Friday, September 27, 2013

Central Division Thoughts

1. Chicago*

Losses: F Michal Frolik, F Dave Bolland, F Viktor Stalberg, G Ray Emery
Additions: G Nikolai Khabibulin

Forwards: Still stacked (although perhaps not quite as much as last season). Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, and Marian Hossa make for a strong top-six, and younger players like Marcus Kruger, Brandon Saad, Jeremy Morin, Jimmy Hayes, and perhaps Brandon Pirri add talent across the rest of the lines. The only real weakness is having Michal Handzus—if last season is any indication, he'll be a 2C, and he's a bad 2C. (It's just that Sharp and Kane/Hossa are more than good enough to carry him.) Bolland and Stalberg should be easy to replace; Frolik will be a little tougher to replace, but there's so much talent in the system that it's hard not to see a couple of players stepping up in the next couple of seasons.

Defense: Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook make a terrific top pair, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya make for a surprisingly solid second pair, and developing Nick Leddy and veteran Michal Roszival make a good third pair. (If you haven't noticed, there's a common theme here: "good".)

Goaltending: We can be pretty sure Corey Crawford is a competent starter. Probably not much more or much less.

tl;dr : Pretty much the same team that won the Cup. Not way better than anyone else (like 2012 Los Angeles), but one of the two or three best teams around for sure.

2. St. Louis*

Losses: F Andy McDonald (retirement), F David Perron (trade), F Jamie Langenbrunner (UFA), Wade Redden (UFA)
Additions: F Derek Roy (UFA), F Magnus Paajarvi (trade), F Keith Aucoin (UFA), F Max Lapierre (UFA)

Forwards: It's embarrassing for the rest of the league how much cheap talent the Blues have assembled without lottery picks. (They've only had one top-five recently—2008, when they picked Alex Pietrangelo, a defenseman.) Lots of good two-way talent here, although Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko are the only two that could be real standouts...and both are likely still at least a couple of years away from that. That being said, this team wasn't as strong possession-wise in 2013 as it was two seasons ago—something to keep an eye on.

Defense: A lot of the same sentiment. Pietrangelo is a standout, Jay Bouwmeester is pretty good, and so are Barrett Jackman, Kevin Shattenkirk, Roman Polak, and you could do much worse than Jordan Leopold on your third pair.

Goaltending: Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak aren't the most inspiring tandem. Elliott isn't very good, and Halak gets hurt a lot. Jake Allen is unproven.

tl;dr : Great group of skaters, goaltending might be a source of weakness.

3. Minnesota*

Losses: F Devin Setoguchi, D Tom Gilbert (buyout)

Forwards: The group is headlined by Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, and Dany Heatley. There's a lot of youth, though, which could make this lineup really strong as soon as this season: Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Jason Zucker...the list goes on.

Defense: Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin are good, Marco Scandella still developing. Other than that...why did they buy out Gilbert again?

Goaltending: Backstrom is getting old, but Harding is a great backup.

tl;dr: need young players to mature to reach next level.

4. Dallas*

Losses: F Loui Eriksson (trade), F Eric Nystrom, D Philip Larsen
Additions: F Tyler Seguin (trade), F Rich Peverley (trade), F Shawn Horcoff (trade), D Sergei Gonchar (UFA)

Forwards: This isn't a bad group. Jamie Benn, Erik Cole, Seguin, Horcoff, Ray Whitney, Cody Eakin, and potentially Valeri Nichushkin all bring some offensive punch. That top line with Benn and Seguin could be especially potent. I think Loui Eriksson ceased to be "the most underrated player in the NHL" a couple of years ago—as it is, it's hard to believe he's the most underrated if everyone thinks he is—and Seguin is an upgrade right now and for the future.

Defense: Brenden Dillon had a pretty nice rookie season and should be half of an okay shutdown pair in Dallas. Gonchar, Alex Goligoski, Trevor Daley, and Stephane Robidas also man the blueline. If Jamie Oleksiak takes a step forward, this could be a solid group. I'm not banking on that happening just yet, though.

Goaltending: Kari Lehtonen is not elite, but he's very good. He's also managed to stay pretty healthy three seasons in a row. This is a strength.

tl;dr : I have offense and goaltending in Dallas beating out defense in Phoenix for that last playoff spot. Barely.

5. Winnipeg

Losses: F Nik Antropov (UFA), F Alex Burmistrov (RFA; KHL), D Ron Hainsey
Additions: F Devin Setoguchi (trade), F Michael Frolik (trade)

Forwards: I really like the top line of Andrew Ladd, Blake Wheeler, and Bryan Little. Evander Kane is the only sure thing on the second line, but it's possible Devin Setoguchi rediscovers some of his old form, and Mark Schiefle has a good rookie season. Frolik solidifies the third line, and Olli Jokinen is still there, too. It would help if either Schiefle or Kane becomes a true standout.

Defense: Losing Hainsey hurts. Tobias Enstrom, Zach Bogosian, Dustin Byfuglien make a fine top three, but the Jets will need to find better Clitsome/Stuart types if they want to take the next step. Jacob Trouba could be that guy, although as a young D, don't count on it.

Goaltending: Is there a more overrated goalie than Ondrej Pavelec? (Heck, even Marc-Andre Fleury isn't really overrated anymore, as far as I can tell.)

tl;dr : Mediocre all around, if young players step up can be more than a bubble team. Need new goalie.

6. Colorado

Losses: F Milan Hejduk (UFA), D Greg Zanon (UFA), F Chuck Kobasew (UFA), F David Jones (trade), D Shane O'Brien (trade)
Additions: HC Patrick Roy, F Alex Tanguay (trade), D Cory Sarich (trade)

Forwards: Gabriel Landeskog. Matt Duchene. Ryan O'Reilly. Paul Stastny. Alex Tanguay. PA Parenteau. Did they even need Nathan MacKinnon?

Defense: Just like the forwards, except the complete opposite.

Goaltending: I'm a Semyon Varlamov fan. Hopefully having a full-time goalie coach, like he had in Washington, will help him return to the pretty good form he had out East.

tl;dr : See Edmonton, minus sure thing in net.

7. Nashville

Losses: F Sergei Kostitsyn (UFA), D Hal Gill (UFA)
Additions: F Viktor Stalberg (UFA), F Matt Cullen (UFA), F Matt Hendricks (UFA)

Forwards: There's a little talent here—Colin Wilson, David Legwand, Mike Fisher, Patric Hornqvist, and Matt Cullen—but not much. Yawn.

Defense: Shea Weber is the only standout, but there are plenty of talented, younger D back there: Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, Mattias Elkholm, and now Seth Jones. This blueline could be exceptional, or it could be a mess aside from the top pairing.

Goaltending: Pekka Rinne's career save percentage is .920. That's really good, but I don't think he'll be able to carry this team like Jonathan Quick carried the 2011-12 Kings (until April, at least).

tl;dr : Remember when Barry Trotz and Dave Tippett were always mentioned in the same breath? Well, now we'll see.

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