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Saturday's notes: How is the Central shaping up?

Can the Preds finish ahead of Chicago again in 2011-2012?
Can the Preds finish ahead of Chicago again in 2011-2012?

Welcome to the dog days of summer, the long expanse of August which can be like a wasteland for hockey fans. With the Shea Weber story having played out for the time being, we don't expect major activity around the Preds for the next few weeks, until training camp approaches in September.

That, then, makes this a fine time to consider broader speculative questions about the season ahead - so I'll ask you, how do you see the Central Division shaping up this fall? Here's my quick take on where the teams stand:

Detroit - still kings of the hill, they've lost Brian Rafalski but brought in Ian White, and have moved on from the Chris Osgood era by bringing back Ty Conklin as the backup goalie.

Chicago - They've added some beef on the blueline and were able to shed Brian Campbell's ridiculous contract at the same time.

Nashville - Has the best goaltending in the division and talent on defense, but as always, goal-scoring is a big question mark.

Columbus - Added two difference-makers in Jeff Carter and James Wisniewski, but I think they'll miss Jan Hejda more than many would admit.

St. Louis - Some interesting pieces there, but I'm not a fan of their blueline, and if David Perron can't go, that's a big blow to their forward ranks.

I'd like to see your thoughts on how the division looks heading into 2011-2012, so jump into the comments after reading your morning hockey news...

Weekend hockey equipment sale can save you 15% | Hockey Gear HQ - news, reviews & deals
If you need to order any new sticks, skates, or other ice hockey equipment to get ready for the upcoming season, there's an online sale this weekend you should see.

Nashville Predators News

The 303:30 – Preds blogger roundtable reaction to the Shea Weber verdict | Section 303
Jeremy conducted a discussion featuring him and Codey, myself and Marc from OTF, and Ryan Porth of Smashville 24/7. 

A 303 QUICK HIT: Kostitsyn training with Yunost-Minsk… | Section 303
A good sign that SK74 will report to camp next month ready to build on last season's results.

Coach Trotz's Impact (Ryan Porth -- - Nashville Predators
The Preds are running a series of articles submitted by the bloggers around town, and Ryan Porth goes first, writing about the head coach.

Hockey Night in Nashville: Time has come to look forward, not back
Robby gives downtrodden Preds fans a motivational kick in the rear end.

Weber’s Future in Nashville Doubtful - Houses of the Hockey
More cheerfulness to kick off your weekend, although I'd take minor issue with some of Kent's salary discussion around the Preds.

David Poile’s focus now split three ways - Predators Insider
Josh Cooper highlights the difficulty of getting the core of Suter, Weber & Rinne signed to new contracts.

Franson weighs in on Weber - Predators Insider
A little serving of Fruit Cup for you this morning.

Around the NHL

The NHL’s unemployed free-agent defensemen club - Puck Daddy
Can we get Scott Hannan, please??? With SOB gone and Cube still dinged up, I'm really concerned about who's going to work the PK.

By The Numbers: How Much Better Does Steve Mason Need to Be? - The Cannon
That Calder Trophy-winning performance of 2008-9 just recedes further and further into the background, doesn't it?

Doughty holdout talk: Harbinger of doom or scare tactic? - Puck Daddy
Man, these RFA defenseman are getting pesky, aren't they? 

Hawks seek championship contender status again -
After working their way through a salary cap pinch last season, the Blackhawks could be ready to bounce back up among the NHL's elite teams.

Friday Thoughts: Hockey Media, Stalkers, Sean Avery and Doping - KuklasKorner
Alanah offers up a quartet of interesting points here. #1 gets a "hell yeah" out of me, and as regards #3, one can guess why one of my early posts at OTF drew lots of web searchers looking for hung dudes.

VERSUS College Hockey Deal Gets Closer For Friday/Saturday Night Games From Every Conference " Puck The Media
Now this sounds interesting...