While it may not be the strongest division in the NHL, the Central Division does boast the reigning Stanley Cup Champion in the Colorado Avalanche. They will continue to be a dominant force in 2022-23 but will be forced to face some serious competition against a few divisional opponents that look to be very good teams this coming year as well. Let’s take a look at what we can expect to see from all eight teams in the Central, as well as I how personally expect things to look standings-wise once the season has come to an end.
The 2021-22 season was an obvious tank for the Arizona Coyotes, who were able to gain several draft picks in exchange for taking on some of the worst contracts throughout the league. Despite this, they still managed to finish two points higher in the standings than the Montreal Canadiens. Their slightly better-than-expected season resulted in them falling to third in the draft lottery, though they still stand a great chance at being able to secure the first overall pick at the 2023 NHL Entry Draft.
They were able to make some minor additions to their lineup for the upcoming season. Up front, they added Zack Kassian from the Edmonton Oilers while also signing Nick Bjugstad to a one-year deal. On the back end, they picked up Patrik Nemeth while signing a few depth defensemen in Josh Brown and Troy Stetcher. These deals, of course, weren’t made to try and propel the Coyotes up the standings, but simply have them above the league minimum salary cap. Make no mistake, this team is once again planning to struggle in hopes of securing another high draft pick to help build for the future.
At this point, it is hard to imagine another team in the league being as bad as the Coyotes in 2022-23. Aside from Clayton Keller up front, they are severely lacking talent up front, and aside from Jakob Chychrun, the same can be said for the blue line. Perhaps the most underwhelming of all comes in net, as they appear to be going with Karel Vejmelka and Ivan Prosvetov, a duo that has a combined 58 career NHL games under their belt.
Interestingly enough, if there is a team in the league who could perhaps challenge the Coyotes for dead last in league standings, it is a divisional opponent in the Chicago Blackhawks. While players like Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews may prevent that from happening, it remains a strong possibility that both are traded before or during the 2022-23 season.
Blackhawks management has made their tanking plans quite clear to all, as they chose to trade their best goal scorer in Alex DeBrincat earlier this offseason to the Ottawa Senators for future assets. They then did the same with Kirby Dach, whom they sent to the Montreal Canadiens. They were able to bring in a few free agents in Max Domi, Andreas Athanasiou and Colin Blackwell, though none are seen as more than fillers for what promises to be a few ugly years ahead.
Their blue line will continue to be one that struggles in 2022-23, as Jack Johnson was brought in while Calvin de Haan and Erik Gustafsson both went to free agency. If that itself wasn’t enough to convince you of how ugly things may get, a goaltending duo of Petr Mrazek and Alex Stalock should make things crystal clear.
Transitioning from two of the league’s worst teams, let’s take a look at who most figure is still the best in the Avalanche. After multiple years of disappointing playoff exits, Jared Bednar’s squad was able to put it all together and win the Stanley Cup in convincing fashion earlier this year, and have a great chance at running it back in 2023.
While the losses of Nazem Kadri and Andrei Burakovsky up front are significant, they were able to bring back Valeri Nichushkin on a massive eight-year extension, while also retaining a solid veteran in Andrew Cogliano. With those two returning, along with forwards such as Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog, just to name a few, this team will continue to produce a ton of offense.
Aside from having Johnson walk via free agency, their back end will look quite similar in 2022-23, which is a scary thought for opponents across the league. Not only do they possess two of the game’s best in Cale Makar and Devon Toews, but a number of others every team would love to have in Samuel Girard, Bowen Byram and Josh Manson as well.
The one question facing this Avalanche team is between the pipes, as they no longer have a clear-cut number one in Darcy Kuemper. A duo of Pavel Francouz and Alexander Georgiev should work just fine throughout the regular season, but if it is enough to get things done in the playoffs remains to be seen.
Despite making the playoffs in 2021-22, it was a rather disappointing season for the Dallas Stars who struggled to get consistency from some of their top players. Aside from players like Roope Hintz, Joe Pavelski and Jason Robertson up front, almost everyone returning needs to be better, none more so than Tyler Seguin who is believed to finally be back to full health.
While they didn’t make a ton of additions to their group this offseason, one that should provide a significant impact is the signing of winger Mason Marchment. The 27-year-old, coming off of a 2021-22 season in which he scored 18 goals and 47 points in 54 games, brings a rare combination of both grit and skill which should prove to be extremely valuable. That said, their roster did take a hit as well, as they lost defenseman John Klingberg to free agency and were unable to replace him.
Just days ago, the Stars were able to re-sign goaltender Jake Oettinger to a three-year deal, which gives them a solid duo between himself and Scott Wedgewood. The one big thing still needing to be addressed revolves around Robertson, who still remains without a contract. Assuming they are able to get something worked out with him, they should still be a very competitive team this season.
After years of being a very mediocre NHL franchise, the Minnesota Wild were able to take a big step forward last season. Their 113-points were good enough for fifth in the entire league, thanks in large part to the fantastic showings from players like Kirill Kaprizov and Kevin Fiala. Whether that success will continue, however, remains to be seen.
The Wild have plenty of talent up front heading into the new season in Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello as well as some very young players in Matt Boldy and Marco Rossi. That said, trading Fiala in order to be cap compliant will hurt in a big way. They were able to recently bring in Sam Steel on a one-year deal, but the 24-year-old would need to improve in a massive way to provide even a portion of the offense that Fiala brought this past season.
As far as their blue line goes, the Wild will continue to be in good shape. Led by Jared Spurgeon, they will continue to limit other teams offensively and are able to help when it comes to scoring as well. Goaltending is a bit more of a question mark, as Marc-Andre Fleury struggled in 2021-22, while Filip Gustavsson has played in just 24 games at the NHL level. All this to say, this team should remain competitive in 2022-23, but another 113-point campaign feels rather unlikely.
After years of struggling to put offense on the board, the Nashville Predators had several of their top offensive stars step up this past season. Filip Forsberg, who recently signed an eight-year extension, had career highs with 42 goals and 84 points, as did Matt Duchene with 43 goals and 86 points. Ryan Johansen himself had a nice bounce-back year with 63 points, while Roman Josi led the way from the back end with a ridiculous 96 points.
To help add to their scoring, general manager (GM) David Poile was able to go out and sign Nino Niederreiter to a two-year deal. He, along with players such as Mikael Granlund and Tanner Jeannot, will all be relied upon to help with secondary scoring, something they are all very capable of. Zach Sanford, who was signed as a free agent, will be a welcomed addition to their fourth line as well.
This Predators team continues to boast one of the better blue lines in the league. While having players like Josi and Mattias Ekholm made them scary enough, being able to add Ryan McDonagh to the mix makes them even scarier. This will only help further benefit one of the league’s best goaltenders in Juuse Saros, who is in a great position to win his first-ever Vezina Trophy in 2022-23.
St. Louis Blues
Other than the Tampa Bay Lightning, the St. Louis Blues were the only team to give the Colorado Avalanche a competitive series in the playoffs earlier this year, proving what a strong team they were. And, despite losing one of the game’s more underrated wingers in David Perron, they should continue to be very competitive in the upcoming season.
Though they weren’t able to add much in terms of free agency to their group, they did sign Noel Acciari to a one-year deal to help improve their already tremendous depth down the middle. Heading into the season, they are set to have Robert Thomas, Ryan O’Reilly, Brayden Schenn and Acciari as their four centermen.
There weren’t any changes to the Blues’ back end either, however, they were able to bring back Nick Leddy on a four-year deal. He, as well as players like Colton Parayko and Torey Krug, should provide the Blues with an adequate blue line, though one that could still use some improvement. Goaltending will be the major question mark, as they lost Ville Husso to free agency, meaning they will be relying on Jordan Binnington as their number one once again. If he struggles, they will have to hope that Thomas Greiss is able to carry the load.
The Winnipeg Jets are in clear regression after years of being one of the better teams in the Central Division. While they still boast some top talent in players like Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor and goaltender Connor Hellebuyck, they have far too many holes to be viewed as a major threat heading into the 2022-23 campaign.
Unfortunately for GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, he wasn’t able to make much of any additions to his roster this summer. He was able to recently bring in Sam Gagner on a one-year deal, though that signing was only necessary due to the departure of a better player in Paul Stastny. On top of that, what they will get out of players like Pierre-Luc Dubois and an aging Blake Wheeler is anyone’s guess.
While the Jets’ blue line isn’t necessarily weak, it is far from being one of the league’s best. Josh Morrissey and Neal Pionk are both capable of being very good NHL defensemen, but after them, things thin out in a big way. As a result, they will need a lot to go right in order to be a playoff team in 2022-23.
End of Season Predictions
- Colorado Avalanche
- Nashville Predators
- St. Louis Blues
- Minnesota Wild
- Dallas Stars
- Winnipeg Jets
- Chicago Blackhawks
- Arizona Coyotes