5. Columbus Blue Jackets-Within an hour of the Kings acquiring Mike Richards from Philly, Columbus got in on the action and got C Jeff Carter from the Flyers as well. But that wasn't the only big move the Jackets made over the summer. They signed D-Man James Wisniewski to a ridiculous 6 year/$33 million deal. But behind their top line, this team has way too many question marks (2nd & 3rd lines, defensive depth, and goaltending) for them to be relevant this year. It will be a long year in the basement for Columbus.
4. St Louis Blues-For some reason, people are picking St. Louis to be a playoff team. I just don't see it. They have a balanced scoring attack, but no real big scorer. They have a nice young defensive core, but nothing that says they are gonna be great this year. And I like their goalie Jaroslav Halak, but can he step up and be the big time goalie they need him to be? Many things need to go right for St. Louis this year, for them to get a playoff spot. And I just don't see that happening.
3. Nashville Predators-Nashville had the 3rd best defensive team in the NHL last year behind Vancouver and Boston. So the Preds, are really bringing the same team back in 2011. It was also the same team that finished 22nd in scoring last year. They also bring back Vezina Trophy (Top Goalie) finalist Pekka Rinne between the pipes. As much as their offense doesn't score, they still have a great defense. And it will keep the Preds in the hunt for a playoff spot all year.
2. Detroit Red Wings-Really ever since the mid '90s, the Red Wings have been the best in this division. But, that run is quickly coming to an end. Their stars are getting older, and their farm system doesn't look like its going to produce any good replacements any time soon. But, this team was still one of the best scoring teams in the NHL last year. But that will only take them so far, with all the good defensive teams there are out there. The Wings will still have a stellar 2011-12 season, but they certainly won't be tops in this division.
1. Chicago Blackhawks-Prior to Last year, the Blackhawks literally watched half their roster get turned over following their Stanley Cup championship. They then suffered the championship hangover, as they underperformed, but still made it into the playoffs (You can send a thank you card to 199 W Kellogg Blvd, St. Paul, MN). This year, the Hawks should be back in prime form. They have a great offense (lead by Kane, Toews, and Hossa), a solid defensive core (lead by Seabrook and Keith), and they may have solved their goaltending issues for a while with Corey Crawford. The Hawks are lock to win the division this year, and also should be a Cup contender once again.
Tomorrow, we will look at the last division, the Northwest division.