*Photo Credit: www.nowplayingnashville.com

As this NHL season starts, we have seen many changes around the league to some notable teams! Here is a continuation of the NHL previews as each team goes on their quest for another Stanley Cup, this time with the Central Division!

Chicago Blackhawks (2016-17 Record: 50-23-9 – Playoff Exit: R1)

The offseason changes for the Blackhawks were not good for the team, as they lost a bunch of core players and are left with what is basically just some spare change in cap space. The team lost Artemi Panarin, who was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets in return for Brandon Saad. Other losses for Chicago include backup goaltender Scott Darling, defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson, forward Trevor van Riemsdyk, and forward Johnny Oduya. Another face that could be missing very soon is Marian Hossa, who is out for this entire season due to a skin condition related to his equipment. Although they’re losing some big names, they did gain a few new players including Patrick Sharp and Conner Murphy.

Although Chicago still has their main core of Jonathan Teows and Patrick Kane in their offensive lineup, and Duncan Keith in their defensive squad, the Blackhawks had a poor offseason due to some old problems, such as their bad salary situation, that were creeping up on them. This offseason performance will certainly hurt them, but by no means will it affect them as much as some may think. Chicago is still poised to be a great team for yet another season and should make the playoffs again.

Predicted Record: 43-30-9

Colorado Avalanche (2016-17 Record: 22-56-4)

All that can be said for the Avalanche right now is “ohhhh noooooo.” After a long, painful year in the basement, acting like they were contributing to hockey, the Colorado front office had to have done something in the offseason, right? Wrong. The front office did very little and will probably leave the team out to dry for another year. This team was an embarrassment last year, being eliminated from playoff contention almost 2 weeks before any other team The only notable moves to this team were adding goaltender Jonathan Bernier and trading a draft pick for Nail Yakupov, the first overall pick in 2012 who played for the Oilers in their worst stretch of years. Rumors swirled all spring and summer about a possible Matt Duchene trade, and the team could’ve gotten a great return for him, but he’s still in the Rocky Mountains and is not thrilled about it. A notable young player to be joining the squad this year is Tyson Jost, the 2016 first-round pick for the Avalanche, who has been compared to other big leaders around the league.

Because of the scarcity of moves, despite the complete disaster that this Colorado team was last year, there won’t be much of a difference made this year. If this team wants to be good, they need to rebuild hard, and what they’re doing right now is not the right way to go about that.

Predicted Record: 25-50-7

Dallas Stars (2016-17 Record: 34-37-11)

Going from winning the Central Division to kick-off the 2016 playoffs, to being eliminated from contention this year was hard on the Stars, but their front office made some huge changes that could turn this organization right around to that first place spot again. Starting behind the bench, the Stars returned to an old face with head coach Ken Hitchcock, who was the Stars’ head coach in their 1999 Cup run. In net, Dallas’ long-time weakness, they bought out Antti Niemi, who is now in Pittsburgh, and signed elite goaltender Ben Bishop to a six-year deal. The Stars lost Patrick Sharp, who went to Chicago, but strengthened their offence with signing Alexander Radulov and re-signing Martin Hanzal. Lastly, the Stars also added Marc Methot to their defensive core.

These big moves during the offseason to cover up their goaltending, as well as additions being made to their already strong core of skaters, makes the Stars stronger than ever, and they could easily be on track to another Central Division win. Dallas is already led by very strong players such as Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Jason Spezza, with a defensive core led by John Klingberg. Even though they lost players like Sharp to Chicago and Eakin to Vegas, the Stars have made up for the losses and are coming into the 2017-18 season with some big new names on the backs of those bright green jerseys.

Predicted Record: 50-21-11

Minnesota Wild (2016-17 Record: 49-25-8 – Playoff Exit: R1)

The wild had a more active offseason than some expected, trading Scandella and Pominville to Buffalo in return for Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno, a deal that should prove beneficial for the Minnesota squad. Another notable pickup is Matt Cullen, 3-time Stanley Cup Champion (Carolina ’06, Pittsburgh ’16 and ’17) from the Pittsburgh Penguins. These acquisitions should prove well for the Wild squad, even though they lost Erik Haula to the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft.

Many components of the Wild’s success are coming back for yet another year, such as Eric Staal, Mikko Koivu, and Mikael Granlund. Other notable names like Niederreiter, Coyle, and Zucker return as well to try their hand at even more success. In goal, Devan Dubnyk will try again at another great season for Minnesota. The Wild will be highly competitive this season, but may fall short as the season comes to an end toward the spring. This is most certainly a team to watch, though.

Predicted Record: 40-29-13

Nashville Predators (2016-17 Record: 41-29-12 – Playoff Exit: SCF)

Last year’s runner-up, the Nashville Predators, are back, they’re ready, and they’re coming for the final again. After an extremely strong postseason performance to surge the team into their first franchise Stanley Cup Final, the Predators made little changes in the offseason to reinforce the mentality of “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.” The Predators do have a few key losses in Mike Fisher, who retired, and James Neal, who was picked by Vegas. Even though some key players were lost, the Predators got Nick Bonino from the Penguins, and Scott Hartnell from the Columbus Blue Jackets. Ryan Ellis is on the IR until further notice, but some moves, like the one for Alexei Emelin, were made to cover for Ellis in his absence.

As for the Predators success, forwards Forsberg, Arvidsson, and Johansen can surge this team into extreme success throughout the regular season. Their defense, led by stars Roman Josi, PK Subban, and Mattias Ekholm should be able to dominate, just like they did last playoff run, and goaltender Pekka Rinne can hold the house down especially well. An insane defensive core, great goaltending, and an extremely powerful offense makes “Smashville” one of the main teams to watch for this season. I expect them to go far.

Predicted Record: 48-24-10

St. Louis Blues (2016-17 Record: 46-29-7 – Playoff Exit: R2)

A strong defensive core and a young offense are the main great points for the St. Louis Blues, but they are stuck with a lacking goaltending situation and problems behind the bench. Thus, the Blues could be poised for a mediocre season. There wasn’t much movement for this team during the offseason, but that’s probably not a great thing, since most other teams have figured out the Blues’ play style by this point. The most notable addition was Brayden Schenn from the Flyers in return for Jori Lehtera.

The Blues are led defensively by Alex Pietrangelo and youngster Colton Parayko. Their defensive core plays well in front of goaltender Jake Allen, who holds well for himself. However, the Blues lack a good backup goaltender. As for offensive prowess, St. Louis is led well by Vladimir Tarasenko, who last year had 39 goals. As for why the Blues may lack this year, many of their players, such as Steen, Bouwmeester, and Statsny struggle to stay in the lineup and are very injury prone, leaving them out of many games. If the Blues keep healthy, they may do well, but with a bunch of players already on the IR, I doubt that will be the case.

Predicted Record: 36-40-6

Winnipeg Jets (2016-17 Record: 40-35-7)

The Winnipeg Jets, a team led by extremely young offensive talent in Patrik Laine, Mark Scheifele, and underappreciated star Blake Wheeler, have a very good opportunity to take what they started last year and blow it up in the Central Division’s face. The Jets continue to bring all their prospects up to the NHL and are getting good results from them, such as 2015 first-round pick Kyle Connor. A few noticeable moves for the Jets this offseason were former Flyers goalie, Steve Mason, as well as D-man Dmitry Kulikov. The offseason was pretty uneventful, but when most of your good players are just sitting in the minors getting good experience, your offseason can afford to be uneventful.

Through the strong young core of Winnipeg and other notable names like Jacob Trouba and Dustin Byfuglien, the offense will be well off. As for the defense, (probably their weak point) as long as they can stay healthy and off the IR list, I don’t see much of a problem with it. This team is young, fast, and has many good years ahead of it.

Predicted Record: 45-27-10

Final Predictions:

The Central Division is almost always competitive, and usually has the more competition than  other Western Conference divisions. This year, although it will be close, I predict that the division will be led by Dallas, with Nashville taking second and Winnipeg making the playoffs for the third time in franchise history (and the possibility of obtaining their first franchise playoff win!). As for the wild card, Chicago will finish fourth, and Minnesota fifth to battle with the Pacific Division for the two wild card spots. This year, the Central Division will probably be the one that gets most turned on their head with the rise of Dallas, Winnipeg, and Nashville over those who traditionally dominate the division every season.

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