Part two of our NHL preview takes you out West to the newly minted Central and Pacific divisions. The recycled names with plenty of new faces ought to produce some very interesting playoff races as many perennial powers are now grouped together.
The Central is led by the reigning Cup champion Blackhawks who will be joined by a pair of former Northwest Division foes (Colorado and Minnesota) and a newcomer from the East (Winnipeg).
- Chicago Blackhawks – The Cup champs remain relatively unchanged, although their goaltender has a brand new contract to go along with his Cup ring. There’s no reason the Hawks shouldn’t win this division running away. While there are some quality teams, the Hawks are in a class of their own by comparison.
- St. Louis Blues – Perhaps this seems high for the Blues but I have a great deal of faith in their system and their talent. While they don’t light up the scoreboard, they have a handful of players who I’d want on my team any day of the week. So long as they receive quality goaltending, this will be a playoff team.
- Minnesota Wild – The Wild enjoyed a nice run last season before injuries aided in their first round dispatch at the hands of the Blackhawks. I have faith that the Wild will build on their success last season and make yet another playoff run. If nothing else, they certainly can boast the best uniform set in the league.
- Nashville Predators – I’m hoping to see the Preds bounce back this season. Pekka Rinne is the real deal and with some increased scoring depth up front, there is no reason that Smashville shouldn’t see more playoff hockey come springtime.
- Dallas Stars – For the second straight season the Stars were wheeling and dealing during the offseason. A new coach, phenom and uniforms will debut in Dallas this year, but I’m unsure if they have enough to roll to a playoff berth. They’re getting there, just not this season.
- Winnipeg Jets – There are some nice pieces on the Jets roster. However I think they will ultimately fall short again this year. While the Central isn’t brimming with top teams like the Metro Division, I doubt that the Jets can sneak by enough clubs to find the postseason.
- Colorado Avalanche – The Avs are building an impressive core. Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog are three elite talents who need time to grow. This will be a contender sooner rather than later if their youth can be cultivated.
The Pacific Division might be the most intriguing of the four this season. The 2012 Cup Champions, 2011 Finalists and three more playoff seasoned squads make up this division. This will be a fun division to track during the year.
- Los Angeles Kings – Things weren’t the same for the Kings last spring, but that doesn’t mean they’re suffering a major regression. A great deal of the Cup team remains intact with only role players and replaceable parts finding their way to greener pastures. I expect the likes of Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar to again lead this deep squad on a playoff run.
- San Jose Sharks – The Sharks were a fine hockey club in 2012-13. Their veteran core still remains but the transition to their young stars is well underway. Further increasing the role of Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture will do nothing more than to galvanize the talent that is all over this roster.
- Vancouver Canucks – I found it odd that the Canucks fired Alain Vigneault because Vancouver’s offense was expiring only to hire a defense-first thinker as his replacement. While the Canucks may not employ the same defensive shell tactics used by the Rangers, the relationship between John Tortorella and some of Vancouver’s offensive weapons will be an interesting dynamic.
- Anaheim Ducks – Not only is this the final flight for the Finnish Flash but the Ducks will be bringing back their eggplant uniforms once more. The Ducks made major strides last season and I can only expect them to build upon last season’s success in 13-14.
- Phoenix Coyotes – I don’t expect this to be as close as the place in the standings may indicate. While the Coytoes are finally on firm financial ground, I think the talent above them in this division will be far too much to overcome. Perhaps they unseat the Ducks for a playoff spot, but I’m not going to hold my breath.
- Edmonton Oilers – The talent in Edmonton is beyond enviable. However, they seem to keep finding different ways to squander the royal flush they continue to be dealt. While there are plenty of things to be happy about with the improvement of the Oilers, I still think they’re a couple of years away from being a contender.
Calgary Flames – The Flames probably won’t be very good this season. They have major question marks in goal, at forward and on defense. They appear to be in phase one of a major rebuilding project and I’m not sure where the end of the line may be.