In part 3 of my predictions for the 2018-19 NHL season, we will be looking at the Central Division.
Nashville: 111 points
The Nashville Predators have one of the top 5 rosters in hockey right now. From top to bottom, this Predators team is loaded. Forsberg, Arvidson, Subban, Johansen, Josi, Smith, Fiala, Turris, Ekholm, Ellis, and Bonino are all top 6 and top 4 caliber players. Let’s not forget about the always reliable Pekka Rinne in net. If all goes as planned for the Preds, they are set for another deep playoff run, expect them to fend of the Jets for the division crown.
Winnipeg: 107 points
The Jets got red hot last season at the right time, almost taking out Vegas and advancing to the Stanley Cup Final. They fell just short, but have no reason to feel as if that was their last chance at a playoff run. This team is loaded with talent. With the likes of Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine, Nikolaj Ehlers, Mark Schleife, Kyle Connor, and Bryan Little on offense, they should be up in the top 3 in the league for goals. On the blue line, Dustin Byfuglien, Tyler Myers, Jacob Trouba, and Josh Morrissey should do a solid job of keeping pressure off of their talented netminder Connor Hellebuyck. If all goes to plan, the Jets should contend for the division crown and make another deep playoff run.
St. Louis: 102 points
Last season was a streaky one for the Blues. They started hot, went ice cold mid-season, and then caught fire at the end and made a push for the last wild card spot. It came down to one game with the Avalanche, the winner made the playoffs, and they pulled a typical Blues choke job and lost to Colorado and missed out on the postseason for the first time since 2010-11. This season, St. Louis looks to re-establish themselves as a playoff team. There’s no reason that they shouldn’t. A solid offense led by Vladimir Tarasenko, Brayden Schenn, Jaden Schwartz, and a big offseason addition in Ryan O’Reilly. All of those players recorded at least 40 points last season. They also have a solid defensive group lead by Alex Pietrangelo, Colton Parayko, and Joel Edmundson. There’s a lot to like about the Blues, if they can stay consistent, they should return to the playoffs comfortably.
Dallas: 93 points
Every year the Dallas Stars are a popular pick to make the playoffs. They have the core talent to justify this, with the likes of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov, John Klingberg, Marc Methot, and Ben Bishop. While this is quite a talented group of players, they have yet to gel into what many think they can be. Part of that may be due to the lack of depth on the blue line for Dallas, with the talent being very scarce after Klingberg and Methot. Every aspect of this team has playoff caliber talent, but the lack of depth is ultimately going to be why they miss out on the playoffs for the third season in a row.
Minnesota: 93 points
The Wild made a late run at the playoffs last year after a slow start and finished 3rd in the Central Division. They were soon thwarted by the white hot Winnipeg Jets in 5 games. The Wild have a few nice young pieces in Mikael Granlund, Jonas Brodin, and Nino Niederreiter. They’ve had a talented squad for years, but now that same group is aging fast. The likes of Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, and Erik Staal are all over the 30 mark and all but Stall have seen a decline in production. While on paper this team seems like it should make the playoffs, their top guys are slowing down, and the young guns can’t carry the load just yet, especially in a deep Western Conference. The Wild will miss out on the playoffs for the first time since the 2011-12 season.
Colorado: 87 points
The Avalanche blew expectations out of the water last season, finishing with 95 points and the final wild card spot in the Western Conference. They were expected to be quickly dealt with by Nashville, but they took the top seed in the West to 6 games. Nathan MacKinnon was a big part of their success, tallying 97 points and netting 39 goals. While the young talents of MacKinnon, Landeskog, and Barrie are a solid core, there is still some uncertainty surrounding this team. These holes include the lack of both offensive and defensive depth behind their top line, and not knowing how good Philipp Grubauer can be with a full season of starting in net. Even coming off such a successful season, it is still hard to justify this squad returning to the postseason with all these question marks.
Chicago: 86 points
The dynasty has officially ended in Chicago. The end of their reign began with the embarrassing first round loss to Nashville in the 2017 playoffs, but ended with a disastrous 76 point season last year. In fairness to the Hawks, Corey Crawford’s season-ending injury caused wheels to come off for the season. This year will certainly be an improvement for Chicago barring any more detrimental injuries. Although they will improve, it won’t be enough to get them back to playing hockey in April. The core is past their prime, with Patrick Kane being the last player to have any peak form left. Captain Toews has been on the decline the past 2 seasons, and the defensive pairing of Seabrook and Keith are 33 and 35 respectively. This season may be the last time that the Blackhawks reach 85 points for quite awhile.