PensU NHL Analysis - Central Division

By Douglas Smith

This is the second in a series of six updates to give you a look at the rest of the NHL this offseason. The Central Division will be the home of the defending champions this coming season. At the end of each summary we will highlight just one blog for that respective team, but there are many quality sites out there if you care to search for them. Please share your comments on the rest of the teams across the NHL as we fill the void of the off-season.

Previously analyzed: Northwest Division 

Chicago Blackhawks
2009-2010 Record: 52-22-8 (1st in the Division)

Recap: The Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup. This means Marian Hossa finally got to hold it over his head. They beat the Flyers on possibly the least dramatic ending to a Cup Final with the goal that only 2 people saw go in right away, both of which happened to be ‘Hawks players. They young talent played up to their potential and goalie Antti Niemi played very solid. Jonathan Toews had his day with the cup and seemed to have Winnipeg in a frenzy. He will also be on the cover of NHL ’11 when it comes out in a couple months.

Off-season Thus Far: Well what hasn’t happened this offseason in Chicago? The movement started right away as the salary cap became the focus for the executives shortly after the celebration began. Dustin Byfuglien, Brent Sopel, and Ben Eager were sent to Atlanta. Kris Versteeg went to Toronto in his second trade in a little over 3 years. The second deal with the Thrashers happened in early July as Andrew Ladd was swapped for a pick and defenseman Ivan Vishnevskiy. The Blackhawks did match the offer sheet presented to restricted free agent Niklas Hjalmarsson by the San Jose Sharks, to make the cap calculations even more tricky. Hjalmarsson will get a hefty raise this year. Niemi is head toward arbitration and his cap hit could dictate whether once starting goalie Cristobal Huet is buried in the minors to relieve the ‘Hawks of his salary cap hit. There is a lot of speculation surrounding this intriguing hearing, but it is unscertain if other teams would pay Niemi what the mediator comes up with. Could the ‘Hawks lose more players this offseason? For sure – stay tuned.

Analysis: This team is still really good despite the unloading of name players. It is providing some young players opportunities and they are finding ways to get noticed. Until proven otherwise they are the champs. Newly acquired Viktor Stalberg may have to channel his inner Byfuglien and Hjalmarsson will have to live up to his contract. This team still has all the reasons they need to be confident about playing into May or further. The July 29th arbitration hearing for Niemi could make that last statement null and void.

Blog: Blackhawk Up

Columbus Blue Jackets
2009-2010 Record: 32-35-15 (5th in the Division)

Recap: The Blue Jackets could not find a way to score goals and let way too many in behind sophomore goaltender Steve Mason. Rick Nash tallied 33 goals while Antoine Vermette netted 27. RJ Umberger and Kristian Huselius had good stretches, but the team lacked cohesion. Columbus played their way out of most hockey conversations between Thanksgiving and Christmas last year losing 9 in regulation in that time.

Off-season Thus Far: Not a lot has happened in the middle of Ohio this offseason that would spark optimism. The Blue Jackets clamed Ethan Moreau off waivers from the Oilers. They also resigned Tom Sestito and tough guy Jared Boll. Some are not that excited about the Boll signing. Sewickley native and former Penguins defensemen Nate Guenin landed a two-way deal with the Blue Jackets organization.

Analysis: This marks the 10th anniversary for the Columbus Blue Jackets and many questions still surround the team. The team is using this to change their ticket packages and try to drum up more excitement around the team. The team has an entirely new coaching staff and a promising prospect in Nikia Filatov, as long as he finds the ice in America. Overall, it’s pretty quiet in Columbus. Do you think the fans are counting down to the day Nash’s contract expires?

Blog: The Cannon

Detroit Red Wings
2009-2010 Record: 44-24-14 (2nd in the Division)

Recap: There was a time during last season that Detroit was on the playoff bubble, but not many felt they would truly miss the playoffs. They would get into the playoffs pretty comfortably and show a lot of grit in each game. One may feel that deep trips into the playoffs for a few years may have made this team tired. A young goaltender named Jimmy Howard took the reigns and helped to give the Red Wings back their confidence. Of course, Pavel Datsyuk can also do this. So that means that not winning the cup was still a disappointment.

Off-season Thus Far: The Wings have had a solid offseason for a couple reasons. The first big step was that Nicklas Lidstrom decided to come back for next year, followed by Tomas Holmstrom agreeing to a two-year deal. Todd Bertuzzi resigned for two years as well. Rumor has it that Mike Modano is looking at Detroit for one more year but it doesn’t necessarily make sense. It would lessen the emotion of his send off from last year.

Analysis: Well it’s been the status quo in Detroit since most of the regulars will be back next year. The defense is aging and will have a least one new face in the top six. Will this affect Howard’s performance? It could, but the Red Wings will be putting a lot of stock in their goalie. They will work hard to get on the power play and try to slowly drain teams on the man advantage. One would assume that playoffs are a given.

Blog: Hockeytown

Nashville Predators
2009-2010 Record: 47-29-6 (3rd in the Division)

Recap: Perhaps the best way to describe the Predators of the ’09-’10 season is fighters. They were scrappy the whole year and managed a very successful season in a city that most casual NHL fans forget about. Steve Sullivan and Patric Hornqvist were the only two on the team to have over 50 points. Hornqvist emerged as a star of the future and played with determination in the Olympics. Pekka Rinne had an impressive 7 shutouts in net and a .911 save percentage. If you saw the Preds play the Pens late in the season then you were probably impressed with youngster Alexander Sulzer, but he only saw 20 games with the big club. Nashville finished strong going 6-3-1 in their last ten and finishing at an even 100 points for the season.

Off-season Thus Far: The Predators have been kind of quiet as well this offseason with a big question mark being the trade for and singing of Sergei Kostitsyn. With the signing coming at one year for $550,000, it may be a risk worth taking. Kostitsyn is only 23 years old and could find the dynamic touch he briefly showcased in the past. Matthew Lombardi signed a three year deal to give the Predators depth, followed by the signing of Jamie Lundmark. Some are hoping that Kevin Weekes becomes the back up goalie, which seems unlikely, but the Preds will have to address that position before the season starts.

Analysis: The Predators have a new captain and one of the best defensemen in the league with Shea Weber. Hornqvist may be the key to this team’s success as long as he can replicate his outstanding performance of a year ago. They didn’t lose their scrappy personality but will have to fight even harder given the additions to the other teams in the division.

Blog: On the Forecheck

St. Louis Blues
2009-2010 Record: 40-32-10 (4th in the Division)

Recap: The Blues were also a scrappy team that was not too far from making the playoffs. Inconsistency with the defense and goaltenders would hurt the team in the long run. The team was unable to capitalize on home ice going only 18-18-5 on the year. While starting goalie Steve Mason had decent numbers, there were too many games that were either an embarrassment or one that got away. A 7-3 loss to the Avalanche in March was one of those games that made questioning Mason acceptable as he allowed 4 goals on 15 shots. The Blues were also a victim of being in the Western Conference with a plethora of quality teams.

Off-season Thus Far: The Blues have a new goalie to go along with new goaltending coach Corey Hirsch. Before he was officially named the new general manager of the Blues, Doug Armstrong helped to score Jaroslav Halak from the Canadiens after his improbably playoff performance and then sign him for four years. Vladimir Sobotka came over in a trade from the Bruins as well. Alex Steen and Brad Winchester resigned with a four year and one year deal, respectively. Carlo Colaiacovo resigned with the team as well. Many are expecting to see prospect Alex Pietrangelo make the big squad out of training camp and try to live up to lofty expectations given the rest of his draft class.

Analysis: While Eric Brewer and Erik Johnson have helped to strengthen the backline, there is still a question about who will round out the opening day defensive core. The Blues also have to hope for a rebound year for Patrik Berglund. TJ Oshie, David Perron, Jay McClement, and David Backes will be expected to have good years. The addition of Halak is intriguing and many eyes will be on him to see if he can repeat his phenomenal end of the year. Armstrong is expected to be a more dynamic GM and will be looking to improve the team. You get the feeling like it’s playoffs or bust for the Blues this year as they will have double digit free agents in the 2011-2012 season. Still with the cap being set at just over 59 million and the Blues current payroll being less than 41 million, they will be looking to add and make a move up the division standings.

Blog: Frozen Notes

Up next: Pacific Division. (Ilya, you can sign your contract any day now).

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