It is tough to say which is the tougher division in the West, the Pacific or Central? I don’t believe this division is as strong 1-6, but the top end teams I believe are much better. The Hawks and Blues are among the top 3 or 4 teams in the league, so it probably isn’t about who will get the playoff spots in this division, but rather who will get the 3rd one and perhaps a couple of wildcard spots. But while the Hawks and Blues are the tops in this divison, it is also very strong throughout.
I’ll let you in on a secret…this team will win the President’s trophy. That blueline is ridiculous, and they’ll have all the pieces in place all season. Bouwmeester and Pietrangelo is one of the top pairings in the league. Shattenkirk would be a number 1 on most teams. Jackman has slowed down a bit but is still tough as nails and very steady. It is without a doubt the top D core in all of hockey. The question will be weather or not they can score. David Perron didn’t rip it up for them last season, so his production won’t be difficult to replace, but they don’t have a home run hitter…yet. Tarasenko could become that guy this season, but if he doesn’t then they could end up trading for that type of player as they have a lot of trade chips to play with. I would watch for them to ship a goaltender out early this season. Jake Allen was actually their best during last season, and he looked great in camp but they had to send him down. They seem to like Elliot better than Halak so with both being UFA’s after this season I guess that means Halak is probably the odd man out. Nice problem to have, but that being said I don’t like any of their goaltenders come playoff time. Halak is the most proven based on one amazing run with the Habs. Scoring and goaltending will be question marks come April, but October through March, this will be the best team in the league.
It was a shocking season for the Hawks in my opinion. People forget what a mess they were at the end of the 2012 season. Corey Crawford was beyond dreadful in the playoffs that season, and the rumors were that GM Stan Bowman and Joel Quennville hated each other and the only reason there wasn’t a coaching change was because Quennville refused to resign. A year later, they’re lifting their 2nd Cup in 4 seasons. I wonder if it is possible for a top 10 player in the league to be underrated, because it sure feels to me like Jonathan Toews is. This kid is everything you want leading your franchise. I firmly believe he is the 2nd best player in hockey, and is closer to Sid than Malkin. This team is much better setup than they were going into the 2011 season. Other than Dave Bolland, the key pieces are all back. The guy to watch for me would be Bryan Bickell. Can he build off of his incredible playoff run, or is he another Fernando Pisani? We will see. Being the defending champs, they’ll suffer some set backs. Never fails to happen these days. But they’ll get it going by midseason and while I don’t believe they’ll have the regular season the Blues will, they’ll still be a big force.
There were a few teams that I was really shocked with last season, but no team more so than the Preds. Year in and year out this team had been so consistent. I realize they lost Ryan Suter in the 2012 offseason, but they’ve gone through those kind of changes before and comeback strong. But that slide down to the bottom of the standings worked out well for them in the end. Sure they didn’t get a playoff gate last season, but they got that stud d-man they needed in Seth Jones…a total gift from the Avs and Lightning. Now he won’t step in and be Ryan Suter obviously, but he will step right into their top 4. Scoring will be an issue as it always is for the Preds, but they always find a way to manufacture goals. In net is the key for the Preds. If Rinne returns to form then they should be a playoff team in this division. But last season was shockingly bad for Rinne. Is he on the decline after having played so much hockey in previous seasons. I doubt it, but crazier things have happened before. Had a tough time picking between them and the Wild for 3rd, but at the end of the day the Preds are deeper and better coached.
Fans and media for the most part overrated this team last season. I figured they would be a playoff team, but I by no means had them as a top end team in the West. Parise and Suter are great, but this was a BAD team in 2012. But now I feel like fans and media are forgetting all about this team which could make them dangerous, but they have some big holes. I still hate their coaching and I think it will prove to be a terrible mistake by Chuck Fletcher not firing Mike Yeo after last season. They look like a poorly coached team. They’re also very thin on the blueline. Suter and Brodin are an elite top pairing, but after them its pretty scary. They’re ok up front, but they’ll rely heavily on Koivu and Parise. Mikael Granlund came nowhere near last seasons lofty expectations. He will need to bounce back and be the 2nd line center the Wild really need. If not him, than perhaps they move Charlie Coyle back to the middle and try him there. Coyle had a really good rookie season and I believe is more than capable of being that guy. They brought back Niklas Backstrom, but he hasn’t been close to his old self the last few seasons. Some of that is having poor defensive play in front of him as opposed to great previously. But he’s also now 35 and has played a lot of hockey over the last 7 seasons. They’ll be in the playoff hunt for sure, but this team is still far away from being a contender.
Talk about a makeover! New GM, new head coach, new face of the franchise, new uniforms, that is about as big of a turnover as an organization can have! And I really liked all the moves (the uni’s are sick!) But while I liked all the moves, I believe it will take some time for Jim Nill to mold this team into what he wants them to be. The big thing for me is that they still have a pretty thin blueline. Its still too early to buy Brendan Dillon is a stud young player. He looked like it last season, but I can’t commit to it just yet. Gonchar with a fat new contract historically is terrible. And then you have guys like Goligoski, Daly and Robidas who are just ok and limited. Then you have Kari Lehtonen in goal, and while he maybe hasn’t lived up to expectations in his career he has been ok since arriving in Dallas. That blueline can’t be easy to play behind. Now he didn’t have as good of a season last year as 2012, but I still don’t know if that’s the blueline or that’s him? Still had a .916 Sv%. Tough not to love what they have up front, easily the strength of this team. Seguin of course needs to get his life together, but if he does he’s an elite 1st line center. He will be a better player simply by moving back to the middle where he belongs. Its a good mix of youth, vets, size and skill up front for the Stars so if they can figure out the lines it should be a lethal group.
I really love the Jets. I feel like this team is the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the NHL. They’re everyone’s 2nd favorite team or at least nobody has an issue with them and their fans are amazing. But you have to call it the way you see it and the way I see it is that the Jets will have a year or two near or at the bottom of the Central division before they start to take off. As always though, it may not be a bad thing. They are building it the right way. They’re in great hands with Kevin Cheveldayoff as their GM. He had another really good draft and even if they do have some down time, it won’t be long before they’re back in the playoff hunt. But if you can’t make the playoffs in the Southleast, then you aren’t making the playoffs in this division. They’re very solid in their top 9 up front, they’re very solid on their blueline, and they’re solid between the pipes. Sometimes I like teams like this who aren’t great at anything but good at everything. But that’s how it looks now. Many players over the years have looked a LOT better in the Southleast than anywhere else in the league, so expect a few guys to take steps back this season and expect a lot of players numbers to go down a bit. Very bright future for this team, but it might take a few extra years to begin flourishing.
There are some people who are sky high on this organization. I’m not one of them. I fully understand the awesome talent they have up front, but they did NOTHING to address the league’s worst D core! How does that happen?!? Erik Johnson, Tyson Barrie, Stefan Elliott, Cory Sarich, are we sure the floods in Boulder were from percipitation and not Avs fans vomiting over how awful that blueline is? That is embarrassing. And while Sakic and Roy come in with all this fan fare I’m still not sure why? Do people know that they aren’t suiting up? Patrick Roy steps right in from junior….because that’s gone so well in the past….I said it leading into the draft and I still maintain it, MacKinnon was the wrong pick. This team DESPERATELY needed a franchise d-man, needed a face to sell tickets, were already set down the middle, already set up front, it just made zero sense. It would have made a little sense had they picked MacKinnon and then dealt Matt Duchene for a stud d-man, but they didn’t. Varlamov in net is ok but as I always say he was nowhere near worth what they paid for him. Man, this is just a mess. Maybe they don’t finish last in this division, and I’m sure they’ll be fun as can be to watch, but make no mistake this franchise is a complete mess.
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