The 2013-14 NHL season saw the Central Division send five teams to the Western Conference playoffs.
At the top of the division with 112 points was the seemingly resurgent Colorado Avalanche looking to regain its glory from years past with Hall of Famers Patrick Roy and Joe Sakic steering the ship.
Right below them, were the powerhouse St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks teams to round out the top three divisional spots. The Minnesota Wild and Dallas Stars earned both wildcard spots; denying Pacific Division teams outside of the top three a chance at the Stanley Cup.
The five playoff teams combined for a plus 142 goal differential and heading into the 2014-15 season, it seemed as if only divine intervention would see any of the teams not get another chance at Lord Stanley’s cup.
This summer, the Blues added Paul Stastny and the Blackhawks added Brad Richards for center stability, a glaring weakness in both lineups. The Wild gained the services of sniper Thomas Vanek for a very reasonable cap hit while the Stars spectacularly stole Jason Spezza from the Ottawa Senators. The Avalanche did lose Stastny to the Blues but they signed veteran Jarome Iginla who was coming off of a 30 goals and 61 points campaign.
The Nashville Predators added James Neal and Mike Ribeiro to their lineup, but critics were weary of whether or not the forward additions would be enough to help the Predators’ weak offense.
The Winnipeg Jets did not make a significant splash in the free agent or trade markets to help bolster their roster. Instead, they went into the new season relying on player improvements from within their own organization.
The Hockey News predicted that the Avalanche would fall from their throne at the top of the Central Division but still obtain one of two wild card spots with the same five teams all making the playoffs again. Sportsnets’ predictions were not that different from THN’s either.
Halfway point of this season
Fast forward to the halfway point of this season, and it seems as if there was in fact a divine intervention and the hockey gods threw all seven teams into a blender and what we are seeing is the result.
At the top of the division, with 60 points after 41 games, are the Nashville Predators led by rookie Filip Forsberg and free agent acquisition Ribeiro. Combine that with a healthy Pekka Rinne and it’s hard to see anyone but the Predators winning the Central Division this year.
The Blackhawks and the Blues trail the Predators by only a few points, to the surprise of no one, but what is surprising is who is fourth in the division and in possession of a wild card spot.
The Jets, on the back of rookie goaltender Michael Hutchinson, are desperately clinging to a playoff spot and a chance to give hockey fans in Winnipeg a taste of NHL playoffs for the first time since relocating to Manitoba.
The Avalanche, Stars, and Wild are all on the outside looking in as they try to figure out what went horribly wrong this season and correct things before it is too late. Competition is still tight and all three teams can right their wrongs and make use of the half of a season that remains, but as it stands, all three teams will have a long summer to mull over their disappointing seasons.