2013 NHL Predictions: Central Division
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Ever notice how four of the five teams in the Central Division manage to work a color into the team name? Blackhawks, Blue Jackets, Red Wings, Blues. Get with it, Nashville.
Anyway, one of the toughest divisions in hockey looks a little lacking compared to previous years.
Chicago hopes to rebound two years removed from hoisting Lord Stanley's Cup.
The Blue Jackets finally dealt Rick Nash!
The Red Wings lost Nick Lidstrom. But let's face it. Detroit probably drafted a future legend in the seventh round this year, taking Swedish winger Rasmus Bodin.
Nashville lost Ryan Suter, but retained Shea Weber for a big price tag.
The Blues surprised the league by winning the Central Division last season and look to build on the success.
Here's the team-by-team breakdown.
"Kaner. Is coach looking at me?" "...No, dude, you're good."
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The Blackhawks lack at least one key component in their quest for another Stanley Cup.
Patrick Kane, Jonathon Toews, Patrick Sharp and (hopefully) Marian Hossa remain the most potent threats up front. Look for prospect Brandon Saad to make a serious run for a spot on the top two lines at the beginning of this season. The 19-year-old scored 34 goals and 76 points and posted a plus-35 rating with the Saginaw Spirit of the OHL, and he joined the Hawks in the postseason.
Brent Seabrook anchors a relatively strong defense featuring some youtful talent in Nick Leddy and Dylan Olsen.
The biggest weak spot is in net. Corey Crawford put up pretty poor numbers despite a respectable 30-17-7 record.
The Blackhawks need Crawford to step up in goal or find another netminder. Roberto Luongo perhaps?
Chicago's defense also needs time to mature, and the team needs better luck with injuries. Still, the Blackhawks should make the playoffs in a weakened Central Division.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Jack Johnson joined a lowly Blue Jackets team at the trade deadline last season.
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Columbus, Columbus, Columbus. The Blue Jackets finally dealt Rick Nash and received decent scoring depth in return, but still...it's Columbus.
Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov join a cast of relative unknowns and "has-beens" in the heart of Ohio, providing a little help to a seemingly helpless team. R.J. Umberger is coming off his fourth consecutive 20-goal season
Jack Johnson found himself in Columbus after a few years in Los Angeles. Talk about a bad break. Nikita Nikitin and James Wisniewski actually put up decent numbers from the blue line (32 and 27 points, respectively).
Goal remains an issue for Columbus. Steve "The Magic Man" Mason seems to be a one-hit wonder. Curtis Sanford failed to impress on the ice and in the dressing room with his ugly baby-blue pads. The team signed youngster Sergei Bobrovsky after he posted a 14-10-3 record in Philadelphia last season. He went 28-13-8 in a bigger role with the team two seasons ago.
Nobody expects much from the Blue Jackets, and they will finish near the bottom of the standings. The offense lacks a legitimate game-changer, the defense lacks depth and the goaltending is unproven.
But, hey, maybe they'll prove everyone wrong.
Detroit Red Wings
"Hey, Henrik. My beard's better." "Oh my God, shut up, Pavel!"
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The end of the "Nick Lidstrom era" changes a lot of things in Detroit. However, they're still the Red Wings, and with Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg still in the lineup, anything's possible.
The Red Wings lost Jiri Hudler up front and added a little grit with Jordin Tootoo. Detroit also brought back mucker Mikael Samuelsson, who often finds a way to score big goals.
The loss of Lidstrom is big. The loss of Brad Stuart also leaves a hole, but his play had started to slip a little last season.
Jimmy Howard performed well in net for the Wings and needs to help alleviate the loss of Lidstrom. Detroit brought in Jonas "The Monster" Gustavsson to back up, making for a pretty good 1-2 punch in net.
The Red Wings are fine. They're not as strong as in recent years, but they'll find a way to make it happen. Some Red Wings prospects have been waiting for a chance to crack the NHL roster and should finally get a chance this season.
"Who wants it?!"
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The Predators hope prospects Austin Watson of the Windsor Spitfires, Zach Budish of the University of Minnesota (if he remains healthy) and Ryan Thang of Notre Dame are ready to start scoring sooner rather than later.
Returning Predator Patric Hornqvist will be looking to score 30 or more goals for the second time in his career after finishing with 27 last season.
Shea Weber, of course, leads the blue-line crew, along with aging giant Hal Gill. The team hopes Ryan Ellis finally starts to translate his stellar junior career to the NHL level and another young defender can fill the void left by Ryan Suter. The Preds added veteran Scott Hannan to add experience to the blue line.
Pekka Rinne owns the net in Nashville, and the Predators signed capable backup Chris Mason after losing Anders Lindback to free agency.
The Predators' offense needs a spark. Hopefully, a reinvigorated Alexander Radulov helps boost the goal totals. The defense definitely is hurt by the loss of Suter, but Pekka Rinne always gives the Preds a chance.
The Preds aren't as strong as they have been the past few seasons, but they should make a playoff push.
St. Louis Blues
"Way to wear a blue shirt there, Jaroslav. Thought we were going with a theme."
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Goaltending provided a feel-good story in St. Louis last year, helping the Blues capture the Central Division and advance to the second round of the playoffs.
The Blues lost veteran Jason Arnott up front, but hope young stars like team captain David Backes, sniper T.J. Oshie, Patrick Berglund and David Perron translate last season's experience into continued success.
Aiding Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak in goal was the Blues' blue line. Youngsters Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk lead the way for the Blues, with a cast of solid, but relatively unknown defenders.
The goalie duo looks to repeat as the league's best tandem after allowing the fewest goals in the league last season. It remains to be seen if that was a fluke.
What the Blues lacked in offense, they made up for with air-tight team defense. St. Louis needs to prove it wasn't a one-hit wonder by having similar success this coming season with a very similar roster.
It's a battle of red and blue in the Central Division.
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1. Detroit Red Wings (Playoffs)
2. Chicago Blackhawks (Playoffs)
3. St. Louis Blues (Playoffs)
4. Nashville Predators (Out Of Playoffs)
5. Columbus Blue Jackets (Demoted To AHL)
The Red Wings will manage to win the division despite the loss of Nick Lidstrom, edging out the still stingy St. Louis Blues, providing Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott remain impenetrable in goal. The Blackhawks will earn a low seed in the postseason, just beating out the Nashville Predators. Columbus remains Columbus.