2008-09 Central Division Standings
Detroit – 51-21-10 – 112 pts’‘Chicago – 46-24-12 – 104 pts'’St. Louis – 41-31-10 – 92 pts’‘Columbus – 41-31-10 – 92 pts'’Nashville – 40-34-8 – 88 pts
As has been the case for the better part of two decades, the Detroit Red Wings led the way in the Central Division in 2008-09, finishing 2.5 games short of first place in the Western Conference, and coming up a goal short of repeating as Stanley Cup Champions. In 2009, however, Chicago made some serious personnel moves that could give them the ability to match up better with Detroit than they have in a long time, and for the first time since 2000, the Red Wings may not be guaranteed the top spot in the division.
On offense, the Wings are still one of the most lethal teams on ice, with superstars like Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg leading the way. However, as far as star power is concerned, the Blackhawks may actually have Detroit outgunned. Although a shoulder injury will keep Marian Hossa out for some time next season, when he returns, he will add an incredible scoring boost to a lineup that already includes four of the top young scorers in the NHL in Jonathan Toews, Pat Kane, Kris Versteeg, and Patrick Sharp. The Blues are another team with a talented group of young scorers, as TJ Oshie and Patrik Berglund made it clear that they could make a serious impact in the NHL. Columbus made sure they locked up their superstar when they signed Rick Nash to an eight year deal, and the jackets will hope that Derick Brassard returns as healthy and ready to play as he was at the beginning of last season. Nashville will be hopelessly overmatched on offense in this division next season, and will have to hope their defense can carry them.
Speaking of defense, the Red Wings and Blackhawks have some of the best collections of defenders in the NHL. Led by future Hall-of-Famer Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit’s blueline is a perfect mix of sound defensive players, offensive threats and hard-hitting juggernauts like Niklas Kronwall. Chicago has a very similar conglomeration on their blueline, although most of their main players are still very young. Another thing in the Blackhawks’ favor is the fact that they added veteran center and career two-way player John Madden to the roster. Nashville’s defense has been their strong point for the past few years, and they will be forced to rely heavily on it this season. St. Louis will benefit immensely from the return of top prospect Erik Johnson, as well as the development of Alex Pietrangelo. Surprisingly, Columbus finished ahead of all their Central Division foes except Chicago in team defense last season, but much of that can be attributed to the superhuman play of goaltending phenom Steve Mason.
In net, the Blue Jackets actually have an edge on their more established and storied counterparts. Mason was a serious Vezina candidate and won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year last season, winning a remarkable 33 games and posting a very impressive 2.29 GAA. Chicago will be hoping that Cristobal Huet can return to form as he shoulders the full responsibility of the starting job, while it is not yet clear how long Detroit will be able to rely on the aging Chris Osgood. In St. Louis, the “other Mason” will have his hands full, but showed that he was up to the pressure last season, as he posted 27 wins and a 2.41 GAA.
2009-10 Standings Prediction’‘Chicago'’Detroit’‘St. Louis'’Columbus’‘Nashville’’