Saturday, October 4, 2014

2014-15 Outlook: Central Division

Now that we have gone through each team in this division, lets predict where they will finish!

7. Winnipeg Jets: The Jets sat on a last place team all summer. Their most notable acquisition was TJ Galiardi (!!). Ondrej Pavelec drags this team down, and he is still under contract for the next four seasons. While they have some great young talent on the team (Kane, Schiefele, Trouba), it is not enough to keep up with a division that got tougher over the summer. The question in Winnipeg this year will be what comes first: Winning the draft lottery or Kevin Cheveldayoff finally gets fired. Either way, it will be another long season in Manitoba.

6. Colorado Avalanche: Lets face it, Colorado will not be winning 50 games again this year. Its also a safe bet that they will not win 45 games. Getting to 40 will be a struggle for this team. They lost Paul Stastny this summer and replaced him with the aging Jarome Iginla. Their defense is still below average, and their forward depth is not great behind the top two scoring lines. If Semyon Varlamov can continue his Vezina nomination performance of 2013-14 this season, the Avs have a chance. But this division got tougher over the summer and the Avs got worse. This does not bode well for them.

5. Nashville Predators: Having Pekka Rinne back really gives this team a nice shot in the arm. But this team still lacks a number one center, and James Neal might have some regression in terms of points due to not being on a line with Evgeni Malkin anymore. They will be sound defensively, but Peter Laviolette wants to add some spark to this team by making them more aggressive. Welp. Hard to be aggressive when you lack good scorers. Preds still make some noise because of their defense and goaltending.

4. Dallas Stars: Dallas brought in Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky, giving them an upgrade on offense. Dallas will be an offensive force this season, given the fact they already have Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. Problem for Dallas is, their defense is subject and one of their better defenseman (Brenden Dillon) is still without a contract to begin the year. Goaltending is not a great strength to this team either, but it is certainly not a weakness. For a second year in a row Dallas finds themselves in a Wild Card spot.

3. Minnesota Wild: Returning most of a team that made it into the second round of the playoffs, the Wild look to make the postseason for a third straight season (something never done before in the 15 years of the franchise). Minnesota grabbed Thomas Vanek this summer, and look to be getting a boost on the back end of their defensive pairings from youngsters Christian Folin and Matt Dumba. If Minnesota can make it through the season without having to use Ilya Bryzgalov, they will be just fine in the powerful Central Division.

2. St. Louis Blues: The Blues front office finally got the memo that they needed to upgrade offense, not goaltending this summer. So they brought hometown boy Paul Stastny over from division rival Colorado to solidify their top six. Their bottom six is still questionable (Steve Ott and Maxim Lapierre are employed on those lines), but this team will pack a punch. Brian Elliott will be the key for this team as he is now the number one goaltender with no one really looking over his shoulder for that job anymore. If he can play like he has, the Blues will be in the mix for the Central Division crown.

1. Chicago Blackhawks: Brad Richards signed here for two million. That's unfair. Their team is still really good. Again, unfair. With the Kane and Toews extensions set to kick in next year, this season might be the swan song for some key Hawks players considering Chicago already is at a $65 million cap hit on 15 players for next year. This team was one goal away from probably repeating as Stanley Cup Champions last year. They are favorites to win it again this year. You'd have to think that bitter taste from the loss to LA gives them more of a chip on their shoulder this year. They win this heavily contested division.

Check back later today for Stanley Cup Playoff predictions!

Follow Giles on Twitter @gilesferrell

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