The All-Star break this week is a perfect time to take stock on the state of affairs in the NHL and the Central Division standings so far come as little surprise to fans who follow hockey in middle America and Canada. With around 50 or so games played (give or take a few depending on the individual team,) the annual break allows for us to press a pause button and let the ice settle a bit to see that the Central Division remains highly competitive and entertaining.
Overall, the Central Division looks to remain a tight race all the way into April and at least six teams have a legitimate shot at making the Stanley Cup playoffs this season. As the March 3rd trade deadline looms on the horizon, a number of organizations will no doubt make key trade moves to try and build up their stock for both short-term gains and an eye on the near future as well. So far, there haven’t been any blockbuster trades to speak of but rest assured the general managers of all 32 NHL teams are staying busy this week in Florida and the remaining weeks until the trade deadline as the machinations of player trades ramp up as daily trade rumors rule each day.
In a nod to the relative stability in the Central Division, there haven’t been any head coaching changes to speak of but of course the season is far from over. Nods of approval for Rick Bowness in Winnipeg and Robert DeBoer in Dallas appear to be in order since the Jets and the Stars are in a battle for first place within this division and will more than likely (unless a catastrophic collapse occurs) finish in the top two playoff positions.
Breakdown of the Central Division as of February 1st.
Dallas Stars – 28-13-10, 66 points. The DeBoer era has already begun in Dallas as the Stars lead the Central Division and with Jason Robertson and Jake Oettinger leading the way this season, the Stars look to make a deep Stanley Cup playoff run. Robertson is one of the hottest shooters in the NHL with 33 goals and an even number of assists while netminder Jake Oettinger ranks number two in top NHL goalies right now with a goals-against average of 2.28 and a .925 save percentage. The only question is how far will the Stars go in the postseason?
Winnipeg Jets – 32-19-1, 65 points. Rick Bowness returned to his roots in Winnipeg and the Jets have turned around from has-beens last season to a highly competitive team this year and look to make a legitimate playoff run. With a roster that includes Kyle Connor, Josh Morrissey and Connor Hellebuyck, the Jets should get back on track to a winning season and a chance at the playoffs. They’ve stumbled a bit and are only 5-5-0 in the last ten games but maybe the All-Star break is what this team needs right now to get back on track.
Minnesota Wild – 27-17-4, 58 points. The Wild have been exciting recently and the duo of Kaprizov and Zuccarello are something to watch on the ice. Wild fans are truly a part of the “State of Hockey” and watching them recently a lot leads me to believe that they will scoop up the third playoff spot for the Central Division. Having a veteran goalie in Marc-Andre Fleury won’t hurt the Wild down the final stretch of the regular season as well.
Colorado Avalanche – 27-18-3, 57 points. The Avs are hampered with a plethora of injuries and the reigning Stanley Cup champions are just trying to stay competitive for a playoff spot. Having the likes of Mikko Rantanen, Cale Makar and Alexandar Georgiev protecting the pipes means that the Avs are likely to be in the postseason – but how far will they go?
Nashville Predators – 24-18-6, 54 points. The Predators are another solid team who have their ups and downs but they remain one of the more physical teams around in the NHL. Will they make it to the postseason? The wild card race in the Western Conference will be interesting this spring to say the least.
St. Louis Blues – 23-15-5, 49 points. The Blues did everything right when they went out and inked new contract extensions with both Jordan Kyrou and Robert Thomas as the dynamic duo lead the Blues with 47 and 43 points respectively. The key to understanding what’s wrong with the Blues this season is summed up in one word: consistency. The Blues started the season on a roll, then had an enormous losing streak only to come back and then a Jekyll and Hyde battle every night to see which Blues team shows up. Despite great promise last summer, the Blues may be sitting at home in the playoffs. Get ready for names like Tarasenko and O’Reilly to find new homes before the March trade deadline is over.
Arizona Coyotes –16-28-6, 38 points. It’s hard to disappoint people when nobody expects anyone out of you. The Coyotes play in the smallest arena in the NHL (Mullett Arena on the campus of Arizona State University) which by the way is a Division I college hockey program in Tempe. The Coyotes are trying to secure a permanent location in Tempe with a voter referendum this summer and well, that’s about the extent of their story this season. Clayton Keller leads the team with 18 goals and 23 assists. Again, nobody expects the Coyotes to do much of anything but they aren’t in last place.
Chicago Blackhawks – 15-29-4, 34 points. The Blackhawks probably started this season to be in a race to be the worst team in the NHL so they could claim the consolation prize of the top NHL draft pick this coming summer. Well, the Blackhawks are in a dog fight right now with Columbus and Anaheim for the title of worst team in the league and they may have to settle for a top-three draft pick instead of the top one (hello, Connor Bedard.) Sadly, every indication points to future Hall of Famers Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews leaving the Windy City for greener pastures (probably as rental players.) The Blackhawks do have some talent sitting in their AHL affiliate in Rockford and with a top draft pick this summer, things may start looking up for them – down the road.