Central Division Preview

Chicago Blackhawks
-Two prime young prospects in Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.
-Good talent with Martin Havlat and Tuomo Ruutu
-They added Sergei Samsonov
-Lack a quality top pairing defenseman
-Lack depth up front
-Khabibulin makes way too much money.
Question Marks:
-Can Ruutu and Havlat stay healthy?
-Are Jonathan Toews and especially smallish Patrick Kane ready for the NHL
-With a couple of high draft picks the past two drafts the Blackhawks have added a couple of quality young prospects in Toews and Kane which gives Blackhawks fans something to be optimistic about down the road but they probably aren’t yet ready to star in the NHL. That means another subpar season and likely another quality draft pick in next seasons draft which is supposed to be a good one. If they can draft a top end defence or goalie prospect to go with the young forwards it wouldn’t be all bad.

Columbus Blue Jackets
-Doug MacLean is gone
-Sergei Fedorov and Adam Foote’s salaries come off the books after this season freeing up over $10.5 million for next summer’s free agent frenzy.
-Rick Nash
-Pretty much everything except maybe coaching with Ken Hitchcock.
Question Marks:
-Can Rick Nash take his game up another notch into 40 goal, 70 point territory.
-Can Gilbert Brule improve on a weak first season and establish himself at least as a second line center.
-Will either Fredrik Norrena or Pascal LeClaire establish themselves as a quality #1 goalie.
-It looks all but certain that the Blue Jackets will miss the playoffs once again but Blue Jacket fans should look for whether Ken Hitchcock can instil better consistency, work ethic and defensive system in the team. I think that should be the measure of success this season because in the standings we aren’t likely to see a lot of success.

Detroit Red Wings
-Experience and leadership.
-Solid core of top 6 defensemen (among the best in the league) led by star Nicklas Lidstrom and newcomer Brian Rafalski.
-Exellent top end forwards in Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Holmstrom.
-A decent complement of young forwards in Hudler, Franzen, Filppula, and Kopecky.
-Age of their goaltending tandem, particularly Hasek.
-The loss of Lang, Shanahan and others over the past couple seasons has cost them some of their quality experienced depth.
Question Marks:
-Does Hasek have another good, healthy season left in him?
-Will a couple of their young forwards have a break out season.
-The Red Wings arguably have the best mix of players in the NHL with some quality veterans, some players in their prime, and some younger players ready to take their game up a level. They also have a good mix of offence, defence and goaltending. All-round they are a very good team and once again should compete for top spot in the west as well as for the Stanley Cup. Possibly the best team in the NHL.

Nashville Predators
-Potential future star players in winger Alexander Radulov and defensemen Shea Weber and Ryan Suter.
-Despite losing Timonen they still have a pretty good group of 6 defensemen.
-Lost a lot of talent and depth up front with the losses of Forsberg, Kariya, Hartnell and with Steve Sullivan out with injury likely at least until January.
-The trading away of Tomas Vokoun puts a lot of pressure on new starting goalie Chris Mason.
Question Marks:
-Can Radulov replace Paul Kariya’s offence and then some?
-Can goalie Chris Mason handle playing 60+ games as a true #1 goalie with not a lot of support at backup.
-The Nashville Predators lost a lot in the off season, probably more than any other team, but despite that they still could compete for the final playoff spot if goalie Chris Mason take what he did in parts of the past two seasons and make it work for a full season and if Radulov can jump to 30 goal, 75 point territory this early in his career. They probably still won’t be as good as some other teams competing for playoff spots but they have the advantage of playing Columbus and Chicago 8 times each which should keep them in the race.

St. Louis Blues
-They have the makings of a pretty good defence group if rookie Erik Johnson can come close to matching his hype and Jay McKee and the others can remain healthy..
-A potential top line of Kariya, Tkachuk and Stempniak has the makings to be a very good line as all three players have 30 goal potential.
-Not a lot of depth up front after the first couple lines.
-None of Legace, Bacashihua or Toivonen have proven themselves to be top level starting goalies on a consistent basis.
Question Marks:
-How good will Erik Johnson be.
-Can their defence remain healthy, something they didn’t do last year.
-Will one of the goalies step on and be a true consistent #1 guy
-New president John Davidson has done an admiral job rebuilding the Blues. They took a small step forward last year and should take another one this year which if all things go well could put them in a battle for a playoff spot and compete with the Predators for second spot in the division.