NHL Central Division 2021 Preview

With the Christmas holidays wrapping up and a brand new NHL season approaching faster than Santa’s sleigh, let’s review what the teams of the ‘Central’ division had asked for from St. Nick, hoping something good under their hockey stick tree.

Carolina Hurricanes

On the Christmas list: A new TikTok trend/new social media app

“Bunch of jerks”, “Storm surge!”, while the Hurricanes offer an exciting product on the ice, it may the post-game or off ice antics that have gotten fans of North Carolina excited about this team. With a competitive product and the right continued hype the Caniacs will be happy about their teams result.

Chicago Blackhawks

On the Christmas List: Couples Counselling

Three Stanley Cups and nearly a decade among the best in the NHL…Eventually all good things must come to an end. Thus, the Blackhawks are entering a rebuilding period, much to the dismay (and evidently surprise) of captain Jonathan Toews. GM Stan Bowman admitted as much and has good young pieces in Alex DeBrincat, Dominik Kubalik and Kirby Dach to build around, but took a gamble not addressing their goaltending after letting veteran Corey Crawford walk away. His thinking that there will be plenty of options ahead of next season, especially with the Seattle expansion draft looming, is sound reasoning, though if that’s the case, he’d better do something about it.

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While Brent Seabrook’s contract remains arguably the worst in the game, and Kane and Towes have both stated they want to remain in the Windy City, Bowman will have to mend fences with more than fans who want better results. His own leadership group remarked about how caught off guard, and disappointed they were about the team’s direction. However, with due respect to Toews, who is a great leader and understandably a competitor who (for some reason) feels they can still win, it’s time for a shakeup. In fact, it’s probably past due. Bowman is hamstrung by long term deals for underperforming older players, so he’s limited on what he can do to improve his situation as far as dealing for picks and prospects go. Though, if nothing else, not having a top end goalie should at least help their draft position.

Columbus Blue Jackets

On the Christmas List: Health in net

After seeing Sergei Bobrovsky leave for sunny south Florida, the Blue Jackets had two goalies step up and take the net at times with Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins . Both goalies saw about thirty games apiece but with the games coming quick and fast having both goalies healthy will be key.

Dallas Stars

On the Christmas List: A DeLorean

The Stars lost a physical, fast paced Stanley Cup final to the Lightning and while they acquitted themselves well throughout the bubble, they couldn’t muster the offence in the final series to overcome an impressive Tampa squad. Tyler Sequin’s injury obviously didn’t help, and clearly explained his struggles, but, with all due respect, when veterans like Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry are leading the goal-scoring charge, something needs to be addressed. They had a plethora of contributors like Denis Gurianov and Joel Kiviranta in earlier rounds, but as the playoffs carried on, their top guys were doing the heavy lifting with little support.

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In fact at one point in the Final, Perry and Pavelski scored six straight Dallas goals. They have a highly talented offensive group on the blue line, and even Jamie Oleksiak stepped up to contribute in the post season run, but if they want to finish the job, they’ll need to add up front, or at least get a Back to The Future-esque rebound from Pavelski and Perry, not to mention the oft-injured Ben Bishop, to maintain their former All-Star form for at least one more legitimate Stanley Cup run.

Detroit Red Wings

On The Christmas List: A time turner (Harry Potter)

If the Red Wings can speed up time to when some of these high draft picks can blossom into the highly skilled players the war room hopes they can be. Or turn back time to when Steve Yzerman could take to the ice and put up points and raise banners in the new arena.

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Florida Panthers

On The Christmas List: Meeting their potential

Plain and simple the Panthers have underperformed. They have brought in shiny toy after shiny toy, hoping to sell jerseys or keep their current crop of stars happy or in the hopes to grow the game in South Florida. Now it is time to grow the game by growing themselves, they had to watch in-state rivals beat the team that tossed them from the playoffs/play-in round in route to lifting the Stanley Cup. Is it their time to hoist the cup and keep it in the sun?

Nashville Predators

On The Christmas List: Chemistry Set

The Preds were among the league best for several seasons, culminating in their 2017 Cup Final loss to the Pens. Since then it’s been a string of trades to try and keep that competitive window open, but no matter what they try, they just can’t seem to get the mix right. Kyle Turris never seemed to find his place and after being bought out, is now in Edmonton.

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PK Subban was moved out from a talented blue line to make room for Matt Duchene who adjusted to the country life style of Nashville quicker than his new teammates. Pekka Rinne wasn’t the elite netminder he once was, and at 38, those days are likely behind him. GM David Poile is clearly not afraid to make a move to improve his team, but the more you examine the roster, more questions arise than answers, and like a country song leaves you longing for what may have been.  

Tampa Bay Lightning

On The Christmas List: A Christmas miracle

Within a few hours of writing this information has started to come out that Nikita Kucherov will be placed on long term injured reserve solving an immediate issue that Tampa faces with the salary cap. What it doesn’t solve is the scoring hole that will be in the line up without him. If Kucherov and Steven Stamkos, are to miss a substantial amount of time this season it will be up to other forwards (and elevated defensemen playing bigger roles) to keep scoring at a frantic pace.

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While Andrei Vasilevskiy played almost every game in the bubble, health and some rest will be important playing so late and not getting the summer of repair and training in. So if Tampa hopes to repeat they may want to start wishing on the non-cap relief star and hope that Lightning really can strike twice.

 

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