For this weekend's hockey conversation, the last before the 2010-11 NHL Regular Season begins, we come to a question of special importance to the Nashville Predators - which team will win the Central Division this year?
Follow after the jump as we review each of the five teams, and cast your vote in the poll below...
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For the sections below, each team's name will take you to their Season Preview.
The defending Stanley Cup champions would normally be considered a heavy favorite to win their own division, but the Blackhawks went through an unprecedented dismantling this summer due to the salary cap train wreck that former GM Dale Tallon orchestrated in putting that team together. While Stan Bowman has done an admirable job jettisoning the replaceable elements of the team (depth forwards & goaltending), there are three players in particular that I see Chicago missing dearly over the long haul - Dustin Byfuglien, John Madden, and Kris Versteeg.
The star-studded core of this team is still intact, however, so the question here is whether that handful of All-Star level talent (Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, etc.) can carry Chicago to the 110 points or more that it will likely take to win the Central.
They've got a new coach and a new system in place, and hey, you never know, they might catch lightning in a bottle, right?
This season of Red Wings hockey is brought to you by the letter "H", as Health, Howard and Hudler are the keys to Detroit's hopes. They were decimated by long-term injuries to key players last season, and the sophomore performance of starting goaltender Jimmy Howard is perhaps the most significant open question surrounding this team. The return of skilled forward Jiri Hudler adds to the Red Wings' tremendous depth up front, and should help them contend for the Stanley Cup once again.
An already deep and dedicated team shed its biggest injury risk up front (Jason Arnott), and has prepared the ground for the emergence of young stars like Patric Hornqvist and Colin Wilson. If special teams can approach NHL-average levels of performance, the Preds can keep pace with the Blackhawks and Red Wings.
The risk, as it has been the last few years with the Preds, is whether Pekka Rinne will deliver on his potential as the #1 goaltender.
They relied heavily on Chris Mason in goal for the last two seasons, but opted to trade prospects to Montreal for Jaroslav Halak instead. Paul Kariya and Keith Tkachuk are no longer around, and they didn't bring anyone else in that raises your eyebrows. So why do so many outside observers peg them for a big rise? Yes there's some young talent emerging here, but is that enough to lift the team as a whole to a new level?
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