2013-14 NHL Season Predictions: Central Division


Well, everyone, we’ve arrived. The offseason is past and the preseason is drawing to a close, which means the grind is about to begin. 82 games (Yay, no lockout shortening!) await our teams, with the best fighting for the honor of having their names engraved on one of sports’ greatest trophies, while the rest go golfing and fire people. Here at NOTSC, we fancy ourselves to be experts on our respective sports, which is why I’m here to break down this season. New divisions, new teams (just kidding. Suck it, Quebec), and new faces are ready to be judged like Miley Cyrus. In the second installment of the NOTSC Season Predictions, we move to the Central Division.


Central Division

Chicago Blackhawks: OMG OFFENSIVE NAME GOTTA CHANGE IT!!!! (I’m throwing this in because I haven’t heard it yet, but I’m willing to bet if the Washington Redskins get their name changed, Chicago will be next.) With that out of the way, I guess I could predict the season outcome for the reigning Cup champions, but I’m not sure if there is an easier prediction. The offense is still loaded with the likes of Kane, Sharp, Toews, and Hossa. They have stalwarts on defense with Keith, Oduya, and Hjalmarsson, and Corey Crawford returns with a new contract. Coach Quenneville took this team all the way last year, and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if he did it again. Granted, there is always a chance the team loses 4 games in a row and the fans will start calling for Coach Q’s head (I am almost prepared to say that Blackhawks fans are New York Giants fans as well, considering how they treat Tom Coughlin even after 2 Super Bowls.), but I don’t see it. Playoff bound once again.

Colorado Avalanche: Ah, the Avalanche. They hired Patrick Roy as their new goalie coach, they hired Joe Sakic for the front office, they brought in Adam Foote, and they traded for Alex Tanguay. This team will be interesting to monitor as the season progresses. The forward group has the potential to dominate the league, with Landeskog, Stastny, O’Reilly, MacKinnon,and Duchene providing offense. The goaltending will revolve around J.S. “All My Teammates Are Party-Goers” Giguere and Semyon Varlamov. The big question is whether the defense can actually, you know, play defense. Passing on Seth Jones might have been a big mistake, especially if Erik Johnson continues to be a bust and “Generic Defenseman #2″ continues to be a body on the ice and nothing else. Overall, this team will be exciting on offense, but the lack of a meaningful defense will leave the goalies exposed, and that means no playoffs for another year.

Dallas Stars: If you can’t beat them, join them. Lindy Ruff must have taken that mantra to heart, as he now serves behind the bench of the team that kept him from a Stanley Cup years ago. (Granted, that goal/no goal is still a hotbed of controversy, but it isn’t ever gonna change.) This Dallas team will be another fun one to watch. Hiring GM Jim Nill from the Red Wings brings fans hope that a dynasty is on the way, and the team is already making waves, trading for Tyler ‘Full Metal Jacket enthusiast” Seguin, and drafting Valeri “Radulov 2.0″ Nichushkin. The defense corps is pretty solid, the team having added Sergei Gonchar to help Jordie Benn and Stephane Robidas. In goal, Kari Lehtonen is still entrenched as the starter. This season will be determined by a couple of factors. First, Tyler Seguin needs to mature. Drafted 2nd overall, he has been traded after a couple seasons. That usually doesn’t bode well. If he continues to play like he did in Boston, Dallas may have lost a key cog (Loui Eriksson) for nothing. Second, how will the team adjust to playing for Ruff? (I am tempted to believe that the first lesson of training camp was an indoctrination of “no goal,” but I digress.) Overall, this team will be in, but a playoff appearance is a long shot at best.

Minnesota Wild: On a serious note, I would like to once again congratulate G Josh Harding on winning the Masterton trophy. MS sucks. Playing through MS is boss. Kudos all around. That being said, this team is weird. After dropping identical $98 million dollar deals on Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, this team was supposed to do better than squeak into the playoffs as an 8th seed. There are many factors for this: The Dany Heatley experiment continuing to provide no meaningful results and Mikael Granlund failing to emerge as the dynamo fans expected contributing heavily. The team looks to build off of last year’s success, however. G Niklas Backstrom (not that Backstrom) stayed instead of testing the FA market, which has to be a relief. The defense is anchored by Norris candidate Ryan Suter, and the offense has the potential to explode behind Zach Parise and Jason Pominville. Add Nino Neiderrieter (who probably has the coolest name in the NHL right now) and Mikael Granlund, and this team could push for a spot. Call me crazy, but I think they can make the playoffs again.

Nashville Predators: Before I get into the predictions, check out this fun fact: The player with the highest salary in the NHL this season…plays for this team. Yep, Shea Weber, making a paltry $14 million, is the highest paid player in the league this year. Crazy, isn’t it? The Nashville Predators, a team notorious for never spending on talent, has the highest paid player. Odd. This team has to be aggravating to its fans. On the one hand, they have one of the best goalies in the league in Pekka Rinne, and they have what could become the most shutdown defense ever assembled in Shea Weber, Roman Josi, and the recently drafted Seth Jones. However, they have no offense to speak of. Colin Wilson and Gabriel Bourque are recovering from injuries, Patric Hornqvist was a disappointment, especially after signing an extension because of his scoring, and, when the team had the opportunity to address the lack of scoring, they acquired two scrappers, a speed demon with no puck handling skills, and a player whose best offensive year was 7 years ago. I would like to believe this team could make the playoffs on grit and shut-down defense, but this league is kind to offenses, which the Perds, er Preds, don’t have. No playoffs this year.

St. Louis Blues: Will the real Jaroslav Halak please stand up? The Blues, fresh off another disappointing playoff exit, have to be wondering the same question. It wasn’t that long ago when Halak, then a member of the Habs, took the league by storm when he lead the team deep into the playoffs. After being acquired by the Blues, he had a magnificent season working with Brian Elliot, leading the Blues to the playoffs only to be knocked out by the surprising Kings. Last year, injuries and inconsistency lead to prospect Jake Allen being called up, and now the Blues have a three headed goalie monster. If good, this team will be scary. If bad, this team will be horrendous. Vladimir Taresenko (who has earned the “enigmatic Russian” label, courtesy of Ilya Kovalchuck.) and Magnus Paajarvi will be players to watch, as it will be interesting to see if  they can be take it to the next level. Alex Pietrangelo is signed for the long term, and Kevin Shattenkirk and Jay Bouwmeester head a defensive corps that works magic beneath the fingers of Ken Hitchcock. This team will make the playoffs, barring a goalie collapse.

Winnipeg Jets: *insert “Winnipeg is a frozen hellhole” reference/half-hearted joke* The novelty has worn off in Winnipeg. Fans are no longer satisfied that they have a team back. Now, they crave a playoff berth. This division (heck, this whole conference) is a nightmare to traverse, but the Jets believe they can do it. Evander Kane and Andrew Ladd, two stalwarts of the “Thrasher” days, head an offense with newcomers Devin Setoguchi, Michael Frolik, and Mark Scheifele. The defense is anchored (literally) by Dustin Byfuglien and rookie Jacob Trouba, and Ondrej Pavelec will continue to serve as primary puck stopper. If Scheifele and Trouba are as good as advertised, this team could pull it off. Of course, they could also pull a “Thrasher” and fall flat. This team will be a wild card in the truest sense of the word.

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