NHL Central Division: No Blackhawks Down
We're a week and a half into the hockey season, and while it's too early to tell what the scene will show in springtime, one thing is for sure.
The Chicago Blackhawks will be near the top of the Central Division and a force in the playoffs.
Jonathan Towes and Patrick Kane are now signed in the Windy CIty for the next eight years. This is a huge distraction that's now gone away. Corey Crawford is steady in net and Chicago is hoping the signing of Brad Richards will help on and off the ice.
St. Louis is looking to advance out of the first round of the playoffs after tough losses the past two seasons. The signing of Paul Stastny will help, even though he's now out with an injury.
Along with David Backes and TJ Oshie, the Blues should improve on offense this year but will have to get a stellar effort in goal from Brian Elliott now that Ryan Miller has moved on to Vancouver.
Last season, Colorado came out of nowhere and won the division before falling to Minnesota in the playoffs. This year, Patrick Roy has work to do. Lots of it. The Avalanche have struggled out of the gate and now have lost star goalie Semyon Varlamov with a groin injury. Add to that the loss of Stastny, and Roy will have to create some magic again like he did in his first season as head coach. Calder winner Nate MacKinnon works well centering the NHL's youngest captain, Gabe Landeskog.
One team that has not struggled is Nashville and new coach Peter Laviolette. The Predators will always be competitive as long as Pekka Rinne stays healthy in goal, and he's off to a strong start this season. Youngster Filip Forsberg -- no relation, by the way -- is now up to stay. He'll add both speed and sniping to the Preds' attack. And any blue line with Shea Weber on patrol is going to be one of the league's best.
Minnesota had a nice playoff run last season, upsetting Colorado and playing Chicago tough. This time around, the Wild signed Thomas Vanek to help their offense but have lost starting goalie Josh Harding to an altercation that not only injured him, but got him suspended. It'll be up to last years' big free agents -- Zach Parise and Ryan Suter -- to keep the Minnesota in the division and conference races.
The Dallas Stars plan on a longer playoff run next spring after losing a tough first-round series to Anaheim last year. Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn need to score 30 or more goals again for that to happen. As well, the Stars are hoping Jason Spezza can add to their offense.
That leaves the WInnipeg Jets, who have floundered early and should all year. The 'Peg did finish over .500 last season but didn't improve over the summer and it already shows. Goalie Ondrej Pavelec needs to step up or the Jets will be where they usually are, on the golf course earlier than most.