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2010/2011 Divisional Previews, Part Three – Central Division

09/17/10

It’s time for the third part of my 10/11 divisional previews. After taking care of the Northwest Division and Pacific Division, here’s the final division from the Western Conference – the tough-to-predict Central Division.

You guys know the format by now – notable additions and subtractions, top prospects, and observations and storylines. Off to the previews!

Detroit Red Wings

Key Additions: Mike Modano, Ruslan Salei
Key Subtractions: Andreas Lilja

Top Prospects: Tommy McCollum, Riley Sheahan

Observations & Storylines: Injuries and fluke seasons played a big part in the Red Wings struggling through the regular season. I expect the Red Wings to overcome those as they claim the divisional title again. Jimmy Howard being the established starting goalie will help, as will signing Mike Modano to add center depth. However, I will say this – this could be the last season the Red Wings can dominate the Central. An aging squad, unsure crop of prospects, and rising powers in Chicago (dismantling + brand new goalies = rising power once again, in my opinion) and St. Louis will threaten them. Look for them to win the division by a slim 3-point-margin…or maybe even less.

Chicago Blackhawks

Key Additions: Viktor Stalberg, Ryan Potulny, John Scott, Marty Turco
Key Subtractions: Dustin Byfuglien, Kris Versteeg, Andrew Ladd, Cristobal Huet, Antti Niemi, Adam Burish, John Madden

Top Prospects: Kyle Beach, Ivan Vishnevskiy, Chris DiDomenico

Observations & Storylines: They still may be pretty loaded, but the Blackhawks lost a lot of the talent that helped them win the 2010 Stanley Cup. I believe that everyone but Huet will be missed when the games turn tough and a lot of the grinding, gnarled players aren’t there anymore. The Blackhawks will captured lightning in a bottle last season and will be hard pressed to do so again. Turco is a huge wild card here, as he can possibly sink their hopes with his style of goaltending that’s getting streakier. The team is too talented to drop any further than second in the division, but will have to keep an eye on the team below them.

St. Louis Blues

Key Additions: Jaroslav Halak, Vladimir Sobotka
Key Subtractions: Paul Kariya, Keith Tkachuk, Chris Mason

Top Prospects: Alex Pietrangelo, Stefan Della-Rovere, Tyler Shattock

Observations & Storylines: Don’t ask me why, but I see the Blues going places this season. Oh, wait, that’s right – Jaro Halak is why. The darling of Montreal and the Slovak national team in Vancouver is looking to prove he’s the real deal, and I believe he is. The Blues also have a young, talented roster full of players who are going to want to prove they belong battling the big dogs of the division. I don’t think the Blues will really contend for the division this year, but it’ll be fairly close. I think they’ll finish a close third with the next team nipping at their heels.

Nashville Predators

Key Additions: Matthew Lombardi, Sergei Kostitsyn, Ryan Parent
Key Subtractions: Jason Arnott, Dan Hamhuis, Dan Ellis

Top Prospects: Chet Pickard, Ryan Ellis, Blake Geoffrion

Observations & Storylines: The Preds, I feel, will lose a close battle with the Blues for third in the division. Losing Arnott and Hamhuis hurts, but Lombardi and Parent should help ease the pain. Ryan Ellis or Blake Geoffrion could aid the big club as well if either player has a spectacular camp. At this point, it should be obvious that Chet Pickard is ready to make the jump to the NHL as Pekka Rinne’s back-up (although I’d sign Jose Theodore if I were Poile). The Preds are two dynamic forwards or so from being really tough to beat, but the assumed money problems in Nashville would kind of hamper that. Fourth in the division on paper, but would look good in any other division.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Key Additions: Nikita Filatov, Ethan Moreau
Key Subtractions: No one, really

Top Prospects: Ryan Johansen

Observations & Storylines: A new coach that runs systems antithetical to Ken Hitchcock’s regime is going to force some growing pains on the marginally-talented team. Despite Scott Arniel’s awesome coaching, the Blue Jackets will continue to fall on their faces. It’s going to take a miracle bounce back season from Mason to get them past the beginning of April. Dead last in the division, and I don’t even think it’ll be close.

Honestly, I feel as thought Detroit and Chicago will battle for the 1 and 2 spots while St. Louis and Nashville battle for 3 and 4. Either team could take the higher spot, really. We’ll just have to wait and see. One entire conference down and one to go! Next Friday, you’ll get to see how I think the Southeast Division will fall into place in 2010/2011.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Cam permalink
    09/17/10 4:36 PM

    Phillip, how do you figure the Blackhawks caught lightning in a bottle? They were and are loaded with talent, most of it very young.

    That phrase is more apt for teams like the Canes and first Anaheim teams that made the Finals.

    • 09/17/10 5:56 PM

      The Blackhawks definitely captured lightning in a bottle. They could run-and-gun better than any team or grind better than any team. Now they’ve lost the majority of those grinders who helped them win so much. They had a young goalie get hot who used to drive zambonis just to make ends meet. Now he’s gone and a goalie notorious for streaky play and big rebounds has taken his place, with an untested rookie backing him up. They were fortunate enough to get a team they’d broken mentally in the past and a team with a notorious choking reputation along their quest to the Finals, where they met a team who had to fight and battle and scrape its way forward. Everything came together in one perfect playoffs for them, and now they resemble the 06/07 Sabres more than anything (with better D but worse goaltending) in an time where obstruction and physicality are continuing to climb. They’ll battle for the division and maybe the conference, but they won’t repeat.

      • Cam permalink
        09/18/10 2:37 AM

        It’s news to me that the Hawks were considered a grinding team. Besides the goaltending, most thought the Hawks’ biggest problem would be playing in a more physical brand of hockey in the playoffs.

        Still don’t get the comment. Chicago had to fight it’s way through a far, far tougher conference both in the regular season and the playoffs than the Flyers did. They beat 3 hundred point teams along the way. There was nothing fortunate about their path. And the Sabres didn’t have the top-end talent Chicago does.

        It’s nearly impossible to repeat these days, but the Hawks are loaded with talent throughout their organization and should contend for years.

  2. anonymous permalink
    09/18/10 1:53 AM

    f*** this s***

Trackbacks

  1. 2010/2011 Divisional Previews, Part Four – Southeast Division « Black & Blue & Gold
  2. Recapping The 2010/2011 Season – Western Conference « Black & Blue & Gold

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