Part 3: WAR! What Is It Good For? Projecting The Central Division Standings by Expected WAR Standings Point Projections


Photo: Jeff Roberson/AP

In part three of our series on projecting the 2019-20 NHL standings by division via the WAR metric, we take a look at the Central Division. According to the projections below, the Central division is likely going to be the strongest division in the NHL. 

If you missed the first two parts, here are the Atlantic and Metropolitan division standings projections. For more information on how WAR is calculated, visit Hockey-Graphs.com’s series of blog posts here. If you want to play around with Charting Hockey’s WAR lineup creator/projection tool used in this article, you can visit it here.  

So, without further ado, here’s the projected standings for the Central Division. The interesting part about the Central is that every team is projected to rack up over 80 standings points based off of expected WAR.

1. St Louis Blues (110 points, 30.84 Team WAR)

The defending Stanley Cup Champions are projected to finish the 2019-20 NHL regular season atop the Central Division. After the start of the 2019 calendar year, the Blues were the hottest team in the league. They skyrocketed up the NHL standings from the worst team in the league in standings points, to a wild card playoff position. GM Doug Armstrong seems to be following the model of Brian MacLellan’s post-Stanley Cup off-season strategy of keeping the winning group together.

In this projection, the Blues finish atop the Western Conference, and second overall in the league behind the Atlantic Division’s Tampa Bay Lightning. The Blues are formidable up and down their lineup, with strong and deep groups on forward and defense, as well as Jordan Binnington rounding out the team as their starting netminder. 

Expected lines:

LW C RW Projected WAR (as a line)
Jaden Schwartz Brayden Schenn Vladimir Tarasenko 5.2
Sammy Blais Ryan O’Reilly David Perron 6.1
Zach Sanford Tyler Bozak Robert Thomas 1.9
Alex Steen Ivan Barbashev Oskar Sundqvist 0.9

 

LD RD Projected WAR (as a pairing)
Carl Gunnarsson Alex Pietrangelo 8.4
Vince Dunn Colton Parayko 4.1
Jay Bouwmeester Robert Bortuzzo -0.1

 

Goaltenders Projected WAR
Jordan Binnington 6.3
Jake Allen 0.8

 

Total WAR by position:

Forwards WAR Defense WAR Goalie WAR Team WAR
11.32 12.42 7.11 30.84

 

2. Chicago Blackhawks (97 points, 24.09 Team WAR)

Here’s a somewhat unexpected team making a divisional playoff spot. After a down year last year, the former perennial Stanley Cup contender Blackhawks are projected to make the playoffs with home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. GM Stan Bowman went out and solidified the goaltending situation by signing former Islanders goaltender Robin Lehner, fresh off of a career season, due to uncertainty in Corey Crawford’s health going forward. 

Additionally, the Blackhawks obtained forwards Andrew Shaw, Zack Smith, Olli Maatta, Calvin De Haan, and Alex Nylander in trades this offseason, moving out Artem Anisimov, Henri Jokiharju, Anton Forsberg, Gustav Forsling, John Hayden, Dominik Kahun and draft picks in separate transactions. Bowman is likely trying to pry the Stanley Cup winning window back open for the tail end of the primes of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews’ careers.

The most interesting lineup question for the Blackhawks is going to be centered around veteran defensemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook this season. They are both locked up long term, and have racked up heavy miles over their careers. They’ll need to be at their best for Chicago to end up in a playoff spot. The lines outlined below are going to be a work in progress up until the regular season starts. Expect to see a battle in training camp between Alex Nylander and Dominik Kubalik for that third line left wing spot. For the purposes of this article, we’ve placed Alex Nylander at that spot due to Kubalik not being included in the model by Charting Hockey. 

Expected Lines:

LW C RW Projected WAR (as a line)
Brandon Saad Jonathan Toews Dylan Sikura 4.5
Alex DeBrincat Dylan Strome Patrick Kane 7.6
Alex Nylander Zack Smith Andrew Shaw 0.8
Ryan Carpenter David Kampf Brendan Perlini -0.6

 

LD RD Projected WAR (as a pairing)
Duncan Keith Erik Gustafsson 3.0
Calvin De Haan Connor Murphy 0.9
Olli Maatta Brent Seabrook 1.0

 

Goaltender Projected WAR
Robin Lehner 7.6
Corey Crawford 1.7

 

Total WAR by position:

Forwards WAR Defense WAR Goalie WAR Team WAR
9.86 4.94 9.29 24.09

 

3. Dallas Stars (97 points, 24.08 Team WAR)

The Dallas Stars were topped by the Blackhawks in the standings projections here by .01 WAR, which is as slight of a difference as you’re going to see in these projections. Dallas had a strong run in the playoffs last season, and added some talent in the forward group to help solidify more depth scoring. The Stars would definitely love to see more progression offensively in center Roope Hintz’s game, and if that ends up being the case, expect Dallas to make some noise next season.

The biggest additions for the Stars were adding, for lack of a better term, a star in Joe Pavelski and a boom-or-bust candidate in Corey Perry. Perry will be really interesting on this team in a reduced role. If he’s healthy, he can still pot 20 goals. If he’s not, and he’s the player we saw last season, he’ll be a dispensable asset for Dallas.

Something to note here is that the Stars forward group is extremely top-heavy. Their bottom two lines are rated as exactly replacement level, too, which might prove difficult to manage. Overall, though, they’ll have strong scoring threats in Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Alex Radulov, and Joe Pavelski.

The Stars’ defensive group is also strong. Miro Heiskanen is a player that should be on every NHL fan’s radar. He has an extremely high ceiling, and will be a huge part of the Stars future plans at defenseman.

The goaltending tandem of Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin is also rather strong, racking up a total WAR of 10.76. Bishop was a Vezina Trophy finalist for best goaltender, and Khudobin was one of the best backup goalies in the league last season.

Expected lines:

LW C RW Projected WAR (as a line)
Jamie Benn Tyler Seguin Joe Pavelski 6.0
Denis Gurianov Roope Hintz Alex Radulov 1.7
Jason Dickinson Radek Faksa Corey Perry 0.0
Andrew Cogliano Mattias Janmark Blake Comeau 0.0

 

LD RD Projected WAR (as a pairing)
Esa Lindell John Klingberg 3.3
Miro Heiskanen Andrej Sekera 3.2
Jamie Oleksiak Roman Polak 0.7

 

Goaltender Projected WAR
Ben Bishop 7.8
Anton Khudobin 2.9

 

Total WAR by position:

Forwards WAR Defense WAR Goalie WAR Team WAR
6.16 7.16 10.76 24.08

 

4. Colorado Avalanche (92 points, 21.67 Team WAR)

Colorado is going to be a really interesting team this year, and likely for the foreseeable future. They are stacked with young talent, most notably in star right wing Mikko Rantanen and defensemen Cale Makar and Samuel Girard. On top of the young talent, they have an arguably top 5 player in the NHL in Nathan MacKinnon, who had a real coming out party in the 2019 playoffs. 

General Manager Joe Sakic also made some waves this offseason, trading Tyson Barrie, Alex Kerfoot, and a 2020 sixth round pick to Toronto for center Nazem Kadri, defenseman Calle Rosen, and a 2020 third round pick. Colorado essentially looked to upgrade their second line center position with Kadri, who was rumored to be on the outs with Toronto after his antics in the first round series against Boston in the 2019 playoffs. Kadri, when at his most effective, is a 30 goal scorer on a very team friendly contract, with a cap hit of $4.5M over the next three seasons. 

Additionally, Colorado traded Scott Kosmachuk, a 2020 second round pick, and a 2020 third round pick to Washington for Andre Burakovsky. It’ll be interesting to see how Burakovsky fits into the Av’s lineup, especially after Colorado signed free agent Joonas Donskoi to a four year deal with a $3.9M cap hit. Our lineup projections have Burakovsky slotting in on the second line right wing spot, since the Av’s and head coach Jared Bednar will want to see what they have in Burakovsky. 

Overall, these projections have the Avalanche finishing with 92 points, which is good enough for the first wild card spot in the Western Conference. The Central division is paced to have five teams make the playoffs.

Expected Lines:

LW C RW Projected WAR (as a line)
Gabriel Landeskog Nathan MacKinnon Mikko Rantanen 6.2
Tyson Jost Nazem Kadri Andre Burakovsky 3.5
Joonas Donskoi JT Compher Colin Wilson 2.5
Matt Calvert Pierre-Edouard Bellemare Matt Nieto 0.6

 

LD RD Projected WAR (as a pairing)
Samuel Girard Erik Johnson 3.1
Nikita Zadorov Cale Makar 0.7
Kevin Connauton Calle Rosen 1.5

 

Goaltender Projected WAR
Philipp Grubauer 5.6
Pavel Francouz 2.4

 

Total WAR by position:

Forwards WAR Defense WAR Goalie WAR Team WAR
10.23 3.41 8.04 21.67

 

5. Nashville Predators (91 points, 21.09 team WAR)

The Nashville Predators slot in at fifth in the extremely strong Central Division in this projection, but end up with the second wild card spot in the Western Conference playoffs. The Predators still have a dangerous lineup, but the biggest question mark facing this team is whether or not Kyle Turris will bounce back to be the player he was a couple of years ago. If Turris can play at the level he showed when he first came over to Nashville from Ottawa, then the Predators will be in good shape. If he doesn’t, look for general manager David Poile to make a move to solidify that side of the lineup, or call up top prospect Eeli Tolvanen. 

Poile also turned a few heads the week of the NHL Draft by trading star defenseman P.K. Subban to the Devils for Steven Santini, Jeremy Davies, a 2019 second round pick, and a 2020 second round pick. A few days later, we found out why Poile moved Subban’s contract after the Predators signed highly touted free agent center Matt Duchene to a seven year contract with an $8M cap hit. The Predators addressed one of their biggest weaknesses, which was top six center depth. The second line center position wasn’t being held down very well by Kyle Turris, and by perhaps moving Turris to the wing, he can have a resurgence in scoring.

One thing in Nashville to keep your eye on is the third defensive pairing. Dan Hamhuis is solid in his possession metrics, but was negative when comparing his Corsi For percentage to the Predators team Corsi For percentage when he was off the ice. On top of that, Steven Santini is relatively unproven. If the Predators want to make a deep run in the playoffs this season, you’d have to imagine Poile will make a move at the trade deadline (or earlier), to shore up the weakest group on this roster.

All in all, the Predators have some interesting questions coming out of this season. They’ll need to extend captain Roman Josi this season, or risk him walking away from Nashville for nothing. Josi is one of the best two-way defensemen in the league, so it’ll be hard to imagine that Poile will let him walk if Josi is interested in extending with Nashville.

Expected Lines:

LW C RW Projected WAR (as a line)
Filip Forsberg Matt Duchene Viktor Arvidsson 6.6
Mikael Granlund Ryan Johansen Kyle Turris -0.1
Calle Jarnkrok Nick Bonino Craig Smith 3.8
Rocco Grimaldi Colton Sissons Austin Watson 1.1

 

LD RD Projected WAR (as a pairing)
Roman Josi Ryan Ellis 2.8
Mattias Ekholm Dante Fabbro 1.8
Dan Hamhuis Steven Santini -0.4

 

Goaltender Projected WAR
Pekka Rinne 5.0
Juuse Saros 2.7

 

Total WAR by position:

Forwards WAR Defense WAR Goalie WAR Team WAR
9.15 4.21 7.72 21.09

 

6. Winnipeg Jets (86 points, 18.45 Team WAR)

After a really strong past couple of seasons in Winnipeg, the Jets come up short of a playoff berth in this projection. They moved high caliber defenseman Jacob Trouba in a trade with the New York Rangers in return for defenseman Neal Pionk and a 2019 first round pick that they used to draft Ville Heinola.

Additionally, they lost center Kevin Hayes in a trade with Philadelphia for his signing rights. It was unlikely that the Jets were going to be able to afford re-signing Hayes, especially with the high cap hit contract he signed with Philadelphia. The Jets are also in a conundrum regarding the signing of two high caliber restricted free agents in Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor. Laine is coming off of the worst season in his three year NHL career, only scoring 50 points. On the other hand, Connor is coming off of a career year, where he scored 34 goals and 32 assists.

The Jets currently have only eight forwards under contract for next season, so they’ll have to fill out the two remaining spots on the starting roster with some prospects they’ll call up from the minors. Since those young players will be question marks in terms of NHL production, it’s hard to say that Winnipeg will be a playoff team until we see how the younger players produce. Also, the Jets will need to see how the contract terms play out for Laine and Connor, and whether or not they can come to agreements with both of those players. This projection will assume that they’re able to re-sign Connor and Laine.

The area of weakness on this roster that general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff will need to keep an eye on is the second and third defensive pairings, which are coming in below replacement level. It’s very possible that Niku and Pionk play well and their player value will rise. Dmitry Kulikov is a decent NHL player, but he’s likely best on the third pairing. Look for the Jets to target a second line center and a top four defenseman during the season if they’re contending for a playoff position.  

Expected Lines:

LW C RW Projected WAR (as a line)
Kyle Connor Mark Scheifele Blake Wheeler 3.9
Nikolaj Ehlers Bryan Little Patrik Laine 2.8
Mathieu Perreault Jack Roslovic Kristian Vesalainen 2.2
Andrew Copp Adam Lowry Mason Appleton 1.9

 

LD RD Projected WAR (as a pairing)
Josh Morrisey Dustin Byfuglien 3.4
Dmitry Kulikov Sami Niku -1.2
Tucker Poolman Neal Pionk -0.5

 

Goaltender Projected WAR
Connor Hellebuyck 3.2.
Laurent Brossoit 4.9

 

Total WAR by position:

Forwards WAR Defense WAR Goalie WAR Team WAR
8.60 1.77 8.09 18.45

 

7. Minnesota Wild (81 Points, 16.41 Team WAR)

Minnesota has had a really puzzling year. They fired former GM Chuck Fletcher last year, then hired Paul Fenton to take his place. There were a few decent moves made by Fenton, such as bringing in Ryan Donato and a fourth round pick from the Bruins in return for Charlie Coyle and getting a decent change of scenery candidate in Kevin Fiala from the Predators for Mikael Granlund. These trades were in an effort to get the team younger, since they came into last season tied with the oldest average age of 28.7 with Vegas and Los Angeles.

Then, the real head-scratcher of the offseason came in the form of signing free agent right wing Mats Zuccarello to a five year deal with a $6M cap hit. Zuccarello is a formidable player, as was seen in his career with the Rangers, and his contribution in Dallas after the trade deadline. The issue here is that they gave a five year deal to a player that’s 31 years old in a league where young talent is dominant. Add that contract with Zach Parise and Ryan Suter’s twin contracts with six years remaining with $7,538,461 cap hits, and the Wild will have $21,076,922 in cap tied up in three players on the wrong side of 30 for considerable term. After this signing, and the in-season trade of Nino Niederreiter for Victor Rask, Paul Fenton was fired by owner Craig Leipold. 

With all of this in mind, the Wild are still a decent to mediocre team. They’re projected to finish in last place in the extremely strong Central Division with 81 points, which slots them in at 22nd overall in the NHL. It’s going to be interesting to see how a new GM will slot in for the recently fired Paul Fenton, and what direction they’ll take this roster in. They do have some solid talent on the younger side locked up to long term deals in Jason Zucker, Ryan Donato, Matt Dumba, and Jonas Brodin. The Wild will need to address a few pending free agents who will have strong value on the trade market in Mikko Koivu (if he can remain healthy) and Jared Spurgeon. With right handed defensemen at a premium across the NHL, the Wild should be able to score a strong package for Spurgeon in a trade. On top of the pending free agents that could be trade-able assets, there were a few potential trades rumored involving Jason Zucker. The new GM will likely revisit those trades to see if they can get more assets back. The Wild are not in a position to contend, and with the Central Division being so strong for the foreseeable future, they should look to rebuild or re-tool their roster to ice a younger, faster, and more exciting team.

Expected Lines:

LW C RW Projected WAR (as a line)
Jason Zucker Eric Staal Mats Zuccarello 6.1
Zach Parise Joel Eriksson Ek Kevin Fiala 1.4
Jordan Greenway Mikko Koivu Ryan Donato 0.3
Marcus Foligno Victor Rask Ryan Hartman 0.2

 

LD RD Projected WAR (as a pairing)
Ryan Suter Jared Spurgeon 3.3
Jonas Brodin Matt Dumba 2.3
Nick Seeler Greg Pateryn 1.0

 

Goaltender Projected WAR
Devan Dubnyk 2.4
Alex Stalock 0.3

 

Total WAR by position:

 

Forwards WAR Defense WAR Goalie WAR Team WAR
7.11 6.61 2.69 16.41

 

Recap:

Overall, the Central Division is the strongest division in the NHL from top to bottom. With no teams really being a “cellar-dweller”, like you see in the other three divisions. The winner of this division will be battle-tested heading into the playoffs. As projected above, the Blues will continue their strong play after winning the Stanley Cup, but will be heartily challenged by Chicago, Dallas, and Colorado.

There will be a lot of trades made up to the trade deadline involving these teams. Each team has areas they can improve on to increase their chances of positioning themselves for a deep playoff run.

Look for five teams out of the Central Division to make it into the playoffs, and expect there to be very contentious first round series between the division winners in the Western Conference against the two wild card teams coming out of the Central.

By Justin Trudel

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About Justin Trudel

Justin is a lifelong Caps fan, with some of his first memories of the sport watching the team in the USAir Arena and the 1998 Stanley Cup appearance. Now a resident of St. Augustine, FL, Justin watches the Caps from afar. Justin graduated with a Bachelor's of Science in Political Science from Towson University, and a Master's of Science in Applied Information Technology from Towson University. Justin is currently a product manager at a non-profit in Jacksonville, FL. Justin enjoys geeking out over roster construction and cap management.
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3 Responses to Part 3: WAR! What Is It Good For? Projecting The Central Division Standings by Expected WAR Standings Point Projections

  1. Day One Caps FAn says:

    St. Louis Blues made mincemeat out of the bumbling Caps last season, during that stretch where the new Head Coach and his staff were “finding their way.” Playing STL right off the bat in October will be a good measure to see if those “finding their way” have “found it”

    Like

  2. Pingback: Part 4: WAR! What Is It Good For? Projecting the Pacific Division Standings by Expected WAR Standings Point Projections | NoVa Caps

  3. Pingback: The Biggest Question Facing Each NHL Team This Season | NoVa Caps

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