Articles

The Season – Central Division

In Hockey Hits on October 1, 2010 by geespotting

THE SEASON

CENTRAL DIVISION

…Time now for a run-down of the three divisions in the Western Conference. We start in the Central, where you will see that my keys to success for most clubs starts between the pipes. For all 5 teams, goaltending will be the difference between home ice advantage, or a playoff spot. Here is a look at the top 5 teams this season.

1. DETROIT RED WINGS

FRANCHISE PLAYER: Jimmy Howard

…I already know what you are thinking, Jimmy Howard as the franchise player on the Wings! It’s a team stocked with talent, but, that talent relies on each other maybe more than the rest of the upper echelon teams in the league. It was a struggle last year for Detroit in the regular season, but, it was Howard who took the team on his back, and rode them into a great late season run. Injuries played a huge role in the poor start in Hockeytown, but, Howard’s numbers were remarkable, and earned him a Calder Trophy nomination as top rookie. Detroit will finish first because there is way too much talent not to. Heading into this season, they are healthy too.  Nicklas Lidstrom is another year older, but, he doesn’t have to command the ice time like he did in previous years. Bryan Rafalski adds relief for Nick on the power play, and younger players Nicklas Kronwall and Jonathon Ericsson have proved to be a good fit too. Up front, the Wings have their regular cast of stars in Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Franzen, Filpulla and now Jiri Hudler. After a year away in Europe, Hudler is back, better, and adds to that depth that Detroit already has. I don’t think we will see the stumble like last year, and look for the Wings to be back on top again.

PRIME POOL PIX: Jimmy Howard, Nicklas Lidstrom, Bryan Rafalski, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Jiri Hudler.

BUYER BEWARE: Chris Osgood, Niklas Kronwall, Todd Bertuzzi, Tomas Holmstrom.

2. CHICAGO BLACK HAWKS

FRANCHISE PLAYER: Duncan Keith

…Will the Cup champs repeat? I am thinking they won’t, but, it is a long season, and they still have the best core of players in the league. Will there be a Cup hangover? I am thinking there will be, but, this team will still be good enough to finish 2nd in the division, and still make a run at Lord Stanley’s mug again. In net, Anti Niemi left for California waters, and was replaced by Marty Turco. Turco’s best days are behind him, and he should be challenged for the top spot in the pipes by Corey Crawford. There were goaltending concerns last year for the Hawks…but, it didn’t really hinder them as they rode their way to the Cup win. On defence, their first four, are as good as anyone else’s in the game. Duncan Keith, maybe the player of the year last year in the NHL, his partner Brent Seabrook, Brian Campbell and Nik Hjalmarsson make up that big four. The problem for them could be in the relief department, as the 5 and 6 d-men, are among the lowest rated in the league. Up front, the group of  Toews, Kane, Hossa, Sharp and Bolland are still there, and all healthy heading into this season. Last year, the Hawks had to play a good amount of time without Hossa and Bolland. That’s a pretty good group of gunners, but, again, like on the point, the depth drops incredibly after those players. With the Olympics last year…and a ton of icetime in the future for these young Hawks, I can see them burn-out, and maybe get burned in the first round of the playoffs. Only time will tell.

PRIME POOL PIX: Marty Turco, Duncan Keith, Brian Campbell, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp.

BUYER BEWARE: Brent Seabrook, Dave Bolland.

3. ST.LOUIS BLUES

FRANCHISE PLAYER: Jaroslav Halak

…Last season was a step back for a team that many had picked to be ready for a breakthrough. I expect that breakthrough to be this year. It starts in net, and starts with Jaroslav Halak, who finally gets to be a number one goalie, and number one without an asterisk. Unless last year was truly a flash in the pan, expect Jaroslav to be among the most played, and most talked about tenders of the season. That’s a good start. After that, the Blues have a pretty mobile blue-line with youngsters Erik Johnson and Alex Pietrangelo, and some experience with Eric Brewer and Barrett Jackman. For the most part, this blueline is healthy too, which it hasn’t been for a number of years heading into a new season. Up front, the focus will be on the young players, after the likes of Paul Kariya and Keith Tkachuk are now gone. Expect bigger things from T.J. Oshie, Alex Steen and Patrick Berglund. There should also be bounceback seasons from Brad Boyes and Andy McDonald. The Blues also have some added toughness up front, so, they won’t be an easy team to push around. They might be leaving other teams singin’ the Blues.

PRIME POOL PIX: Jaroslav Halak, Erik Johnson, Andy McDonald, Brad Boyes, T.J. Oshie, David Backes, David Perron, Alex Steen.

BUYER BEWARE: Patrick Berglund.

4. NASHVILLE PREDATORS

FRANCHISE PLAYER: Pekka Rinne

…As much as Jaro Halak will be the key for success in St. Loo, the same can be said of Rinne in Nashville. I expect him to be one of the stories this season, as the Preds will once again find a way to scrape into a playoff position. After losing some depth, Pekka’s play will have to be better than last year for the Preds to push into a playoff position. Dan Hamhuis, a Nashville staple, is now gone, and that hole will be hard to fill on the blueline. The good news is, the Preds have the best set of young defencemen in all of hockey. If they don’t play for Nashville, they will certainly pose as good bait for deals down the road. Shea Weber and Ryan Suter are the cornerstones of this blueline, and Cody Franson, Kevin Klein and Ryan Parent provide great support. Up front, Jason Arnott is gone, and we may have already seen the best of players such as Steve Sullivan, J.P. Dumont and David Legwand. That means there will be on Martin Erat, Patric Hornqvist, Colin Wilson and the newly acquired Matthew Lombardi. I think there could be a few stumbles in Music City, but, as always, they will do enough to make the playoffs, and that always seems to be enough in Nashville.

PRIME POOL PIX: Pekka Rinne, Shea Weber, Martin Erat, Matthew Lombardi, Patric Hornqvist.

BUYER BEWARE: David Legwand, J.P. Dumont, Steve Sullivan.

5. COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS

FRANCHISE PLAYER: Steve Mason

…I mentioned that this division would be dominated by goaltending lead-ins, and it’s no different in Columbus. During his rookie season, Mason came on board, and lead the Jackets into their first ever post season. This past year, Mason struggled, and Columbus assumed it’s regular position of being on the sidelines once the playoffs began. Mason will have to regain that form if the BJ’s are to have any chance of getting a sniff of the playoffs one more time. There will have to be a few more miracles too for the post season dream to exist. Columbus has never really had a big name d-man, and this year’s group are mediocore at best. There is more promise up front as Rick Nash is still there, and will still produce close to 40 goals, and 80 points. He has a good supporting cast with the likes of R.J. Umberger, Antoine Vermette and Kristian Huselius. There are some young players who will be expected to do more with Jakub Voracek and Nikita Filatov looking to fill top 6 spots, and Derick Brassard who should be better than last year. Sadly, for Blue Jacket fans, all of that promise just isn’t enough to compete in the tough Central Division. I expect there to be not a whole lot of buzz coming from these Blue Jackets.

PRIME POOL PIX: Steve Mason, Rick Nash, Antoine Vermette, Kristian Huselius, Jakub Voracek, Derick Brassard.

BUYER BEWARE: Kris Russell, Nikita Filatov, R.J. Umberger.

…So, that starts the West Conference. Tomorrow, it’s a look at the Pacific, where things will remain status quo for the new season. Details tomorrow.

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