Red Wings Still Rule the Central?
When looking at the Central division, it’s possible all five teams could clinch playoff spots in the extremely competitive Western Conference.
Detroit Red Wings
Even without the likes of Brian Rafalski, Chris Osgood, Kris Draper and Mike Modano, the Detroit Red Wings could very well be the class of the Central Division once again this season.
The Red Wings still have guys like Nicklas Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen, Tomas Holmstrom, Niklas Kronwall and goaltender Jimmy Howard. These players all had solid seasons last year and got the Wings to within one game of the Western Conference Finals.
This team will be the team to beat not only in the division, but possibly the entire conference.
After winning the Cup in 2010, the Blackhawks barely squeaked into the postseason last year.
With that said, they still have an extremely talented roster with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Corey Crawford. During the off-season, the team added talented veterans in Andrew Brunette, Michael Frolik, Daniel Carcillo and Jamal Mayers.
With the Stanley Cup hangover long gone, the Hawks will definitely be a much improved hockey club in 2011-12.
They may not have the most talented or well-known roster but all the team continues to do is win and make the playoffs.
That should be the case again this season as the club was able to re-sign restricted free agent all-star defenseman Shea Weber to a 1-year deal while also retaining much of the roster from last season. Yes, the team lost both Joel Ward and Steve Sullivan but the team returns the likes of Martin Erat, Patrick Hornqvist, Mike Fisher, Sergei Kostitsyn along with youngsters Blake Geoffrion and Niklas Bergfors to pick up the scoring slack.
Put that with a talented young defensive corps and Vezina Trophy candidate Pekka Rinne in goal, the Nashville Predators should be back in the playoffs come April.
St. Louis Blues
Had it not been for bad luck with injuries last season the St. Louis Blues likely would have been a playoff hockey club last season.
The team has a ton of young potential along with newly acquired veterans Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner. The Blues have some talent up front with Andy McDonald, David Backes, Chris Stewart, David Perron (Injured), and T.J. Oshie, along with a defensive corps that now includes Kevin Shattenkirk.
If the Blues can get consistent goaltending from Jaroslav Halak, the team should find themselves back in the playoffs for the first time in a few seasons.
Columbus Blue Jackets
The team that made the most noise in the Central this summer was easily the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Struggling to make the playoffs since the 2008-09 season, the team went out and acquired sniper Jeff Carter and offensive-defenseman James Wisniewski, proving to their fans that they are serious about making the postseason this year.
The team also signed veteran unrestricted free agent Vinny Prospal who, when healthy, consistently produces. Up front, the team also has all-star Rick Nash, Antoine Vermette, the enigmatic Kristian Huselius and Derick Brassard.
If goaltender Steve Mason regains his form from his rookie season, there is no reason why the Blue jackets should not be able to contend for a playoff spot this upcoming season.