Adam Pyde

NHL 2014 Preview: Central Division

NHL 2014 Preview: Central Division

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls,  welcome to part three of the flawless 2014 NHL preview. We find ourselves in the Central Division today. Who’s new to the mid-West? Who has playoff hopes? What about Stanley Cup chances? This is by far the best conference in hockey after all the real teams in the division went and made themselves better.

By: Adam Pyde – @Adam_Pyde

Holy moly is Conference III ever the best conference in hockey.

Winnipeg Jets
jets
Needs: Staring goaltender, bottom-six depth players
In: Mathieu Perrault, T.J. Galiardi
Out: Olli Jokinen, Al Montoya, Devin Setoguchi

The team: This team is so mediocre its bad.

The forwards have potential. Evander Kane and Mark Scheifele could be something special together one day, but after that it is only five players deep: Andrew Ladd, Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little for offence and Michael Frolik and Mathieu Perrault as quality depth players.

The rest of the forwards are pretty embarrassing though. Galiardi could be a decent depth forward.

The defence actually isn’t that terrible but it depends where Byfuglien plays. If he’s on defence, he’s a difference maker and they have a great top four. If he isn’t on D then its a little thin. Jacob Trouba and Tobias Enstrom are studs.

The goaltending is awful though. Just abhorrent. Ondrej Pavelec is an embarrassment to the city of Winnipeg and anyone who likes hockey. He single-handed cost the Jets the playoffs every season.

Will they make the playoffs? Not a chance.
They’re in a deep division and an equally deep conference. They’d need a godsend of a goaltending performance to make the playoffs. Almost by default they’ll find themselves in the McEichel sweepstakes.

Nashville Predators
predators-web
Needs: First line center, first line winger, second pairing defenceman
In: Derek Roy, Olli Jokinen, Mike Ribiero, James Neal, Peter Laviolette (coach)
Out: Patrick Hornquist, Nick Spaling, Michael Del Zotto, Mike Fisher (injury), Barry Trotz (coach)

The team: How many NHL teams do you know that have nine centers? Because the Predators do, and you don’t go anywhere in this league without quality centermen. And they have some skill now with Roy, Ribiero and Jokinen.

Neal gives them a talented finisher on the wing. Filip Forsberg will likely make the team in a scoring role. The top six in Nashville might actually be able to reliably score for a change.

The defence can’t be bad. It has Shea Weber. Roman Josi is a solid top four option and Seth Jones is dripping in potential. The d-core is rounded out nicely  by Mattias Ekholm in the remaining minute eating spots.

A new coach and a new system is going to be something to pay attention to in Nashville. After the adjustment period, a lot of guys could have some serious offensive numbers and you have to assume they’re breakout will be less garbage.

A full season of Pekka Rinne is a full season of Vezina goaltending.

Will they make the playoffs? Yes.
They’ve got the deepest set of offensive players since the days of Paul Kariya. The only issue is how quickly it takes the team to adapt to a new coach and system.

Dallas Stars
Dallas-Stars-AP-Image
Needs: A second line,  top-three defenceman
In: Jason Spezza, Ales Hemsky, Anders Lindback
Out: Alex Chaisson

The team: GM Jim Nill has done an excellent job. He’s taken a team without a top six set of forwards and built one of envy in two off-seasons.

First it was Tyler Seguin and Valeri Nichushkin to play with Jamie Benn. This year he has Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky to back them up as the Stars have a second line for the first time in ages. They already had a dynamite third line and a respectable group of grinders on their fourth line. Nice offence.

Kari Lehtonen gives Dallas the goaltending to win games every night. He’ll have to be as good as ever with the non-existent puck stopping abilities of Lindback in the backup position.

The defence is okay, but Brendan Dillon needs to be signed to give their top four any oomph. They’ll be looking to acquire another player to take some minutes from Goligoski. He played the role of a #1 defenceman well, but you want to support him. If Sergei Gonchar can regain any sense of previous form then offence from the defence won’t be as big an issue.

Will they make the playoffs? Yes.
They’ve addressed one of their two glaring weaknesses by having an actual second line. The defense still needs work but they can quite possibly slide up a spot in the standings with these moves and GM Jim Nill won’t be scared to make another move improve the team.

Minnesota Wild
nhl-stanley-cup-playoffs-minnesota-wild-colorado-avalanche
Needs: Top four defenceman, figure out their goaltending mess
In: Thomas Vanek
Out: Clayton Stoner, Matt Moulson, Dany Heatley

The team: When you look at this roster, you’d think the team would be better. The parts don’t seem to add up, or at least not yet.

They have a very deep group of forwards with a strong mix of veterans and kids. Lead by Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, Jason Pominville and Vanek, the top six in Minnesota is pretty envious. Filling out the rest of the top with some combination of Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund and Erik Haula isn’t bad at all. Kyle Brodziak is a good third line center. They boast a lot of serviceable players for the fourth line.

The defence perfectly fine. Led by Ryan Suter, they are able to munch minutes and keep their heads above water. Christian Folin could turn into a very good player for them to go with their other young defenders like Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella. Jonas Brodin will need a bounce back campaign as a third year pro.

The biggest issue is goaltending. Niklas Backstrom is not good. Josh Harding is good, but can’t keep himself off the IR for one reason or another. Darcy Kuemper looks like he has the tools to be a starter, but with only 32 NHL games you still wonder if he really has what it takes.

Will they make the playoffs? Yes.
They’re a good club, even if they have a game of musical chairs for a goaltending situation. Playing in the toughest division isn’t helping matters though. They’ll have an easier time scoring with Vanek and they were one of last season’s best second half teams.

Chicago Blackhawks
7036118
Needs: Second line center
In: Brad Richards
Out: Brandon Bollig

The team: This team is so deep and talented it is stupid and not fair. Somehow, they managed to get even better.

They acquired the second line center they have NEVER had in Brad Richards. If he fails, which is unlikely as it gets, Finnish wunderkind Teuvo Teravainen can step in and take over.

Just look at this.

Sharp-Toews-Hossa
Saad-Richards-Kane
Bickell-Shaw-Smith
Versteeg-Krueger-Morin-Regin

Or something.

The defence is also stupid good. If you’ve ever wondered what a group of 6 players that can make tape-to-tape passes looks like, this is it.

Keith-Seabrook
Hjalmarsson-Oduya
Roszival-Leddy

The only “weakness” is goaltender. Corey Crawford is good enough, but he never really steals the team any games.

I guess the contracts of Versteeg of Bickell suck too.

Will they make the playoffs? Duh.
This team is too good. They’ll probably win the Cup again or something. Pretty ho-hum in Chicago.

St. Louis Blues
St. Louis Blues v Boston Bruins
Needs: Starting goaltender, 1b centerman
In: Paul Stastny, Joni Lehtera, Peter Mueller, Carl Gunnarsson
Out: Roman Polak, Ryan Miller, Vladimir Sobotka, Derek Roy

The team: is good.

Another ridiculous collection of talent. The entire team is great defensively – whether that is a byproduct of their system, who knows.

The forwards don’t quite have a game-breaking talent, but they have absurd depth. Stastny adds another strong defensive player to a group of strong defensive players, and he has the ability to score 60+ points a season. Big upgrade on Sobotka. Lehtera and Mueller provide some talented scoring depth. Their forwards are just so deep.

Gunnarsson adds a solid defenceman to the lineup and he’ll be an upgrade over relative pylon Polak. He’ll make it even harder to score on what is arguably the best top three in the NHL with Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester and Kevin Shattenkirk. For some reason they still play Barret Jackman though.

The only real issue is in net with career Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde “starter” Brian Elliot. He’s not likely to be the “starter” for long with impressive youngster Jake Allen working his way up, but you don’t want to jump the gun and crown the kid before he proves it over a season.

Will they make the playoffs? Yes.
This team is also really, really good. I don’t know if they’ll get over the Chicago-hump this year but they have quite possibly the very deepest team in the NHL.

Colorado Avalanche
mackinnon
Needs: Two top-four defenceman, top-six winger
In: Jarome Iginla, Daniel Briere, Brad Stuart
Out: P.A. Paranteau, Paul Stastny

The team: Not exactly a fan of the moves they made. At absolute best they were lateral.

They have an impressive top six forwards, but not much depth. Losing Stastny isn’t a good thing. Iginla should be able to help replace the offence and Mackinnon’s progression will help, but it’s still a real big hole when you lose your best defensive center.

Briere is barely a hockey player at this point in his career. He’s about the equivalent of a shinny player stepping onto NHL ice.

The defence only really has like three NHLers on it, and one of them isn’t very good anymore in Stuart. His best days are long past. They really needed an upgrade this season and didn’t really get it.

The only real hope for this team is to get a career performance in net again from Semyon Varlamov, who spent the previous five seasons looking like a barely okay backup. Is he really one of the best goalies in the NHL? Or was he just riding a hot year like so many have done before?

Will they make the playoffs? No.
I don’t predict doom, but I just don’t see them getting a career performance again in net. They wildly overperformed last year and won’t come close to repeating.

Final standings prediction:
1. St.Louis Blues
2. Chicago Blackhawks
3. Dallas Stars
4. Nashville Predators (wildcard)
5. Minnesota Wild (wildcard)
6. Colorado Avalanche
7. Winnipeg Jets

Some thanks to Chris and Graham in this blog.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter @adam_pyde.

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