As the arrow of time advances from summer to fall, we can all rejoice at the impending return of the NHL. Here at 4th Line Towers we can’t wait to watch some proper hockey again. This year we’re approaching our previews in a different way; the word count for each team’s preview has been dictated by the number of points that team scored last season. To further mix things up, we’ve divvied up the teams between our writers and some special guests. Let the Central division preview begin!
Nashville Predators – Mike Laybourne
2017/18: 117 points
For a good preview on the Preds, go read last season’s and just swap Mike Fisher for Dan Hamhuis. Head Coach Peter Laviolette is all in on the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ methodology. Last season the Preds went 53-18-11 and won the Presidents’ Cup with 117 points before disappearing in the playoffs.
Fisher may have retired, and Scott Hartnell and Alexei Emelin have gone, but Hamhuis is a good addition to one of strongest D-corps in the league alongside P.K. Subban and Roman Josi. The question isn’t about how the Preds will do in the regular season, but rather can they keep that momentum in the playoffs, something they failed to do last season.
Winnipeg Jets – Mike Laybourne
2017/18: 114 points
After finishing second in the conference, the Jets surprised many by falling to Vegas in the Conference Finals. If the Jets are going to soar high, this is the season to do it, as next off-season will bring some big contract challenges. Joel Armia is now a Canadien, and a few other skaters have gone. The key group of point producers, Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine, Nikolaj Ehlers and Mark Scheifele are all present (Scheifele is usually a good bet for #HiSticking).
Minnesota Wild – Nate Kinsey
2017/18: 101 points
The Wild had a very uneventful offseason, only making tweaks to their 4th line and bottom defensemen. They’re hoping for healthy seasons from star players like Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and for bounce-back seasons from forwards Charlie Coyle & Nino Niederreiter. Without these things happening, the Wild could be in for a disappointing season, considering that it is highly unlikely for forwards Eric Staal and Jason Zucker put up numbers like last year. Assuming Suter is 100%, Devan Dubnyk remains solid in net, and the forward group plays up to their potential, the Wild will make a 7th straight playoff appearance.
Colorado Avalanche – Carl Landra
2017/18: 95 points
Out from under the shadow of Matt Duchene, the Avalanche returned to the playoffs. Gifted with Ottawa’s 2019 1st round pick, the 1st overall pick and a playoff berth are both possible. Improving the backup goaltending with the acquisition of Philip Grubauer, the Avalanche are better equipped for the inevitable Semyon Varlamov injury. With rookies Samuel Girard, Alex Kerfoot, J. T. Compher and Tyson Jost entering their second season, a significant portion of the squad are primed to improve. Add on Nathan MacKinnon doing Nathan MacKinnon things and the Avalanche should return to the playoffs.
St. Louis Blues – Carl Landra
2017/18: 94 points
The St. Louis Blues had arguably the NHL’s busiest offseason. And it pretty much all happened on July 1st. They signed Tyler Bozak at center. They signed David Perron on the left wing. And they traded for Ryan O’Reilly, giving up for Tage Thompson, Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka, a 2019 1st round pick and a 2021 2nd round pick. They added a number of other, smaller, pieces, including backup goalie Chad Johnson. The Blues missed the playoffs by one point last season, and added significant weapons. Watch out for the Blues of St. Louis.
Dallas Stars – Mike Laybourne
2017/18: 92 points
Ken Hitchcock may have retired, replaced by Jim Montgomery, but the Stars are far from a rebuild. Despite disappointing last season, the Stars have all the right ingredients to be a good challenge for any NHL team.
Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov make up one of the most fearsome top lines in the league, and the rest of the roster ain’t bad either. The return of Valeri Nichushkin from the KHL will bolster the second line. 2017’s third overall draft pick Miro Heiskanen should immediately improve Dallas’ middling defensive corps.
Chicago Blackhawks – Ken Kallembach
2017/18: 76 points
Know thyself. Blackhawks management doesn’t. Drafting “upside” doesn’t work when the last defenseman you developed is 31. Hall of Fame core has aged out of dominance and has begun its course toward obscurity. And Marian Hossa left. Joel Quenneville and Stan Bowman have been on different pages for years and it’s caught up to the franchise. At least one (likely both) of them will be gone before next seasons preview. It’s time to start the rebuild.