Where are the Red Wings? Central Division preview.

So weird talking about the Western Conference since the Pens didn't even sniff them last season. But, oh, well.

1. Chicago Blackhawks

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The Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks are probably the most likely team to repeat in recent history.  There wasn’t a ton of change to the roster, although Dave Bolland will be missed after he was dealt to Toronto.  Bryan Bickell was given a new contract and the defense is mostly intact.  Corey Crawford will be the starting goaltender for good, as Ray Emery left for Philadelphia.

Player to watch

Corey Crawford.  He played excellent in the Stanley Cup Finals, outplaying Tuukka Rask.  He is the number-one guy for the foreseeable future.

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Player not to watch

Nikolai Khabibulin.  If something happens to Crawford, the Blackhawks are in trouble.

Games vs. the Penguins

Mar. 1 @ CHI, 8 pm – Outdoor Stadium Series @ Soldier Field
Mar. 30 @ PIT, 7:30 pm

 

2. St. Louis Blues

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The Blues have been playoff disappointments the last few seasons.  Is this the year they overcome their playoff woes?  Defensemen Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk both got new contracts that will keep them around for awhile.  Magnus Paajarvi comes over from the Oilers after the Blues parted with David Perron.  Max Lapierre was a nice addition to the bottom six.  Derek Roy and Brendan Morrow were brought in, but Morrow could be sac. This team is good, but the goalie situation is a little cloudy, and the Blues lack a big-time offensive player to put them over the hump. 

Player to watch

Vladimir Tarasenko.  He has the potential to be a game breaker that the Blues desperately need. 

Player not to watch

Brendan Morrow.  It’s sad to watch a guy who is a shadow of his former self.

Games vs. the Penguins

Nov. 9 @ STL, 8 pm
Mar. 23 @ PIT, 1 pm

3.  Minnesota Wild

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After a resurgence and a playoff appearance last season, expectations will be high in Minnesota. Matt Cooke was signed in the offseason to replace Cal Clutterbuck.  Nino Niederreiter was the man brought over for Clutterbuck.  Keith Ballard is a nice addition to the defense after being bought out by the Canucks.  The Wild also have some nice young players in Granlund and Dumba.  This team could be a real threat if the goaltenders stay healthy.

Player to watch

Jonas Brodin. He made a name for himself last year after being paired with Ryan Suter on defense.

Player not to watch

Mike Rupp. Because watching him will make you realize there are a lot of better options out there.

Games vs. the Penguins

Dec. 19 @ PIT, 7 pm
Apr. 5 @ MIN, 8 pm

4. Dallas Stars

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Lots of change happened in Dallas this summer.  Jim Nill is the new GM after being highly respected for so many years in Detroit.  He made a couple big splashes this summer.  First, he signed Sergei Gonchar for veteran presence on the backend, then he traded Loui Erikkson to the Bruins for Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverley.  Former Oilers captain Shawn Horcoff was acquired in a trade to provide depth at center.  Jamie Benn was named captain of the team in the summer. Don’t expect a deep run, but the Stars could be a major surprise this year.

Player to watch

Tyler Seguin.  He gets a fresh start and a new place to party in Dallas.

Player not to watch

Alex Goligoski.  He is maddening, he has the potential to be a great defenseman but can’t seem to put it together. 

Games vs. the Penguins

Jan. 25 @ DAL, 8 pm
Mar. 18 @ PIT, 7 pm

5.  Nashville Predators

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Pred Nation had a down year last season after missing the playoffs.  A lot of injuries coupled with a lack of offense killed the Predators.  They threw around a lot of money in the offseason, signing forwards Matt Cullen, Eric Nystrom, Matt Hendricks, and Viktor Stalberg.  All of these players are good bottom six players but don’t seem to give the Predators anything they didn’t already have.  First-round pick Seth Jones does give the Predators something, as he should be a rock on defense for years to come.  Sergei Kostitsyn defected to the KHL after being a fairly valuable player for the Predators.  The Predators will be tough to play against yet again and could be fighting for a playoff spot at the end of the year.

Player to watch

Pekka Rinne.  He’ll keep the Predators competitive and should be a Vezina candidate.

Player not to watch

No one in particular. The Predators seem to have a lot of guys who don’t really command much attention.

Games vs. the Penguins

Nov. 15 @ PIT, 7 pm
Mar. 4 @ NAS, 8 pm

6. Colorado Avalanche

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Turning into Steven Seagal

Patrick Roy is back in Colorado, this time as the new head coach.  He and Joe Sakic seem to be running the show again in Denver.  After debating trading the first overall pick, they selected center Nathan MacKinnon.  The Avalanche have a ton of young talent, especially offensively.  They also made a deal that sent David Jones and Shane O’Brien to the Flames for veterans Alex Tanguay and Cory Sarich.  The weakness is the defense, led by a career underachiever in Eric Johnson.  They won’t finish last, but they still need some time to grow up.

Player to watch

Matt Duchene.  He bounced back last season and is a highly entertaining player.

Player not to watch

Ryan O’Reilly.  Great player, but he might not be around much longer in Colorado given his contract situation and what happened last year. 

Games vs. the Penguins

Oct. 21 @ PIT, 7:30 pm
Apr. 6 @ COL, 8 pm

7.  Winnipeg Jets

The Jets are making the move out west after a few years playing in the gentle Southeast division.  While they’ll be playing more games closer to home, the competition is going to be tougher.  The Jets did bring in Devin Setoguchi from the Wild to provide some offense.  They haven’t seemed to be able to lure a lot of players to play in Winnipeg so far because most people don’t want to live in sub zero temperatures in the winter.  The atmosphere in the arena is second to none, most likely because everyone is just happy to be warm and inside.  Winnipeg does have some intriguing young players in Jacob Trouba and Mark Scheifele.  But this team lacks in all areas to be a real contender. 

Player to watch

Blake Wheeler.  He seemed to have a knack for scoring big goals for the Peg.

Player not to watch

Eric Tangradi.  A big dog’s gotta eat, but unfortunately Eric Tangradi hasn’t eaten too much of his own shit to be effective.

Games vs. the Penguins

Jan. 5 @ PIT, 1 pm
Apr. 3 @ WPG, 8 pm

 

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