Man, I miss hockey. 57 days from puck drop, might as well be three years. But it is never too early to start our predictions for next season. Who is ready for a better regular season finish from the Predators? I think we are setting up for another fun year.
In our first 1-3-1, we explored what second line centers look like on Stanley Cup Champions. This week we will look at first line centers, and what the raw numbers show.
When looking at the list of number one centers to win the Stanley Cup during the 12 years of salary cap hockey, all of them have put solid numbers across the board. And while there are more advanced statistics than goals, assists, points, and CF%, it is a good start at looking at what type of season it takes from your top line center to achieve postseason greatness.
As the numbers show, Johansen’s yearly average is below the Stanley Cup center average in every category. If you use last year as a better indicator for future success, since the other seasons were spent with the up and down Blue Jackets, we find that his assists (47) and CF% (56.4%) are very close to the averages. He has shown us elite playmaking, elite possession capabilities, but he needs to raise his goal output another level. He is more than capable, what with 33 and 26 goal campaigns with Columbus a few years back.
Verdict: Johansen must find another gear to his game
If I am Peter Laviolette, this season I am using Juuse Saros as my starting goaltender for around 24-30 games as compared to last years 19. Saros has been likely crowned as the goaltender of the future, but I need to see another step in his development before I am ready to go that far.
Last season Saros started 19 games, appeared in 21, and posted a 10-8-3 record. What has everyone so excited is his .923% save percentage, which would put him among the league’s best if he qualified for enough games.
This is our first reason why Saros should start more. With Rinne’s contract up in two years, and the Predators perhaps at that point reaching their team peak, a weak goalie situation could ruin the Predators. Knowing what Saros is after this next season is very crucial to the future development of this team. If he posts a good season, Poile can lock him up for cheap, our next goaltender is in place, and the transition can be seamless.
Second, I want to see Saros start more to take the pressure off Rinne and have him rested for another deep playoff run. In games which Rinne started after Saros, Rinne posted an 11-8 record. More rest should equal a better, more rested Rinne during the season as well as the postseason. Just like we saw last year.
Conclusion: Saros should start 25 games
We have spent the last six 1-3-1’s looking at the Central Division. Now time for some predictions:
(Editor’s note: We will have a site-wide prediction series when we get closer to the regular season, breaking down all the division winners & individual awards. We will also address Three Big Questions facing the Preds and we will make our Bold Predictions™)
The Dallas Stars are the biggest movers this year for me. I love the additions of Alexander Radulov and Martin Hanzal up front. Marc Methot is the perfect partner for John Klingberg who can finally focus on what he does best offensively.
But most importantly for me is the bounce back of Jamie Benn and the addition of Ben Bishop in net. Benn went from the 3rd leading scorer in the NHL in 15-16 to the 22nd in 16-17. I think Benn puts up massive numbers this season closer to his 15-16 campaign.
While some argue Bishop’s best days are behind him, I argue against for two reasons. First, last season was rough for Bishop because of the uncertainty of his future, where playing in Tampa he knew his days of the number one were finished due to young star Andrei Vasilevskiy. Second, if you take that last season away, his last three seasons in Tampa he finished 2nd, 22nd, and 7th in save percentage, a massive upgrade from Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen who finished as the 41st and 44th worst goalies in save percentage last season.
People forget that two seasons ago Dallas was a 50 win team with a bad defense, a bad goalie, and a slightly worse offense than this new team. The Stars are built for regular season hockey.
Nashville we will discuss more in depth in the coming weeks, but I do see an increase in wins for this team next season.
Winnipeg is my second biggest riser; I finally see a breakthrough for the Jets. The young guns will score just enough to make up for average goaltending, and I think the defense really improves with Jacob Trouba joining the elite ranks. If Kyle Connor, Patrik Laine, Nikolaj Ehlers, and Nic Petan all take the correct steps forward, this offense, much like Dallas, will be explosive. They lost nine games last year by one goal, not including overtime losses. If they find a way to win half of those types of games this year, the Jets are a playoff team.
Chicago will lose about 11 points in the standings and drop into Wild Card range next season. Chicago will still qualify for the playoffs, but I imagine the start of the season will be rough, when trying to figure out how to operate this team with so much change. In fact, it would not shock me to see the Hawks struggle, fire Quenneville, and then make the playoffs. The loss of Hjalmarsson, Hossa, and Darling will be too much to overcome to win another division title.
St Louis sees a marginal drop off, mostly due to the rise of Dallas, Winnipeg, and the overall strength of the division. I think St Louis is a solid team, but lacks star power that the other teams in the Central possess. Their best chance is Jake Allen having a top 10 season and carrying them into the playoffs, something that is entirely possible.
Minnesota will be the biggest losers in the division. An older team than the ones above it, a slower team, and the team that had the worst offseason, will not be able to repeat last years regular season success. Devan Dubnyk, much like Jake Allen, will keep them hanging around and will at least give them the chance at still competing for a playoff spot.
Finally the Avalanche mildly improve to still be the worst team in the league. Is there anything more that needs to be said about them?
Name me a division in hockey where you could make the argument for six teams winning the division? The Central is loaded and it will be a fun season.
Prediction: The Central gets two wild card teams
What is more likely to happen?
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Nashville Predators win the division
Chicago Blackhawks miss the playoffs
What is more likley to happen?
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St Louis Blues miss playoffs
Minnesota Wild miss playoffs
Who is the best player in the Central Division?
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