The 2019-20 NHL regular season is inching closer and closer, and hockey fans are itching with excitement. It is that time of year where previews are on the horizon. Nova Caps has already looked and previewed the Atlantic Division. The next Division we will cover is the Central Division. Will the St. Louis Blues repeat as Stanley Cup Champion next season? What will happen this season in one of the toughest Divisions in the NHL?
2018-19 Result: 36-34-21; 84 points; 6th in the Central Division; 10th in the Western Conference; 20th in the NHL; missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
2018-19 Leaders: Fwd. Patrick Kane – 44 goals, 66 assists, 110 points; Fwd. Jonathan Toews – 35 goals, 46 assists, 81 points; Def. Erik Gustafsson – 17 goals, 43 assists, 60 points; G Cam Ward (16 wins).
Key Offseason Additions: Fwd. Andrew Shaw, Def. Olli Maatta, Def. Calvin De Haan, G. Robin Lehner.
Key Offseason Subtractions: Fwd. Artem Anisimov, Def. Henri Jokiharju, G. Cam Ward.
2019-20 Outlook: The Chicago Blackhawks did not make the postseason again last year, missing out for the second straight season. GM Stan Bowman made some tweaks to the roster over the summer to try to get back into the Stanley Cup hunt. He attempted to retool the Hawks blueline, as he made a couple of deals to add some depth there. The Blackhawks surrendered 292 goals a season ago, which was 2nd most in the league. Robin Lehner was a good signing for the Hawks, and should give them additional stability in goal.
The Hawks have all the pieces in place to get back into the playoff hunt. The defensive group and goaltenders will need to have a better season than last year if they want to get back into the postseason. On paper, they look like a solid playoff bubble team, but the Divisional competition that is in front of them may keep them lower than they should be.
2018-19 Result: 38-30-14; 90 points; 5th in the Central Division; 8th in the Western Conference; 17th in the NHL; eliminated in Round 2 by San Jose in 7 games.
2018-19 Leaders: Fwd. Nathan MacKinnon – 41 goals, 58 assists, 99 points; Fwd. Mikko Rantanen – 31 goals, 56 assists, 87 points; Def. Tyson Barrie – 14 goals, 45 assists, 59 points; G Semyon Varlamov (20 wins).
Key Offseason Additions: Fwd. Nazem Kadri, Fwd. Andre Burakovsky, Fwd. Joonas Donskoi.
Key Offseason Subtractions: Fwd. Alexander Kerfoot, Fwd. Carl Soderberg, Def. Tyson Barrie.
2019-20 Outlook: The Avalanche have assembled a quality young group of players under GM Joe Sakic. Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen have formed one of the best top lines in the NHL right now. The Avalanche made a big deal with the Maple Leafs over the summer that sent defenseman Tyson Barrie to Toronto in exchange for centre Nazem Kadri. The Avalanche are loaded with young promising defensive talent, so they added a quality centre that can produce at both ends of the ice.
While Rantanen is blossoming into a star forward, he is still not signed to a new contract. The Avalanche need Rantanen to be signed before the regular season begins if they want to have success next season. The Avalanche’s season will also be dictated by the play of goaltender Philipp Grubauer. With Semyon Varlamov now in New York, Grubauer must take more of the starts in goal. The Avalanche will likely remain in playoff contention in 2019-20.
2018-19 Result: 43-32-7; 93 points; 4th in the Central Division; 6th in the Western Conference; 15th in the NHL; eliminated in Round 2 by St. Louis in 7 games.
2018-19 Leaders: Fwd. Tyler Seguin – 33 goals, 47 assists, 80 points; Fwd. Alexander Radulov – 29 goals, 43 assists, 72 points; Def. John Klingberg – 10 goals, 35 assists, 45 points; G. Ben Bishop (27 wins)
Key Offseason Additions: Fwd. Joe Pavelski, Fwd. Corey Perry, Def. Andrej Sekera
Key Offseason Subtractions: Fwd. Mats Zuccarello, Fwd. Jason Spezza, Fwd. Valeri Nichushkin
2019-20 Outlook: The Stars had a busy summer making changes to their lineup. Adding former San Jose Captain Joe Pavelski will give them a much-needed boost in secondary scoring. The Stars added a lot of veteran presence over the summer, which should help them in their Stanley Cup aspirations. The Stars have plenty of high end talent at forward and on defense, but their questions always remain with their depth players. The Stars are good enough to clinch a playoff berth in 2019-20, but are they good enough to make a longer run in the postseason? They will likely compete for the top spot in the Central Division.
2018-19 Result: 37-36-9; 83 points; 7th in the Central Division; 11th in the Western Conference; 21st in the NHL; missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
2018-19 Leaders: Fwd. Zach Parise – 28 goals, 33 assists, 61 points; Fwd. Eric Staal – 22 goals, 30 assists, 52 points; Def. Ryan Suter – 7 goals, 40 assists, 47 points; G. Devan Dubnyk (31 wins).
Key Offseason Additions: Fwd. Mats Zuccarello, Fwd. Ryan Hartman.
Key Offseason Subtractions: Fwd. Eric Fehr.
2019-20 Outlook: The Wild offense was hard to find a season ago. They only scored 211 goals, which was the fourth least among NHL teams. The Wild have a new GM with Bill Guerin, who worked his way through the ranks in Pittsburgh the last few years. The Wild do not have elite playmakers up front, but their defensive group is solid with names like Ryan Suter, Matt Dumba, and Jared Spurgeon. The Wild will likely struggle to score this season, and will likely miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2019-20.
2018-19 Result: 47-29-6; 100 points; 1st in the Central Division; 3rd in the Western Conference; 8th in the NHL; eliminated in Round 1 by Dallas in 6 games.
2018-19 Leaders: Fwd. Ryan Johansen – 14 goals, 50 assists, 64 points; Fwd. Filip Forsberg – 28 goals, 22 assists, 50 points; Def. Roman Josi – 15 goals, 41 assists, 56 points; G. Pekka Rinne (30 wins).
Key Offseason Additions: Fwd. Matt Duchene, Def. Steven Santini.
Key Offseason Subtractions: Fwd. Wayne Simmonds, Fwd. Brian Boyle, Def. P.K. Subban.
2019-20 Outlook: The Predators bolstered their lineup at the start of free agency as they added Matt Duchene. Duchene will give their top-six an immediate boost in scoring. Over the summer, the Predators decided to part ways with defenseman P.K. Subban and sent him to New Jersey. This move was likely a cap causality for the Predators. This Predators team is still very good, especially on defense and in goal. Pekka Rinne is still winning games for the Predators in goal and playing at a very high level. The Predators blueline will keep them in the playoff hunt with names like Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and Mattias Ekholm. The Predators should compete for a playoff berth and should finish near the top of the Central Division.
ST. LOUIS BLUES
2018-19 Result: 45-28-9; 99 points; 3rd in the Central Division; 5th in the Western Conference; 12th in the NHL; Stanley Cup Champions – defeated Boston in the Stanley Cup Final in 7 games.
2018-19 Leaders: Fwd. Ryan O’Reilly – 28 goals, 49 assists, 77 points; Fwd. Vladimir Tarasenko – 33 goals, 35 assists, 68 points; Def. Alex Pietrangelo – 13 goals, 28 assists, 41 points; G. Jordan Binnington (24 wins).
Key Offseason Additions: Def. Derrick Pouliot.
Key Offseason Subtractions: Fwd. Patrick Maroon, Def. Chris Butler.
2019-20 Outlook: It was a fun offseason for the St. Louis Blues as they took home the Stanley Cup back in June. The Blues showed resilience all season, and the ability to crawl back in the standings. The Blues are built for success with a deep blueline and an emerging goaltender with Jordan Binnington. There is no reason that the Blues cannot repeat and be a tough out next season since there was very little offseason turnover. They will likely challenge for the top spot in the Central Division.
2018-19 Result: 47-30-5; 99 points; 2nd in the Central Division; 4th in the Western Conference; 10th in the NHL; eliminated in Round 1 by St. Louis in 6 games.
2018-19 Leaders: Fwd. Blake Wheeler – 20 goals, 71 assists, 91 points; Fwd. Mark Scheifele – 38 goals, 46 assists, 84 points; Def. Jacob Trouba – 8 goals, 42 assists, 50 points; G. Connor Hellebuyck (34 wins).
Key Offseason Additions: Fwd. Gabriel Bourque, Def. Neal Pionk.
Key Offseason Subtractions: Def. Tyler Myers, Def. Jacob Trouba.
2019-20 Outlook: The Jets are in limbo right now because they have not re-signed forwards Patrik Laine or Kyle Connor. Both players are restricted free agents, and both players are expecting hefty extensions. The Jets were right there in the Central Division race a season ago, before they ran into the St. Louis buzz saw in the postseason. The Jets may drop a little bit in the standings, depending on what happens with Laine and Connor. For now, they look like playoff bubble team in the Central Division.
Def. Cale Makar – Colorado Avalanche
Makar was the 4th overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft. He first took the ice for the Avalanche in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and he gave the fans plenty of excitement in his limited sample size. He is a smooth skating young blueliner who is good at transitioning the puck up the ice. He will likely take over the powerplay duties for the Avalanche since Tyson Barrie is no longer with the club.
Def. Bowen Byram – Colorado Avalanche
Byram was taken 3rd overall by the Avalanche in the 2019 NHL Draft. He is impressing many during Avalanche training camp. For an 18 year old, he looks very poised and confident on the ice. Byram is another core piece to the Avalanche puzzle and will be for many years to come.
Fwd. Robert Thomas – St. Louis Blues
Thomas made his name known during the Blues Stanley Cup run a season ago. He was selected 20th overall by the Blues in 2017. Thomas brings an elite skill set to the ice and has a very quick release. In 70 games last season, he recorded 9 goals and 33 points. He added 1 goal and 6 points during the postseason.
PROJECTED CENTRAL DIVISION STANDINGS
1. Nashville Predators*
2. St. Louis Blues*
3. Dallas Stars*
4. Colorado Avalanche*
5. Winnipeg Jets*
6. Chicago Blackhawks
7. Minnesota Wild
*denotes Stanley Cup playoff teams
By: George Foussekis