The NHL enters a new era for this season, with its alignment into four larger divisions (now 7-8 teams apiece as opposed to five). The Central Division might not be the toughest, but it’s home to the best team, as the Chicago Blackhawks are fresh off their 2013 Stanley Cup. Here’s a snapshot look at the Central Division’s seven teams. Each team’s betting odds to win the Western Conference and reach the Finals are in parentheses.
Chicago (5-2): The only thing the Blackhawks don’t do exceptionally well is convert on the power play, were they ranked 19th in the league. Otherwise, Chicago is a top five team in every statistical category worth looking at. And they were the best all season long in that under-the-radar statistical category called wins. Their championship wasn’t a magic ride postseason. It was a great team validating its standing. They’re the team to beat until proven otherwise.
St. Louis (9-2): St. Louis is getting some love in the betting markets, with those 9-2 odds being second in the entire Western Conference, better than the Los Angeles Kings, who have ousted the Blues for two straight years and won the 2012 Stanley Cup. I like St. Louis–they play excellent team defense and grind out enough goals to win. They get Jaroslav Halak back from injury, which will strengthen the goaltending situation. I’m just not sure this is a championship-caliber team.
Minnesota (20-1): The Wild scraped into the playoffs thanks to some good team defense that covered up poor goaltending and subpar offense. A healthy Jason Pominville will help the latter, but Nicklas Backstrom needs to step up his game between the pipes.
Winnipeg (20-1): I’m not sure why the Jets are considered on the same par with Minnesota and above three other division teams in the betting odds Frankly, I see nothing positive about this team and think they might be the worst in the NHL. Although if we crisscross sports, they might still be the best professional sports franchise nicknamed the Jets.
Nashville (25-1): Last year was a disaster for the Preds in pretty much all phases of the game. The hope here is that goaltender Pekka Rinne can find the form that made him one of the league’s best in 2012. If he does, it will put Nashville at least into the playoff conversation, but there’s not enough surrounding talent, thanks to free agent departures prior to last season, to do more than that.
Colorado (25-1): The Avalanche went out an acquired Semyon Varmalov to help out a woeful goaltending situation. But unless new GM Patrick Roy is ready to get back in goal himself and recapture the glory days of 1996 and 2001, Colorado can just focus on rebuilding.
Dallas (25-1): Dallas had problems generating shots on offense and they looked to address the problem by acquiring Boston center Tyler Seguin. It will probably help, but the Stars are riddled with problems elsewhere and Kari Lehtonen shows no sign of being the answer in goalie.
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