Sunday, April 10, 2011

Central Division Wrap-Up

The View is never one to shy away from his predictions, and at the start of the season, I predicted the following as the order of finish in the Central Division:

1. Chicago

2. Nashville

3. Detroit

4. St. Louis

5. Columbus

The actual order of finish was:

1. Detroit          104 points

2. Nashville        99 points

3. Chicago          97 points

4. St. Louis         87 points

5. Columbus       81 points

Looking at the final standings, it was apparent that Chicago missed the players that departed in the year end salary purge. The strength of the Hawks last season was the strong play of their third and fourth lines, who scored timely goals throughout last season and their push to the Stanley Cup. Obviously, the Hawks still had a lot of firepower up front with the likes of Kane, Hossa, and Toews, and they still had their two big defensemen in Seabrook and Keith, but Brian Campbell spent a chunk of the year injured and the remaining D corp could not adequately take up the slack. The question is have Seabrook and Keith exhausted themselves with the enormous number of minutes they have logged in the regular season. The Hawks backed into the playoffs, and do not appear to be as solid as last season

The surprise of the division had to be the Nashville Predators, who challenged for the division title up until the final week of the season. The Predators got outstanding play from Pekka Rinne in net and the defense, lead by Shea Weber and Ryan Suter was very solid throughout the season. Weber emerged as a legitimate Norris Trophy candidate in his first year as Captain of the Predators. Shane O'Brien was a good acquisition for the blue liners. In what had to be the shrewdest acquisition by any GM, David Poile took a gamble on Montreal outcast Sergei Kostitsyn, and he responded with 23 goals and 27 assists. February acquisition Mike Fisher has been a solid add both on the ice and in the locker room. For a team decimated with injuries, the play of the Predators has been amazing, and in part that is due to the emergence of young players like Blake Geoffrion and Jonathan Blum. Both stepped in and have been positive contributors for the team.

Detroit is Detroit, and they captured another Central Division title with their hallmark of consistent play throughout the season. Jimmy Howard followed up a great rookie season with another solid campaign in net. The Wings got solid production from their forwards, lead by Pavel Datsyuk. Detroit also faced a myriad of injuries as both Johan Franzen and Tomas Holmstrom both missed a number of games. A testament to their solid scouting and farm system is that many of their call ups, much like the Predators players, performed very well. The Wings D was lead by perennial Norris Trophy candidate Nik Lidstrom, although this season saw Lidstrom finish the year -3. Brian Rafalski, Brad Stuart, and Nilas Kronwall log big minutes for the Wings on the blue line, but their depth is suspect behind their top 4 blueliners.

There was high hopes for the Blues season with the acquisition of Jaroslav Halak  to tend goal. With a bevy of young scorers on the roster, much was expected out of this season. Once again, the Blues failed to live up to expectations, missing the playoffs in a season marked by long winless stretches. The Blues struggled with consistency in net and with their scoring, and a team that on paper looked to be a contender fell flat. This is a team that has the potential, but one wonders if Head Coach Davis Payne is the one that can bring it out of his players.

Ah, Columbus. I should say "Good-bye Columbus" as the Jackets once again were done early in the playoff race. I think Head Coach Scott Arniel is a good coach, but it remains to be seen if the Jackets can play up to their potential. Steve Mason had a very pedestrian season in net, and outside of Rick Nash, no one on the Columbus roster performed consistently. This is a team that was to rely heavily on Mason, but I wonder if he will be on their roster next season. Nash lacks a strong supporting cast, and part of this is that Columbus has made some ill-advised trades, but more importantly, has not developed players in their system like other teams in the Central. Given the roster of the Jackets, I would expect them to finish in the same position in the Central for a while.

That concludes a look back at the regular season. Both Nashville and Detroit play on as the Predators will take on the Ducks and the Red Wings take on the Coyotes. The View will have his fearless playoff prognostications forthcoming for both the Eastern and Western Conference.

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