2013 NHL Preview: The Central Division

Central Division

The Central division has quickly become a powerhouse in the NHL with four of the five teams making the playoffs last year. The division has become one of the most dominant in the Western Conference and this year they are looking to continue that trend. The Detroit Red Wings have regularly led the way in this division as the most consistent team. Now their aging team is looking to try to hold on to their spot among the elite in the NHL. Meanwhile the Chicago Blackhawks are continuing their comeback after years of disappointing seasons. Now they look to take over from the Red Wings as one of the most consistent teams in the division. The Blackhawks are now two years away from a Stanley Cup and now they are looking to get another one. They are not alone in their resurgence though as the St. Louis Blues surprised everyone last year turning a late season surge into a division title. The Blues are looking to do the same and become a power in the central division. Along with these three the Nashville Predators have become a consistently good team. Not too flashy and rarely making much news the Preds are a team that has quickly become one to watch. Then there is the other team in Columbus where the dominance has not reached. The Blues were the worst team in the NHL last year and now they look to stay above water in one of the toughest divisions in the league. The Central is a great division with plenty of potential champions but there is one big factor that may hurt or help them. The division is one that will be affected by the shortened season maybe more than most. A mix of young and old teams the central division could be an interesting experiment in the lockout season. Will it be the older teams, with less wear from a long season, who will come out on top or will the young teams come out fast and overpower the experience of the veteran teams. The Central will be another tight race and a great place to see the effect of the lockout in the shortened 2013 season.

 

Chicago Blackhawks:

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The Blackhawks returned to prominence in the 2009-10 season with a load of very talented young stars. Now they are consistently one of the best teams in the league and are always dangerous to challenge for the Stanley Cup. The 2011-12 season would see the Blackhawks remain a top team but not exactly meet up with expectations. They would finish in fourth place in the division and still earn a playoff spot but then they were eliminated in the first round. Now the 2013 season sees the Blackhawks looking to take the same core of players at another run at the Stanley Cup. The ‘Hawks made very little moves in the offseason as their strategy was clear in going with the stars that they have rather than finding new ones. Jonathan Toews will captain the team once again as one of the best young leaders in the game. He will be alongside very talented stars in Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp to provide great offensive output. The offensive stars are added to a great first pairing on the blue line in Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrooke. Yet there is a key part to the team that is not there any longer and that is a shut down goaltender. The goalie situation in Chicago is not the best and that hurts them many times as the team is not free to make the plays that make them a great team. The ‘Hawks are looking to get back to that team of the 2009-10 season and if the goaltending can step up they have a chance. Expect them to challenge for the top spot this year although winning the Central is no longer an easy task and is not automatic.

 

Strength:
A Team Focus
– The Blackhawks are in a good position for this shortened season as they are a team with few changes meaning that they will need very little time to get into a groove which works with only 48 games until the playoffs 

Weakness:
Goaltending
– Corey Crawford is a good goalie but to win a Stanley Cup it is clear that you need a great goalie and if Crawford cannot step up Ray Emery will likely not be the man for the job as the Blackhawks will need something special to win the Cup again 

Biggest Addition:
Nobody
– It may have been the lockout or simple confidence in the players that they have but the Blackhawks made almost no noise in the offseason as they would not add any players that will have an impact in 2013 

Biggest Loss:
Nobody
– The Blackhawks again would either be cautious of the lockout or simply liked what they had as they would not lose any of their key players ensuring that the key parts of the 2009-1 championship team remained in the red and black

 

Columbus Blue Jackets:

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The Columbus Blue Jackets are on a reclamation project in 2013 after a terrible 2011-12 campaign. The Blue Jackets would go out and get Jeff Carter before the 2011-12 season to provide Rick Nash with a partner that would light up the league. Except that Jeff Carter did not like the organization and would be traded at the trade deadline. The Blue Jackets’ offseason would be highlighted by one of the biggest moves in the offseason that was started late in the 2011-12 season. Rick Nash would leave the team as the Blue Jackets would trade away their captain and really one and only playmaker on the team. The loss of Rick Nash was simply the Blue Jackets admitting that they will not be competing this year as they will not have that playmaker who can change games. Instead the Blue Jackets will need to put in a full team effort to get their wins. The trade for Nash would include Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov who can provide plenty of offence but will not carry a team. The one big positive for the team in the offseason was the addition of Sergei Bobrovsky to fill a hole in the net. The Blue Jackets are not a strong team but they are a better collection of players rather than one or two who need to carry the team. The shortened season will not work out well for the Blue Jackets as they will have a lot of new pieces in place that will need some time to gel together. The 2013 season is not promising for the Jackets as they will likely fill the bottom of the division although maybe not at the bottom of the league.

 

Strength:
The Grit
– The team does not have a lot of top-tier talent but in the deal for Rick Nash would provide some solid players including some grit which they will need to win games this year as they cannot rely on the talent 

Weakness:
No Skill
– It’s not that they don’t have any skill but Artem Anisimov may be the only player who can replicate the style that Rick Nash had and without Rick Nash the Blue Jackets made a big downgrade that will not mean good things this year 

Biggest Addition:
Sergei Bobrovsky, G (Trade via Columbus)
– The one big positive for the Blue Jackets in the offseason was the addition of Bobrovsky who has shown that he can be a good goalie in the NHL and will take the top spot from Chris Mason in order to provide a solid net presence if he plays up to his potential 

Biggest Loss:
Rick Nash, C (Trade to NYR)
– It is clear that the loss of their best player and captain will have a big effect on the team as he was the heart and soul of the team and one of the few true playmakers on the team and his loss will mean a big hole to fill in the lineup

 

Detroit Red Wings:

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The Detroit Red Wings are a unique team as they have the reputation of being an old team every year and yet still make the playoffs. Last year the Wings would finish third in the division but would be eliminated in the first round. It was not a typical performance for the Wings but they would still make the playoffs despite a very veteran team. This year they will be without one of their most important veterans though as Niklas Lidstrom retired leaving big skates to fill. Nobody will replace Lidstrom but the combination of Niklas Kronwall and Brendan Smith on the blue line should be enough to help in the recovery. Meanwhile Pavel Datsyuk is back as one of the best forwards in the game along with Henrik Zetterberg and Valtteri Filppula they have a very potent attack. The addition of Jordin Tootoo and Mikael Smauelsson provide even more depth to an already good team. Jimmy Howard will stand firm in net with Jonas Gustafvsson backing him up as a good #2 behind a good goalie. The Red Wings are still an old team and with that they may take some time to get going during the 2013 season. Veterans could also mean knowing how to handle a situation like this even if they have never been in one before. The Red Wings are always a bit of a wild card but it is never good to bet against them. Expect the Wings to compete for the top spot although they will likely fight more for an at-large spot in the playoffs rather than the division crown this year.

 

Strength:
Depth
– The Red Wings are in a unique position where they can roll with four lines throughout every game and do not have anyone that is the only producer on the team meaning that they will be hard to find a weakness 

Weakness:
Their Age
– It is the eternal question for the Red Wings as they continually have one of the oldest teams in the NHL and they have continually overcome it but eventually the age will catch up with them but will 2013 be that year 

Biggest Addition:
Mikael Samuelsson, RW (Free Agent)
– As usual the Wings would not make any big moves in the offseason but they would continue to add depth including Samuelsson who will give the Wings another playmaker on another line to help them keep a strong four lines

Biggest Loss:
Niklas Lidstrom, D (Retirement)
– Anytime a team loses its leader it is a tough year and that is what the Red Wings have faced losing their captain and one of the best defenceman in the game in Lidstrom who retired after last year as the Wings need to move on once again from another veteran retirement

 

Nashville Predators:

Nashville Predators

The Predators are a team on the rise in the NHL as they have quietly become a contender almost every year. The Predators have been a constant presence in the playoff hunt including last year when they would finish in second place in the division. Before the playoffs the Preds would bring back former NHLer Alexander Radulov in a move that many thought of as strange. Radulov would provide more offence but many believed it was simply a way for Radulov to get back to the NHL. Radulov could not help the Predators in the second round of the playoffs as he would go almost unseen against the Phoenix Coyotes. Radulov would also be seen going out and drinking during the playoffs causing some big decisions for the coaches and general manager of the team. It was a massive drama for the team at the end of their season and now they hope to move on from it and get past that second round of the playoffs. Radulov is gone, like many had predicted, and so is the drama as the core of the team will be back to try to lead the Predators. Led by Mike Fisher and Shea Webber the Predators are back again to challenge for the division and a playoff run. The drama may not be all done though and the Predators will need to overcome that if they hope to make another solid run at the Stanley Cup. The Preds may be back in the playoffs this year but they will have to fight through the off the field distractions.

 

Strength:
The Core is Back
– Mike Fisher and Shea Webber are back along with Martin Erat and David Legwand as there is a clear core that the Predators have built success on as they all return to the lineup to try to continue their success 

Weakness:
Trust in the Management Failing
– First Radulov and then Ryan Suter and now Shea Webber have all had public issues with the management of the Predators as the belief in the management may be shaken with players looking to get out of the city 

Biggest Addition:
Nobody
– The Predators kept the same core they had last year and made no big splashes in the free agent market adding a few players but nobody that will make a major impact on the team this year 

Biggest Loss:
Ryan Suter, D (Free Agent)
– He was one half of one of the best defensive pairings in the NHL but he did not want to be a part of the team any longer as he would sign a deal with the Minnesota Wild taking one of the best defenceman away from the Predators

 

St. Louis Blues:

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The St. Louis Blues were one of the biggest surprises in the 2011-12 season as they were part of one of the biggest turnarounds of the season. The Blues would start the season in bad form leading to the firing of their head coach and the hiring of Ken Hitchcock. That would be the spark they needed as they would follow their new coach’s lead into the top spot in the division. It was a remarkable year but it would end earlier than they expected losing in a four game sweep against the Los Angeles Kings. The Blues were still a great story as they had a great season and in 2012-13 they hope to continue their momentum into another strong run at the Stanley Cup. They will hope to do this with the same team that they had a year ago as they hope that the team is finally up to that standard. Last year they were led by the great goaltending of Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliot along with the offence of David Backes and the defensive pairing of Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo. The team is a strong one but it is not known if Ken Hitchcock can do it again. There are a lot of questions surrounding this team this year especially when it comes to the continuation of their momentum. Ken Hitchcock has shown that he can handle this team and that is good for the Blues who will fight for the top spot again and find themselves in the playoffs once again.

 

Strength:
Last Season’s Momentum
– The 2011-12 seasons showed that the Blues have what it takes to be a great team in the NHL and with the same team back they should be able to capture that feeling again in order to push for the playoffs again 

Weakness:
The Letdown
– The momentum could be a bad thing though as they are in a perfect position for a massive letdown after a great finish to the season in 2011-12 a few bad games could put them down and end any hopes of another great run 

Biggest Addition:
Nobody
– The Blues laid essentially silent in the short free agent market as they felt that they had the team they needed and did not have any more time to look at anyone else as they will go with the same team as 2011-12

Biggest Loss:
Nobody
– Just like the additions the Blues would not add any big impact players to the team in the offseason as they will rely on the core from last year to help them back into the playoffs this year

 

Prediction:
1. Chicago Blackhawks
2. St. Louis Blues
3. Detroit Red Wings
4. Nashville Predators
5. Columbus Blue Jackets

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