Last year’s Stanley Cup champion hailed from the Central Division as the Avalanche won their first Cup since 2002. Will the 2023 winner also come from the division?
The Central produced five playoff teams last season — the Avalanche, Wild, Blues, Predators and Stars. It looks as though those five teams, plus the Jets, should be in contention for postseason spots in the 2022-23 season.
But the other divisions are still more wide open because the Avalanche enter the season as the clear-cut favorite to repeat as division champ. After that, the next five mentioned will be squeezed together from second to sixth. place. The Blackhawks and Coyotes will try not to finish in last.
The Sporting News breaks down the Central Division and predicts who will be crowned the division champion.
SN’s Central Division predictions
1. Colorado Avalanche
The Avalanche finally were able to put it all together and win the Stanley Cup last season. They’ve consistently been one of the best teams in hockey, but the regular-season success had not translated to the postseason. Colorado should once again be one of the top teams in the league. The major question mark is in net: the Avalanche are rolling with Alexandar Georgiev and Pavel Francouz, neither of which has significant starting experience.
2. Nashville Predators
The Predators have made the playoffs eight seasons in a row, but the last four trips have ended with first-round exits. The team made some strong offseason acquisitions, including trading for Ryan McDonagh and signing Nino Neiderreiter as a free agent. The group has a strong top-six forward group and an excellent goaltender in Juuse Saros. The Predators will surprise this season and finish higher than the Blues and the Wild in the division.
3. St. Louis Blues
It was a quiet offseason in St. Louis. The team did not lose significant pieces or bring in any big names. The Blues are running it back with a roster that arguably gave the Avalanche their toughest test in the 2022 postseason. They did make a decision in net by shipping Ville Husso out to Detroit, meaning the crease is Jordan Binnington’s to man. St. Louis was one of the best teams by the end of the ’21-22 regular season, and that momentum will continue into ’22-23.
4. Minnesota Wild
The Wild have become an extremely entertaining team, largely because of the play of Kirill Kaprizov. But they will need else someone to step up on offense after they could not re-sign Kevin Fiala because of cap constraints and wound up trading him to the Kings. Marc-Andre Fleury is the new starter in net after he was acquired at the deadline and should be an upgrade from Cam Talbot. There should be another postseason berth for Minnesota.
5. Winnipeg Jets
On paper, the Jets have an incredibly talented top forward group, a solid defense and an elite goaltender in Connor Hellebuyck. So how is it that they continue to underachieve? The culture and leadership has reportedly been a problem, evidenced by Blake Wheeler losing the “C” this summer. Rick Bowness has been tasked with righting the ship; if he can’t do so, it will be another season of disappointment in Winnipeg.
6. Dallas Stars
Dallas was one of the most boring teams to watch last season, excluding its top line of Roope Hintz, Jason Robertson and Joe Pavelski, but it was good enough to sneak into the postseason. It looks as if it might be more of the same this season. Peter DeBoer is implementing a new system that might lead to more offense, but what Dallas really needs is for Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn to figure things out and start playing to the level of their paychecks.
7. Arizona Coyotes
Another season in the rebuild will have Arizona battling with the Blackhawks for worst team in the division. The Coyotes continued their trend of taking on bad contracts in exchange for draft picks by acquiring Zack Kassian from the Oilers and Patrik Nemeth from the Rangers. To make matters worse in the desert, this is the first season of the Coyotes playing at Arizona State’s new rink. Let’s see if this club can sell out a 5,000-seat arena.
8. Chicago Blackhawks
The 2022-23 season marks the beginning of dark days in Chicago. General manager Kyle Davidson signaled the official start of the rebuild by trading away Alex DeBrincat and Kirby Dach last summer. It’s only a matter of time before Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are sent out of town as well.
Central Division odds
The Avalanche enter the season as the favorite to win the Central Division, according to Sports Interaction.
St. Louis Blues
SN’s Western Conference playoff predictions
Bolded teams indicate Central Division teams
Oilers (P1) vs. Wild (W2)
Flames (P2) vs. Golden Knights (P3)
Avalanche (C1) vs. Kings (W1)
Predators (C2) vs. Blues (C3)
Oilers (P1) vs. Flames (P2)
Avalanche (C1) vs. Predators (C2)
Avalanche (C1) vs. Flames (P2)
Stanley Cup Final
Flames vs. Hurricanes
Conn Smythe: Frederik Andersen, Hurricanes