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Midseason Report: Central Division

A look back at pre-season predictions and the path forward for the Central Division
1/25/2023 • Gage Westerik

Arizona Coyotes

Pre-Season Rank: 9

Current Rank: 10


After a slow start, the Coyotes have risen to 10th in the league, almost exactly where I expected them to be. Currently 3rd in the Central in a heated race among the top 4 teams, it’s difficult to say what lies ahead for the Coyotes. They’re 2 points away from 1st place in the division and 2 points away from being out of the playoffs entirely. Despite being a top 10 team in the league, they could very well drop out of the playoffs. The Yotes are not particularly weak in any given area; however, if they want to make a deep run, I think they should look to add a bit of forward depth. Depth tends to become very important in the playoffs, and I personally wouldn’t put much faith in a bottom 6 that’s half comprised of Stenlund, Erne, and Reaves. 


Chicago Blackhawks

Pre-Season Rank: 26

Current Rank: 29


I don’t think anyone had huge expectations given the Central is a fairly competitive division outside of Chicago, and they’ve met those expectations. Their odds of rising any further than they are in the Central are slim to none, so it’s pretty much a given that the Blackhawks will be sellers by the deadline. This is a team I predict will be very active leading up to the trade deadline given that they have a lot of depth pieces that teams will likely be very interested in. As of a few weeks ago, they’ve practically put the entire team on the trade block. Oshie, given his offensive capabilities, and Skjei, given his current NHL season, are certainly the highlights of what they can offer. They also have Holden, Stralman, Nemeth, Sissons, Nosek, Gagne, and Bunting that they’ve put on the block. I don’t expect all of these players to be traded but I imagine most of them will be. Oshie and Skjei will almost definitely be gone and would make a great addition to any team looking for a deep run in the playoffs, and the rest will be great for anyone looking to add some depth. Keep an eye on Chicago as the deadline approaches.


Colorado Avalanche

Pre-Season Rank: 10

Current Rank: 8


The Avalanche are performing as I expected them to, though from what I remember, I was one of only a few people who really seemed high on this team. Regardless, they’ve performed well and have found themselves at the top of the Central… for now. There are 4 teams all within 2 points of one another in the Central, and so assuming they lose a game and the other 3 all win their next game, Colorado could swiftly go from 1st to 4th, Regardless of that, the top 4 in the Central is basically set with the next closest team being 9 points back. Though, no matter how likely their odds are, I think Colorado should try to improve for a deeper run. They have plenty of defensive defensemen, but they have a lack of offensive defensemen so I think that should be their target come trade deadline, a defenseman who can be a reliable pp quarterback. Currently ranked 20th league wide, their powerplay is certainly an area of concern that such a defenseman could really help them improve monumentally. Perhaps they could talk to Florida about Justin Faulk, or inquire about Mikhail Sergachev from Anaheim, or maybe even talk to their division rivals the Blues who have plenty of offensive defensemen to go around (more on that later). All things considered thought, Colorado is a good team who will certainly be competitive come playoff time, but they need to make improvements to their powerplay and adding a true offensive defenseman should help tremendously. 


Dallas Stars

Pre-Season Rank: 13

Current Rank: 24


As you can see, I had high expectations for Dallas this season. I think most people did, but that hasn’t panned out. In their attempts to best recreate the NHL Dallas Stars, they traded Draisaitl, Chabot, and Konecny in return for Robertson, Radulov, Wyatt Johnston, and Mavrik Bourque (also Tyson Foerster, but he doesn’t fit the Dallas joke). I actually do really like this trade for Dallas, but it certainly did make them worse currently. Not to mention the infamous Juuse Saros trade. Regardless, Vanacek is a mediocre goalie on a great team and Saros is a great goalie on a mediocre team. We could debate forever about which one is preferable, but at the end of the day, a mediocre goalie on a great team will almost always have better stats than great goalie on a bad team, look no further than Price and the Habs, or Gibson and the Ducks. Anyways, enough about NHL teams. Dallas has done well to prepare for the future and will likely be great once Johnston, Bourque, Jiricek, and all their other prospects develop. However, they’ve essentially thrown out any chance they had of making the playoffs with those two trades, so I expect them to be sellers or to stay put come trade deadline. Especially when you look at how many UFAs they have expiring after this year, it would be foolish to NOT be sellers at this point. What value all of their UFAs have is yet to be seen, but surely Nick Backstrom can be a benefit to someone looking for a top 6 forward. Kevin Hayes, Andreas Athanasiou  (RFA), and Cal Clutterbuck can also be good for someone looking for middle/bottom 6 skaters. Look for them to be active at the deadline and though I don’t expert them to make the playoffs, they’re still a solid team that can compete on any given night. 


Minnesota Wild

Pre-Season Rank: 6

Current Rank: 18


A team that has fallen 3 times their original rank, it’s tough to say what the issue has been. With the recent firing of DJ Smith, we’ll see if perhaps that was the issue because otherwise, it’s very difficult to pinpoint what has gone wrong for the Wild this season. In fairness, they still have 53% point percentage, so it’s not like they’re doing too badly. They’re currently 7 points behind the current WC2 holder with the added bonus of having the least amount of games played of any team in the West. Realistically, Minnesota is just going through a rough stretch at the moment. Hopefully they can recover nicely. I’m not entirely sure what to recommend as a fix because on paper, they have a pretty phenomenal roster. Their special teams are middle of the league, so that could be something to look at? I don’t know. Regardless, I believe Minnesota should stay put and have faith in their team, as it’s really only been recently that they’ve struggled. They just won their most recent game, so maybe that will revitalize them and put them on right path back to the playoff position they held not too long ago. 


Nashville Predators

Pre-Season Rank: 22

Current Rank: 21


Nashville is performing to the level I expected, though I will say, I did expect more from them when the acquired MacKinnon. It seems, however, that the issues they had before are still issues for them. In the 15 games since acquiring MacKinnon, they’ve gone 8-7-0, which is a winning record, but it’s not been the improvement that I’m sure the Preds were hoping for. MacKinnon has put up 13 points in those 15 games, so he’s not been performing badly, but again I’m sure they were hoping for a bit better. I assume the fact they traded their 1st means they are looking to compete, but it’s a difficult path for them this year. They’re also a very top heavy team. Outside of Gaudreau, MacKinnonm Marner, and Brady Tkachuk to a lesser extent, they really don’t have much. One thing I’d like to see them change is how much they play their lines. Their top 2 lines are typically Marner-MacKinnon-Tkachuk / Fabbri-F. Gaudreau-J. Gaudreau. Nashville tends to give these two lines similar playing time despite the fact that one of the lines is definitely not on the level of the other. Actually, I’d personally change the lines altogether. Go all in on the top line with Marner-MacKinnon-J Gaudreau and have their 2nd line be more of a checking/scoring line with Fabbri-F Gaudreau-Tkachuk. Johnny is a player who benefits from playing with someone who can reliably put the puck in the next, which is neither Fabbri or Freddy. You’re limiting his potential as a player and though there are some cases where you should spread the offense, I don’t believe that to be the case in this instance. The powerplay is also an issue for Nashville, which ranks dead last in the league. This is likely due to the system in which their powerplay operates on being a 1/2/2 system rather than prioritizing offense. Overall, Nashville is a team that could fight for a playoff spot but they definitely need to improve in a few different areas in order to do so.


St. Louis Blues

Pre-Season Rank: 12

Current Rank: 12


The Blues are performing exactly how I expected them to, though, a lot of that can be mostly attributed to one player: Auston Matthews. 20 points ahead of the next highest producer on the team, he has nigh single-handedly brought this team into contention. He leads not only the team, but the league in both points and goals while also being 8th in the league for assists. He was the Hart frontrunner back when the league voted on who they thought would win awards, and he has since then he has propelled himself to the point where he is likely the unanimous choice for the Hart. Anyways, the Blues have done a really good job of building themselves up the last few weeks with the additions of Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson, Phil Kessel, and Mario Ferraro. One thing, which I mentioned briefly earlier, is that the Blues have a bit of an abundance of offensive defensemen and so acquiring Karlsson was an interesting choice to me. He’s by no means a bad player, but it was the Blues adding in an area where they already excelled at rather than improving an area of need. I’ve certainly talked about teams who I think should look to acquire an offensive defenseman and there are others in the East as well, so I think the Blues should use this depth of OFD in order to either add some depth pieces or another defensive defenseman à la Ferraro. All that aside though, the Blues are a solid enough team and will likely stay in contention for the playoffs but the rest of the team will certainly need to step up to Matthews’ level if they want to look dominant. 


Winnipeg Jets

Pre-Season Rank: 7

Current Rank: 7


The reigning champs are looking just as strong as expected this season and will be looking to run it back. The Jets have made some changes and so they are not entirely the same team they were last season, but their cup-winning core remains mostly intact. If there is one area of weakness, like a few other teams, it’s their bottom 6. The injury to Ryan O’Reilly certainly hasn’t helped either, with Travis Boyd slotting into their top line the past few games. There are a few teams I’ve outlined here but in the East as well that have a lot of depth players to offer, and so Winnipeg should try to make some improvements in that area. Otherwise, they’re well off. The bottom 6 doesn’t play an exorbitant amount of time either, so it’s not the biggest of problems to have, but it’s a bit of a risk. They’ve got a great defensive core, a solid goalie tandem, and an elite top 6, so making the playoffs shouldn’t be too much of a problem for the reigning champs.