NHL Central Division preview: Hawks poised for another run
The Central Division has the potential to be one of the most top-heavy in the league with the Blackhawks and Blues leading the way.
That is unless teams like the Wild, Jets and Avalanche are able to make some headway.
Here’s a look at how all seven teams shape up entering the 2013-14 season.
Nashville Predators (2012: 16-23-9)
Odds to win division: 25-1
Season point total: 82.5
Why to bet the Predators: The Preds are hoping that Seth Jones can make an immediate impact on the blue line, adding to an already solid group that is headed by veteran Shea Weber. If there’s one thing we know about the Preds, it’s that they’re well-coached and get a lot out of a little in terms of talent.
Why not to bet the Predators: There are no bonafide goal scorers up front, with the likes of Mike Fisher and Viktor Stalberg counted on to lead the charge. Goaltender Pekka Rinne has been asked to shoulder too much of the load in recent years and that won’t change this season.
Season point total pick: Over 82.5
Minnesota Wild (2012: 26-19-3)
Odds to win division: 13-2
Season point total: 96.5
Why to bet the Wild: This is the year the Wild are expected to take a big leap forward with the duo of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter now fully acclimated with the team. Fans in Minnesota are among the best in the league, not to mention starved for a winner and expectations are high for good reason.
Why not to bet the Wild: The Wild have had a tough time stepping up in class, as we saw in the opening round of last year’s playoffs against Chicago. Until proven otherwise, that’s still the knock on this team. Losing guys like Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Devin Setoguchi could leave an offensive void.
Season point total pick: Over 96.5
Colorado Avalanche (2012: 16-25-7)
Odds to win division: 25-1
Season point total: 81.5
Why to bet the Avalanche: An infusion of young talent, not to mention an NHL legend behind the bench, has optimism running high in Colorado – and for good reason. The Avs might be a year or two away from contending, but this should be an exciting, upset-minded team to watch this season.
Why not to bet the Avalanche: They’re unproven. While the pieces are in place for the Avs to be good for years to come, there will undoubtedly be some growing pains. How will Patrick Roy’s coaching style translate to the pros? He’s got the job done leading teenagers, but this is a different situation.
Season point total pick: Over 81.5
Dallas Stars (2012: 22-22-4)
Odds to win division: 15-1
Season point total: 87.5
Why to bet the Stars: Sweeping changes are expected to breathe some life into what has become a forgotten team in the West. Tyler Seguin is the new face of the franchise and should provide excitement up front. Lindy Ruff is a proven winner behind the bench.
Why not to bet the Stars: It remains to be seen where leadership will come from inside the dressing room with veterans few and far between. Goaltender Kari Lehtonen has shown flashes of brilliance but consistency between the pipes, or lack thereof, remains a big issue in Dallas.
Season point total pick: Under 87.5
Winnipeg Jets (2012: 24-21-3)
Odds to win division: 25-1
Season point total: 83.5
Why to bet the Jets: After falling just short of the postseason last spring, the Jets will be hungry to make the leap in 2013-14. Winnipeg didn’t do much to bolster its roster in the offseason, but keeps its core virtually intact and continuity isn’t a bad thing for a young squad.
Why not to bet the Jets: Is Ondrej Pavelec really the answer in goal? He’s held up reasonably well, but certainly isn’t a first-rate netminder. There’s plenty of grit up front, but not a lot of goal-scoring talent outside of Evander Kane and Andrew Ladd. The Jets defense is average at best.
Season point total pick: Over 83.5
Chicago Blackhawks (2012: 36-7-5)
Odds to win division: 1-2
Season point total: 112.5
Why to bet the Blackhawks: Unlike in 2010, when the Blackhawks lost a ton of talent following their Stanley Cup run, they remain relatively intact off of their latest Cup victory. You would be hard-pressed to find a more talented team from top to bottom. Re-signing last spring’s breakout start, Bryan Bickell, was key.
Why not to bet the Blackhawks: It goes without saying, no team will carry a bigger target on its back than Chicago. The Blackhawks essentially won wire-to-wire last season but will be hard-pressed to duplicate that effort in 2013-14. How hungry will the ‘Hawks be after raising the Cup in two of the last four years.
Season point total pick: Under 112.5
St. Louis Blues (2012: 29-17-2)
Odds to win division: 5-2
Season point total: 103.5
Why to bet the Blues: With a strong blue line and a balanced attack up front, the Blues are poised to take another run at the Blackhawks. Re-signing Alex Pieterangelo was critical, as was filling the void left by a retiring Andy McDonald. Derek Roy should fit in nicely as a second-line center.
Why not to bet the Blues: Who will be St. Louis’ go-to guy? Only three players reached double-digits in goals scored a year ago, and not much will change this season. The goaltending tandem of Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott looks good on paper, but both have been streaky.
Season point total pick: Under 103.5