Finally, after months and months of everyone involved being morons, causing 113 days, 625 games, and the biggest outdoor hockey game in history to be cancelled, hockey fans can finally say “Game On!” The NHL has a new 10-year labor agreement, and is set to start the shortened, 48 game 2013 season on Saturday, January 19. Find out what you need to know about every team in the NHL for the upcoming season, this time featuring the Central Division. Continue after the jump to find out where your team will finish.
The Central Division was hands down the best division in the NHL last season, with four teams acquiring more than 100 points on the year. The biggest surprise in hockey was the St. Louis Blues, who reached a new gear after hiring Ken Hitchcock during the season. This will still be a very competitive division, but will look a little different with the departure of Rick Nash to the Rangers, and the retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom.
CENTRAL DIVISION PREDICTIONS
1. St. Louis Blues
LAST YEAR: 49-22-11 (109 pts)
1st Central, 2nd West (Lost 2nd Rd 4-0)
2011-12 Leading Scorer: David Backes (24-30-54)
2011-12 Top Goaltender: Jaroslav Halak (1.97 GAA, .926 SV, 6 SO)
The Blues don’t have a true superstar, which is unfortunate from a marketing standpoint only. This team thrives in a team game, shutting down opponents, and finishing off offensive opportunities when they present themselves. The key to St. Louis’ success is the goalie tandem of Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliot. Both had otherwordly numbers last year, allowing a young team to take some chances without suffering the consequences at the back end. Their forwards, like bruising David Backes, are big and strong. Their defensemen, Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk, are quick and explosive offensively. This team has all the pieces to make a deep run this year after getting their feet wet in the playoffs for the first time.
2013 Leading Scorer: David Perron
2013 Breakout Player: Kevin Shattenkirk
2. Chicago Blackhawks
LAST YEAR: 45-26-11 (101 pts)
4th Central, 6th West (Lost 1st Rd 4-2)
2011-12 Leading Scorer: Marian Hossa (29-48-77)
2011-12 Top Goaltender: Corey Crawford (2.72 GAA, .903 SV, 0 SO)
This could be the last chance for this roster to get another Stanley Cup, as potential trade rumors, and big money contracts could change the way this team looks once again. While all the talent is still there up front (Marian Hossa, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp) the defense and goalies have failed to perform at times. If the Blackhawks are to make another attempt at a Cup run, they must lock down their own end, help either Corey Crawford or Ray Emery in net, and not expect to outrun and outgun opponents.
2013 Leading Scorer: Jonathan Toews
2013 Breakout Player: Brandon Saad
3. Detroit Red Wings
LAST YEAR: 48-28-6 (102 pts)
3rd Central, 5th West (Lost 1st Rd 4-1)
2011-12 Leading Scorer: Henrik Zetterberg (22-47-69)
2011-12 Top Goaltender: Jimmy Howard (2.13 GAA, .92 SV, 6 SO)
The Red Wings lost Nicklas Lidstrom to retirement. They missed out on signing his replacement in Ryan Suter as a free agent. Once again, Detroit will try to plug holes from within the organization. While they have been probably the best drafting organization of the last couple decades, you can only fill so many roster spots with young, unproven players. Pavel Datsyuk was blowing people away while in the KHL, and the Red Wings are counting on him and Henrik Zetterberg to shoulder much of the offensive responsibilities for this team.
2013 Leading Scorer: Pavel Datsyuk
2013 Breakout Player: Jakub Kindl
4. Nashville Predators
LAST YEAR: 48-26-8 (104 pts)
2nd Central, 4th West (Lost 2nd Rd 4-1)
2011-12 Leading Scorer: Martin Erat (19-39-58)
2011-12 Top Goaltender: Pekka Rinne (2.39 GAA, .923 SV, 5 SO)
Last year was a monumental season in the history of Predators hockey. The team won its first playoff series in team history. More importantly, that series win was against the Red Wings, the model for which the Nashville organization is run. Then things went ugly this summer. The Flyers tried to poach Shea Weber with an offer sheet. Ryan Suter listened to his wife, created a tag team with Zach Parise, and signed with the Minnesota Wild. This team will still have its identity in the form of Weber and goalie Pekka Rinne, but it will also have a target on its back. This is no longer some cute hockey team in the South with Carrie Underwood as a fan. This is a legit hockey franchise who is looking to become a Stanley Cup contender.
2013 Leading Scorer: Martin Erat
2013 Breakout Player: Ryan Ellis
5. Columbus Blue Jackets
LAST YEAR: 29-46-7 ( 65 pts)
5th Central, 15th West (Missed Playoffs)
2011-12 Leading Scorer: Rick Nash (30-29-59)
2011-12 Top Goaltender: Steve Mason (3.39 GAA, .894 SV, 1 SO)
The last 6-12 months have not been kind to the Blue Jackets. After the fans were forced to sit through the prolonged dance between GM Scott Howson and the Rangers for Rick Nash, the players were locked out. They failed to “Fail For Nail,” losing the #1 pick to the Oilers. The lockout cancelled the only potential bright sport for Columbus fans this year: the 2013 NHL All Star Game. This will be another long year for the Blue Jackets, although the talent is being assembled for a strong team in a few (okay probably quite a few) years. For their sake, let’s hope they do get the first pick this time, and can select American Seth Jones (Popeye Jones’ kid) as the future face of this franchise.
2013 Leading Scorer: Brandon Dubinsky
2013 Breakout Player: Boone Jenner
Bryan Vickroy has an addiction to hockey, and is willing to partake in all its forms. He is skating extra shifts for The Sports Bank, covering the Minnesota Wild, the NHL, and NCAA hockey all year long. Look for new articles throughout the week. He can be followed on Twitter at @bryanvickroy. If you’d prefer to speak in more than 140 characters at a time to him, he can be reached at email@example.com.