By Brett Malamud
Wednesday is finally here! All day long, Dabuzzza will be bringing you the NHL coverage as we approach tonight’s games. If you missed the Metropolitan Division Preview, click here. If you missed the Atlantic Division Preview, click here. Now we move to the Western Conference. The Central division hopes to be a good battle all the way to the end. The Avalanche won the division last season, but it seems that almost everyone in the division has improved. Let’s take a look at this season’s Central Division:
The Blackhawks opted to sign Daniel Carcillo instead of keeping Nick Leddy, and sent Leddy off to the New York Islanders. In return, they got Ville Pokka, Anders Nilsson and T.J. Brennan. The 20 year old defenseman Pokka was sent down to the AHL along with Brennan. You’d have to feel for T.J. Brennan though. Brennan has bounced around the NHL a bit, contributing mostly in the AHL. He signed a contract with the Islanders over the summer, and was finally ready to make that jump to become a full time NHL player. Instead, he was part of a salary based trade to Chicago and the Blackhawks sent Brennan back down to the AHL. That has to be a bad feeling. Nilsson will play in the KHL this year and is a non-factor. On the active roster, the Blackhawks look to get over the fact that they were a game seven overtime goal away from heading back to the Stanley Cup Final for the third time in five seasons. They added Brad Richards to their offensive weapons, and he’s expected to start the season as their third line center. 25-year-old Patrick Kane sees himself on the second line with 21-year-old Brandon Saad and 23-year-old Andrew Shaw. Not bad for youth. The top line consists of Patrick Sharp, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. The attack will be hoping to continue the success of last season, when they ranked second in the league in goals per game. Duncan Keith leads the defensive unit. He’ll be paired with Brent Seabrook. The two are a huge threat from the blue line in the offensive zone, combining for 13 goals and 89 assists last season. Corey Crawford will be in net for the Hawks. Crawford struggled early last season but got it together, and hopes to maintain more consistency this season.
Are the Colorado Avalanche really back? The Avs came out of nowhere and stormed to the front of the Central Division standings, after seeing themselves in the basement of the league. A year after winning the division, they’ll have a target on their backs. They suffered a first round loss in seven games to the Minnesota Wild, allowing 22 goals over the seven game span. That can’t happen if Colorado wants to compete farther into the playoffs this season, or to be honest, any season. Adding Nathan MacKinnon in the draft helped, and he finished his rookie campaign with 24 goals and 39 assists, claiming the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year. Adding to the youth of the Avalanche is Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog, who netted 23 and 26 goals, respectively. These three young guns will continue to grow. Joining Duchene and Landeskog will be veteran forward and future hall of famer Jarome Iginla, who was signed as a free agent over the summer. Goaltender Semyon Varlamov was a Vezina Trophy finalist last season and will try to help the defense out. Speaking of defense, that seems to be the issue over in the Mile High City. They’ve got Erik Johnson and Tyson Barrie, but after that, they don’t really have much. Keep your eyes on that defense, because there could be a midseason trade to bolster the back line.
The Stars jumped into the playoffs last year with a wildcard spot, but saw their season fall at the hand of the top seeded Anaheim Ducks. This season, they saw their offense, which ranked 10th in goals per game, improve with a few major moves. Dallas traded four players for Jason Spezza on July 1. Later in the day, they signed Ales Hemsky to a three-year contract. Both moves immediately impact the offense. Hemsky and Spezza are expected to be line mates on the second line. Second year forward Valeri Nichushkin will hope to make an impact this season, and jump up from the fourth line wing. Alex Goligoski leads the defense, one that can be described as average. Kari Lehtonen will stay in goal and comes off of a good season in which he had 33 wins. In terms of stats, the Stars find themselves in the middle of the pack in every major category. That’s were they’re expected to end up this season- in the middle of the pack.
The worst kept secret in hockey this season is finally out. Thomas Vanek has signed with Minnesota. Vanek comes off of a season in which he was bounced in trades from Buffalo to New York to Montreal. Many expected Vanek on the first line with Zach Parise, but instead finds himself on the second line with Mikko Koivu. Parise, meanwhile, comes off of a 29 goals, 27 assists season. Ryan Suter continues his mega deal and will be paid 11 million dollars this season and will carry a cap hit of 7.54 million dollars annually through 2024-25. Niklas Backstrom will be the starting goaltender and will stand behind the fifth ranked defense in terms of shots against, and seventh ranked in goals against.
It took a three year, $19.5 million contract to land Thomas Vanek in Minnesota (Via Star Tribune)
Former Preds Barry Trotz heads out to Washington D.C. to coach the Caps. Nashville opted for Peter Laviolette. Laviolette brings in the up-tempo attacking style. They’ll have depth at the center position, bringing in Olli Jokinen, Mike Ribero and Derek Roy. They also brought in James Neal in a trade for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling. Neal should bolster the power play stats, coming from the experience of the Penguins’ power play unit. The defense should be great as they’re led by Shea Weber and Seth Jones. The Predators hope that goaltender Pekka Rinne can stay healthy, after missing most of last season.
St. Louis Blues
The Blues watched as their 2-0 series lead evaporated in the first round of the playoffs, and the Blackhawks won four straight games to end St. Louis’ season. The Blues added Paul Stastny, a player that should help change the offense. There are many names that should help the offense: David Backes, Alexander Steen, Vladimir Tarasenko, and T.J Oshie just to name a few.Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk anchor the blue line once again, and Brian Elliott will man the net.
Devin Setoguchi and Olli Jokinen left to greener pastures and it might hurt the Jets a bit. Last season the Jets ranked Mark Scheifele will be up on the first line with Blake Wheeler and Evander Kane. Zach Bogosian and Jacob Trouba lead a defense that ranked 22nd in the league in goals against. Ondrej Pavelec must improve in goal if the Jets plan on coming close to the playoff race.
Brett Malamud is a Computer Science Major at Binghamton University. He is the co-founder of dabuzzza.com. His favorite athletes are Derek Jeter and Todd Bertuzzi. You can follow him on twitter at @brettnyy