It’s almost time for the 2021-22 NHL season to begin, and things will be going back to normal after COVID-19 changed a lot about the league last year.
The divisions will go back to how they once were and all teams will play a regular 82-game schedule.
As is the case every season, some teams went through changes with losing old faces and gaining new faces.
Here’s a look at the Central Division, in order of who we think will the standings will look come the end of the season.
Colorado Avalanche (Odds to win division: -250)
Notable additions: Ryan Murray, Darcy Kuemper, Mikhail Maltsev
Notable subtractions: Phillip Grubauer, Ryan Graves, Brandon Saad, Conor Timmins, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare
Outlook: Last season’s West Division champs had a disappointing end to their season when they lost to the Vegas Golden Knights in six games in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs — something that’s happened for three straight years. The Avs will have to move forward without some key players from last season, but they still boast one of the most dangerous blue lines and continue to have a stacked squad. They did lose one of their best scorers in Brandon Saad and some depth players due to the expansion draft and free agency. But re-signing Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon doing Nathan MacKinnong things, having one of the league’s best power plays and rolling out strong defense behind new goalie Darcy Kuempe means the Avs still should have the division go through them.
Dallas Stars (Odds to win division: +1200)
Notable additions: Ryan Suter, Michael Raffl, Braden Holtby, Luke Glendening
Notable subtractions: Jake Dowling, Andrew Cogliano, Jason Dickinson
Outlook: The Stars began their 2020-21 campaign with a COVID-19 outbreak before a snow storm hit Dallas that altered their schedule quite a bit. But the past is the past and the Stars are hopeful that the additions of Ryan Suter and Braden Holtby, coupled with the star power they already boast, will signal a return to the Stanley Cup playoffs after missing out last season. A healthy Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and Radek Faska should provide plenty of scoring to make the Stars a legitimate threat. Plus, Miro Heiskanen is an absolute pest when he’s on the ice.
Chicago Blackhawks (Odds to win division: +1800)
Notable additions: Marc-Andre Fleury, Tyler Johnson, Seth Jones, Caleb Jones, Jujhar Khaira, Jake McCabe
Notable subtractions: Duncan Keith, Adam Boqvist, Nikita Zadaorov, Pius Suter, John Quenneville, Brent Seabrook’s contract
Outlook: Are the Blackhawks back? It’s much too soon to tell and there are still questions Chicago is facing. It made some strong acquisitions in the offseason to set the team up for more success than last season. The Blackhawks upgraded to Fleury, which surely will help them at least make a run at a playoff spot. Jones very well could be an X-factor, and Jonathan Toews will return after missing all of last season due to health issues. A revamped blue line, an upgrade between the pipes and the potential emergence of Kirby Dach very well could keep the Blackhawks hanging round.
Winnipeg Jets (Odds to win division: +1400)
Notable additions: Brendan Dillon, Nate Schmidt
Notable subtractions: Derek Forbort, Mathieu Perreault, Tucker Poolman
Outlook: The Jets did address their glaring issues on defense, and having Connor Hellebuyck back between the pipes will help Winnipeg. The additions of Dillon and Schmidt should bulk up the blue line and provide some help with the quality of shots against. The Jets, however, won’t have the benefit of the North Division to bully teams like the Vancouver Canucks. But the Wild Card playoff spot is returning this season, so Winnipeg may benefit from that given the Pacific Division boasts some weak, non-playoff teams.
St. Louis Blues (Odds to win division: +1800)
Notable additions: Pavel Buchnevich, Brandon Saad
Notable subtractions: Mike Hoffman, Vince Dunn, Sammy Blais, Jaden Schwartz
Outlook: The Blues adding Pavel Buchnevich and Brandon Saad certainly will help their forwards. But what they really needed to do this offseason was check out the goalie market, and they didn’t. Jordan Binnington hasn’t won a Stanley Cup playoff game since 2019 against the Boston Bruins, and his .910 save percentage was not something to celebrate. Backup netminder Ville Husso also struggled with an .893 save percentage. For whatever reason, St. Louis will continue to roll out the tandem this season. The Blues played a majority of their games last season against teams like the Arizona Coyotes, San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings and Binnington struggled. With the divisions back to normal, this may make things worse for the goalie.
They still could crack a playoff spot in the division, but it will be no easy task.
Minnesota Wild (Odds to win division: +650)
Notable additions: Jordie Benn, Alex Goligoski, Dmitry Kulikov, Jon Merrill
Notable subtractions: Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Ian Cole, Nick Bonino
Outlook: The Wild were a fun team to watch last season and even boasted 2020-21’s Calder Trophy winner Kirill Kaprizov. The two sides finally came to a deal this summer, which was much-needed after losing veterans like Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. Minnesota also let Nick Bonino walk, meaning its center depth became a lot less reliable. But there are a few intriguing up-and-comers who impressed in the Prospects Challenge who may deserve a spot on the opening night roster. The Wild probably still will be competitive this season and exciting to watch like the last campaign, but they may be on the edge of being more than just a mediocre team. They’re decent right now, but have some hefty cap hits for players not even on their roster.
Nashville Predators (Odds to win division: +7500)
Notable additions: Dave Rittich, Michal Grandlund
Notable subtractions: Pekka Rinne, Erik Haula, Erik Gundbranson, Luca Sbisa, Ryan Ellis
Outlook: The Predators probably want to get forget about how last season went between injuries and the pandemic on top of getting bounced from the Stanley Cup playoffs in the first round. Losing Erik Haula and Ryan Ellis certainly won’t help, but Nashville does have a crop of young players. Longtime goalie Pekka Rinne also retired, paving the way for Juuse Saros and David Rittich to man the net. It won’t be easy for the Preds, but if Eeli Tolvanan, who impressed last season as a rookie with 11 goals and as many assists, can build on those numbers, they may be able to be better than the seventh seed we’re predicting them to be.
Arizona Coyotes (Odds to win division: +30000)
Notable additions: Ryan Dzingel, Antoine Roussel, Jay Beagle, Shayne Gostisbehere, Josef Korenar
Notable subtractions: Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Conor Garland, Antti Ranta, Niklas Hjalmarsson
Outlook: Are the Coyotes in full rebuild mode after moving divisions to accommodate the Seattle Kraken as well as their home arena not renewing their lease for the 2022-23 season? They did acquire some big names like Ryan Dzingel and Josef Korenar, and have star forward Clayton Keller who they’d be smart to build their team around. A lot of their players are on one-year contracts to probably help Arizona fully commit to the rebuild, as well. But the goalie tandem of Korenar and Carter Hutton will be interesting, especially after the former showed promise and poise between the pipes. At the end of the day, though, the Coyotes have the potential to be a big mess and see people like Phil Kessel get traded at some point. The assets are there, but it will be a while before Arizona is relevant again.