How Will the Central Division Shake Out?
What a crazy season already. So many surprises, so many disappointments, and so many yet to come. When the heck are the Vegas Knights going to start playing like an expansion team? At a little past the half way mark of the season, it’s really no surprise that the Central Division is again setting the bar for the entire NHL. With so many teams fighting for a maximum of 5 post season spots, the ending to this season should be even crazier than normal. Now this article isn’t exactly “Predators” related, but with the strength of the division, it’s hard not to wonder how everything might shake out.
Let’s see how the Central division has faired so far, and where do I think they will end up?
I can guarantee that there is not a happier fan base in the entire NHL about the struggling Blackhawks than the Nashville Predators. Who would have guessed that at the All Star break Chicago would be the bottom feeder of the Central Division. Corey Crawford is having vertigo issues, they have the 28th ranked power play and the top goal scorer for the Hawks is Alex DeBrincat. None of this is a formula for a successful second half run, but it’s hard to imagine Chicago not in the post season. Look for a big trade-deadline splash as a last effort to sneak into the playoffs. Joel Quenneville’s job very well might depend on a post season berth.
Who in the expletive does this Avalanche team think they are? A team who was the laughing stock of the NHL last year has won 10 of their last 12 games going into the break and has the Central Division wondering what is going on. Nathan Mackinnon is playing some of the best hockey of his career tallying 60 points in 48 games thus far, and all of this happened after they sent away Matt Duchene in a three team trade. I don’t believe this team has the depth or the defense to make a serious run, but it’s still nice to see them relevant in February.
The Stars currently sit in 4th in the Central Division, but continue to look like they are one piece away from being a legitimate threat. Ben Bishop has revitalized his career in Dallas and has played a big hand in the Star’s success so far. Radulov has provided 20 goals already as Seguin and Benn continue to be consistent. Add to this the stellar first half John Klingberg has put together and you have a very exciting core. With Bishop playing the way he is, expect this team to be huge buyers at the trade deadline and with the right addition, could be a legitimate threat this post season.
Some how, some way, Devan Dubnyk continues to keep the Wild relevant. After missing an extended amount of time after back surgery, Zach Parise has returned and has slowly worked to finding his consistency once again. We know the Wild, they have a defenseman in Ryan Suter, consistent offensive attack with Eric Staal, Mikael Granlund, and Jason Zucker, and an above average goaltender. For the Wild to be successful they need to find consistency. They are currently 6th in the division behind Colorado, and will need to find their game quickly if they want to see the post season for their sixth consecutive year.
Arguably the most well rounded and experienced team in the division, the Predators sit in second behind the Winnipeg Jets with 3 games in hand. The Predators have been driven by their defense and goaltenders this year allowing the second fewest goals in the NHL. Add to this their early season addition of Kyle Turris and the return of Filip Forsberg, the Predators are primed to make another deep run. Much like last year, the Predators will go as far as Rinne and Saros will take them. Both have played stellar so far and, if continued, could bring a Central Division title to Nashville.
St. Louis Blues–
As per usual, the Blues have ridden their always dangerous offense and physical play to third place in the Central Division. Led by Brayden Schenn and Vladimir Tarasenko, the Blues’ offense remains one of the most deadly in the NHL. With Jake Allen struggling, the Blues have turned toward Carter Hutton who has posted a 12-4 record with a 1.74 goals against average and a .943% save percentage. Much like the Predators, the Blues will rely heavily on goaltending to find success. If Hutton or Allen can find a high gear, expect the Blues to be as dangerous as ever, especially if they add a big piece at the trade deadline.
Where to begin. Much like the Vegas Knights, I keep waiting for the Jets to return to their average selves. The Jets continue to play at a high pace, and continue to rack up points as they are the surprise leaders in the Central Division. The Jets offense is lead by Blake Wheeler and Patrik Laine who have combined for 95 points so far. They are led on defense by Dustin Byfuglien who recently returned from injury, and anchored in goal by the biggest surprise in all of the NHL this year, Connor Hellebuyck. Named to the NHL All Star team, Hellebuyck has had a break out season after starting the season backing up goaltender Steve Mason. Winnipeg has many pieces, but I would expect them to try and find another piece to make one final push.
Year Ending Central Division Predictions
- Nashville Predators
- St. Louis Blues
- Winnipeg Jets
- Dallas Stars
- Chicago Blackhawks
- Colorado Avalanche
- Minnesota Wild
I strongly believe Nashville takes care of business and gets to add another banner to the rafters. I don’t think the Jets have the depth or the goal tending to continue their high caliber of play, and believe more in the experience of the Blues down the stretch. Dallas continues to be just consistent enough to hold the 4th spot, and I believe Chicago makes a big trade to add a big piece to help turn the boat around and squeak into the playoffs. I see Colorado putting up a big fight, but Nathan Macknnon isn’t able to put the team on his back down the stretch just yet. Lastly, I believe Minnesota makes a late season push, but is unable to scratch their way into the playoffs. I can easily see 5 teams from the Central Division getting one step closer to holding Lord Stanley, and possibly 2 of them facing off in the Western Conference Finals. How do you think things will shake up?