The Central Division is likely the toughest division in hockey, or at the very least the one with the smallest amount of parity.
Theoretically, all seven teams in this division could make the playoffs.
1. Nashville Predators (X)
The reigning Presidents’ Trophy winners did not do much to improve this offseason. Still, though, Nashville remains the top dog within the division.
The defensive wall consisting of P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and Mattias Ekholm is just too dominant. Add that to a number of talented pieces up front, and you have a perennial winner.
The most interesting thing for Nashville this season will be Pekka Rinne and his performance. Rinne won the Vezina Trophy in 2017-18, but Juuse Saros is nipping at his heels for the starting job. Rinne is also in the final year of his contract. David Poile could have a difficult decision on his hands.
2. Winnipeg Jets (X)
The Jets made it to the Western Conference Final last season but could not overcome the storybook Vegas Golden Knights.
With a number of young, talented players on the roster, including the superstar Patrik Laine, Winnipeg can only go up.
Connor Hellebuyck is ripe with potential in the cage as well. If all things go well, the Jets can certainly storm out and win the division.
The Middle of the Pack
3. St. Louis Blues (X)
The Blues certainly have holes, especially in the cage with Jake Allen and Chad Johnson in charge, but they still should be a good team this season.
The addition of Ryan O’Reilly cannot be understated. Stuck on consistently poor teams, this is the time for O’Reilly to show the NHL what he is truly made of.
The Blues can have all of the regular season success that they want, but the playoffs is where the true test begins. They have not had much success in the past, and it is becoming now or never to change that.
4. Dallas Stars (X)
The Stars spent the offseason re-tooling and upgrading internally, and they look primed to make it back to the playoffs once again.
Getting Tyler Seguin locked up to an eight-year deal is a huge burden and distraction avoided. He and Jamie Benn will be together for the foreseeable future, and that is music to Jim Nill’s ears.
Another thing shaping up for the Stars is their defense. John Klingberg bounced back well in 2017-18 after a rough sophomore season. Julius Honka is improving. Connor Carrick was acquired for cheap. Marc Methot still has gas left in the tank.
Oh, and Miro Heiskanen is ready to go. The 2017 third overall pick, behind Nico Hischier and Nolan Patrick, made his NHL debut for the Stars this year. His speed and instincts are off the charts. With all the hype about Rasmus Dahlin and Elias Pettersson going around, make sure to keep an eye out for Heiskanen’s name in the Calder Trophy race. He is going to be special and will start leading the Stars to great things, including to the playoffs this year.
5. Colorado Avalanche (X)
After a miraculous turnaround last season, the Avalanche seem poised to come back better than ever and return to the playoffs. Jared Bednar has proven himself to be a quality coach, despite what 2016-17 says.
Philipp Grubauer was a nice addition in net, although it seems to be Semyon Varlamov’s job to lose. Either way, Colorado can be sure that it has a solid backbone to fall back upon.
Colorado also holds Ottawa’s first round pick this year, so that is great for them.
The Outside Looking In
6. Minnesota Wild
The Wild, in my book, just did not do enough to improve from last season to be worthy of a playoff spot ranking.
The team has been wildly inconsistent over the last three years. The pieces are definitely there, but they just do not work together.
With new general manager Paul Fenton at the helm, Wild fans have a lot to look forward to, but not this season. Rome was not built in a day, and Fenton has plenty of experience and intellect to turn this team around. But, with the same team on the ice as last season, it is difficult to foresee positive results.
7. Chicago Blackhawks
The Blackhawks continue their descent to the bottom of the Central Division, which comes mostly at their own doing. The Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane contracts do not leave the team with much flexibility, and it does not have depth as a result.
The Blackhawks are not a bad team, and with the roster they have, they will never be considered a “rebuilder”. However, with the quality of the division, there is simply no way that they escape out of it with a playoff spot locked up.
Up next, and finally: the Pacific Division.