Moving on from the Pacific, let’s shift our focus to the Central Divison!
The Winnipeg Jets: Coming in this season riding the momentum of what was their best season yet, the Jets are stacked with a roster full of young, fast talent. Connor Hellebuyck had an astonishing run during his first full season as starting goaltender and earned himself a Vezina Trophy nomination. The team boasts two solid lines, led by Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler, and Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers, respectively. They will have to fill the void left behind by Paul Stastny, who is now with the Golden Knights, and that’s not exactly a small void by any means. Dustin Byfuglien is sure to remain a powerhouse for Winnipeg and can forcefully dominate a game unlike any other player. Any way you break it down, the team is absolutely loaded and if they keep this forward motion from last season going, they’ll be a sure bet to make it to the playoffs.
The Dallas Stars: The tail end of the 2017-18 season was rough for Dallas, to put it lightly. The team had an 8-game losing streak, and with that miserable experience behind them, they started the offseason with a handful of changes, starting behind the bench. The Stars hired Jim Montgomery as head coach. Montgomery will be coaching in the NHL for the first time, and the team is hoping he will bring a balanced mix of the past 2 coaches to the table. Dallas also made some moves during free agency, grabbing Blake Comeau from Colorado, Roman Polak from the Leafs, and backup goaltender Anton Khudobin from Boston. Valeri Nichushkin was also brought back by the team after playing in Russia. Ultimately the biggest news out of Dallas was the much-anticipated signing of Tyler Seguin’s contract when he agreed to an 8-year extension. Now that they’ve dusted themselves off from last seasons disappointment, we’ll just have to wait and see how the Stars stack up in the Central Division with their revamped roster and shiny new coach.
The Nashville Predators: Nashville is coming into the 2018-19 season largely unchanged, not that that’s a negative. The team had a solid season last year, before a rough ride during the playoffs for netminder Pekka Rinne. Rinne, who ultimately won his first Vezina Trophy, is in the last year of his contract with the Predators. On the other hand, backup goalie Juuse Saros just signed a 3-year extension, so its possible the team could be looking for him to be their number one eventually. The Preds have a menacingly dominate squad of defenders in P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and Mattias Ekholm. They did run into a bit of bad press when forward Austin Watson plead no contest to a charge of domestic assault in July and was subsequently sentenced to a 27-game suspension by the NHL. Outside of that, it was a pretty uneventful offseason for Nashville, again- not that that’s a bad thing for a team as lethal as the Predators. We’ll just have to see if they can take that lethality all the way to the Stanley Cup this year.