Half-assed part 2, let’s go.
The Central Division is an interesting one. For the longest time, it was the Chicago Blackhawks’ playground, but now– it’s almost kind of wide open. The Winnipeg Jets have seemingly found their formula with Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine, Mark Scheifele, and friends. Their march to the Western Conference finals could have been the coming out party they need. So long as Connor Hellebuyck can keep the good time rolling– maybe this is now a division that belongs to North of the Border for a couple of season.
For the Blackhawks– we’re in the downturn of the dynasty. Despite of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane being there and being in their prime ages– the fact their goaltending in Corey Crawford isn’t always healthy and the depth is suspect at best; the former Dynasty could be in the start of their stagnation moving ahead.
Hard to forget about the Nashville Predators, who are in all-in mode this year as much as they have been. This is pivotal year for the team, especially when they look at what to do with impending UFA Pekka Rinne and how they’ll juggle his time with Juuse Saros’ time in net. Aside from that, they have a defensive corp that one of, if not the tops in the league; their offense is full of top tier talent, and overall– this is a team that’s ready to go and make another big push for the Conference final again this year.
The rest of the division is suspect at best, starting the with Minnesota Wild– who seem to be more of the same. Bruce Boudreau could be on a short leash with new GM Paul Fenton, and with the team in place– I don’t know if that leash could get shorter. Sure, Devan Dubnyk is back, but he can only do so much. The offense is really hit and miss, the star players being in the line-up is hit and miss, and there’s plenty of question marks in the State of Hockey.
Add the St. Louis Blues to that mix, only because of Jake Allen. There’s no Carter Hutton to bail him out anymore and he’ll have to actually show he’s a top goalie in this league. He’ll have a lot of tools in front of him with Vlad Tarasenko, Ryan O’Reilly, Jaden Schwartz with Alex Pieterangelo and Colton Parayko on his defense…there’s no reason why Allen shouldn’t be successful in spite of himself and his own short-comings.
I don’t know what to think of the Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars. The Stars could be a little easier to explain and deal with, as Ben Bishop– if he’s healthy all season– could help them steal a few games here and there. The offense is steady with Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn up there, the defense however, is the question. Stephen Johns is out to start the season, which means Marc Methot and John Klingberg are going to have to shoulder a lot of the load– which could lead to easy burn out. The Avalanche now have Philipp Grubauer as the potential replacement for Semyon Varlamov when he should get injured or have his stats drop off, the team was able to rally around Matt Duchene getting traded, and might have an underrated defense against the rest of the league. The offense is one line, which means they’ll need to find some kind of secondary scoring to actually be across the board successful and get back to the playoffs once again.
Will anyone discount the Vegas Golden Knights this year?? Most likely, yes. The whole “Bet you can’t do it again” crowd will be out, but with the additions of Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny; the depth of offense is much better. While there will be doubters of M-A Fleury’s heroics and William Karlsson’s scoring prowess, the Knights are making sure they aren’t just a one-hit wonder.
Their toughest challenge will probably come from the San Jose Sharks, who have their best shot at getting into the Stanley Cup Finals with the addition of Erik Karlsson. The former Ottawa defenseman bolsters a blue line with Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, while Joe Thornton is back on the ice and probably much quicker without his beard anymore. Martin Jones has seen his win number decline over the past three seasons, but with an upgrade in front of him, you can bet he’ll have another 30+ win season.
With a healthy Jonathan Quick, the LA Kings were a solid team despite getting bounced in the first round again. Anze Kopitar was far and away the best player and may need to be so again to get the Kings back to the playoffs and maybe advance past the first match-up. That 70s Line will have to be a little be more prominent, though to be honest– losing Jeff Carter most of the season didn’t help things as much.
The Anaheim Ducks are going to have to get all they can out of their depth if they want to make the playoffs again. While John Gibson hasn’t been the best at keeping pucks out, the offense didn’t give him much to work with, as they had to lowest goals-for total of any playoff team last season. With Corey Perry out to start the season, as well; old man Getzlaf will have to rally the troops and hope they don’t get run over.
Of the Canadian teams in this division, the one with the most hope could be from Alberta. Whether it’s the Flames or the Oilers is yet to be seen. The Oilers need to figure out which team was the mirage– was it the team who made the playoffs in 2017 or the team that really stunk up the joint last season. Aside from Connor McDavid, there wasn’t much to write home about. However, the hard-on people have for Ty Rattie with McDavid is almost insane levels of silly– it’s almost a Sedins or Crosby situation with how people are infatuated with his play.
The Flames are an odd duck. They have the talent up front to get into the playoffs with Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and to a lesser extend Sam Bennett. However, with Bill Peters now at the helm, who knows what can happen. If they’re going to sink to a Carolina level, then it’ll happen quick, but the additions of James Neal and Elias Lindholm up front could bring more attention, while Noah Hanifin could help Mark Giordano on the blue line. If only Mike Smith can get back to some kind of non-sieve form, then they could surprise people.
Not a surprise is the Vancouver Canucks, who really….I don’t know. They have some top-end young talent in Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat, and others, but the real key is waiting for offensive defenseman Quinn Hughes to come from Michigan to Vancouver. If the rebuild is going to happen– it will be around Boeser and Hughes, maybe even Thatcher Demko when he gets the go-ahead to be the Canucks starter. It’s a waiting game for this team.
That leaves us with Arizona. The trade for Alex Galchenyuk is going to help them a whole lot, it’s a matter of managing injuries. Antti Raanta going down early last year hurt and it seems like there’s not much for goalie depth just yet for the Coyotes who could come in and stop the bleeding. Michael Grabner will add speed and a forechecking threat, Clayton Keller continues to grow, and Mario Kempe could surprise people if given the chance. The Coyotes may even push for a wild card…if they can stay healthy.