As training camps approach, it makes sense to look at who may contend for division titles. We take a shot at teams who may win their divisions. Keep in mind, there are several prominent RFA’s who have not signed. Also, a few other players are unsigned that might make an impact as well.
Anyway, based on current rosters. Here are my two picks that should contend for the Central Division this season.
Even with the injury risk that is Ben Bishop, the Dallas stars showed last season they could hold it together and were within inches of taking down the St. Louis Blues. All they needed was the one goal Dallas could not muster. The Stars did have one of the better defenses in the league. Also, the team had Bishop and Anton Khudobin in net.
As far as the goaltending, no one is expecting Bishop to replicate 2018-19 where he had a goals-against average of 1.98 and a save percentage of .934. The goaltender had just one really bad start (save percentage of 85% or less) the whole regular season. On the other hand, if his numbers come up to say a 2.25 or 2.3 goals-against with a save percentage around .925, few in Dallas will complain. Again, the strength of this team is the defense and goaltending. Miro Heiskanen and John Klingberg will be mainstays for years to come on an above average blueline.
In the offseason, Jim Nill went out and signed Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry. He addressed a big need in the sense that Dallas mustered just 209 goals last season. For the Stars to take that next step, more offense generated was necessary. Pavelski solidifies the top-six and can still score 30+ goals. Perry, coming off a buyout by the Anaheim Ducks, was a cheap contract that could pay off nicely. Perry looked better in his late season return for Anaheim compared to the early portion where he looked like he was done in this league.
The Central Division is not an easy one to win. As we have seen the past couple seasons, the teams were close together and one run could make a difference. Last season, three teams battled until Game 82 before a division winner was decided. With Winnipeg and even St. Louis expected to take steps back, Dallas may have a slightly easier window to win the division.
Again, Nashville and even perhaps the Colorado Avalanche could contend for the Central Division. This is likely the most wide-open division in the league. However, the Predators did win the division last year and that was quite a feat. They held off the Winnipeg Jets and St. Louis Blues in doing so. They were one of the top teams defensively in the league as well – allowing just 214 goals (third best in the NHL). At even strength, Nashville finished in the top third in goals scored, scoring chances, and shots on net. There was only one problem.
Nashville’s special teams let them down all season long – particularly the power play. The man advantage became the man disadvantage all too often. Whether it was coaching, personnel, or both – the Predators could not light the lamp when they had more of an advantage to do so. They ranked dead last in the league and their power play clicked at barely 11% over the second half of the season. It was an issue that haunted them in their first-round elimination at the hands of Dallas.
Nashville has locked up its top line to long-term deals and has one of the best duos in the league in net (Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros). Also, the Predators signed Matt Duchene to a long-term deal. Duchene is a major asset on the power play and is expected to rectify some of the issues that have plagued Nashville. Also, the Predators traded PK Subban to allow some of their younger defenseman to step up and take on more of an offensive role.
The thought process is that two teams in the Central could end up near or at 100+ points, Dallas would likely be the one and Nashville seems poised to be the other. After that, it is anyone’s guess because it would not take much in this wild division. The Central ranks as the toughest division to win once again in 2019-20.
By Chris Wassel