  Niclas Hjalmarsson and Brian Campbell should provide good depth.  Brent Seabrook showed signs of cracks last year.  If there is a weakness it will likely be the defence.

3. Dallas Stars.  Dallas had significant weakness in goal with Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi both unable to play at a top level.  On defence, John Klingberg had a strong season last year.  Can he repeat it?  Their depth is reduced this year with Dan Hamhuis and Johnny Oduya perhaps as their next best defencemen.  This team should be among the best offensive teams in the league with Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza, Patrick Sharp and Jiri Hudler leading the way.  Better goaltending and defence would make this team a top contender.

4. Nashville Predators.  This team will have a good defence.  PK Subban comes in to join with Roman Josi, Mattais Ekholm and Ryan Ellis.  Their defence will have to control a lot of games for them to contend.  Pekka Rinne is an aging goalie who could still perform well, but he has had injuries in several of his past seasons.  Filip Forsberg was their top scorer last year, but he is not much of a threat to be among the NHL's top scorers.  James Neal, Ryan Johansen and Mike Ribiero will provide some solid depth.

5. Minnesota Wild.  Devan Debnyk is their number one goalie but he is unlikely to be among the top goalies in the league.  On defence, Ryan Suter is a star.  Behind him Jared Spurgeon and Matt Dumba may be their top defencemen.  Up front, Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu lead the way.  Both are into their 30s.  Depth comes from players like Nino Niederreiter and Jason Pominville.  This team's core is starting to age and they were not exactly top contenders in the past couple seasons.

6. Colorado Avalanche.  The Avs may be improved with a more technical coach than Patrick Roy in place, but it is hard to call Jared Bednar a strength at coach.  Semyon Varlamov is their goalie and he is acceptable.  On defence, Tyson Barrie, Erik Johnson and an aging Francois Beauchemin carry the load but none are likely to be bonafide number one dmen.  There is some young talent at offence in Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog but there isn't much depth beyond that.  Colorado will likely not be a top team, but there are worse.

7. Winnipeg Jets.  There isn't a top goalie here in Ondrej Pavelec, Michael Hutchinson or Connor Hellebuyck.  On defence, Dustin Byfuglien is a force but the way he plays he is also an injury risk.  Tyler Myers and Toby Enstrom provide some depth but they will miss Jacob Trouba as long as he holds out.  At forward, Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele took steps forward but are they sustainable?  Bryan Little and Mathieu Perreault provide depth.  This doesn't appear to be a team moving forward.

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Comments

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Filip Forsberg was their top scorer last year, but he is not much of a threat to be among the NHL’s top scorers.

Seriously? He was top 10 in goals scored (just behind Crosby) last season, and top 25 in points (just behind Stamkos). Would he say the same thing about those players. Plus, he’s younger and still has plenty of untapped potential.

Whenever I see statements that ignorant, I really can’t take any of the predictions seriously.

Posted by evileye on 10/11/16 at 09:45 AM ET

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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.

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