The NHL Season is right around the corner. Rookie camps and tournaments are wrapping up. Training camps are opening this week as there are a lot of familiar faces in new places to begin the season.
The start of a new season brings hope as teams look to build towards the playoffs and dethrone the Stanley Cup Champion Colorado Avalanche.
Welcome to the divisional rankings. We’ll look at both the Eastern and Western Conferences, ranking teams in each of the four divisions. First up in the NHL Divisional Rankings series is the Central Division.
NHL Central Division Rankings
1. Colorado Avalanche (Last year finished First)
It should not shock anyone that Colorado will finish first again this year in the NHL Central Division. Even with the loss of Nazem Kadri, which is a big loss, the Avalanche still have the talent to win the Central Division. It will be interesting to see who replaces Kadri. Goaltending which was a question mark last year is more steady than it was with the addition of Alexandar Georgiev. Georgiev replaces the departing Darcy Kuemper. Behind him is Pavel Francouz, who without, the Avalanche might not have won the Stanley Cup. The bigger question is can the Avalanche get the production from their role players like Artturi Lehkonen and Valeri Nichushkin as in years past to propel them to a repeat?
2. St. Louis Blues (Last Year Finished Third)
St. Louis’s season ended in disappointing fashion losing to the Avalanche in Round two of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. What’s frustrating Blues fans the most is they lost their starting goalie Jordan Binnington. Binnington was having a resurgence and if not for the injury, the Blues might have slayed the mighty Avalanche. The salary cap played a factor in the Blues offseason. Outside of contract extensions for Nick Leddy, Jordan Kyrou, and Robert Thomas, the Blues did not do much. They were up against it and lost a key member of their offence David Perron to free agency. With Ville Husso traded to Detroit, everything falls on Binnington. The question will be can he play at the same level and will Thomas Greiss be good enough when Binnington needs a night off? The news prior to training camp was not good for Marco Scandella. He will be out at least six months after right hip surgery. That is a big loss considering he played 70 games. The Blues have the depth to withstand this injury but it will not be easy holding off the Wild for second in the division.
3. Minnesota Wild (Last Year Finished Second)
Minnesota will still be a top-three team in the division, but they will take a minor step back with the loss of Kevin Fiala. Fiala recorded 85 points (33 goals and 52 assists) last year with the Wild. Since coming to the Wild, he averaged 20 goals a season in the three seasons with Minnesota. Due to the buyouts of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, the Wild are cap strapped. Thus, the Wild could not make too many moves. Losing the safety net of Cam Talbot for Marc-Andre Fleury will be a tough one. Though Filip Gustavsson is capable, the Wild will still be a playoff team, but outside of Kirill Kaprizov, they need to find scoring.
4. Nashville Predators (Last Year Finished Fifth)
Nashville will again be in the mix for the playoffs this season. With all-world goalie Juuse Saros, the Predators are never out of any game. They just need to have him remain healthy. Even with a healthy Saros, Nashville was not beating Colorado but it would have been more competitive than a four-game sweep. Nashville is hoping Kevin Lankinen will solve the backup goalie situation as he competes with Connor Ingram. Upfront, the Predators re-signed Filip Forsberg and added Nino Niederreiter to their top-six forward group. Nashville is banking on Forsberg, Matt Duchene and Roman Josi to have career seasons again. Their numbers last season will be tough to duplicate. The key for them will be who rounds out their top-six forward with the loss of Luke Kunin.
5. Dallas Stars (Last Year Finished Fourth)
Dallas snuck into the playoffs last season and will be battling for a wild card spot again this season. The emergence of Jake Oettinger gives the Stars stability at the goalie position. Oettinger carried the Stars to a seven-game series against Calgary. Everything ran through the top line of Roope Hintz, Jason Roberston, and Joe Pavelski last year. Dallas needs more scoring from Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. But that seems like an every-season problem. The question is can Pete DeBoer can more out of those players?
6. Winnipeg Jets (Last Year Finished Sixth)
Winnipeg was another team that made a coaching change. Enter Rick Bowness, the former Stars head coach. Is he the voice the Jets need to make a climb up the standings? It is going to be tough for Winnipeg to make the playoffs. Connor Hellebuyck needs to play at a Vezina Trophy level every game, and Winnipeg must play better defense in front of him to be successful. The Jets have the offense to compete led by Kyle Connor, but they need more. With Pierre-Luc Dubois wanting out, can he put together another good season to keep the Jets window open to win?
7. Chicago Blackhawks (Last Year Finished Seventh)
What is going on in Chicago? They want to get younger, but they traded away Alex DeBrincat and Kirby Dach. The Blackhawks want to be bad to get a shot at Connor Bedard. With the rebuild on in Chicago, how does this affect the future of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews? All eyes will be on Seth Jones and if he can rebound. And what are his thoughts on all of this? And of course, first-time head coach Luke Richardson is not in an ideal situation but he will make the most of it. There are going to be some lean years for this original six franchise.
8. Arizona Coyotes (Last Year Finished Eighth)
Another team that will take time to get back to the playoffs are Arizona Coyotes. The Coyotes are a rebuilding team and willing to take on contracts from other teams with assets. Not to mention the trade rumors swirling about Jakob Chychrun and what his future holds with the club. There is talent on this team, but it is going to take a while before that talent produces consistently. The pipeline is getting better with Logan Cooley and Connor Geekie, but their time is not now. Soon it will be. There will be tough times in the desert especially playing a 14-game road trip and in Arizona State’s hockey facility.