Previewing the Red Wings, Blue Jackets, Blues, Predators & Blackhawks for the 2008-2009 NHL season
There are less than three weeks to go before the opening regular season game; it’s time for some divisional breakdowns, analysis and predictions. The NHL has six divisions all filled with five teams doing whatever it takes to win the division, make the playoffs and ultimately, win the Stanley Cup.
Without further adieu, the Central Division.
The Central division only had two teams make the playoffs last season with Detroit going on to win the Stanley Cup after beating Nashville in the first round. With that in mind, the Red Wings look to repeat as champions for the first time since they did it last 11 years ago.
This is also the year that the Blackhawks have a team to make a serious run for the playoffs while Columbus and St. Louis are already expecting to be nowhere near contention. Also, Chicago will host the 2009 Winter Classic against Detroit on January 1st at Wrigley Field. As for Nashville, the glory days look to be over as a playoff berth would even surprise themselves.
I have to start with the defending champs. The Wings were dangerous last season and with the huge signing of Marian Hossa, they stand out as favourites to win the 2009 Stanley Cup. Dominik Hasek finally retired for what seems the fifth time in his career making Chris Osgood the #1 goalie. The Wings are excellent in every position and only seem to get better under Coach Mike Babcock.
No matter how you look at it, the Detroit Red Wings only got better than last year. They scored 257 goals last season (2 nd behind Montreal) and don’t be shocked if they top that this season. The defensive core is just as impressive as they allowed the least amount of goals and Chris Osgood lead the league with a 2.09 goals against average. The Cup is theirs to lose. I got them to repeat as champions.
Not sure how the St. Louis Blues plan on rebuilding when they have seven players over the age of 30 getting all the ice time. To respect the organization though, there are 11 players that are 25 years old or under but all o them are having a hard time succeeding. Everyone knows that the playoffs are no-no and that the youth needs more than a washed up Keith Tkachuk to look up to.
Hopefully Alex Pietrangelo gets some valuable ice-time as he is supposed to lead this team in five years but until than, it’s Brad Boyes. Finally after two bad seasons on the Blues, he broke out with a 43 goal year with 11 of them coming on the power play. They should improve slightly but there is no way they should be anyone’s playoff list.
While I’m on the topic of non-playoff teams, it’s only fitting that the Columbus Blue Jackets are talked about next. They are the only current professional team to not make the NHL playoffs in their entire history and it’s been seven years. Rick Nash continues to be the face of the franchise and they finally brought in some help for him this season. R.J. Umberger and Kristian Huselius have been hired to take some stress of Nash’s stick and produce good numbers.
In net, the Jackets have one of the best, but streakiest, goalies in Pascal Leclaire who somehow managed nine shutouts last season on this non-playoff team. For him to repeat a stellar season would be nothing less of astonishing, since the team will yet again not play in the post season.
To more positive news, it is time for Chicago to play more than just in the 82 regular season games in 2009. Here we have team that has improved every season for the last four seasons including a 16 point improvement from the 2007 campaign. There is a ridiculous amount of young talent on this team led by Jonathan Toews and Calder Trophy winner Patrick Kane. Those two and their supporting core are ready to break out as one of the NHL’s best teams in front of their veteran goalies, Cristobal Huet and Nikolai Khabibulin.
How young are they exactly? There are 16 players that are 25 years old or younger and only three players over 30, two of which are the goalies.
Scotty Bowman has joined Chicago up in the office and with his wisdom and experience; this team could be serious contenders for years to come. I see no reason why the Blackhawks cannot be in the playoffs this year while impressing everyone the entire way to the end of the year.
The Predators got lucky last year slithering into the final playoff spot. With Alexander Radulov leaving for Russia, Nashville really lacks that offensive star or brand name guy; it sure isn’t J.P. Dumont, Radek Bonk or Jason Arnott although they are decent players. Nashville keeps games close and seems to win most of them, especially at home. Hopefully for their sake, Steve Sullivan makes a healthy comeback to play a full season.
One thing this team does well is work very hard. There is no question that the Predators put 100% every second of every game but only because they have to make up for what they lack in skill. Nashville will be a teeter-totter team in the West this season with the playoffs being up in the air. At best they will somehow sneak in again as the eighth seed but I see them falling out, looking in.
Over/under compared to last season's overall points:
St. Louis finished with 79 points. The bad goaltending will show; under.
Chicago finished with 88 points. This will be the beginning of a new era; over.
Detroit finished with 115 points. With Hossa, 120 looks to be realistic; over.
Nashville finished with 91 points. The road stops here, there just isn’t enough skill; under.
Columbus finished with 80 points. Looking at the roster it would be a successful year to break 80; under.
Predicted 2008-2009 Central Division Standings:
Detroit Red Wings
St. Louis Blues
Columbus Blue Jackets
By Kevin Chaves
ProHockey-fans.com Director of Content
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