The last piece on Avalanche 101 fired up the imagination to see what it would be like if there was an All-Central Division team. This time, we're going to stay a bit closer to reality and try to tease out how the division standings might shake out this season.
This could be the hardest division to figure out, as most of the teams in it are talented enough to end up finishing first. The Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues are perennial powerhouses that will certainly still be in the mix. The Colorado Avalanche, Minnesota Wild, and Dallas Stars are all trending up, with Colorado having actually won the Central Division title in the first year of the division's current incarnation. Right now, it looks like five of the seven teams in the Central could feasibly end up winning it. Only the Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets look like longshots for a high finish.
The Avalanche are the defending division champions, but all of the things that went right last season are unlikely to happen again. There was the 12-1 start to the season that jumpstarted the team's run. There was also the six-game losing streak that the Blues ended the season with, leaving the door open for Colorado to get away with daylight robbery of the division title right at the end. All of the planets were aligned last season for Colorado to finish where they did. Even if the team is just as good or better this season, another division title would be tough to come by. Still, they have enough talent to compete for it, and they should at least be in the mix.
St. Louis failed to get a playoff run going after trading for goaltender Ryan Miller, who departed in free agency and signed with the Vancouver Canucks this summer. Miller was what is known as a rental player, someone in a contract year acquired at the trade deadline in the hopes of sparking a run to the Stanley Cup. Now Brian Elliot will be the Blues top goaltender, and he has not shown the consistency expected of a number one goalie. Still, the Blues defense remains one of the deepest in the league, and they added Paul Stastny in free agency to give the offense a little more punch. The Blues will still be a very good team perfectly capable of winning the division.
The Chicago Blackhawks have been at least as far as the Western Conference Finals two years in a row. They have one of the most potent offenses in the league, and they added forward Brad Richards to that offense in free agency. They should continue to be one of the league's elite, and also could win the Central division without surprising anyone.
The Minnesota Wild have been steadily improving in recent years, and they continue to attract high profile free agents. A couple of years ago it was Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. This summer it was Thomas Vanek signing with the Wild. They knocked Colorado out of the playoffs last spring, and they will again be a dangerous team this season that could swipe the division title if they draw the right cards.
The Dallas Stars are a popular pick to give the usual suspects a run for their money this season. They are a team on the rise that has been building a good core of players in the last few years, spearheaded by Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Valeri Nichushkin, and now they have added Ales Hemsky to the group vie free agency. They have a chance to make a surge to the top of the division if all the pieces come together just right.
Each of these five teams made the playoffs last season, and they all look like they'll get back next time around. With five out of seven teams likely to be in the playoffs, the Central certainly looks like the deepest division in the NHL.
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Tags: Colorado, Colorado Avalanche, Hockey, NHL, Stanley Cup