NHL Central Division: mid-season Contenders, pretenders, and offenders
A majority of NHL teams have hit or are just about to reach the midway point in the season. There’s some clear cut contenders to make the playoffs and even win the Stanley Cup.
Let’s go through each division and identify just who the contenders, pretenders, and offenders are. We continue with the Central Division
Central Division Contenders
Tampa Bay Lightning, Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers, Columbus Blue Jackets
The cream of the crop are the Tampa Bay Lightning with 48 points to lead the division. They may be the best team in the entire league and they are doing this without Nikita Kucherov who remains on LTIR for the season. As good as the Hurricanes and Panthers are, I just don’t see a better team to not only make the playoffs but to get out of the Division.
Of course, there’s plenty of time for things to change. The NHL is an unforgiving war of attrition and injuries happen. Also, once you get into a 7 game series a hot goalie can steal a few wins and be enough to knock out the toughest of opponents. I just don’t know if the Carolina Hurricanes (43) and Florida Panthers (44) have that. Regardless, both are getting in with ease.
This leaves me with my last team to separate themselves from the pretenders and that’s the Columbus Blue Jackets. They are currently tied with the Chicago Blackhawks at 33 points for the last spot. I am banking on John Tortorella to get his team which has Patrik Laine, Nick Foligno, Seth Jones, and Zach Werenski in to the postseason.
Central Division Pretenders
Chicago Blackhawks, Nashville Predators
I absolutely love what the Blackhawks have done this season, They are a young a fun group to watch. Patrick Kane has been MVP-like this season, but I gave the edge to Columbus because Jonathan Toews does not appear to be coming back anytime soon.
The Predators are still lurking around and can beat you on any given night. Unfortunately, they don’t have as many “any given nights” as they used to. With Nashville set to be sellers on April 12, they stay in the Pretenders box.
Central Division Offenders
Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings
The loss of Tyler Seguin and Ben Bishop were just too much for this team that lost in the Stanley Cup Final last season. Anton Khudobin has not been as good and is likely to be traded or exposed to the Seattle Kraken this summer. This has to be a tough pill for not only the fans, but the players and management too.
Finally, the Detroit Red Wings are headed for another top 5 lottery selection. There’s been plenty of improvement from last season but Steve Yzerman is just getting this rebuild going. Patience Wings’ fans because much brighter days are ahead.