The NHL Central Division is strong at the very top, but the rest of the teams have low floors and high ceilings. 2021 promises to be an entertaining year for those in the Central.
Record Last Season: 39-13-4
Playoff Result: Lost in the Second Round
Expectation This Season: Stanley Cup
What to Expect This Season
The Avs were one of the best teams in the NHL last season, and this year is more of the same. Colorado’s top like is maybe the best in the entire league, led by returning Team Captain Gabriel Landeskog (after some intense off-season negotiations) with Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen on the wings. The trio is the best offensive unit in the entire NHL, always lethal on the ice. The defense was stellar last year, with a top pairing of Cale Makar and Devon Toews, and and it could be even better this season. Ryan Graves and Patrik Nemeth are out, but they added Ryan Murray and Jack Johnson. Goaltending and depth scoring are the biggest concerns for the Avalanche, especially after losing goaltender Philipp Grubauer in free agency. They acquired Darcey Kuemper from the Arizona Coyotes last season, but he’s going to have big shoes to fill. A lot rides on good goaltending this year.
The Colorado Avalanche are one if of the best teams in the league this season – which will obviously present quite the matchup nightmare for the Red Wings. Detroit’s defense improved last year, but it’s hard to stop that top line. The Avs blue line is also going to present a heck of a challenge, especially if the unit gets even better this season.
Record Last Season: 19-27-10
Playoff Result: N/A
Expectation This Season: Make the Playoffs
After a great start to the year, the Blackhawks ended up fizzling out and missing the playoffs. However, in a year where expectations were quite low, the relative success was enough to convince the organization to accelerate the rebuild through a roster makeover, especially on the blue line. The two biggest additions of the off-season were defenseman Seth Jones from Columbus and Marc-Andre Fleury from Vegas. Jones hasn’t quite lived up to expectations yet, but he’s going to be a major factor in the improvement of the defense. His brother Caleb Jones his also a Blackhawk now, part of the Duncan Keith trade to the Oilers. Fluery was fantastic throughout his entire career with the Golden Knights and he’ll be an instant boost in the crease. Jonathan Toews is also returning to the lineup after missing a year.
Chicago was a tough matchup for Detroit last season. The Red Wings were 2-6-0 in their eight games against the Hawks. They won’t play as much this season with the conferences back to normal, but like always, it’s going to be a very difficult for the Wings to come out on top – especially considering the improvement the defense made this year, the presence of Patrick Kane, the return of Toews and improved goaltending.
St. Louis Blues
Record Last Season: 27-20-9
Playoff Result: Lost in the First
Expectation This Season: Playoff Run
The Blues were an underwhelming team last season, limping their way into the playoffs and finishing the year by getting swept in the first round. Things are getting stale in St. Louis and not much was done to change that narrative in the offseason. Ryan O’Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko are going to drive the offense, while Torey Krug and Robert Bortuzzi back up the blue line.
The Blues seem to be a team trending down, while Detroit is moving forward. However, St. Louis is a veteran team with some excellent players on the roster, which means they’ll be hard for a younger team like the Red Wings.
Record Last Season: 24-26-6
Playoff Result: N/A
Expectation This Season: Rebuild
The Coyotes are in full rebuild mode. They traded or let go of Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Conor Garland, Alex Goligoski, Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta in an attempt to secure some future capital for the team. Their youth is struggling to progress and the defense has been decimated – defenseman Shane Gostisbehere won’t be enough to make up for what they lost. The goaltending will also be rough for the Coyotes this year – it’ll be an AHL starter and former Buffalo Sabres goaltender Carter Hutton in net for the team.
The Coyotes are going to be one of the few teams that Detroit will outmatch at nearly every position. They’re in for a rough year.