2010/2011 Divisional Previews, Part Three – Central Division
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.
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.
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.
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.