We’re down to less than 20 games remaining in the regular season and things have been extremely tight in the Central Division - to put it mildly.
The Central Division has arguably been the best division in BEARD Hockey this season with 7 of the 8 teams still well in the hunt for a playoff spot.
Let’s take a look at each of the teams and what we might see the rest of the way:
1. St Louis Blues (Prediction - 2nd in Central): The Blues are the complete package: They have the league’s best defense, a stud goalie, and at least average offense. That combines for the league’s 3rd best goal differential. In addition, the Blues were quite active during the deadline, acquiring star forward Steven Stamkos to bolster their offensive. Now their top line boasts a trio of PPG scorers.
They have been a bit up and down in their last 10, however, going 5-4-1 with a three-game losing streak followed by a four-game winning streak. Something to keep an eye on? If Shesterkin can hang on; he has started all but 5 games this season.
2. Chicago Blackhawks (Prediction - 1st in Central): Chicago is also a team that was quite active prior to the deadline, and their efforts seem to have borne fruit as they now challenge the Blues for the division lead on the back of a 6-game win streak.
Interestingly, one of their biggest acquisitions, Valeri Nichushkin, is goalless through his first 15 games with the Hawks. But despite that, Chicago keeps chugging, in large part due to their other big acquisition, goalie Frederik Andersen. He has been a stalwart for them with a .928 save percentage. They have tons of momentum, and I see them taking the division...albeit barely.
3. Nashville Predators (Prediction - 3rd in Central): Nashville I believe led the division in the early parts of the season, but they have fallen on a bit of hard times recently. I don’t believe they’ve made any deals, content to let the chips fall where they may.
Going by overall though, it seems they may have been overperforming earlier in the season compared to the OV of their peers. They’ve spent their last 8 games alternating wins and losses, and prior to that had a three-game losing streak. Of course, before that they had a four-game winning streak, so who knows what this team really is?
It’s possible that they slip to a wild-card slot, but they have a couple of games in hand on the next contenders; I think they’ll hang on.
4. Arizona Coyotes (Prediction - 4th in Central, WC1): My team has been a perplexing beast all season. They started out contending for the division, then December hit and I think we won like four games all month. Now, things have started to heat up a bit here.
The defense has always been solid, it was the offense that was the problem; the Yotes were in the market for some big names at the deadline, but nothing materialized. They did end up with Viktor Arvidsson and Trevor Moore as their main additions, however, and both have been good contributors thus far.
This team is a true wild card in the usual sense; they could contend for the division title, or they could slip out of the race. Nothing would surprise me, and the same could be said for the next two teams...
5. Dallas Stars (Prediction - 5th in Central, WC2): This was honestly a tossup between the Stars, Coyotes and Wild, as any of the 3 could end up in any of the WC spots and be unsurprising. However, I think Dallas has almost as good of a goalie while having more potential offensively, so they get the edge here.
If the Stars have a concern, it is that most of the higher-end offensive players they’ve acquired earlier in the season haven’t really been as productive as they were with their prior teams: Claude Giroux, Kailer Yamamoto, and Alex Kerfoot have all been averaging about 0.6 PPG, a far cry from the over one-PPG clip they had before.
But the ratings are too hard to ignore, and I think given some slight tweaks, they can be a juggernaut offensively.
6. Minnesota Wild (Prediction - 6th in Central): The Wild seemingly turned to a selling team earlier in the season, shipping off Jonathan Huberdeau to the Coyotes. However, they were incredibly active as buyers near the deadline, acquiring William Nylander and TJ Brodie, and bringing in star goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy earlier in the season.
As such, they have positioned themselves well for the playoff race. However, their momentum has fallen from an 8-2-0 stretch they had earlier in the season; much like the Preds, they have alternated some W/Ls recently. Vasilevskiy may yet will them to a playoff spot, but they need some more consistency, especially in must-win games against non-playoff-contending teams.
7. Colorado Avalanche (Prediction - 7th in Central): The Avalanche said they were pivoting towards looking to the future, but they aren’t out of the playoff race yet. Their weakpoint all season has been goaltending, but maybe we’ll see some improvement there soon; early results from acquisition Adin Hill have been positive (.934 sv% in 5 games).
I don’t think they’ll make the playoffs, but if Hill can be a rock the rest of the way, they aren’t out of this by a long shot.
8. Winnipeg Jets (Prediction - 8th in Central): The Jets were never in it for this season and it shows, having a decent shot at the #1 pick next season. But they also have three other first-round picks next season, so you can’t say they aren’t well set up to contend for a while.
Jason Robertson is undoubtedly their crown jewel, though he should be in for a hefty bump in pay next season. Winnipeg might still be a couple of seasons off, but if they have a good draft, they could become a force to be reckoned with once those picks bear fruit on top of their existing talent.