The Central Division, the toughest division in years’ past, takes a step back in that direction with the Chicago Blackhawks strengthening their roster, the Winnipeg Jets adding depth on the blue line, and the Stanley Cup contending Colorado Avalanche retaining their captain, Gabriel Landeskog.
We’ll be taking a look at each division and projecting how the standings may pan out based on Goals Above Replacement (GAR) projections, courtesy of Evolving-Hockey. To read more about GAR and other advanced analytical terms, check out our glossary.
A few notes on the methodology for these posts: the projections are based on the active roster for each team as CapFriendly shows them. Players who did not fully participate last season do not have GAR projections, due to a lack of playing data from 2021. There are no goaltending GAR projections available, so we used the goaltenders’ 2021 season goaltending GAR as a benchmark.
Arizona Coyotes (2021 Season GAR: 51, 2021 Finish: 5th in the West Division)
The Coyotes were contending for one of the four playoff spots in last season’s West Division, but ultimately fell short, finishing the season 4-5-1. After missing the playoffs eight of the last nine seasons, the Coyotes sold players for future assets.
Former franchise player and captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Conor Garland were shipped out to Vancouver in return for a 2021 first round pick, a 2022 second round pick, a 2023 seventh round pick, and the contracts of Jay Beagle, Antoine Roussel, and Loui Eriksson. After the Carolina Hurricanes agreed on an offer sheet with Montreal’s Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Montreal traded a 2022 first round pick and a 2023 second round pick for top six center Christian Dvorak. They traded goaltender Darcy Kuemper to division rival Colorado for defenseman Connor Timmins, a 2022 first round pick, and a conditional 2023 third round pick.
On top of that, Arizona has been making shrewd deals to take on bad contracts in return for high draft picks. Arizona has received Andrew Ladd from the Islanders and Shayne Gostisbehere from the Flyers in return for a slew of draft picks.
Here’s the projections for the Coyotes:
The future and current core of the Arizona Coyotes are Jakob Chychrun and Clayton Keller. The Coyotes are clearly in rebuilding mode again, and will likely have a high pick in the 2022 NHL Entry Draft.
Veteran winger Phil Kessel could be on the move this season, near the trade deadline, to a contending team needing to add some scoring and playoff experience. Overall, expectations are very low for the Coyotes.
Chicago Blackhawks(2021 Season GAR: 34.1, 2021 Finish: 6th in the Central Division)
The Blackhawks are trending up. They acquired Vezina winning goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury for a low-level prospect, Tyler Johnson from the Tampa Bay Lightning, and all signs have been pointing to a return from their captain Jonathan Toews.
On top of that, they’ll also be getting young center Kirby Dach back from a hand injury he suffered in international play prior to the season starting last year. The team also made a huge splash this off-season, acquiring Seth Jones from the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Here’s the projections for the Blackhawks:
Fleury’s performance could backstop this team to a run to the playoffs. The Blackhawks are hoping that the Seth Jones acquisition makes them deeper on the back-end. The forward group with Toews, Dach, Patrick Kane, and Alex Debrincat leading the way will be solid.
Colorado Avalanche (2021 Season GAR: 142.8, 2021 Finish: 1st in the West Division)
The Avalanche may have missed out on retaining Vezina finalist Philipp Grubauer, but the Avalanche are still the favorites to win the Central Division and push on to winning the Stanley Cup. The Avalanche’s roster is a bit weaker than last season’s team, after needing to trade defenseman Ryan Graves to New Jersey, and letting forward Brandon Saad hit free agency due to cap complications.
The good news for the Avalanche is that they were able to sign franchise defenseman Cale Makar and captain Gabriel Landeskog to long term deals to remain with the team.
Here’s the Avalanche’s projections:
This team will ride its core to success. Their all-world quality line of Landeskog, MacKinnon, and Rantanen will still be available, and their top six forward group is still solid as ever. The wild card for the Avalanche is the play of Darcy Kuemper.
Dallas Stars (2021 Season GAR: 73.6, 2021 Finish: 5th in the Central Division)
Following a Stanley Cup Final appearance in the 2020 playoffs, the Stars had a slow start to the season due to a slew of COVID-19 cases and never seemed to click in the 2020-21 season. The Stars did have a breakout player in Jason Robertson, who was a contender for the Calder Trophy for most outstanding rookie.
Here’s the Stars’ projections:
The biggest question mark comes in net for the Stars. They signed Braden Holtby in free agency, largely as an insurance policy for the health of Ben Bishop. Bishop is likely going to miss time this upcoming season, putting a brunt of the weight on the stellar Anton Khudobin.
The Stars are a veteran heavy team, but will rely on Robertson and Miro Heiskanen to perform at high levels for the team to be successful this season. Tyler Seguin, who missed a large portion of last season due to hip surgery, will need to be healthy and at his best for the Stars to make a playoff run.
Minnesota Wild (2021 Season GAR: 101.5, 2021 Finish: 3rd in the West Division)
The Minnesota Wild were a somewhat shocking team to enter the fray as a true playoff contender last season. The emergence of Russian wunderkind Kirill Kaprizov gave Minnesota a true scoring threat and the Wild took off from there.
This off-season, though, the Wild shocked the hockey world by buying out the twin contracts of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. The move gave the Wild some cap space for this season, but will be paying a hefty price next season. Ultimately, that money led to the flexibility to extend Kaprizov.
Here’s the Wild’s projections:
On top of Kaprizov’s break out season, the Wild will need repeat performances from Cam Talbot and Joel Eriksson Ek. Eriksson Ek was also extended this off-season after a solid 2021 campaign. Eriksson Ek and Kaprizov are a solid one-two punch, and Kevin Fiala is no slouch, either. If the Wild can get solid goaltending again from Talbot and Kaapo Kahkonen, they could forge a playoff spot for themselves.
Nashville Predators (2021 Season GAR: 70, 2021 Finish: 4th in the Central Division)
The Predators are an intriguing bunch. They had a really slow start to the 2020-21 season, which effectively put them in trade rumors that they were going to be selling off assets, like Mattias Ekholm. The Predators then went on a solid run at the end of the season on the back of goaltender Juuse Saros, and ended up grabbing the final playoff spot in the Central Division.
Then, this offseason, the Predators made a few roster moves by sending Ryan Ellis to the Philadelphia Flyers for Philippe Myers and Nolan Patrick, then flipped Patrick to Vegas for Cody Glass. Earlier in the offseason, the Predators shipped solid goal scorer Viktor Arvidsson to the Los Angeles Kings for a 2021 second-round pick and a 2022 third-round pick.
Here’s the projections for the Predators:
Overall, Nashville still has solid talent on their roster in players like Roman Josi, Filip Forsberg, and Ekholm. On top of that, they have solid young assets in Dante Fabbro and Eeli Tolvanen that could take the next step. All things considered, unless everyone on the roster puts it all together (especially Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen), the Predators are more than likely not making the playoffs this season.
St Louis Blues (2021 Season GAR: 56.9, 2021 Finish: 4th in the West Division)
After a somewhat underwhelming season, the Blues are looking to bounce back and make the playoffs again. One of the more interesting adds of the off-season was the Blues acquiring Pavel Buchnevich from the New York Rangers in return for Samuel Blais and a 2022 second round pick.
Buchnevich is a solid winger that can help add some offense to the Blues’ lineup, especially if Vladimir Tarasenko can’t stay healthy throughout the season. The Blues also added Brandon Saad in free agency, who will likely slide into the vacancy in the lineup created by Jaden Schwartz’s departure to Seattle.
Here’s the projections for the Blues:
The Blues will go as far as Binnington takes them. He’s the real x-factor for this squad, as shown in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs when the Blues took home their franchise’s first Stanley Cup. The player to watch for the Blues this season is Tarasenko. He’s dealt with a bevy of shoulder issues the past few seasons, which has diminished his offensive firepower. If Tarasenko is healthy and can get back to his 30-goal scoring ways, the Blues will be a tough team to stop.
Winnipeg Jets (2021 Season GAR: 89.9, 2021 Finish: 3rd in the North Division)
The Jets made strong strides to correct a roster and lineup issue they’ve had over the past few seasons: a lack of depth and talent on the blue line. The Jets made aggressive moves to bring in solid top-four defensemen in Brenden Dillon from the Capitals, and Nate Schmidt from the Vancouver Canucks. The Jets now have a solid top four defensive group of Dillon, Schmidt, Nate Pionk, and Josh Morrissey.
The Jets also have one of the stronger forward groups in the league, led by captain Blake Wheeler, and one of the top goaltenders in the league in Connor Hellebuyck. The Jets should be a strong contender in the Western Conference this upcoming season. Let’s take a look at their projections:
Overall, we can expect the Jets to be a strong opponent in the Central Division and the Western Conference as a whole. It will be a race to the top of the division with the Avalanche for the Jets, and could be a marquee matchup in the second round of the playoffs. If the Jets can get more out of Pierre-Luc Dubois this season after acquiring him last season, the Jets’ top six forward group is even stronger.
2021 Pacific Division Standings Projections:
- Colorado Avalanche (93.9 GAR)
- Winnipeg Jets (92 GAR)
- Chicago Blackhawks (84.4 GAR)
- Nashville Predators (74.6 GAR)
- Minnesota Wild (70.1 GAR)
- St Louis Blues (65.8 GAR)
- Dallas Stars (60.6 GAR)
- Arizona Coyotes (33.8 GAR)
By Justin Trudel