Tuesday, January 15, 2013

NHL 2013 Preview: Central Division

5. Columbus Blue Jackets-This is just about the poorest looking hockey team, one has seen in quite some time. Their top line consists of Artim Anisimov, Brandon Dubinsky, and RJ Umberger (Anisimov and Dubinsky came in the return package for Rick Nash). They finally found someone to talk over for Steve Mason as the #1 goalie in Sergei Bobrovsky, but Bobrovsky has not played #1 minutes before. They have a blueline of overrated players (led by James Wisniewski and Jack Johnson), and a coach who couldn't win with better talent on a different team (Former Wild bench boss Todd Richards). Columbus is a lock to finish last in this division, and finish last in all of the NHL.

4. Nashville Predators-Nashville was poised to make a deep playoff run last year. But, all they could do was get past the first round, then bow out to Phoenix in the second round. But despite the loss of Ryan Suter in the offseason, this is still a pretty good team. They rely on defense (Led by Norris finalist Shea Weber) and goaltending (Pekka Rinne enters 2013 as one of the best in hockey between the pipes) to win games. They don't scare you much offensively, so if you can get up past 3 goals a game on them, you have a good chance to win. Nashvilee has a good core, but they lack scoring to be a serious threat to win the division. They will be a team battling for a low playoff seed in late April.

3. Detroit Red Wings-Last year, we Detroit's run of dominating the Central division come to an end. They finished 3rd in the division and were sent home by Nashville in the first round of the playoffs. Then in the offseason, they lost their team leader, Nicklas Lidstrom, to retirement. To replace him, the Wings will have youngster Brendan Smith take the spot on the top Defense line. The Wings are still solid up front, with Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg leading the charge. The defense is now pretty average that Lidstrom is gone, and their attempts to replace him with a high profile name (Ryan Suter, Justin Schultz), failed. Jimmy Howard is sneaky good between the pipes, but Jonas Gustavsson will have to step up his game as the back up after coming over. This is still a playoff team, but they are not anywhere close to being at the top of the West hierarchy, like they used to be.

2. Chicago Blackhawks-Perhaps no team has underachieved more in the last 2 seasons than the Chicago Blackhawks. They barely made the playoffs in 2011, and they were handed a first round playoff exit by Phoenix in 2012. And no player has taken more heat than Patrick Kane (23-43-66 in 2011-12), in the last year, when it comes to underachieving. The Hawks have a weakness at center (Jonathan Toews and Dave Bolland are the only 2 established centers on the team), but can make up for it with their talented wingers. All eyes will be on Corey Crawford, and if he can handle the team's role of being a #1 goaltender. If not, maybe the Hawks go out and get a goalie before the trade deadline. Chicago comes in a distant second to St. Louis in this division. But, can they avoid a third straight first round exit in 2013?

1. St. Louis Blues-In a shortened season like this one, you need two solid goalies on your roster. And look no further than St. Louis, for the best goalie tandem in the league. Last year, Brian Elliott (1.56 GAA in 2011-12) and Jaroslav Halak (1.97 GAA in 2011-12) allowed the fewest goals (155) in the NHL. The Blues rely heavily on defense and goaltending to win, and they are very strong at both areas. Their defense, led by blooming stars Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo, is young, but exceptionally good. Up front , the Blues have 2 solid forward lines, but lines 3 and 4 need much improvement. After the success of last year (Central Division Champs), this team looks to move further on in the playoffs. Its hard to see that with their lack of depth at forward, but their defense and goaltending gets them the Central crown once again.

Follow Giles on Twitter @gilesferrell

No comments:

Post a Comment