Adam Pyde

Checking Up On Predictions: NHL Central Division

Checking Up On Predictions: NHL Central Division

We’re just over a week away from the unofficial midway point of the NHL season with the All Star Weekend in Columbus. That makes it is as good a time as any to go back in time and check back in on my pre-season predictions.

I said I was going to be 100% right at the time and as time has told, I sure wasn’t. However, I wasn’t totally out to lunch either. I’m actually better than a lot of people who get paid. Funny how far a little research can go a long way.

By: Adam Pyde – @Adam_Pyde

So first lets take a look at how I had the Central shaking out, where the team actually is, what I thought about them in the pre-season, and what I think of that team now.

Winnipeg Jets
Pre-season ranking: 7
Current ranking: 4 (52 points, wildcard)

What I said then:

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.

What I say now:

I’ll admit it. I whiffed here. The Jets are playing pretty good hockey right now. The biggest thing I missed on here is that Hutchinson would take over the goaltending job from the terrible Ondrej Pavalec. There is a saying that goes something like “Show me a good coach and I’ll show you an even better goaltender” and that’s the case here. If Hutchinson can keep it up, Maurice will probably be up for coach of the year.

Maurice hasn’t been totally undeserving though. The Jets played a stretch of about 2 weeks where they were missing their entire starting top-four on defence and still won games and controlled play. That is no easy task and that’s where strong coaching can come into play when you’re forced to adapt.

The forwards are doing their thing. Andrew Ladd continues to be one of the best wingers in the NHL that no one seems to talk about. Dustin Byfuglien is having another strong year. After a slow start, Mathieu Perrault has come alive with 25 points in his last 24 games. Mark Scheifele is also coming along nicely. I do wonder a bit about the 4th line of the forward group being good enough but that should be an easy problem to solve with a smart waiver pickup or two.

I’m really looking forward to playoff hockey in Winnipeg.

Colorado Avalanche
Pre-season ranking: 6
Current ranking: 6 (45 points)

What I said then:

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.

What I say now:

I need to stop being right so often or it is going to go to my head. Who could tell that a team that got grossly out-possessed, had the best record in one goal games in the NHL, and rode career years in goaltending would be unable to replicate that success again.

The goaltending has been okay this year. Reto Berra has been awful but anyone with two eyes and a heartbeat could have told you that after his time in Calgary. Semyon Varlamov has been better since returning from injury and Calvin Pickard has been great since being called up from the AHL. If they can ride those two they should be able to compete for a wildcard spot.

I guess Brad Stuart has been okay for him… but he’s still Brad Stuart. Luckily they’re getting a career year out of Erik Johnson who has really been terrific. Now whether this is a sign of things to come or an aberration, I’m not sure, but its good for the Avs nonetheless.

The forwards have been littered with disappointments, as far as scoring goes, and that might be the biggest issue for this team finding themselves on the outside looking in once again. Alex Tanguay has been great since returning from injury last year to the tune of 29 points in 42 games. Unfortunately, that leads the team. He’s tied with Jarome Iginla who also has 29 points. The players you’d expect to be leading the offence just aren’t. Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Ryan O’Reilly all have shooting percentages in the mid single digits which is absurd for their talent level.

I have a bit of a soft spot for the Avs because I can’t hate them anymore like I used to and Iggy 4 eva. I just wish they were better.

Minnesota Wild
Pre-season ranking: 5
Current ranking: 7 (41 points)

What I said then:

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.

What I say now:

If there is one franchise I was glad to be wrong about, it was the Wild. From the segment of obnoxious fans that “deserve” an outdoor game to display the teams putrid play-style to their crook owner to Matt Cooke and those gross contracts they handed out to Ryan Suter and Zach Parise then Thomas Vanek.

The forwards are doing fine. Parise and Jason Pominville are playing well enough, but Vanek has only 7 goals on the season. Jason Zucker leads the team in scoring with 15 goals and Nino Neiderretier is right behind him with 14. You’d hope to get some more production out of Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund but they’re not exactly under-producing.

Suter is not having a great season on defence but he’s kind of the story of the entire defence. He’s playing almost 30 minutes a night. Now is he playing 30 minutes a night because he’s that good? Close but not quite. Is he playing 30 minutes a night because the rest of the defence sucks that bad? Not quite. The defence as a whole just isn’t good enough and Suter’s play is a part of that. Would he be better off playing less? Probably, but there isn’t really anyone else to shoulder the load. Or at least no one coach Mike Yeo trusts.

The goaltending just blows though. Darcy Kuemper has not had a good season. Nicklas Backstrom can’t use that bloated contract to buy a save. Josh Harding got suspended by the team to start the year and has only played in 2 AHL games due to health complications with his MS. Hopefully Devan Dubnyk can come in and at least be stable.

This team could be in a lot of trouble this season and the jobs of coach Yeo and GM Cliff Fletcher are/should be on the hot seat.

Nashville Predators
Pre-season ranking: 4 (wildcard)
Current ranking: 1 (62 points)

What I said then:

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.

What I say now:

I really underestimated this team. Raise you hand if you had the Preds as the top team in the NHL? You’re a liar. I had people calling me out to lunch just saying I think they’d take a wild card spot.

We all knew the goaltending was going to be drastically improved with Pekka Rinne returning to health for most of the season. Unfortunately, he’s just gone down with a knee injury for the next 3-5 weeks. If he isn’t out too long, he can probably take home the Vezina trophy in a landslide as he’s proven not to just be a product of a strong defensive system under former coach Barry Trotz.

We all knew the defence was going to be good and tough with Shea Weber running the show back there. Roman Josi has had a great season. But the real breakout player for the Preds has been Ryan Ellis on defence. If there was such a thing as the Most Improved Player award, he’d be in the running to take it home this season.

The offence has been the real shocker though. I can’t remember any time in recent memory when the Predators boasted such a potent batch of scorers. Filip Forsberg is doing everything he can to be the best rookie in the NHL and has 39 points in 42 games. Mike Ribeiro has always been a talented scorer and is having a bounce back campaign. Colin Wilson is starting to score like a player deserving of his high draft position. Mike Fisher and Craig Smith are both having strong seasons. If James Neal can recover his goal scoring touch that he showed early in the season ( 6 goals in his first 7 games, 7 goals since in 29 games) then this team could challenge the Blackhawks in the playoffs.

Dallas Stars
Pre-season ranking: 3
Current ranking: 5 (45 points, no wildcard)

What I said then:

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.

What I say now:

Bit of a tale of two teams so far this season. The team that can’t defend and lost a bunch of games on defence and goaltender, and the team of the last month or so that has just outscored their problems.

The defence needed more work than I anticipated. Brendan Dillon didn’t quite turn into the player I thought and Alex Goligoski and Trevor Daley could only do so much. Things have gotten better lately with the addition of Jason Demers and waiver pickup David Schlemko gives them a useful depth player. They still need one more top four player to really make a push to the top.

They can score at will it seems. Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin are a dynamic duo. Jason Spezza is having a strong season whether it is on the first or second line. Erik Cole has bounced back with a 10 goal, 20 point season so far and could easily surpass his last seasons totals. Ales Hemsky has improved drastically of late as well with 16 points in 24 games after starting the year with 1 assist in 15 games.

If Kari Lehtonen can at least stop pucks with some regularity this team could win a playoff round on the year. He’s basically where this season is going to stop and start for the Stars as whoever else they put in net cannot get it done (a combined .866 save% between them).

Chicago Blackhawks
Pre-season ranking: 2
Current ranking: 2 (58 points)

What I said then:

This team is too good. They’ll probably win the Cup again or something. Pretty ho-hum in Chicago.

What I say now:

I won’t credit myself too much for getting this right. Saying the Blackhawks are good is like saying air exists.

They haven’t been quite as dominant as I’d thought though. Or at least, some players are and others are not. Jonathon Toews and Patrick Kane are great. Brandon Saad is having a great season and Marian Hossa continues to do his thing. Kris Versteeg has been putting up points which is all you can really ask of him. Brad Richards is providing strong secondary scoring. You do have to look at guys like Andrew Shaw and Patrick Sharp and wish they’d produce a bit more as both are having down seasons.

The defence hasn’t really skipped a beat even though it lost Nick Leddy in a trade. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are having strong seasons once again. Nik Hjalmarsson is anchoring the second pairing. Johnny Oduya is having a down season offensively which might actually be a blessing in the long run as it minimizes his contract demands or the impact leaving the roster after this season. He’s still reliably logging 20 minutes a game though. They’ve got a number of quality players they can run through their bottom pairing.

Corey Crawford is having a good year in net and his still only the third best goaltender to play for the ‘Hawks this year if you go by save percentage. Both backups, Scott Darling and Anti Raanta, have outperformed him. What a nice luxury that must be.

I’m putting my Cup vote here.

St. Louis Blues
St. Louis Blues v Boston Bruins
Pre-season ranking: 1
Current ranking: 3 (57 points)

What I said then:

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.

What I say now:

Another time I can’t pat myself on the back. We all knew the Blues would be good. But are the good enough to get passed Chicago come playoff time? I don’t know.

They’ve got a true gamebreaker on offence for the first time in years with Vladimir Tarasenko just lighting the league up. Jaden Schwartz is also having a strong year and Kevin Shattenkirk is scoring at will and running the powerplay. Alex Steen is having another great season.

None of Paul Stastny, David Backes or TJ Oshie are in the top scorers of the team, but they’re having solid seasons as well. This is a really balanced and responsible offence.

The defence is as hallmark as you could imagine. Alex Pietrangelo is dynamite and Shattenkirk is terrific. You’d ideally want a little extra out of Jay Bouwmeester offensively but he’s still playing a big role and playing it well. Carl Gunnarsson has provided a great upgrade on Roman Polak. Somehow Barret Jackman has 12 points.

Goaltending is as it always is for the Blues. Solid and the system makes the goalies look fantastic. Jake Allen has had some bumps along the road but is still playing well. Brian Elliot is the number one and does everything you ask of him in net.

So are the good enough to beat the Blackhawks? Yes. But can they do it? It’ll be fun to find out.

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