The new 2020-21 season realignment has the Carolina Hurricanes in the Central Division. This division also has the Tampa Bay Lightning, Dallas Stars, Chicago Blackhawks, Nashville Predators, Columbus Blue Jackets, Detroit Red Wings, and the Florida Panthers.
It will be interesting to see what unfolds over the course of the 56-game regular season for the Hurricanes against their divisional foes. They look to be one of the most competitive teams in the division.
The Elites of the Central Division
This division has both teams from the 2020 Stanley Cup Final in the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Dallas Stars. These two teams are expected to have a successful 2020-21 campaign since both are largely the same as they were in the 2020 Playoffs.
However, one exception is that Nikita Kucherov won’t be playing this regular season due to a hip injury that required surgery. He led the Lightning in points in the 2019-20 regular season and in the 2020 Playoffs. His loss would be felt by any team, even the still-powerful Lightning squad.
The Stars and Hurricanes will be competitive. They have similar strengths and weaknesses. Both teams have good scoring, respectable defense, and have room for improvement for consistent goaltending. Dallas plays a more physical game, which could knock the Hurricanes off their game.
The Hurricanes are younger, faster, incredibly talented, and have excellent coaching to put that talent to good use. The combination of the these could be what pushes the team past the Stars in the standings.
The Hurricanes are a heavy favorite to fill one of the top four spots in the Central Division. The Lightning and the Stars are also heavily favored to fill one of the spots, which leaves one more spot for the remaining teams.
Middle Pack Teams of the Central
All the teams in the Central Division have the ability to make an impact with the exception of the Detroit Red Wings because they’re committed to their rebuilding process. The Blackhawks may also have a difficult time competing consistently in the Central Division without their captain Jonathan Toews. The Blackhawks will be without him for an undetermined amount of time as he deals with an illness.
Carolina and Nashville matchups could get interesting, especially since they’ll be playing each other eight times in the 2020-21 season as compared to only twice in a season. Now that they’re competing more directly, the contests could get a little heated.
Both teams have a solid core of players and share an even overall record against each other. The Predators have talent on defense, but not a whole lot of depth. If the Hurricanes can continue to use their talent effectively, they should rank higher in the standings than the Predators come mid-May.
Potential Dark Horse Teams in the Central
The Columbus Blue Jackets showcased their solid defense and great goaltending against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2020 Qualifying Round to earn the series victory. The Blue Jackets took all three games played against the Hurricanes in 2019-20. The Canes have a capable defense like the Blue Jackets and possess a better offense. Carolina’s offensive prowess should help to overcome the shutdown style of the Blue Jackets.
Generally, the Hurricanes have had the Florida Panthers’ number. But this season the Panthers are hungry for a playoff berth. They haven’t officially made the playoffs since 2015-16 and they haven’t advanced from a first-round series since 1996.
The Panthers have amassed a solid squad and will seek to stay competitive against the top teams, especially the Hurricanes. The Panthers may steal some games against the Hurricanes during the regular season, but the true test would be in a playoff series between the squads.
The realignment may have increased the chances of the Hurricanes finishing at a higher rank in the 2020-21 season. They’re in a division where they stand out as one of the elite contenders. The division is also missing teams that could have been stumbling blocks, including the Washington Capitals and the Boston Bruins. I predict that when it’s all set and done the final four of the Central Division will be the Hurricanes, Lightning, Stars, and the Blue Jackets.