Wednesday, November 3, 2010
I'm going to try and be swift in my analysis of the final 4 divisions, as the season has started and me premonitions will get less believable as the games are played.
So here we have the Central. I won't ramble on about the prospects of a repeat for the Blackhawks, warn of the predictable nature of the Predators, or rip into the sad experiment that is the Blue Jackets. I'll try to tell you straight and with no chaser. K? K.
Yes, their roster has changed more than just about any team in the league. Yes, their third and fourth lines are made up of unproven veterans and kids. Yes, they let Stanley Cup winning goalie Antii Niemi walk in favor of cheaper veteran Marty Turco. Yes, the list of buts, what abouts, and how could they's could go on and on. However the key to this teams success depends on none of these things.
Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Marian Hossa represent an all star quality core that will return to defend the Stanley Cup. Throw in guys like Patrick Sharp, Tomas Kopecky, and a returning blue line that features Norris winner Duncan Keith, his partner in crime Brent Seabrook, Brian Campbell, and Lidstrom like prodigy Niklas Hjalmarrson, and you've got no excuses. Pretty much everyone on this team has earned their spot and you won't see much in the way of position battles. So it's up to Coach Quenneville and the training staff to keep these guys healthy and focused.
If the new arrivals can't gel quickly with the Hawks resident franchise players, it could be a long, slow start for the new throng of Chicago Blackhawks fans. But anything is possible, and no matter what they are still a top 6 team in the NHL.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Rick Nash. Rick Nash. Rick Nash. Steve Mason. Rick Nash.
I know, not exactly an in depth look, but seriously, this team was built for Nash, and he needs to lead by example, score goals, and make his teammates better. Brassard, Huselius, Umberger, and Vermette are good and capable supporting players for him to work with. The defense is all question marks, and the plan is, well, I'm not sure what kind of a team the Blue Jackets are. I hope they do.
Steve Mason has to remind us why he won the Calder trophy two years ago. So there.
And it'd be nice if people showed up to watch this team play. Fans are nice, you know, for support, energy, home ice advantage. So basically, they're hoping for a lot, expecting a little.
Detroit Red Wings
With the addition of Mike Modano, the Wings aren't exactly following the youth movement that the majority of the league is at the moment. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are apparently starting the season healthy with their psychic scoring bond intact. Franzen, Flippula, and the return of Jiri Hudler give them strength, speed, and toughness on all four lines. Lidstrom still anchoring the blue line will leading Stuart, Rafalski, and kid Kindl. I put the most focus on Jimmy Howard. He played very well to earn the starting spot in net for the Wings, and well enough in the playoffs to raise expectations for this season.
Joking aside, age can be a factor if injuries attack early for the Wings. The success of Detroit relies on consistency and speed. Coach Mike Babcock will keep them working hard throughout the 10-11 campaign in an attempt to regain their usual top spot in the division. But perhaps, their time has passed. Perhaps.
Perhaps the most intriguing team in the NHL, the Preds made minor adjustments in the free agent market by adding Sergei Kostitsyn and Shane O'Brien. With an already solid defensive strategy and staff, they looked to toughen up and possibly fill out the third and fourth lines with some secondary scoring/skill guys. Barry Trotz has some exciting talent to manage on the ice, especially in that of surging young star Patric Hornqvist. He had 51 points in 80 games last season, so Nashville will be looking for a repeat or improvement from this young man.
Pekka Rinne has a strange name, but that shouldn't effect the teams chances this year.
Like Columbus, filling the seats may be an issue for much of the regular season, but regardless of the amount of support, this team will be fun to watch and very dangerous.
St. Louis Blues
Every Game Counts. That's what the Blues marketing department has drawn up as their plan to draw fans to the games this year. Well, let me be the first to say, "Duh." Of course every game counts. Did you have a hard time being taken seriously last year guys? Did the fans think you took a few games off? I can only imagine. This year, lets try a different approach.
Erik Johnson's shoulders are wide, and he can be the beginning of a great future for St. Louis, as he will lead from the blue line with capable help from Eric Brewer, Carlo Colaiacovo, and youngster Alex Pietrangelo. Offensively they possess 6 potential 20+ goal scorers led by David Backes, David Perron, and TJ Oshie, among others. So what? So, discipline being the key here, they could make great progress, and even be contenders at some point this season. They're young enough, and have a lot of speed and skill. If the coaches can develop a team style and identity to harness this, they'll move fast up the ranks of the NHL.
By the way, last years playoff legend, Jaroslav Halak is their starting goaltender. If he can produce half of the effort he put forth in the Canadiens playoff run last season, the Blues chances are greatly increased.
In summation, there are no two teams alike in the Central. There 5 different styles of play, and 5 different keys to each teams success. Development, Health, Coaching, Leadership, and Support.
So here it is:
1. Detroit Red Wings
2. Chicago Blackhawks
3. Nashville Predators
4. St. Louis Blues
5. Columbus Blue Jackets
Even if Chicago ends up being the better team, they're going to need the first half of the season to get to that point, as a lot of their players will be getting used to their roles, and each other. The Wings, barring injuries, will be consistent and productive. The only worry for them is whether or not they can make it last through the playoffs. The top three will be tight. As we know, thanks to the St. Louis Blues marketing team, every game counts. So early losses for some will give way to winning streaks later in the season, and the opposite for some. The Preds will hang tough all year and threaten often, but once the Wings and Hawks find their stride, they will be nearly unbeatable. They just have too much talent. St. Louis has a fighting chance, but look for them to build momentum into next year. And the Blue Jackets? No one really cares.
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