As the NHL season begins year two from its lockout, teams and players are eagerly trying to get ready and make a favorable impression to the rest of the league. This season aims to provide conundrums in terms of victors and loser similar to last year’s winners of Carolina, Edmonton, and Buffalo or the losers of Toronto, Boston, and Vancouver. This update I will tackle the Central division in hopes of finding new changes, surprises, and disappointments.
For about the past decade, the Detroit Red Wings have been known as the cream of the crop for what a NHL team should be like. The Wings have won three titles propelling them to elite status with the likes of Yzerman, Federov, and Shanahan. However, with these players currently situated on somewhere else, the Detroit Red Wings look like a team of the past, severely impeding their chances of playoff entrance. It’s true the team still has notable young stars in Zetterberg, Datsyuk, and Kronwall, but beside these excellent players, the Detroit Red Wings are seriously lagging in most other aspects. Albeit the Red Wings have a solid two lines of defense, depth is seriously lacking for the last line, and heaven forbid Lidstrom or Schneider gets injured, the Red Wings could be seriously in defensive trouble, especially when Hasek comes out again. Offensively, the situation is similar as depth is seriously troubling after the first or second line. With notables like Williams and Samuelsson having career years last season, expect Detroit to have trouble in all areas this year which unfortunately will pull them out of the playoffs for the first time in a long period.
The Nashville Predators have continued to evolve each season since expansion and look to provide an excellent season again this year. With notable additions such as Vasicek, Arnott, and Dumont, the Predators add to an already solid team, potentially making them the favorites in the West this year. With one of the best goalies in the game in Vokoun, and a solid defense led by Zidlicky and Timonen, the Predators should have absolutely no trouble making the playoffs, especially when playing in such an easy division. With a lethal power play which only Anaheim or Ottawa can compete with, and young rookies such as Radulov looking to make an impact this season, look for Nashville to be a strong contender in the West as illustrated by their impressive roster.
As the last expansion team in the NHL, the Columbus Blue Jackets have had limited success making the playoffs compared to other newly formed teams such as Nashville and Minnesota. However, while the Blue Jackets play in a pretty easy division, there are some problems regarding Columbus’s lineup which makes me wary of why they should be placed in the playoffs. Offensively speaking, the Blue Jackets look solid with a nice young core in Brule, Zherdov, and Nash. Alongside other notables such as Carter, Modin, and Fedorov, Columbus should have no problem scoring. Defensively is another story unfortunately. Besides Foote and possible Berard if his steroid problem is fixed, the Blue Jackets are severely limited in this area. Along with the departure of Denis to a lesser goalie in Leclaire, the Blue Jackets might have to score a cornucopia of times each game to compete. While Columbus does seem to look like a success in finding another hockey city, Blue Jacket fans will more than likely be forced to see their team miss the playoffs yet again.
What a mess it has been in Chicago. From a terrible owner to an incompetent team, Blackhawk fans (if any still exist) have endured too much the past decade. While there was a small sense of a shakeup this off season in landing player such as Handzus, Havlat, and Smolinski, the Hawks had to accomplish such a favorable feat by getting rid of their previous stars in Bell and Calder. While the goaltending is solid with Khabibulin regardless of his stats last year, with that terrible defense, Brodeur would have significant trouble protecting the net as well. The first two lines for the Hawks do look solid, but after that you are given fringe players who should probably been in the AHL. The Hawks do have a good prospect base in Barker and Toews among others, but for this season don’t expect anything spectacular from this depressing team.
Infamously the worst team last season, the St. Louis Blues went from the being the record holder of consecutive playoff appearances to a disgrace. However things do look better for Blues fans this season. Adding a bunch of players in Weight, Guerin, Rucinsky, McKee, and Legace among others, the Blues are looking to get back into playoff action after stealing Erik Johnson in the draft. The peculiar idea behind this ideal is that this situation might work. A lot of the players the Blues signed underachieved last season, and with the right motivation you could see a possible playoff team. With a solid offense, a solid defense, and good goaltending dyad, the Blues have the keys to possibly slip in. The only problem I can foresee however is the lack of chemistry during the beginning of the season which unfortunately could cost them a playoff spot. However, if St. Louis manages to keep the same group of players in later years, expect the Blues to be singing anything but that in the near future.
Final Central Results for the 2006-2007 Season (Rank based on Western standings):
2. Nashville Predators
9. St. Louis Blues
10. Detroit Red Wings
14. Columbus Blue Jackets
15. Chicago Blackhawks