Here’s my predictions on the Central Division for this season:
Key Addition: Brad Richards
Key Losses: Michal Handzus, Brandon Bollig, Nikolai Khabibulin
The Blackhawks were one goal away from making a return trip to the Stanley Cup Final for the third time in five years. Unlike like the year before, the Hawks were on the other side of the story as Alec Martinez ended their bid to repeat in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals with an overtime-winning goal. But don’t let that one loss fool everyone else in the NHL. The Blackhawks were rebuilt to win, and they’ve done exactly just that; becoming one of the most successful teams in the NHL in the last five years. Like last year, this team didn’t have to change much, because they didn’t need to. The only major change the Hawks made was letting Michal Handzus walk into free agency and sign Brad Richards to a one-year contract after he got bought out by the New York Rangers in the offseason. The biggest move in the offseason was one out of necessity. On July 16, the Blackhawks signed franchise players Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews to long-term contract extensions. Eight years, $84 million each; $188 million worth the price. If it wasn’t for their record against their own division, the Hawks wouldn’t have finished third. I still believe they are the team to beat in the Central Division, because they are one of the few teams in the NHL to excel on offense, defense, and goaltending.
Prediction: Central Division Champions
Key Additions: Jarome Iginla, Danny Briere, Brad Stuart
Key Losses: Paul Stastny, P.A. Parenteau, Jean-Sebastien Giguere
The biggest surprise in the NHL last season was the Colorado Avalanche. No one thought the Avalanche would win the Central. But the stellar play of 2014 Calder Trophy winner Nathan MacKinnon, 2014 Lady Byng Trophy winner Ryan O’Reilly (who would’ve had a penalty-free season if he hadn’t played the puck with a broken stick), and a career year from 2014 Vezina Trophy finalist Semyon Varlamov led the Avs to a 52-win, 112-point season. During the playoffs, they were a little bit green, but played like a veteran team all the way to a Game 7 situation. There’s no doubt the Avalanche are for real, but it’s sometimes hard to catch lightning in a bottle twice. The Avs can do that with the addition of veterans Jarome Iginla, Danny Briere, and Brad Stuart. Who knows…they might have a chance to steal the Central Division again.
Key Additions: Jason Spezza, Ales Hemsky, Anders Lindback
Key Loss: Alex Chiasson
The Stars scratched and clawed their way to a playoff spot last season. and gave the Anaheim Ducks a run for their money. And like las year, a blockbuster trade bolstered the Stars’ lineup, trading away Alex Chiasson for Jason Spezza. And with the free-agent signing of Ales Hemsky, maybe a little bit of Edmonton magic will be conjured in Big D by H & H (Horcoff and Hemsky). This team might be considered a “bubble team”, but this bubble team should be able to eke out another wild-card berth if they play good this year.
Key Additions: Thomas Vanek, Jordan Schroeder, Brett Sutter
Key Losses: Matt Moulson, Clayton Stoner, Cody McCormick
The Minnesota Wild added another major Twin Cities native to the team. The biggest signing the Wild made this offseason was bringing in Thomas Vanek. The Wild have the tools to make another Playoff bid, but their biggest question mark is their goaltending situation. Niklas Backstrom has been hampered by injuries, Josh Harding has been suspended for sustaining a non-hockey injury, and Darcy Kuemper still hasn’t proven himself as a NHL-caliber goalie. If the Wild can figure out their goalie situation, then they can be considered a playoff team. But as of now, they’re a bubble team.
Key Additions: James Neal, Olli Jokinen, Derek Roy, Mike Ribeiro
Key Losses: Patric Hornqvist, Michael Del Zotto
This is not the Nashville Predators you’re used to seeing. Thanks to a couple of moves, like hiring Peter Laviolette as their new head coach, and acquiring goal-scoring forward James Neal from Pittsburgh, the Predators now put a high emphasis on offense and goal-scoring, a tactic that wasn’t used in the previous 16 seasons under Barry Trotz. Howver, there’s not much to be expected this season, because the Predators are still a work in progress. If Pekka Rinne gets back to form after an injury-plagued season last year, maybe the Preds have a chance to contend for a playoff spot.
St. Louis Blues
Key Additions: Paul Stastny, Carl Gunnarson
Key Losses: Ryan Miller, Vladimir Sobotka, Brenden Morrow, Derek Roy
There ain’t no cure for deja vu…or should I say Deja Blues? The last two playoff seasons in St. Louis looks more like an episode of the Twilight Zone.
- The Blues’ first playoff round matchup is against the defending Stanley Cup champion.
- Alex Steen scores the game-winning goal in overtime in Game 1.
- Barret Jackman scores the game-winning goal in Game 2.
- The Blues get shut out in Game 3.
- The Blues lead 3-2 at the end of two periods in Game 4, only to lose the game, 4-3.
- The Blues tie Game 5 on a goal by Alex Pietrangelo in the third period, only to lose the game in overtime, 3-2.
- The Blues score one goal in Game 6, and are eliminated from the playoffs after leading the series 2-0.
If the circle is going to break, thay can’t have a repeat of the end of last season in which they lost nine of their final 14 games of the regular season. The Blues do get a major addition in the form of St. Louis native Paul Stastny. However, their goaltending is a little bit questionable. Most likely, Brian Elliott will be the Blues’ starting netminder, but Jake Allen, last year’s winner of the Baz Bastien Memorial Award as the AHL’s best goaltender, wants to prove that he belongs. Just by seeing him last year with the Blues’ AHL affiliate, the Chicago Wolves, Allen might have a case to being the no. 1 goalie in St. Louis.
Key Additions: Mathieu Perreault, T.J. Galiardi
Key Losses: Olli Jokinen, Al Montoya
For the Jets, not much was changed in the offseason, but as Paul Maurice enters his first full season as Jets head coach, this opportunity gives him time to establish an identity for his team. Will it be versatile? Hard-hitting? It’s not gonna be an easy task, but there are bound to be growing pains, and I won’t be surprised if the Jets are either trend up or trend down because of those times.