NHL Central Division Preview: Outlook, Predictions For 2022-23 Season

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September 27

The NHL’s Central Division has a clear favorite heading into the 2022-23 season, but a few teams are looking to make waves.

The Colorado Avalanche reached the mountain top, winning the Stanley Cup last season by ending the Tampa Bay Lightning’s run of dominance. That being said, there were five total teams to make it into the NHL playoffs from the Central Division, making the division’s overall outlook an interesting one heading into the season. Some teams got better, others were depleted, and the usual suspects should remain at the bottom following bad offseasons.

Here’s a preview of the Central with teams listed in predicted order of finish.

Colorado Avalanche (Odds to win division: -150)
Notable additions: Alexander Georgiev
Notable subtractions: Nazem Kadri, Darcy Kuemper, Andre Burakovsky, Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Nico Sturm

As with many championship-winning teams, it’s difficult to keep everybody heading into the following season. This can be said about the Avalanche, who had to watch Kadri, Burakovsky, Kuemper and others walk while they made sure to lock down their core for another run. The losses will hurt Colorado, but when Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar are leading the way, there’s no doubt they should remain the favorites this season to win the Central and perhaps, the Stanley Cup yet again. With Kuemper gone, the Avs did bring in Georgiev, who will get the chance to be the starting netminder on Day 1. They’re betting on a change in net for the second-straight season but with how the Avalanche play, it seems anyone can be between the posts and they’ll succeed.

Minnesota Wild (Odds to win division: +330)
Notable additions: None
Notable subtractions: Cam Talbot, Kevin Fiala, Dmitry Kulikov, Jordie Benn

The Wild have a great roster despite no notable additions in the offseason. Last season, Minnesota finished 53-22-7 with 113 points to show for it. The Avalanche may be the heavy favorites but the Wild have a unique combination of young talent and veterans who can help them make a run. Kirill Kaprizov established himself as one of the elite players in hockey when he finished with 47 goals, 61 assists and 108 points. If he’s able to keep up that form of play, it not only should help the Wild but it will make the players around him better.

Where the Wild have the main advantage in this division is between the pipes. Minnesota acquired Marc-Andre Fleury at the trade deadline and he has shown no signs of slowing down. If Fleury can play up to his usual marks in his age 37 season, the sky is the limit for what the Wild can do.

Nashville Predators (Odds to win division: +1000)
Notable additions: Nino Niederreiter, Ryan McDonagh, Zach Sanford
Notable subtractions: Nick Cousins, Matt Benning

The best move the Predators did in the offseason was re-signing Filip Forsberg to an eight-year, $68 million contract to make sure he is the focal point of the offense for the foreseeable future. What they also did was make some good pickups with Niederreiter coming over from the Carolina Hurricanes, McDonagh from the Lightning, and Sanford from the Winnipeg Jets. Nashville was swept by the Avalanche in the opening round of the playoffs but that was without star goaltender Juuse Saros, who very well may be the best goalie in the division and one of the best in hockey. Saros played in 67 games last season and recorded a save percentage of .918, anchoring the Predators to their eventual playoff birth but not getting a chance to actually play should leave him determined heading into this season.

If the Predators can follow the lead of captain Roman Josi and Saros is able to stay healthy, they should be able to make some noise.

St. Louis Blues (Odds to win division: +1200)
Notable additions: Noel Acciari
Notable subtractions: Ville Husso, David Perron

Losing Husso and Perron isn’t the best way to spend an offseason if you’re the Blues. Husso, after all, was the netminder who came through for them all season long rather than Jordan Binnington but alas, they’ll have to count on the Stanley Cup-winning goalie with the hopes he can put together a great season. The Blues were able to take out the Wild in the first round before smashing into Colorado but hey, they were the only team in the Western Conference to beat the Avalanche at all so that’s a big win.

St. Louis has a strong core to be in the conversation and as the Blues have shown in the past, they just have to make it to the playoffs to make a splash. The 2019 Stanley Cup champions aren’t favorites by any stretch but shouldn’t be overlooked.

Dallas Stars (Odds to win division: +1200)
Notable additions: Mason Marchment, Colin Miller, Will Butcher
Notable subtractions: Vladislav Namestnikov, John Klingberg, Alexander Radulov

The Stars were in the Stanley Cup Final back in 2020 and were able to bring the Calgary Flames to a seventh game in the opening round. There’s something about Dallas that leads it to success and while it’s not in the same conversation as Colorado or Minnesota, the Stars have the talent to make a splash again. Adding Mason Marchment, who took a huge jump during the 2021-22 season when he recorded 47 points in 54 games, was a move that might have gone under the radar due to name value but should bolster an offense that needed help after losing Namestnikov and Radulov. Replacing Klingberg will be difficult for Dallas but the additions of Miller and Butcher give them the depth on the defensive end.

The overall play by Jake Oettinger in the regular season and especially the postseason could mean the Stars can lean on him to bring them back to the playoffs and further, but that remains to be seen. It could all ride on Oettinger and his growth at the end of the day.

Winnipeg Jets (Odds to win division: +3500)
Notable additions: Sam Gagner
Notable subtractions: Paul Stastny, Zach Sanford

Once upon a time, the Jets felt like they were right there with the Avalanche. But that feels like forever ago. The advantage for Winnipeg for a few seasons was former Vezina Trophy winner Connor Hellebuyck. Hellebuyck has remained solid but not to the level he was back during the 2019-20 season but he hasn’t had much help. The Wild were bad defensively and it was the main reason they just couldn’t put enough together to turn their season around. Their forwards don’t offer help and the defense isn’t anything too impressive. What is impressive is the season Kyle Connor had, scoring 47 goals and recording 46 assists, good for a career-high 93 points. If Hellebuyck can keep up that sort of play, there’s a hope that Mark Scheifele and company can join him.

Offense and goaltending are what can carry this roster back to success. It’s just a matter of the defensive struggles and if that outweighs both of them combined — which is very possible.

Arizona Coyotes (Odds to win division: +50000)
Notable additions: Nick Bjugstad, Zack Kassian, Troy Stecher
Notable subtractions: Phil Kessel, Antoine Roussel, Loui Eriksson, Anton Stralman

Maybe the 2022-23 season will be the year when the Coyotes… trade Jakob Chychrun. That’s about all there is to look forward to when it comes to Arizona this season. Oh, and the Coyotes will get to begin playing in Arizona State’s 5,000-seat Mullet Arena. Exciting. Arizona didn’t add much in the offseason and will depend on a lineup filled with young talent and NHL journeymen that lost veterans like Kessel and Roussel in the offseason. This should be yet another tough season for the Coyotes.

Chicago Blackhawks (Odds to win division: +50000)
Notable additions: Andreas Athanasiou, Max Domi, Colin Blackwell, Petr Mrazek, Jack Johnson
Notable subtractions: Alex DeBrincat, Dylan Strome, Kirby Dach, Dominik Kubalik, Erik Gustafsson

The Blackhawks managed to get worse in the offseason when the team moved on from DeBrincat by trading him to the Ottawa Senators. Chicago had some other players exit as well but the team who have been in a rebuild for a few seasons now should be doing the same once again in 2022-23. The lone bright spot remains Patrick Kane, who is still putting up elite numbers in his 15th season. There’s not a lot to be excited about here and it should be another year of mediocrity or worse.

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