How Does Returning to the Central Division Affect the Predators?
Can Nashville “return” to the Central if they never left it?
I was reading through some articles on our sister SBNation site Mile High Hockey. I wanted to write a similar article to Evan’s piece. He investigates how returning to the Central Division will affect the Colorado Avalanche. For Colorado, the divisional re-alignment is probably not an issue at all. Colorado is going to dominate no matter their divison. However, this sparked a bit of curiosity—how will the Nashville Predators fare in the Central this coming season?
Now, we will have full division previews and team previews in a few weeks, but I wanted to take a general look at how the old (new?) Central will help or hurt our new-look boys in gold.
As a reminder, the Central Division features the Dallas Stars, Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues, Winnipeg Jets, Minnesota Wild, Colorado Avalanche, and the Arizona Coyotes. The Coyotes are newcomers to the Central.
The Coyotes are surely doing something out in the desert. They’ve traded away some of their big-name players, most recently Christian Dvorak, and they’re probably not going to be very good. I’m penciling in Arizona for the last spot in the Central. However, the rest of the division is murky. I’m likely wrong with all these thoughts.
The Predators were marginally better than Dallas last season, securing the fourth-seed playoff spot. The Stars struggled mightily with injuries after the summer 2020 Cup Final run, and their injuries resulted in a playoff miss. However, the Stars have secured two extra goalies, defender Ryan Suter, and locked up several of their supporting players. Are they terrible? Are they excellent? Is their goal song still stupid?
Chicago’s identity change has been swift. The Central Division preview will detail Chicago’s roster changes, but it’s enough to say that Chicago is much like Nashville...we really don’t know what kind of on-ice product we’re going to see. Will Seth Jones blaze through the division and score goals at will? Can Chicago’s goaltending compete?
Colorado and Winnipeg are my choices for Central Division champs in 2022. Colorado is just TOO good, even without Philip Grubauer in net. If they can keep their team healthy, Colorado is once again a Cup favorite. The same can be said for Winnipeg. Connor Hellebuyck, as much as we dislike him, is an incredible goaltender who has had several solid seasons in a row. Hellebuyck can steal wins for the Jets, but the Jets themselves have strengthened their defensive group and certainly will be an intimidating matchup for Nashville’s young(er) squad.
In the middle, I think we see St. Louis and Minnesota. St. Louis is mired in the mud with Vladimir Tarasenko. He wants a trade, but too many teams appear to be worried about his shoulder injury. St. Louis hasn’t locked up Robert Thomas, but Colton Parayko just cashed in on a nice 8-year deal. If Jordan Binnington returns to form, St. Louis might be surprisingly good. On the other hand, there’s a few too many question marks for the boys in the Blue Note.
Minnesota is another team with a few question marks. Kevin Fiala has a new one-year deal, but Kiril Kaprizov does not. Minnesota has the goaltending and the exciting young forwards, but do they have the defense to keep up in the Central? Ryan Suter, a blue-line veteran, is wearing a different shade of green now. Do Jonas Brodin and Matt Dumba carry Minnesota’s defense? The Wild added several free agent d-men, as well: Dimitry Kulikov, John Merril, and Jordie Benn.
It seems to me that two teams are clear Cup contenders—Colorado and Winnipeg. Nashville, in my opinion, seems to be at the lower end of the mushy middle. The Predators are certainly better than the Coyotes...on paper, at least. While we can’t tell whether that assessment would apply to the on-ice product we will see in October, I’m pretty comfortable predicting that Nashville won’t be the WORST team in the re-aligned Central Division. Trying to assess Nashville’s new-look roster against other new-look rosters in Dallas and Chicago is like trying to predict Nashville’s winter weather. I’m equally unsure about how Nashville will fare against Minnesota and St. Louis. I’d like to see some big wins against Central Division teams, especially since St. Louis fans are often unbearable.
Tell me, Preds fans...how do you think our boys will stack up in the Central Division?