The NHL’s 2014-15 Central division is pretty freaking fantastic. And this is coming from a Pacific division writer who in recent years has praised the three-headed California monster as being the best division in hockey. Well, this year, the homer in me isn’t strong enough to overlook the incredibly deep 2014-15 Central division. The way the Central shakes out this year is anybody’s guess, from top to bottom. Outside of Winnipeg, all six of these other teams can push for a top-3 spot in the division. Certainly there is still some sort of hierarchy that will probably shake itself out but the depth to this division is ridiculous. People think the Pacific is a dog fight, it’s nothing compared to the Central this season.
Coming into play on Tuesday Nov. 4, the Central is the only division with all of its members boasting double digit point totals. Not to mention the division winner from a year ago (Colorado) is in last place! And speaking of Winnipeg, right now they have an identical 6-5-1 record to the vaunted Chicago Blackhawks! Of all teams, Nashville, the stereotypical playoff bubble team under Barry Trotz for all those years is leading the way under new head coach Peter Laviolette. While part of me certainly expects Nashville to come down a bit considering their bottom third penalty kill percentage, when was the last time we saw the Predators leading the division 10 plus games into the year?
Chicago a Wild Card?
While Chicago has certainly struggled out of the gate, they are still a dynamite team. Like Los Angeles, they have played an absurd amount of hockey the last few seasons, even if you exclude their 2010 run. That said, given the strength of the division, it isn’t crazy to say the Hawks have a significantly higher chance to miss the playoffs than the Kings. Coming into the season, one would think it’s crazy to even suggest such a thing. However, there is so much competition in the Central that it is highly feasible that Chicago ends up a wild card team. Thankfully for Central clubs, there is a high likelihood that five teams come out of the division, taking up both wild card slots. Even if that is the case though, it wouldn’t be surprising if St. Louis, Minnesota, and Dallas nab the three division slots while Chicago, Nashville, Colorado, and maybe Vancouver compete for the wild cards.
Speaking of those possible division leaders in the Blues, Wild and Stars, let’s look at the way these teams stack up. Over the past few seasons we have seen the Blues become a tough, tough team to play against with an elite blue-line, some nasty tough forwards and young flashy skilled ones to boot. Under head coach Ken Hitchock, they frustrate opponents by clogging up the neutral zone. Many have predicted the Blues to go deep into the playoffs, and for good reason, they are a legit contender. As for Minnesota, this team has always been a stingy defensive club but all of a sudden they can really put the puck in the net. Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, Thomas Vanek, Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter, they are now really good up front. Colleague Devin Slawson recently suggested they may be the best team in the NHL. And finally, the Dallas Stars brought in Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky this offseason to add a second scoring line behind their extremely talented duo of Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. While their defense could still use some improvement, Kari Lehtonen is as solid as they come. The last three seasons he’s turned in save percentages of .922, .916, and .919. The Stars showed in the first round last year that they have some quality energy guys on their lower lines. With the added scoring depth, this team can definitely contend.
We’re not yet even at the quarter point of an 82 game season and every team is bound to have ups and downs but the Central division is by far the best in the NHL. Not to belittle the Jets, but outside of Winnipeg, opponents are in for a battle against any of the other six teams on any given night. The Central is a juggernaut of a division. Each of the other three divisions has three or four teams that, relatively speaking, are not that hard to play against. Right now, with the way the Jets are playing, one could argue the Central doesn’t have a single one of those. This Central division is no doubt going to be the most exciting to follow all year long. When you can say that the current division leader (Nashville) and last year’s division winner (Colorado) might both be on the outside looking in come April, you know it’s one of the deepest divisions in quite some time.