Welp, the Red Wings are in the East. So it might be the Chicago Blackhawks’ turn to feast upon the Central.
Our “panel” of “experts” is rather high on the Hawks in the Central; but who else makes the cut in the Western Conference?
Glad you asked. Check out our picks for the West; and if you missed them, here be the East.
And here … we … go.
Here’s the Central …
Greg Wyshynski, Editor
I want to make the Oilers a playoff team. You probably do too, because they’re so damn fun to watch. But they’re also not very good on the back end. Maybe borrow Ryan Miller for half a season? (*shrugs*)
The Blackhawks will win the Central despite a push from the St. Louis Blues, but those two teams will rise above a middling division. The Pacific is a hell of a lot tougher. The Tortorella Canucks regress to the bubble. The Boudreau Ducks will be a popular pick to leave the playoff picture, but we’re not betting against the Marc-Andre Fleury of coaches. Although, in fairness, Fleury has a ring.
Sean Leahy, Editor
The Red Wings moving to the East allows for a spot to open up in the West playoff picture. So, let's get some new blood in the top eight. Yeah, you've got your Blackhawks and Kings and Sharks and Blues, but let's see the Stars, with the 1-2 combo of Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, finally get over that hump and back to playing hockey in mid-April.
And after a year off, the Predators will be back in the postseason. There's really no explanation for how they manage to do it almost every season, but you'll lose more often than not when you count them out.
When it's all said and done, another Presidents' Trophy should be heading back to the Windy City.
Harrison Mooney, Editor
The Central Division is so top-heavy it should be singing "Jolene". Beyond the Blues and the Blackhawks, there are five mediocre teams. Fortunately, one of them is going to get in. After careful consideration and because Jonas Brodin is magic, my money's on the improving Minnesota Wild. The two wild cards will go to the Pacific, however, which is loaded with strong teams, especially on the West Coast. All five late-night teams will make the postseason.
Ryan Lambert, Columnist
Chicago is still the very best team in the league having recently won the Stanley Cup and lost shockingly few players doing it, and the fact that they now get to pound on a pretty weak division makes their finishing tops in the league again an even easier accomplishment. It is for this reason that the Blues will be second. Everyone else in the West kind of falls in line with how things should logically break, with the exception that Edmonton and Nashville are in the playoff picture because of their likely improvement and return to not being weirdly terrible.
Nick Cotsonika, Y Sports Columnist
The Central is top-heavy, and the Pacific is deep, and so the flaw in the NHL's realignment will be exposed. The Blackhawks are the defending Stanley Cup champions. They will be the class of the West again because unlike last time they won the Cup, they didn't have to rip apart their team. Their reward? A first-round "divisional" series against Anaheim, with all the cross-continent travel from the old system. The Blues are the only other Cup contender in the Central. The Wild is the only other playoff team, though the Predators will fall just short because they just can't score enough.
The Sharks improved dramatically after the trade deadline last season and would have made the conference final if not for Jonathan Quick, who backstops a Kings team capable of winning another Cup. The John Tortorella experiment will be fascinating in Vancouver. Expect a wild ride, but remember the Canucks still have a core that came within a game of a championship in 2011. They should make the playoffs. The Oilers will struggle early with Sam Gagner and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins injured, but they will finally take a step forward because of the growth of their youngsters and an improved supporting cast. The Ducks will miss Bobby Ryan, and Teemu Selanne is another year older. They will take a step backward but squeak in over the Coyotes.
Sam McCaig, Y Sports NHL Editor
What can Chicago do for an encore? Last year, the Blackhawks started things off with a 24-game unbeaten streak (21-0-3) and ended up with the Stanley Cup. With a great young core – and the chance to become the first team since 1997-98 to repeat as champions – the ‘Hawks have the talent and motivation to do it all over again. If the Blackhawks falter in the Central, expect St. Louis to step up. The Blues are deep and loaded, with scoring and physicality all over their lineup, and hungry to take the next step after falling to Los Angeles in the past two postseasons. The Kings, the Cup champs in 2012 and Western Conference finalists last season, will continue to be a force and could very well win it all.
Vancouver, San Jose and Anaheim comprise the second tier of Western contenders, and they all have the prime time personnel and organizational depth to win the Cup. For the Canucks and Sharks especially, though, the window is starting to close.
Finally, we’ll take Minnesota and Winnipeg to survive into the playoffs, ahead of hopefuls Edmonton, Dallas, Nashville and Phoenix.
Darryl “Dobber” Dobbs, Fantasy Hockey
Chicago was so dominant last year that to not pick them to top 100 points again would be ludicrous. The Wild are finally seeing the well-stocked prospect cupboards come into their own. Throw in a couple of $100 million contracts and it should be a recipe for 100 points. As for the basement dwellers – everyone outside of Calgary knows where this is going.