This past offseason has seen a lot. Great teams have surpassed their peak, good teams have become great teams, and borderline playoff teams have remained borderline playoff teams. With the likes of Ben Bishop, Karl Alzner and Patrick Marleau switching teams, many NHL teams’ roster makeup has changed drastically since last years playoffs.
Now it is time for me to preview who will make the playoffs next year based off of the offseason. It will be broken down division by division, so let’s start off with the western conference, central division.
- Nashville Predators
Last years finish (4th in Central, 8th in West)
This years prediction 1st in Central, 2nd in West
The Nashville Predators are looking to build off of a strong end to last season that brought them to game six of the Stanley Cup Final. This team will only go as far as their stout blue-line will take them, which will be bolstered by the off-season addition of Alexei Emelin. The key player that will push this team to the top of the Central is Nick Bonino. After winning back-to-back cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Bonino joined the Predators in free agency. He will improve the thin center group in Nashville and will bring defensive acumen and timely scoring to the second or third line.
- Minnesota Wild
Last Years Finish (2nd in Central, 2nd in West)
This Years Prediction (2nd in Central, 4th in West)
Playoffs seems like a certainty for Bruce Boudreau and company, success in the playoffs… not so much. Boudreau preaches a solid defence first system that plays very well with the personnel in Minnesota. With defensive studs like Koivu, Granlund, Suter and Dubnyk, the Wild will without question do well in getting to the playoffs, but can Boudreau navigate his team to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in his coaching career? Look for Mikael Granlund to take control of this team after his breakout season last year.
- Louis Blues
Last Years Finish (3rd in Central, 5th in West)
This Years Prediction (3rd in Central, 5th in West)
Consistency is key for this St. Louis Blues squad. They’ve had turnover in the past few years, but many key veterans remain from the team that was the best in the west under Hitchcock. Look for Pietrangelo and Parayko to take charge of this team and for Tarasenko to emerge in Hart Trophy conversation. Brayden Schenn was also brought in from Philadelphia and should fit in very well with his unique blend of grit, versatility and power. The big if to the season is Jake Allen. If he can put together a consistent season, the Blues will easily be in contention for the Stanley Cup.
- Dallas Stars
Last Years Finish (6th in Central, 11th in West)
This Years Prediction (4th in Central, 7th in West)
After a disastrous season, the Dallas Stars went to work in the offseason. Acquiring the rights to Ben Bishop for a fourth round draft pick was a steal, while adding the likes of Marc Methot will stabilize the fragile defensive core. To top it all off, Dallas signed Alex Radulov to bolster an already lethal offense. But will Ken Hitchock be able to put all the pieces together to reach his first Cup Finals since his first stint with Dallas? Look for Dallas to improve drastically this year, but with a shaky blue line, they will struggle to put together a lengthy playoff run.
- Chicago Blackhawks
Last Years Finish (1st in Central, 1st in West)
This Years Prediction (5th in Central, 9th in West)
Once the pinnacle of the NHL with their success despite year-to-year turnover, the Chicago Blackhawks have now past their prime. The departures of Artemi Panarin, Niklas Hjalmarsson and the long-term injury to Marian Hossa have all set this team back a lot. It’s quite bold to think that a team that still has the likes of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith will miss the playoffs, but with the improvements to the western Conference, it is likely. Brandon Saad was brought back to reinvigorate a tired looking Toews, but that may not be enough. It seems like the years of deep playoff runs have finally caught up to the Blackhawks.
- Winnipeg Jets
Last Years Finish (5th in Central, 9th in West)
This Years Prediction (6th in Central, 10th in West)
I am not convinced with the Winnipeg Jets. I will not be convinced until they make that next step. The Jets have one of the best young forward cores in the league right now highlighted by Nicholaj Ehlers and Patrik Laine, but their goaltending isn’t convincing. They signed Steve Mason in an attempt to have a somewhat reliable keeper in net, but once again, I am not convinced on Mason either. The Jets are a team full of potential to do well, but until they find a way to win games consistently, they are not a contending team in the west, or even the central division.
- Colorado Avalanche
Last Years Finish (7th in Central, 14th in West)
This Years Prediction (7th in Central, 15th in West)
The Colorado Avalanche had a miserable season last year, and you should expect more of the same this year. It’s perplexing that a team with young skilled forwards like MacKinnon, Duchene and Landeskog can’t score goals, but that was the story for the Avs. It doesn’t help that they were in last by almost 20 points and still didn’t get a top three pick in the draft. As a whole, this organization is in shambles. Their best goalie was left to be snatched up by Vegas, and their most recent signing, Alexander Kerfoot, signed because it was the team with the least competition for him to get playing time, or in other words, the worst team in the league.
Overall, the Central is looking like wide open at the top with multiple teams having the firepower to win the division title. Stay tuned for the playoff predictions for the rest of the NHL coming soon.