Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2019-20, where Last Word On Hockey gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers our insight and analysis. Make sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our 2019-20 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today the series continues with the 2019-20 Central Division.
2019-20 Central Division Predictions
1. St. Louis Blues
Gabriel Foley writes:
The St. Louis Blues are coming off of their most historical season to date. For the first time in team history, the city of St. Louis was able to celebrate a Stanley Cup win. This was made dramatic thanks to theatrics from rookie goaltender Jordan Binnington and star-centre Ryan O’Reilly. Heading into next season, this pairing will look to again lead the team to a dominant season.
Of course, O’Reilly and Binnington can’t carry the entire team. Players like Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz, particularly the latter, will look to have a bounce-back season next year. Other skaters, including Zach Sanford and Robert Thomas, will build off of breakout 2018-19 seasons. All-in-all, the Blues boast an almost identical lineup to the one that won them the Cup last year. The only change comes with the unfortunate departure of Pat Maroon, who will likely be replaced by up-and-coming winger Sammy Blais or top-end prospect Jordan Kyrou, either being definite upgrades. With where things sit right now, there is little doubting the Blues lineup. They showed their dominance in the second half of the 2018-19 season and are expected to only improve next year. Pending any terrible mishaps, the Blues are undeniably the best among the 2019-20 Central Division.
2. Nashville Predators
Gabriel Foley writes:
The Nashville Predators are, similar to St. Louis, coming into the new season with a relatively unchanged roster. This roster similarity includes an absent P.K. Subban, who was held out of 19 games last year due to injury, then was traded away during this past summer. Nashville did, however, make one tremendous addition over the off-season. Proven top-six centre Matt Duchene agreed to terms with the Predators over the summer, adding a terrific boost to the team’s already strong offence.
Duchene, who tallied 70 points in 73 games last season, will quickly become a star in Nashville. On the defencive side of things, top-end college prospect Dante Fabbro will look to bring a boost to the team’s already tremendous defence. Fabbro was among the best collegiate defencemen last year and looks poised for a modest 2019-20 season in the NHL. In short, the Predators made notable improvements to a roster that won the Central Division last season, albeit by only one point. This should mean a terrific 2019-20 year awaits Nashville, as the few new faces look to shine among an already incredible lineup.
3. Colorado Avalanche
Doug Winkey writes:
The Colorado Avalanche enter 2019-20 with high expectations. Their biggest off-season moves saw them acquire Nazem Kadri, among others, from the Toronto Maple Leafs. In return, Colorado dealt away Tyson Barrie and more. Kadri isn’t the only new face, though, with many others joining the Avalanche. Look for fellow newcomers Andre Burakovsky and Joonas Donskoi to add some extra punch to a team that was too reliant on its stars last year. The newest Avs will help keep opponents from focusing too much on the tremendous top-line of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog.
However, there are some concerns surrounding the team’s goaltending and defence. Veterans Ian Cole and Erik Johnson are recovering from offseason hip and shoulder surgery, respectively. Filling their spots will be a mixture of players, headlined by the stud duo of Cale Makar and Samuel Girard. The two defencemen will need to anchor the defence and help drive the offence, which shouldn’t be that difficult for them given their overall skills. There’s also the question of a how a full season will affect the goaltender duo of Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz, neither of whom have been pushed as heavily as they will this year. Still, with a much-improved defence and added depth at offence, the Avalanche are easily among the best in the 2019-20 Central Division.
4. Dallas Stars
Joshua Erickson writes:
The Dallas Stars picked up their fair share of vets in the offseason, most notably Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry. This came after an intense bout with the Blues in the second round of the playoffs. The two sides fought through a seven-game series, with Game Seven going to double overtime. Unfortunately for Dallas, though, Maroon recorded a surely soon-to-be historical goal to win the game for St. Louis.
After already securing a playoff berth last year, Dallas also retains some of the best goaltending in the league with Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin. With a solid sophomore season from Miro Heiskanen and potential breakout campaigns from players like Roope Hintz, Dallas is primed to shoot into the top three in the Central. If things go awry, as they always seem to, Dallas will surely finish among the top of the division.
5. Winnipeg Jets
Joshua Erickson writes:
The Winnipeg Jets had a bit of an up-and-down season last year, finishing with 99 points. This was one point behind the division champion Nashville Predators. The Jets proceeded to get dumped in the First Round of the post-season by the eventual 2019 Stanley Cup champion Blues team. They never really seemed to find their groove all year, as consistency issues from everybody, especially star winger Patrik Laine.
This inconsistency still plagues the Jets, with their summer being notably dramatic. While they still have a solid core of Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Connor Hellebuyck, Bryan Little, and Josh Morrissey, there’s a striking lack of depth on defence. The Jets lost key pieces like Tyler Myers, Jacob Trouba, and Ben Chiarot over the summer and only acquired Neal Pionk from the Rangers. It’s a different looking team for coach Paul Maurice this year.
With so many questions around Winnipeg, there’s a reason to believe they could drop out of the playoff picture after being viewed as a true contender in years prior.
6. Chicago Blackhawks
Doug Winkey writes:
The 2019-20 Chicago Blackhawks should be much improved this season. They went 36-34-12 last year and finished just one point above the Minnesota Wild for last in the Central Division. The team made multiple moves this offseason to give stars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews more support as the star duo ages further into their 30s. Chicago traded for Zack Smith, Calvin de Haan, Olli Maatta and Andrew Shaw to improve scoring, defence, and save money. They also signed goaltender Robin Lehner to split time with Corey Crawford. Lehner brings in a hefty amount of momentum, earning a Vezina nomination last year after an incredible season.
Players like Erik Gustafsson and Alex DeBrincat will look to improve on their already dominant careers next season, likely driving the Hawks lineup. Yet, the team’s offencive dominance is met with poor play in their own end. Offencively-minded defencemen, like Gustafsson and Duncan Keith, proved to be more harm than good last season. Combined with aging players like Brent Seabrook and question marks surrounding the lineup, the Blackhawks could be poised for a very boom-or-bust season. If Lehner can support the injury-prone Crawford nicely and the offence can continue to dominate, Chicago could surely see a much needed post-season entry. However, if the defence proves to be a liability again, the team could instead fall to among the bottom of the league yet again.
7. Minnesota Wild
Gabriel Foley writes:
The Minnesota Wild are likely to fall to the bottom of the Central Division for the second year in a row next season. The team swapped general managers over the summer but did very little otherwise. Their only notable acquisitions came in the signings of Mats Zuccarello and Ryan Hartman. While the former of this group is sure to add a boost, he will not be enough to completely revolutionize an abysmal Wild offence that ranked 28th in goals-for last season. Neither will the return of elite defenceman Mathew Dumba, who missed 50 games last year with an injury.
Ultimately, it feels as though a rebuild might be needed in Minnesota. Ryan Suter, the team’s star defenceman, led the club in scoring last season with a modest 61 points. In such an improved Central Division, it’s unlikely that an almost unchanged Wild roster will manage enough to even come close to climbing out of the last-place slot.
2019-20 Central Division Main Photo: