Central Division Realignment
The NHL recently announced a division realignment that brought significant change to how teams stack up. Some of these realignments made divisions easier while others are tough. The Central Division consists of the Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators, and Tampa Bay Lightning.
Projected Central Standings
8. Detroit Red Wings
The Detroit Red Wings finished with the worst record in hockey last season. Even though this division is not as top-heavy as some others, Detroit is still not a playoff contender by any means. They lack quality players at the NHL level right now. Aside from Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha, their NHL players are mediocre at best. They have a bright future as their prospect pool continues to develop in minor and junior hockey. However, now of these prospects are expected to make an immediate impact in the NHL this season. Therefore, the Red Wings will likely find themselves at the bottom of the division.
7. Chicago Blackhawks
The Chicago Blackhawks announced that they will undergo a rebuild starting this season. Meaning that some of their veteran core will be shipped to different teams as they look to invest in the future. For example, they already dealt forward, Brandon Saad, to the Colorado Avalanche.
They will likely keep around Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, however, these two cannot carry a rebuilding team. Kirby Dach and Adam Boqvist are likely to remain in Chicago as players to build around. This team accepted their decline and will attempt to get the best returns for numerous players as they look ahead to the future.
6. Florida Panthers
The New York Islanders made quick and easy work of the Florida Panthers in the play-in round last playoffs. There were few moments in which the Panthers shined against the Isles. Their mediocre performance in the return to play highlights why Florida falls out of the playoff picture. One of the few good performers in this short-lived series, Mike Hoffman, is no longer a Panther as he awaits to be signed by another team. He was one of the better goal scorers on this team and they will take a big hit with this loss.
Also, Evgenii Dadonov signed with the Senators so the team lost two of their top-six forwards. The team compensated for these losses by acquiring Patric Hornqvist and signing Anthony Duclair; however, the team did not improve, so they fail to contend in the Central.
5. Nashville Predators
The Predators are a team that continues to look solid on paper, however, they always manage to have an underwhelming season. The Predators have an elite defense including Roman Josi who was the 2019-2020 Norris Winner. However, their top-six forward group continues to perform sub-par year after year. Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen haven’t played to their expectations which takes a toll on Nashivelle’s performance.
Also, there are questions regarding goaltending. Pekka Rinne seems to be on the decline, while Juuse Saros isn’t looking like the goalie Nashville envisioned him to be. These concerns result in Nashville failing to contend.
4. Columbus Blue Jackets
The Columbus Blue Jackets have proven that they belong in playoff hockey. During the 2019 offseason, they lost three key pieces of their franchise, Matt Duchene, Sergei Bobrovsky, and Artemi Panarin. Despite their departure, Columbus managed to make the playoffs as they defeated the powerhouse, Toronto Maple Leafs, in the play-in. In the first-round, they put up a spectacular fight against the eventual cup-winning Tampa Bay Lightning. In one of the games, Joonas Korpisalo performed spectacularly in net keeping the Jackets in the game for eight periods as he recorded a franchise-best eighty-five saves.
Also, they have Elvis Merzlikins as another viable option regarding goaltending solidifying the fact that they have one of the best goalie tandems in the league. Columbus fights its way back into the playoffs yet again.
3. Dallas Stars
The Dallas Stars made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals in the 2020 playoffs. Despite losing their starting goaltender due to injury, Anton Khudobin and the Stars reached the finals. Khudobin filled the hole in the net following Ben Bishop‘s injury and was phenomenal. This solidifies the fact that Dallas has a top goaltending pair in the league. Also, they have a stellar defense. Led by John Klingberg and Miro Heiskanen, Dallas tends to suppress the opposition while scoring enough to emerge victoriously. Their strong defense and goaltending will allow Dallas to cruise back to playoff contention.
2. Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning were the victors this season as they hoisted the Stanley Cup in September. However, one of their stars is out for the entire season due to necessary surgery. Nikita Kucherov is a cornerstone piece of the Lightning roster and will not suit up for any of the fifty-six games this season.
Tampa has enough star-power and depth to find themselves in a good spot; however, the Carolina Hurricanes continue to make strides as their core continues to improve. Therefore, Tampa falls short of a division title but still contend for the playoffs. Also, most franchises regress slightly following a championship so Carolina certainly has the tools to edge out Tampa.
1. Carolina Hurricanes
The Carolina Hurricanes have one of the best defenses in the league. Led by Dougie Hamilton and Jaccob Slavin, the Hurricanes are bound to succeed in the Central. Also, they have a spectacular top-six including Andrei Svechnikov, Sebastian Aho, and Teuvo Teravainen. Despite a weak goaltending duo, their defense compensates for their struggles. Their well-balanced offense and defense will allow Carolina to contend and be in a good position to be the division winner.
Stay tuned for the rest of the series releasing soon. Do you agree with these projections? What would you change? Leave your thoughts in the comment section down below.