2010-11 NHL Central Division Preview

Last year was the first time the Chicago Blackhawks won the Central Division.

Yes, that statement is correct. Not since realignment had the Hawks won the division, a function of the awful management practices that plagued the franchise for years. But in 2009-10, the Hawks won the Central Division, the Western Conference, and the Stanley Cup. Of course, that’s not news.

What is news now is the reality that the Stanley Cup will be the possession of the Blackhawks until they step on the ice on October 7 in Denver. It will probably make an appearance in Chicago a few more times, certainly a couple nights later at the United Center opener, but once the first puck of the season drops the Blackhawks officially add “defending” to their title.

So while Chicago was chasing the Cup all over the suburbs (and, in some cases, North America), what happened in the rest of the Central Division while we were partying?

Detroit Red Wings

  • Departures: Brett Lebda, Andres Lilja, Brad May, Jason Williams
  • Additions: Mike Modano, Ruslan Salei, Jiri Hudler
  • Rookie to Watch: Jakub Kindl

The biggest impact to the Red Wings will be the return of Hudler, who scored 57 points in 2008-09 and then bounced for a year in Moscow. Still just 26, he’ll replace the offense of May and Williams combined by himself. Adding Modano to the mix makes the Wings as potent as they are almost every year, and Kindl is the future for Detroit’s blue line. Listed at 6’2 and 200 pounds, he could challenge for the Calder Trophy this year.

Looking into a crystal ball, the difference between the Red Wings and Blackhawks will be determined by two factors: health and play between the pipes. Jimmy Howard was awesome last year, but appeared to run out of gas in the playoffs. If he has another strong season, Detroit might win the division. If he suffers the same sophomore fate that Steve Mason did in Columbus, the Wings could be handicapped. The biggest factor will be health, though. Detroit had an all star team on injured reserve for most of last year, and adding the ancient Modano could leave them exposed to injury issues again.

Nashville Predators

  • Departures: Jason Arnott, Dan Hamhuis, Dan Ellis, Dustin Boyd, Dennis Grebeshkov, Mike Santorelli
  • Additions: Matthew Lombardi, Sergei Kostitsyn, Ryan Parent, Jamie Lundmark, Aaron Johnson, Matt Halischuk
  • Rookie to Watch: Colin Wilson

The team that gave the Blackhawks the most trouble in the postseason last year had a long, rough summer. The lost their captain, one of their premier defensemen, and the goalie that played in nearly half of their games. Grebeshkov surprisingly signed in Russia after not finding work in the NHL, but he was a grinder that filled gaps for the Preds in many similar ways to the role Brent Sopel played in Chicago.

Shea Weber is now the captain in Nashville, and Wilson is the player to watch this year. The 20-year-old is the best prospect in the Preds’ system, which is arguably the deepest in the entire NHL. He could center one of the top two lines for Nashville this year.

St. Louis Blues

  • Departures: Keith Tkachuk, Chris Mason, Darryl Sydor, Paul Kariya, DJ King, Lars Eller
  • Additions: Jaroslav Halak, Vladimir Sobotka, TJ Hensick
  • Rookie to Watch: Alex Pietrangelo

This summer was a changing of the guard in St. Louis. Sydor and Tkachuk retired, and Kariya’s future is in question (he’s sitting out the 2010-11 season). They also let Mason leave, as well as heavy hitting King.

The Blues might be adding the two most significant pieces in the Central Division in Halak and Pietrangelo. Halak was near jedi status while leading Montreal’s incredible playoff run last year, and he gives the Blues instant faith defensively. Pietrangelo, 20,┬áis one of the top prospects in all of hockey, and is viewd by many analysts as a can’t-miss star. Listed at 6’3 and 206 pounds, Pietrangelo is a name to remember for years to come next to Erik Johnson in St. Louis.

They might not be ready for prime time, but their young core is developing and, with all due respect to the retiring players, the removal of dead weight from the roster opens up minutes for the kids to grow into a solid NHL club. The Blues will teams headaches this year.

Columbus Blue Jackets

  • Departures: Nathan Paetsch
  • Additions: Ethan Moreau, Kyle Wilson
  • Rookie to Watch: Nikita Filatov

A pretty boring summer from a pretty boring team, the Jackets didn’t do much to help themselves by way of moving players in or out. However, getting Filatov to commit to a season in the NHL is a big deal for Columbus and shouldn’t be ignored. He’s a top-six forward with all the skills to bring a Patrick Kane-like magic to the ice in Columbus.

Unfortunately, the Jackets don’t have five more like Filatov. They’ll be a physical team that steals games on occasion, but they aren’t a threat in the Central.

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