2013-14 NHL Preview: Central Division (Part 2)


The realignment has been a big story in the preseason as new divisions mean new opponents and new rivalries. This change in alignment for the NHL would all come down to one thing as one team’s move would require a massive change. The Atlanta Thrashers were struggling in 2011 and instead of fighting two battles, Phoenix would go under NHL ownership, the NHL decided that they would give up. Atlanta would move to Winnipeg and in the haste that the decision was made the Thrashers would become the Jets and fly to Winnipeg to start the 2011 season. There was no time to change anything in the league and the Jets would sit in the Eastern Conference far from their rightful place in the NHL. The Jets would sit far from most of their competitors playing in the Southeast Division and travelling to Florida multiple times a year. When the Jets entered the league and were placed in the Eastern Conference the writing was on the wall as the NHL would need a change. Of course this change could not happen last year as the NHL and NHLPA would be embroiled in more important things than realignment. The lockout would delay the decision to change the league but with time to do it they would make the decision this year. There were multiple smaller fixes like moving a few teams around to different divisions in order to put Winnipeg in the West. Instead the NHL decided that they would take this opportunity to fix many faults to the alignment of the divisions. The Red Wings and Blue Jackets would move East while the Jets would finally get their wish and move to the West. The Jets are finally in the West and the realignment debate is over with four new divisions that have put everyone in their rightful place. The Jets move to the West was much more than a simple geographical decision. The jets were moved to the west giving them a better travel schedule and putting them among the teams that they should be facing. Above all they were placed in the same position as the Minnesota Wild creating a natural rivalry between the two. Manitoba and Minnesota share a border between two countries and there is sure to be fans of both teams at every game. The rivalry will be sure to heat up as both teams will fight it out all season in the same division giving the Jets their first real rivalry. The move to the West has given the Jets a new life in the NHL as their long trips will be gone and a new rivalry will begin. Realignment has done plenty for a lot of teams and the Jets were the start of all of it as they join the Central Division.


Nashville Predators


The Nashville Predators were trending up as they remained an under the radar team but were beginning to gain respect. Every year it seemed like they would be making the playoffs and for many it seemed only a matter of time before they would be true contenders in the NHL. Then the troubles started with Alexander Radulov causing problems on an off day during the playoffs. The team would unravel from there as Shea Weber would get into a contract battle that would see him almost signed by the Philadelphia Flyers through an offer sheet. Weber would be kept but Ryan Suter would leave and the Predators became a shell of their former team. The defence was always the team’ strength but when Ryan Suter left they were in big trouble. Shea Weber is a good defenceman but he could not do what he was best at when Suter was not there to support him. That was one of the biggest issues of last season but this year the Preds would get a little lucky when Seth Jones fell to them at the third pick. The 6’4” defenceman was considered the top pick in the draft but Colorado and Tampa Bay would pass on him giving Nashville their new star defenceman. Jones will struggle like most rookie defenceman but he will likely adjust faster than many of them as he has the physical gifts that many do not. The defence is back to being a focus for this team as Weber and Jones will be joined by Roman Josi and Kevin Klein to make up a defence that is still rebuilding. Behind them will be a solid force as always with Pekka Rinne remaining their starting goalie to clean up any mistakes. The offence is a bigger concern this year though as they would not make any major adjustments to a team that has always struggled to score goals. Viktor Stalberg was the only big addition to a team that includes Mike Fisher and Gabriel Bourque as the only real scoring threats. Without a great defence to back them up the Predators are going to be exposed as a weak offensive team. The Preds will miss the playoffs this year as they have more work to do in order to get back to the stable force they used to be.


– It is not what it used to be but Pekka Rinne is a legitimate netminder that can continue to help when the men in front of him make a mistake which they will do as this group has potential but they are still developing

Offensive Production
– The offence is simply not good enough to keep up and they rarely have been good enough but without a great defence to back them up the true weakness of the Preds will be exposed as they need more production up front

Biggest Addition:
Seth Jones, D (Draft)
– The Preds have always valued defence so when they saw Jones available at the #3 position in the draft they had to take him as they hope he can eventually develop into an impact player that will work well with Weber

Biggest Loss:
– The Predators would not lose many players this offseason and the ones they did lose were not major contributors as the holes have been filled and they will not miss any of the players that are no longer here


St. Louis Blues


The Blues have snuck up on everyone as they had been in the basement for a long time but have climbed out quickly. The Blues still give off that vibe of being a team that you can easily look past and that can be beat. Yet they have become one of the scariest teams in the league as they will sneak up and easily beat teams that look by them. The reason for their rise has been their head coach Ken Hitchcock who would come in and change this team in a big way. Since Hitchcock took over the team they have become a constant playoff contender and still they have not been able to take it that far. The team is ready to go above what is expected of them and ready to take this season deep into the playoffs. Up front the Blues do not have any one true goal scorer but that is not a bad thing when almost every player can score. David Backes, Alexander Steen, T.J. Oshie, Chris Stewart, Jaden Schwartz, Vladimir Taresenko and new additions Magnus Paajarvi and Derek Roy all have the ability to put up points. This can put plenty of pressure on opposing defences who will try to stop the scoring with their third pairing. The defence for the Blues is led by Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo who make up a very good top pair. Joining them will be a deep pool that includes Barrett Jackman, Kevin Shattenkirk, Jordan Leopold, and Roman Polak that all have the ability to shut down good players. In net will be the biggest questions as Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak made a great pair in 2011-12 winning the Tim Jennings Trophy for best team GAA. Last year they were not the same as they were and now entering a contract year both will be wanting to showcase what they have. Two goalies are a good thing to have but when both can win games and both are good enough to start it may become a problem. The Blues have all of the pieces to be a good team this year as they will not be dominant but could be that sneaky team once again. They Blues can expect to be in the playoffs again this year as they will not go away and will be ready to challenge in the playoffs.


Depth of Talent
– The Blues may not have any superstars on their team but when you put a team on the ice that will not give other teams a break whether on offence or defence that means that there are few weak spots

Goaltending Battle
– Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak are both good goaltenders and their pairing was great in 2011-12 but this has happened before in Vancouver and that can mean plenty of drama behind the scenes especially when both players are free agents at the end of the year

Biggest Addition:
Magnus Paajarvi, LW (Trade, Edm)
– The Blues do not have a true scorer on their offence but they have depth and adding to that depth with be Paajarvi who has the potential to be a very exciting player and given a fair chance with a balanced team might give him the opportunity to be a factor

Biggest Loss:
Andy McDonald, LW (Retirement)
– Leadership is always hard to come by and with Andy McDonald retiring this year the Blues will be without one of their biggest leaders and another producer on the offensive side of the ice as he will be missed on and off the ice


Winnipeg Jets


The Winnipeg Jets are very happy to be in the West finally as they have spent two years in the Eastern Conference. While in the East he Jets would be forced to travel more than any other team in the NHL and it may have been too much. They have been a team that hangs right on the edge of the playoffs but does not seem to be able to make it in. This year the change in travel could make a difference and put them over the edge. If not people will begin to get impatient as the Winnipeg fans are happy to have a team but are sick of seeing their team fall just short. The Jets brass is taking a calculated slow approach to the rebuild of what was the Atlanta Thrashers and it is clearly working. The jets have never had a terrible season since they move North as they have never been at the bottom of the league. Instead they have slowly climbed up the standings and last year it would result in the Jets fighting until the last week of the season to make the playoffs. They would not get it though as they spent another postseason out of the playoffs. Now they enter another season looking to continue their slow climb while the pressure increases on this team to do something big to get back into the playoffs. They would make some moves to improve the team this year adding Devin Setoguchi to the offence and adding another scoring threat. Setoguchi will be added to a group that includes Blake Wheeler, Andrew Ladd, Evander Kane, and Mark Scheifele, who will try to make an impression this year. The Offence does not have a lot of stars but they continue to push through and grind out wins to compete. The defence is led by Dustin Byfuglien who is looking to be more consistent this year alongside Tobias Enstrom, and Zach Bogosian to make a good but not great group. The goaltending situation is settled as Ondrej Pavelec has proven to be a good backstop and a reliable person in net. The Jets are getting better every year and a new division means more competition for the playoffs. A wild card spot is not out of the question for the Jets this year but they will have to fight for it with some good teams and might find themselves out of it again.


Commitment from Above
– The front office of the Jets is not crumbling under the pressure of the fans and the media as they are willing to wait and see their team develop into a playoff contender which is a good thing for the team because is means stability

Slow Grind
– The Jets are committed to this slow work to make them a playoff contender and although it is good for the team as a whole there is only so long that people will wait for them to be good including the players as issues may arise this year from the locker room

Biggest Addition:
Devin Setoguchi, RW (Trade, Min)
– Adding a player like Setoguchi means that the Jets have given a legitimate scorer to the second line that will help Evander Kane to develop into the player he should be while adding points

Biggest Loss:
Nik Antropov, C (Free Agent, KHL)
– In another coup for the KHL Antropov would leave Winnipeg for Russia and that removes what became a solid producer for the Jets who will be missed on a team that is full of grinders but few true goal scorers


Central Prediction:
1. Chicago Blackhawks
2. St. Louis Blues
3. Winnipeg Jets
4. Minnesota Wild
5. Dallas Stars
6. Nashville Predators
7. Colorado Avalanche

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