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Previewing the NHL’s Tough Central Division

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Last year’s Stanley Cup champions, the Chicago Blackhawks, came out of the Western Conference’s Central Division. Will the same division produce the 2015-16 season champions? We wouldn’t bet against it. This is our 2015-16 Central Division preview.

  1. Colorado Avalanche

Defense was the weakest point for a weak team in Colorado last year. The offseason addition of veteran D Francois Beauchemin will help, but it won’t matter much unless the offense starts going again. This team looked really good in Patrick Roy’s first season as head coach (2013-14), but it turned into a pumpkin last year. We think the losing version of the Avs is the real one. They’re in for another year of rebuilding.

  1. Dallas Stars

Chicago’s losses have been Dallas’ gains. Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya are here to help out a Dallas team that was a borderline playoff squad last year. Sharp and Oduya are good players, but this offseason’s moves are more like band-aids than cure-alls. Dallas isn’t worse, but most of the mid-level teams in this division are now better, and Dallas is a step behind.

  1. Winnipeg Jets

The Jets are a very young team, which makes them a very exciting one – and a tough one to handicap. There will be good times ahead for the Jets: 2014 draft pick Nikolaj Ehlers will likely make an impact this season or next. Is this is a playoff year for the Jets? Well, maybe – but at the very least, next year will be.

  1. Chicago Blackhawks

The Blackhawks lifted the Stanley Cup last year, but they look very different this year. Chicago had salary cap problems galore, so they said goodbye to LW Brandon Saad, LW Patrick Sharp, and D Johnny Oduya, among others. Now Patrick Kane is facing rape accusations in upstate New York. Offseasons don’t get much worse, but the Blackhawks will.

  1. Minnesota Wild

The Wild return a team that looks pretty similar to last year’s. They signed G Devan Dubnyk for six years after picking him up mid-season last year; he earned that deal with spectacular play down the stretch last year. The Wild will need more of the same from Dubnyk to compete, but they just might get it. Thomas Vanek and the core stars are back.

  1. Nashville Predators

The Preds have great goaltending (Pekka Rinne’s GAA of 2.18 was third in the league last year) and are deep at almost every position. They don’t have the star power that Chicago does, but that means that they don’t have the salary cap problems, either. Expect them to replicate last year’s campaign, giving trouble to the rest of this division’s tough top three teams.

  1. St. Louis Blues

The Blues were the best in the division last year, accumulating 109 points and earning one of two number one seeds in the Western Conference playoffs. Twenty-three-year-old Vladimir Tarasenko, who netted 37 goals in 77 games, was a huge part of that. The Blues bid farewell to T.J. Oshie this offseason, but the rest of their team looks pretty similar.

Here’s the bottom line for the Blues: there’s no reason to think that Tarasenko, now signed to an eight-year deal, will regress much. T.J. Oshie’s impact with fans outweighed his impact on the ice; he’ll be missed, but not that much. The Blues were great last year, and they’ll be great this year: it’s pretty much that simple. We’re picking them to keep the division crown.

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