The Discover Central Division has an open door policy to 1st place.

justina down there
86 / 100

Open door policy to be Discovered in Central  Division.

Central Division discover
Discover Central Division

A common misconception, win the cup and go right back to the finals. The Central Division and Stanley Cup champs may be thinking this. The NHL’s points system makes the task of predicting the outcome of a division let alone the participants of the finals a fool’s errand kind of thing. In the NBA you know who the good and bad teams are and can easily figure out the finals match-up even if you never watched a game.

Recent history has shown us that of the 16 teams that make the playoffs each year, eight of them will have missed the show the year before. The difference between first and fifth in the central division in 2018-2019, the last full season, was 10 points. First through third was separated by a single point.

The off-season movement that happens every year makes repeating an even tougher task. Only one team has repeated in the Salary cap era, the 15-16, 16-17 Pittsburgh Penguins. Retirements, free agents, and draft picks, all mean the teams you beat are now better and some of the guys that got a ring with you decided to get paid.

All of this makes me laugh when I get asked to predict where the teams will finish. There are so many things to factor into where each team will end up. There is “nooooo” way, except just for fun that you can predict where teams will end up on May 8th. I am about to prove to you how statistically…statistics lie. They will give you the percentages of best chances of teams to win the cup going by their win percentage or something hollow and everyone will buy it. Even if a team has a 95% chance that is not 100%.  That is why statistically…statistics lie!  I will give it a go. Knowing that no one really knows, here is the Central Division, from the bottom to the top.

 

8th- Chicago Blackhawks

blackhawks tweeter

I know you are thinking what? With  Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, how can they be eighth in a division with Detriot in it? Chicago has all the experience and bigger names.

Well, three factors:

First the realignment of the division having all recent playoff teams and teams on the rise. Including the Nashville Predators. The so-called younger brother finally beat the Blackhawks in a playoff series. This and the First round lost to St. Louis in 16 took away the swagger and intimation that guided them to three cups.

The loss of Cory Crawford is the second reason they could be competing for the number one overall draft pick. During the play-in round against the Edmonton Oilers. Crawford, who just announced his retirement, carried the Blackhawks and stole the series. Without Crawford, the Blackhawk’s current goaltending tandem of Malcolm Subban and his unnamed backup will have a tough time keeping the puck out of the net. Crawford’s leadership and presence will be missed.

Third, while the Blackhawks will have trouble stopping the puck the Red Wings goalies will not. More on this later.  Thomas Griess has a career 2.64 GAA and a .915 save percentage. This alone is enough for the Red Wings to surpass the Blackhawks.

The Loss of  Toews and Kirby Dach for the year coupled with unproven puck stoppers is enough for this team’s fan base to worry or cheer for a lottery ball. The addition of Nikita Zadorov and a return to form from Alex Debrincat, just two years removed from a 76-point season, along with all world Patrick Kane could bring this team closer to a playoff spot in the central.

 

7th – Detroit Red Wings:

The Red Wings should be able to steal the 7th spot away from the Blackhawks. Griess along with fellow addition Jonathan Bernier, a Cup winner with the Kings, give the Red Wings a solid tandem.  Detroit General Manager Steve Yzerman knows how to build a winner from the ground up. He adopted the Carolina method, by inserting two solid goalies. “Stevie Y” was also able to add D Robbie Fabbri and Marc Stall to compliment scrappy Tyler Bertuzzi bolstering the net-front presence. Long time New York Ranger Marc Stall was acquired for future consideration and should provide some veteran leadership along the blue line.

Detroit might not have a problem stopping the puck, but they sure will have a one pitting it in the back of the net. Dylan Larkin, the team leading scorer with 53 points will need help. Right-Wing Anthony Mantha was the next forward in line with 38 points. Larkin needs a quarterback and a playmaker if the Red Wings are to fight for a playoff spot.

The biggest question for this team is do they even want to win now? Yzerman may want that shot at the number one draft pick.  Winning Now in this re-vamped Central division actually could stun the Red Wings growth. There is the possibility that he will continue to trade for draft picks. He may be looking to 2022-2023 to make his playoff push.

 

6th – Nashville Predators:

This pick may surprise you. There is a trend in the NHL where teams go far in the playoffs one year and just crash the next. The San Jose Sharks come to mind. The Predators may just be one of those teams this year.

While this is a wide-open division, Nashville’s reliance on G Pekka Rinne may be their downfall. Rinne who turns 38 in November has shown signs of wear and tear in the past. He has been stellar during his career even leading the Predators to the cup final in 2016-2017. His career numbers 2.42 GAA and .917 save percentage to go along with 359 wins are HOF numbers. Last season he started 35 games going a pedestrian 18-14-4 with a 3.17 GAA and a dismal .895 before the pause.

The Predators are a team that creates offense thru its defense. Captain and D Roman Josi lead the team in points with 65(16g,49A). Philip Forsberg led the Preds in goals with 21 in 63 games. Big Ryan Johansen and Matt Duchene could add to that pop.

Given the compressed season Rinne could melt and if he does Nashville could find themselves chasing the game early with no one to light the lamp.

 

5th- Dallas Stars:

Until earlier this week they might have been picked to t=win the division. The Stanley Cup finalist had to shutter camp due to a Covid breakout. During the 2020 playoff, teams that had breakouts did not fare well including Toronto and St. Louis.

Covid is the X-factor. How the team will handle the infections going forward will be the biggest question mark.

Before the shutdown goaltending (a recurring theme) would have been in its place. Ben Bishop has yet to be cleared to play after getting hurt in the playoffs. Anton Khudobin caught lighting in a bottle last season. Can he sustain that style of play and shut down goaltending that finely let him down in the finals against the Tampa Bay Lighting?

Jamie Been is hands down the leader of this team. He along with Tyler Seguin who led the team in scoring have both been called out by ownership for not earning their paychecks. Last season the Stars brought in aging, Joe Pavelski and Corry Perry. Perry was not offered a contract and left via free agency.

This is an aging team that will have to play 56 games in 110 days.  Playing almost every other day will take a toll on the Stars. Enough that they will miss the playoffs a year after making it to the final.

4th – Florida Panthers:

Last season the Panthers made two big moves that should pay huge dividends this season. First, they were able to snap up a hall of fame coach in Joel Quenneville, after he was fired from the team, he won three Stanley Cups with. Quenneville is the active winningest coach in the league and second overall. The Panthers then made a splash in 2020 Free Agency when they landed the coveted G Sergie Bobrovsky.

The Panthers have one more year of “Coach Q” wizardry and they were able to snag Anthony Duclair and Patrick Hornqvist in this year’s weird offseason. Duclair should fit in nicely with the magical Aleksander Barkov. Barkov is the team captain and second in points 62 behind Jonathan Huberdeau how netted 23 G and 55A for 78 points in 69 games.

Last season’s goal leader Mike Hoffman, 29G in 69 games, left via free agency. Duclair how can be a bit of a locker room distraction will be looked upon to make up some of Hoffman’s lost production. While Duclair’s murky past proceeds him, “Coach Q” has a way of nipping that stuff in the bud.

The other teams in this division have goaltending questions and cannot score, this them can score and the net is secure. The only thing stopping this team from winning the division is buying into what can be a rough and tough “Q”.

3rd -Columbus Blue Jackets:

Where the Panthers have the amiable “Coach Q.” the Blue Jackets have the toughest most in your face tell it like it is, John Tortorella. Torts, as he is known is the type of coach you know exactly where you stand. In a player poll a few years back he was voted the “coach you did not want to play for.” Which makes no sense because his players play for him?  Lose Sergei Bobrovsky, no problem. Lose an electrifying Artemi Panarin, no problem. Send 19 players home due to COVID-19, no problem. Tortorella understands that COVID-19 is just one more thing for him to deal with.

These players play as a team.  I could argue that the Blue Jackets Are a better “team” than the Tampa Bay Lightning who are the defending Champions. They swept the Lighting in 2019.  Last year the lightning beat them due to the five-overtime game.  The Blue Jackets looked deflated and it seemed to wear on their mental state.

The Jackets are led by D Seth Jones and G Elvis Merzlikins has not left the building. Merzlikins came into his own last year and has not shown any signs of letting up. Merzlikens posted a 2.35 GAA and a .923 S% in 33 games. He started two games in the playoff winning one and posting a 1.95 GAA and an astonishing .946 S% allowing only 4 goals on 74 shots.  Joonas Korpisalo started 35 games with 19 wins 12 loess and 5 OTLs. His numbers are just about as good as Merzlikens. His GAA of 2.60 and an S% at .911 while splitting time in net, bodes well for the Jackets.

The Blue Jacket acquired Max Domi from the Montreal Canadians. Domi a team player should fit in well with Seth Jones, Pierre-Luc Dubois, and Cam Atkinson. Nick Foligno should have a breakout year at age 33 and become more than a power-play specialist.

On the negative side, there are rumbling that Dubois is not that happy with Tortorella and that one of them may have to be moved.

Tortorella’s motivational style should factor into this equation.  He motivates every player by getting into their head mentally and what makes them tick to get the best out of them. The addition of Mikko Koivu who has a chip on his shoulder after being cut by the Minnesota Wild while still the team captain. Tortorella could get in his head and restore his level of play. I think “Torts” and Craig Berube are the type of coaches that turn teams into powerful units that are greater than the sum of their parts. This is how the Jackets Swept the Lighting in 2019.

The Jackets also could also win the Central Division.

 

2nd – Carolina Hurricanes:

storm surge si com
Si.com

Them “Bunch of Jerks” the Carolina Hurricanes have the magic formula, they swept the New York Islanders two years ago, after the New York Islanders swept the Penguins. The “Canes” have had success in recent years. Making it to the Eastern Conference finals two years ago and losing in the first round to the Boston Bruins last year in five games.

Sabastian Aho led the team in goals and points, 38 and 66, respectively.  While this is not a flashy team, unless they win, and the storm surge makes an appearance. They are also like the Blue Jackets in that they are a team. Head Coach Rod Brind’Amour coaches as he played. He was a Blue Color guy who did the dirty work. Teuvo TeraviNen and Dougie Hamilton are just the types of player that fits in.

The compressed season could hurt the “Canes.”  The canes are a tough go-to-work every night and leave a piece of you on the ice kind of team. Playing night after night could burn this team out down the stretch.

1st – Tampa Bay Lightning

bolt

The Tampa Bay Lightning are going to take the division. The regular season seems to be about big-time offensive scoring and prettiness. They are the Harlem Globetrotters of the NHL. They have added grit and got over the hump by adding Zach Boghosian who is now in Toronto. The Lighting also added D Kevin Shattenkirk and F Pat Marron to the group. Shattenkirk left to sign with the Anaheim Ducks.

Pat Marron one of only two men in the expansion era (1967-1968 till present) to win the Cup in back-to-back seasons on different teams, signed a two-year extension.

lighting
NHLtradetalk.com

This Team was stacked. The keyword “was”. Nikita Kucherov the former hart trophy winner and team points leader is out for the regular season. The Lighting are up against the cap and were forced to trade to solid pieces of their cup run to Ottawa for two-player who will never play for you.

Team captain Steve Stamkos (second-leading scorer) was injured for the playoff and could still be affected.  Brayden Point is next in line with 25G-39A-64Pin 66 games.  A team that normally scores may have just a bit of a problem scoring this year.

In net, they have a top 3 goalie in Andrei Vasilevskiy. He is an elite netminder and can seat you wins every night, just like Grant Fuhr.

I am picking them to win the Central Division, because, in the regular season, skill can win a game. The playoffs are where I question their motivation and heart.  I think a key part of them winning last year was the motivational factor of getting revenge and exorcising the demon Blue Jackets. Will a back to back cup be enough motivation? I am not sure. The playoffs are a whole different kind of pond hockey.

This Discover Division is tight. So much so that Guy Bensing, (the Hawaii Blues Fan) was asked by the Bluenotes podcast to rank the teams in this division. Bensing did it by pulling the team names out of a hat. His picks were not far from this ranking or the others who picked the Central division.

 

The Discover Central Division has an open-door policy. Which team will take advantage of it first remains to be seen?

Justina Berkosky

Justina@stlfanreport.com

 

+1