NHL Central Division Preview: Who Has a Shot to Unseat the Defending Champs?

Colorado On Top of NHL Mountain

NHL Central Division Preview: The Colorado Avalanche finally break their streak of not advancing past the Second Round of the playoffs, and for the first time since 2001, hoisted Lord Stanley’s Cup after a grueling 6-game elimination of the defending two-time Champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Avs, along with the Minnesota Wild and Dallas Stars, look primed to make another run into the postseason. The St. Louis Blues are right on the fringe of being in the playoffs again this year, while the Winnipeg Jets and Nashville Predators look to be on the outside. The Chicago Blackhawks and Arizona Coyotes will be battling it out at the bottom of the division and the league, hoping to earn the #1 Overall Pick in next Summer’s NHL Draft.

 

OPENING NIGHT

  • Game Opening Night: Chicago Blackhawks at Colorado Avalanche
  • Location: Ball Arena, Denver, Colorado
  • Day/Time:
  • Streaming: Live Stream Sports

 

Colorado Avalanche (56-19-7, 119 Points)

  • Division Odds: -165
  • Conference Odds: +150
  • Stanley Cup Odds: +250
  • Season Points Projection: 111.5 (-115 each way)

Continuing along with our NHL Central Division Preview: The Colorado Avalanche are at the top of the mountain, winning their first Stanley Cup since 2001, with a strong core of talent at both ends of the ice, led by scoring wingers Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog and burgeoning defensive stars Cale Makar, Devon Toews and Samuel Girard.

One big piece that will be missed this season for the Avs is veteran forward Nazem Kadri. The often criticized winger had some clutch moments in the postseason, but with his departure to Calgary, Colorado will turn to solid forward Evan Rodrigues to fill the void. Alex Newhook turned in a sturdy rookie season, with 13 goals and 20 assists over 71 games, he will also be asked to increase his production with the loss of Kadri, along with the unavailability of Landeskog, who is out early in the season recovering from a injury suffered during the postseason. Be sure to check right here for the latest NHL future odds.

In goal, there will be a bit of a battle between returning netminder Pavel Francouz and free agent signee Alexandar Georgiev. The 32-year old Czechia native Francouz was exceptional when called upon during the playoffs, as starter Darcy Kuemper battled through eye and head injuries during the title run. Georgiev comes over from the New York Rangers, where he did a decent job backing up Vezina Trophy winner Igor Shesterkin, posting a 15-10-2 record with a 2.92 goals-against average in 33 games played. Both goaltenders will get opportunities to win the top spot, but expect to see Francouz get the bulk of work early on.

The Avalanche are clear favorites to repeat as Central Division, Western Conference and Stanley Cup Champions, based upon the NHL Betting Odds. NHL injuries are always a big issue for bettors and can be a turning point in the season for any given team. Be sure to follow along each week for injury updates.

 

Minnesota Wild (53-22-7, 113 Points)

  • Division Odds: +400
  • Conference Odds: +800
  • Stanley Cup Odds: +1400
  • Season Point Projections: 100.5 (-115 each way)

One of the surprising contenders in the Western Conference last year, the Minnesota Wild had one of their most successful regular season campaigns ever, finishing with the fifth most points in the league. However, their first round exit in six games against St. Louis left Wild fans thinking, “Here We Go Again” with the flat postseason efforts.

This season begins a three-year salary cap crunch, the remnants of cutting loose forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter, who are currently playing for the New York Islanders and Dallas Stars, respectfully. Despite the tight wallet, General Manager Bill Guerin has done a tremendous job building a roster that is talented enough to make a legitimate run in the postseason. Spearheaded by young forward Kirill Kaprizov, this team has some strong offensive balance along their top two forward lines. “Kirill The Thrill” led the club with 47 goals and 108 points in just his second season in the National Hockey League.

Add into the mix Ryan Hartman, a 27-year old journeyman forward who seems to have finally found a home in Saint Paul, scoring a career-high 34 goals and adding 31 assists on the year. Joel Eriksson-Ek is developing into one of the best two-way forwards in the game, and his work at the faceoff dot is not to be overlooked as well.

a 27-year old journeyman forward who seems to have finally found a home in Saint Paul, scoring a career-high 34 goals and adding 31 assists on the year.

At the Trade Deadline last spring, Minnesota made a huge move, picking up future Hall-of-Famer Marc-Andre Fleury to play in goal, which was basically the writing on the wall that veteran Cam Talbot would be moved elsewhere after the 38-year old Fleury re-signed with the club for two more years. The aforementioned Talbot was sent to Ottawa in exchange for young backstop Filip Gustavsson, who will get to learn a great deal backing up for the three-time Stanley Cup champion.

With one of the best home ice advantages in the National Hockey League, Minnesota will once again be a big Betting Odds favorite during the year when they play at Xcel Energy Center.

 

Dallas Stars (46-30-6, 98 Points)

  • Division Odds: +1400
  • Conference Odds: +1800
  • Stanley Cup Odds: +5000
  • Season Point Projection: 93.5 Points (-115 each way)

The Dallas Stars always seem to stick out like a sore thumb in the Western Conference, with most of the teams playing at a fast tempo offensively, the boys from the Lone Star state always make an emphasis to be responsible defensively, even if it means rolling with an more conservative approach at the front end. They made the postseason last year, forcing a decisive Game Seven against the Calgary Flames, where they lost in a tough overtime battle.

The core group remains the same for new head coach Peter DeBoer, who is firm about his defensive approach, but also wishes to unlock the offensive potential from this club, especially from veteran forwards like Joe Pavelski, Tyler Seguin and captain Jamie Benn, as well as young skaters Roope Hintz and newly acquired winger Mason Marchment.

Between the pipes, Dallas looks strong with Jake Oettinger signing a new two-year deal to stick around with the Green and Black. And on defense, Miro Heiskanen, also with a fresh new contract, has emerged into a perennial Norris Trophy contender with his stellar play along the blue line.

The Stars have been a strong team to bet unders with in recent years, but with DeBoer at the helm, we might see some increased scoring, which could create some early value to bet on some Overs with this club.

 

St. Louis Blues (49-22-11, 109 Points)

  • Division Odds: +1000
  • Conference Odds: +1200
  • Stanley Cup Odds: +3000
  • Season Point Projection: 95.5 Points (-115 each way)

After another playoff run, which saw them give the eventual Stanley Cup Champions in Colorado a strong run for their money in a six-game series exit, the St. Louis Blues are at a bit of a crossroads amongst the Central Division Preview landscape. One of their emerging stars last season was goaltender Ville Husso. Originally slated to be the backup to former Stanley Cup winner Jordan Binnington, the 26-year old Finnish native posted a 25-7-6 record with a 2.56 goals-against average and a .919% save percentage over 38 starts, most of which came when the aforementioned Binnington was out with injuries.

Now with Husso taking a big payday to head to Detroit, the net once again belongs to Binnington, who will need to play with the same consistency we saw from him in the playoffs when the Blues dispatched the Minnesota Wild in the first round.

Their strongest unit is right up the middle with their centerman positions. They have a four-man unit consisting of Robert Thomas, Ryan O’Reilly, Brayden Schenn and newly signed Noel Acciari. The only question mark they have with the forwards are who will step up in the absence of David Perron, who has once again left the Gateway City, this time moving on to Detroit along with Husso. Perron scored 27 goals and added 30 assists last season. The Blues will look for youngsters Jordan Kyrou and Robert Thomas to pick up the scoring slack along the sides.

 

Nashville Predators (45-30-7, 97 Points)

  • Division Odds: +1000
  • Conference Odds: +2200
  • Stanley Cup Odds: +4000
  • Season Point Projection: 97.5 Points (-115 each way)

The Nashville Predators have been one of the more consistent franchises over the last decade, but after last year’s lifeless sweep out of the playoffs by Colorado, many questions need to be answered this year in the Music City.

Forward Filip Forsberg signed a long-term extension, and as the leader of this offense, he will need to rely on his supporting cast to chip in with sturdy production if the Preds wish to reach the postseason again this year.

Veteran Matt Duchene had a tremendous year, with a career-high 43 goals and 86 points, but we’ve seen the 31-year old centerman go hot and cold often over his 15-year career. Same goes for forwards Ryan Johansen and Mikael Granlund.

Adding some help in the form of Nino Niederreiter up front, along with signing defenseman Ryan McDonagh to skate alongside star Roman Josi and Mattias Ekholm along the blue line should certainly prove valuable.

In net, Juuse Saros will lead the club once again, despite battling some injuries. Nashville did upgrade their backup, dropping David Rittich in favor of young Kevin Lankinen, who posted solid numbers in front of a bad Chicago defense for the last two seasons. He will certainly benefit from having a stronger defensive corps in front of him.

 

Winnipeg Jets (39-32-11, 89 Points)

  • Division Odds: +2000
  • Conference Odds: +2800
  • Stanley Cup Odds: +6600
  • Season Point Projection: 93.5 Points (-115 each way)

Things look to be getting cold early in the True North, as the Winnipeg Jets make some changes behind the bench with Rick Bowness takes over coaching duties after getting canned in Dallas. The stripping of the captaincy from longtime forward Blake Wheeler in favor of rotating four different alternate captains is the first wake up call to signal that a change is coming for the Jets after missing the postseason last year for the first time since 2017.

Pierre Luc-Dubois did re-sign with the club, but only for one year, while notable winger Mark Scheifele has two years left before he becomes an unrestricted free agent. With very limited depth at the bottom forward lines, on the blue-line and with their minor league system, this looks like a franchise that is quickly heading towards a rebuild.

Their one solid spot is between the pipes with Connor Hellebuyck. A perennial Vezina Trophy candidate, the 29-year old Michigan native who has led or been near the top of the “games played” list in four of the last five seasons – will have to continue to be durable and productive for this Jets’ squad to be competitive night in and night out. If he goes down to injury or becomes inconsistent, his backup is David Rittich, who posted mediocre numbers with Nashville and seems to be declining over the years despite his young age of 30.

 

Chicago Blackhawks (28-42-12, 68 Points)

  • Division Odds: +25000
  • Conference Odds: +15000
  • Stanley Cup Odds: +50000
  • Season Point Projection: 65.5 Points (-115 each way)

The rebuild is officially underway on the West Side of Chicago, as the Blackhawks made moves on draft night, sending young scorer Alex DeBrincat to Ottawa and center Kirby Dach to Montreal for picks. New GM Kyle Davidson has made it clear that this will be a complete tear-down after making moves a season before to pick up defenseman Seth Jones and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, which gave many Hawks fans hope that this club could sneak into a Wild Card spot and give it one more good run, a decade removed from their Dynasty days.

Instead, the club opened the year losing their first nine games, and coach Jeremy Colliton and GM Stan Bowman were shown the door. Derek King did a fair job as the interim bench boss, and he will return to Chicago, but this time as an assistant for new head coach Luke Richardson.

The veterans who carry the flag for this organization are forwards Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Both men have been superstars since day one and it seems that by the trade deadline in late February – one, if not both figures will be moved to teams that will contend for a title.

New acquisitions Max Domi and Andreas Athanasiou will be looking to provide offense along the top 6 group. On defense, the aforementioned Jones will be along with oft-injured Connor Murphy and veteran Jack Johnson was signed from Colorado to help out with some of the youngsters looking to develop along the blue line.

Goaltending is going to be a giant question mark as the Hawks will roll with Petr Mrazek, a netminder who has dealt with many injuries over the years, and Alex Stalock, another backup who missed over two seasons battling with Long COVID symptoms, including heart issues.

 

Arizona Coyotes (25-50-7, 57 Points)

  • Division Odds: +25000
  • Conference Odds: +15000
  • Stanley Cup Odds: +50000
  • Season Point Projection: 65.5 Points (-115 each way)

Wrapping up our NHL Central Division preview: The “drama in the desert” continues this season for the Arizona Coyotes, as they ended last season with the second worst record in the National Hockey League. To boot… eviction papers forcing them out of Gila River Arena and into sharing space at the new 5,000-seat Mullett Arena in Tempe with the Arizona State University Sun Devils. Despite selling out season tickets for this year, news has trickled out that several players have expressed their disdain for the smaller barn with limited amenities compared to the other 31 NHL arenas.

The “drama in the desert” continues this season for the Arizona Coyotes, as they ended last season with the second worst record in the National Hockey League.

On the ice, the Coyotes will be rather lousy as well, with top forward Phil Kessel now in Vegas, the bulk of the scoring will have to come from Clayton Keller and Nick Schmaltz up front. Their defense corps is very thin, with star Jakob Chychrun being the lone bright spot. In goal, Karol Vejmelka went from being the ‘Yotes 4th option last training camp to their number one starter this season. The 26-year old Czechia native posted a 13-32-3 record with a moderate 3.68 goals-against average. He will have to face another heavy workload this season.

Things will not be be easy for Arizona, as the team opens the season with a six-game road trip on the east coast before the grand opening of their new home, and after four games in Tempe, the Coyotes head on the road for a season-long 14 games trek, lasting over a month. That’s a tough road for any team, just ask the New York Islanders last year, who played their first 15 games away from home while waiting for UBS Arena to be completed. More dark days ahead for the desert dogs this season.

 

Order of Finish

  1. Colorado Avalanche
  2. Minnesota Wild
  3. Dallas Stars
  4. St. Louis Blues
  5. Nashville Predators
  6. Winnipeg Jets
  7. Chicago Blackhawks
  8. Arizona Coyotes

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