The Central division is one of the more predictable divisions, but up and coming teams like the Chicago Blackhawks and the Nashville Predators will give the Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings a harder time than people expect. Here are my predicted standings for the Central division...
Detroit Red Wings 118 Points
Chicago Blackhawks 96 Points
Nashville Predators 90 Points
Columbus Blue Jackets 82 Points
St. Louis Blues 77 Points
It is hard to believe the Red Wings actually improved from last season's Stanley Cup champion team, but with the addition of play-maker Marian Hossa it is not irrational to believe the Red Wings will repeat.
When the Red Wings are talked about it's usually about their great defensive style of play, but the Wings now have one of the most potent offenses in the NHL. Henrik Zetterbberg and Pavel Datsyuk do not get any publicity and may be a better duo than Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Players like Tomas Holmstrom, Johan Franzen and Valtteri Filpula will add blue-collar hustle to the Wings line-up.
Defensively the Red Wings are one of the top five in the NHL. They have an incredible mix of puck-moving defenseman and hard hitting blue-liners. Niklas Lindstrom and Brian Rafalski bring offensive and veteran presence to the blue-line for Detroit, along with Chris Chelios and Andreas Lilja the Wings have an enviable amount of experience. The Wings also have young solid defenseman like Niklas Kronwall and Brett Lebda.
The Red Wings goaltending will be solid this season. Goaltender Chris Osgood had an exceptional season for Detroit. The loss of veteran goaltender Dominik Hasek will slightly hurt the Wings' goaltending, but the acquisition of Ty Conklin will help give the Red Wings a solid backup net-minder.
It will be a season that Blackhawks fans have desperately waited for. The year Chicago makes the playoffs.
The Blackhawks are young and exciting at offense. Youngsters Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp will lead formidable offense. Veteran Robert Lang, Martin Havlat and Craig Adams will be relied on to provide solid supporting offense and leadership for this young hockey team.
The Blackhawks have a stellar defense with plenty of offensive ability as well. The blockbuster signing of defenseman Brian Campbell will add puck moving ability to the Hawks' defense. Another young puck-moving defenseman that you do not hear a lot about is Duncan Keith.
Keith has tremendous upside and offensive ability and could make for a fabulous point man on the power-play with Brian Campbell. Cam Barker is another young defenseman with plenty of upside. Veterans Brent Sopel and Brent Seabrook also will have solid defensive years and will add valuable experience to the Hawks.
The Hawks made huge improvements in between the pipes, by adding Cristobal Huet. Nikolai Khabibulan will also bring Stanley Cup experience to the Hawks in net.
The Nashville Predators achieved a very surprising playoff berth, and will try to repeat last season's success.
The Predator's have solid offense, with players like Jason Arnott, J.P. Dumont and Martin Erat bringing offense and leadership to the Predators. The suspension of Alexander Radulov however will hurt the Predators' offense, but players like Steve Sullivan and David Legwand will be relied on to fill the void left by Radulov.
Defense will be a work in progress for the Predators. Defenseman Greg De Vries, Shea Weber and Dan Hamhuis will be solid this season for the Predators, but the lack of a consistent puck-moving defenseman will hamper their playoff chances.
The Predators' have a good future in net, with youngster Dan Ellis. Ellis had a solid season and will look to build on that season. The back-up goalie position will be a problem for the Predators and is an issue that the Predators may need to address if they want to reach the playoffs again.
The Blue Jackets will have another average season, but in a few years may be geared for a playoff run.
The Jackets' offense is average, but with players like Rick Nash, Kristian Huselius and Nikita Filatov the future is bright for the Jackets offensively. Veterans Fredrik Modin, Michael Peca and Michael York will be relied on to mentor the Jackets' young talent. These offensive players will most likely keep the Jackets competitive.
Defensively the Jackets took a step back in the off-season, with the loss of defenseman Ron Hainsey. The addition of Mike Commodore may help Columbus' defense, but he is unproven and inconsistent. Cristian Backman and Fedor Tyutin will be Columbus' steadiest defensemen.
The Jackets seem to be set in net for the future, with Pascal Leclaire. Fredrik Norrena also is a solid back-up and will ensure Leclaire will not be overworked.
It has been a long time since the Blues made the playoffs and it will be another year or more before the Blues can contend for a playoff spot.
The Blues' offense is decent, with forwards Brad Boyes, Paul Kariya and Keith Tkachuck. Craig Macdonald will be another play-maker to add offensive production. The lack of a true scoring threat will keep the Blues' away from the playoffs this season.
Defense has been a problem for the Blues, ever since the departures of Al Macinnis and Chris Pronger. This season however, the Blues may have found their next great pairing. Erik Johnson is developing into a star defenseman, along with the drafting of star defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who may provide the Blues with their next Pronger-Macinnis pairing.
The Blues' goaltending is solid for this season. Veteran Manny Legace will keep this young team in games, and maybe even steal a few for them. Chris Mason is a solid back-up, who is young and has a nice amount of potential.
The Central division looks to be a bit predictable, but I see the Blackhawks surprising people by making the playoffs. I believe both the Red Wings and Blackhawks making the playoffs.