Friday, September 22, 2006

Predictions: Central Division

After posting my predictions for the Northwest Division and Pacific Division, today I will take a look at the Central Division.

1. Detroit Red Wings Sure much of the old guard (Yzerman, Shanahan, Fedorov etc) is gone, but this is still a good team. Nicklas Lidstrom is the best defenceman in hockey today. Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Robert Lang et al give them a good group of forwards. Dominik Hasek may be injury prone, but until he got hurt last year, he was the best goaltender in the league. This is the team to beat in the central.

2. Nashville Predators This is a good team too. Paul Kariya, Steve Sullivan, Jason Arnott and David Legwand lead a group of several scoring threats. Kimmo Timonen and Marek Zidlicky are two of the best defencemen that most people overlook. Tomas Vokoun is an excellent goaltender if he gets past his medical problems. This team has been steadily improving since their expansion and should continue down that road.

3. Chicago Blackhawks This team has been poorly run, but nevertheless have acquired some proven talent in Martin Havlat, goalie Nikolai Khabibulin (who is a good bet for a comeback season) and Adrien Aucoin. To this they add young talent like Tuomo Ruuttu (if he can stay healthy), Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith. I don't think they will be a great team, but they will show some progress if they are not awful and it looks like that could happen.

4. St Louis Blues This team was awful last year and had to spend money merely to reach the salary floor. They added Doug Weight, Jay McKee, Bill Guerin, Radek Dvorak, Manny Legace and Martin Rucinsky. That won't make them good, but it might make them respectable, although all are at the age where injury and productivity drops are likely. They still have Keith Tkachuk, who is reporting to camp in shape this year and Eric Brewer may still develop into a top defender. This team is a victim of the salary floor. They really should be rebuilding, but they must spend a good chunk of money on older players to meet the salary floor and those older players will take playing time from the kids.

5. Columbus Blue Jackets This team went from pathetic during the time Rick Nash was hurt to slightly below average when he was healthy. Likely Nash will be healthy this year, but they took steps backward in other places. Their goaltending situation is far from set. Marcd Denis is in Tampa Bay leaving Pascal LeClaire as the likely starter. Nikolai Zherdev, their most talented young forward not named Nash will most likely play in Europe. This team should have a tough year.

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