2015-16 NHL Divisional Breakdown: Central

Updated: September 17, 2015 at 1:20 pm by Brock Seguin


In the past I have done a breakdown of all 30 NHL teams. This season I have decided to break it down by division with a preview for each team inside!

The Central Division is arguably the toughest division in the NHL. It consists of the defending Stanley Cup Champions, one of the best goaltending duos, the best blueline and the best scoring duo in the NHL. So, how will things shake out? Let’s take a look.

1. Chicago Blackhawks

Additions: Subtractions:
Trevor Daley – D Brandon Saad – LW
Artem Anisimov – C Patrick Sharp – LW
Marko Dano – C Brad Richards – C
Ryan Garbutt – RW Antoine Vermette – C
Viktor Tikhonov – RW Johnny Oduya – D
Ryan Haggerty – RW Kris Versteeg – RW
Joakim Nordstrom – C
Antti Raanta – G

The Blackhawks were the 2014-15 Stanley Cup Champions, but had to make a lot of offseason moves because of their salary situation. They had to get rid of two key wingers in Brandon Saad and Patrick Sharp as well as centres Brad Richards and Antoine Vermette. Despite losing some great players, they did a good job of replacing those holes with cheaper, quality talent. They come into this season with the best odds (13/2) of winning the Stanley Cup in 2015-16. (per vegasinsider.com)

As many changes as there were this summer, there is a lot that remains the same in Chicago. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are the cornerstones of the Blackhawks forward group. However, there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding Kane heading into training camp next week. Kane faces rape allegations that is expected to go to a grand jury. Chicago starts training camp next Monday and Kane is unlikely to be there. The good news? Toews will definitely be there alongside veteran Marian Hossa and 21-year-old Teuvo Teravainen, who is expected to play a much larger role this season. Their new additions Artem Anisimov and Mark Dano from Columbus should play pivotal roles this year and Artemi Panarin, who dominated the KHL last year could be a top-6 forward.

On the blueline, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook remain their top pair, while Trevor Daley, who was acquired from Dallas is expected to play in their top-4 and on their second power-play unit. He had a career high 16 goals last season and is capable of scoring double-digit goals with his new team. They will also get Trevor van Riemsdyk back after he missed significant time with a fractured patella a season ago. The 24-year-old has a big shot from the blueline and should prove to be a serviceable third-pair D-man with offensive upside.

Between the pipes the Blackhawks appear to have a very strong one-two punch. Corey Crawford has won the seventh most games (146) in the NHL while posting a 2.33 GAA and .917 SV% in five seasons since becoming the Blackhawks’ starter in 2010-11. In 2014-15 Crawford was pushed for starts late in the season by Scott Darling, who posted a 1.94 GAA and .936 SV% in 14 games. It earned him playoff starts, but Crawford ultimately led them to the Cup and should still start at least 57 games, like he has in four consecutive full seasons.

Look to the Draft (Top 5 Fantasy Players)

  1. Patrick Kane – RW
  2. Jonathan Toews – C
  3. Marian Hossa – RW
  4. Duncan Keith – D
  5. Corey Crawford – G

Click HERE for the Blackhawks’ Projected Line Combinations

2. St. Louis Blues

Additions: Subtractions:
Troy Brouwer – RW T.J Oshie – RW
Andre Benoit – D Zbynek Michalek – D
Peter Harrold – D Barret Jackman – D
Kyle Brodziak – C
Jordan Caron – RW

In 2014-15 the Blues qualified for the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season, but they have been eliminated in the first round in each of the last three years. Entering 2015-16, Las Vegas has them at 13/1 odds to win the Stanley Cup.

Like the Blackhawks, the Blues made a couple of offseason moves as well. The most prominent was the trading of T.J Oshie to the Washington Capitals. Losing Oshie created a hole in the Blues’ top-six, but either Troy Brouwer (who was acquired in the trade) or Dmitrij Jaskin should fill that void. The rest of their forwards remains very much the same as it was last year. They’re led by David Backes, who is a fantasy hockey darling and Vladimir Tarasenko, who was 2014-15’s breakout star. Tarasenko is tremendously gifted and could score 50 goals this season. Behind those two, there is a tonne of talent. Starting with Jaden Schwartz, Alex Steen and Paul Stastny. This is an incredibly deep team that can get contributions from anyone.

Their D-corps is just as deep as their forwards. Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk are both top-15 fantasy defensemen and should each anchor a power-play unit for the Blues this season. Jay Bouwmeester isn’t the offensive threat he used to be, but is still a top-pair D-man. Carl Gunnarsson has never really been offensive and Petteri Lindbohm is more of a physical blueliner, so most of the offence will come from Pietrbngelo and Shattenkirk.

In goal, the Blues possess one of the league’s most consistent goaltending duos. Brian Elliott enters his fifth season with the Blues and he has only started more than 40 games once over that span. He is used to splitting time with someone else and has posted great numbers while doing so. In four seasons he has won 43 more games than he has lost while posting a superb 2.00 GAA, .923 SV% and 21 shutouts. Elliott has two years left on his contract at which point Jake Allen will likely take over as the Blues’ full time starter. The 25-year-old has posted a 2.33 GAA and .911 SV% in 45 games to start his NHL career and is a future NHL star.

Look to the Draft (Top 5 Fantasy Players)

  1. Vladimir Tarasenko – RW
  2. Kevin Shattenkirk – D
  3. Jaden Schwartz – LW
  4. David Bakes – C
  5. Alex Pietrangelo – D

Click HERE for the Blues’ Projected Line Combinations

3. Nashville Predators

Additions: Subtractions:
Cody Hodgson – C Viktor Stalberg – LW
Barret Jackman – D Taylor Beck – LW
Max Reinhart – C

After missing the playoffs for back-to-back seasons, the Predators made the postseason for the eighth time in franchise history last year. Despite a great season, they were knocked out in the first round for the sixth time. They come into 2015-16 with 13/1 odds of winning the Stanley Cup this season.

When you talk about the Predators you have to start with their blueline. This is arguable the top defensive unit in the entire league and they only got better this summer. Shea Weber and Roman Josi logged 26-plus minutes per game last year and will be asked to do the same again this season as the team’s top-pair. The two are great both offensively and defensively, making them high-end fantasy options. In addition to Weber and Josi, two former first round picks in Seth Jones and Ryan Ellis are each worthy of being on your fantasy team as well. If it weren’t for Weber and Josi, Jones and Ellis would put up even better offensive numbers, but their role on the second power-play limits their upside.

In goal the Predators are very strong as well. Pekka Rinne enjoyed a nice bounce-back season in 2014-15 and should turn in a similar season in 2015-16. The 32-year-old has a career 2.36 GAA and .919 SV%, but this is arguably the best team he has ever played behind. With an elite blueline in front of him, he should post a GAA below 2.20 and  SV% above .920. In 59 career games, Carter Hutton has 26 wins, 2.63 GAA and .907 SV%—very serviceable numbers for a backup and the team in front of him will make his a high-end spot start option all season.

At forward the Predators are strong, but it is easily the weakest of their three units. Filip Forsberg had a tremendous 2014-15 season and the 21-year-old is just getting started. James Neal is a former 40-goal scorer, but his first season in Nashville only produced 23 goals and 14 assists. Despite a disappointing debut season, Neal is a gifted goalscorer and he is capable of getting back to 30-plus goals this year. Colin Wilson and Craig Smith each had strong campaigns, giving the Preds four quality scoring wingers. Down the middle, Mike Ribeiro is a crafty playmaker who will make his wingers a lot better and Mike Fisher is ready to play a full season after missing the start of last year.

Look to the Draft (Top 5 Fantasy Players)

  1. Shea Weber – D
  2. Filip Forsberg – C
  3. Pekka Rinne – G
  4. Roman Josi – D
  5. Mike Ribeiro – C

Click HERE for the Predators’ Projected Line Combinations

4. Dallas Stars

Additions: Subtractions:
Patrick Sharp – LW Trevor Daley – D
Antti Niemi – G Ryan Garbutt – RW
Johnny Oduya – D Jhonas Enroth – G
Shawn Horcoff – C

Entering the 2014-15 season, the Stars were a hot pick to do some damage in the Western Conference, but lacklustre defence and questionable goaltending led to them missing the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years. They made some nice moves this summer, brining in Patrick Sharp and Antti Niemi, but were still given 40/1 odds to win the Stanley Cup.

Up front the Stars are lethal. They are led by the dynamic duo of Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. Seguin missed 11 games last season, but still finished seventh in the NHL in scoring with 77 points. Benn won his first scoring title, registering 87 points (35G / 52A) in 82 games. The two will likely finish in the top-10 in scoring in 2015-16 and their second line has a chance to be nearly as productive. Jason Spezza tied for 15th with 45 assists last year and gets Sharp on his win for this season. Sharp is a four-time 30-plus goal scorer and if you pair him with a high-end playmaker in Spezza, they should provide a tonne of secondary scoring. Valeri Nichushkin and Ales Hemsky will round out the Stars’ top six.

Their blueline remains in question. They lost Trevor Daley in the Sharp deal, but brought in Johnny Oduya. John Klingberg burst onto the scene last year, posting 11 goals and 29 assists (40 points) in 65 games. He looks like Erik Karlsson 2.0 and that should be put on display in 2015-16. Pushing Klingberg for the points lead at the position is Alex Goligoski. The 30-year-old has only missed three games in the last three seasons and has posted very consistent numbers—averaging 41 points (5G / 36A) per 82 games over that span.

Goaltending was a huge issue last season. Kari Lehtonen finished 36th in GAA (2.94) and 41st in SV% (.903) and both Anders Lindback and Jhonas Enroth struggled mightily. This offseason they tried to fix the problem by brining in Niemi to push Lehtonen for starts. Niemi has a career 2.39 GAA and .916 SV%, which is an improvement on Lehtonen’s 2.70 GAA and .914 SV%.

Look to the Draft (Top 5 Fantasy Players)

  1. Tyler Seguin – C
  2. Jamie Benn – LW
  3. Patrick Sharp – LW
  4. Jason Spezza – C
  5. John Klingberg – D

Click HERE for the Stars’ Projected Line Combinations

5. Minnesota Wild 

Additions: Subtractions:
Tyson Strachan – D Kyle Brodziak – C
Zac Dalpe – LW Chris Stewart – RW

Minnesota qualified for the playoffs for the third consecutive season and for the second straight year, the made it past the first round, but were eliminated in the second round. They didn’t make very many changes this summer and they come into the season with 13/1 odds to win the Stanley Cup according to Vegas.

A lot of the Wild’s success in 2015-16 will hinge on the play of Devan Dubnyk. After being acquired from the Coyotes, the 29-year-old turned in a 27-9-2 record with a 1.78 GAA and .936 SV%. Those numbers are no where near his career splits but earned him a six-year contract worth $26 million ($4.33M AAV) this summer. That is a big commitment to a goalie who was 61-77-22 with a 2.90 GAA and .909 SV% in his first five seasons. However, if he can play anywhere close to where he did last year, he has No.1 fantasy goalie upside.

Responsible for protecting Dubnyk is a solid blueline. Ryan Suter is a freak who has plays nearly half of the game every night. Suter missed five games last year, but that was the first time he has missed games in three years with Minnesota. In that same span he has averaged six goals 39 assists (45 points) per 82 games, but most of his damage was done in the lockout shortened season. Suter plays alongside Jonas Brodin most of the time and the 22-year-old has proved he can log monster minutes as well. Brodin is a great puck-moving blueliner, but has yet to max out his offensive potential in his first three NHL seasons. A player to keep an eye on in Minnesota is Mathew Dumba. Dumba had 16 points (8G / 8A) in 58 games last season and in his first full season his big shot and exciting style of play should lead to a breakout year for the 21-year-old.

Upfront the Wild are led by Zach Parise. In 2014-15 the 31-year-old scored 30-plus goals for the sixth time in his career and first time in three years with the Wild. Coming into 2015-16 it will be difficult to stop him from getting back to 30-plus goals and 60-plus points. Parise will play alongside either Mikael Granlund or Mikko Koivu, both of whom are gifted playmakers. Grassland could become one of the best playmaking centres in the NHL and with Parise potentially on his wing, he should record 40-plus assists this year. Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville are 31 and 32-years-old respectively and still have a lot to offer in the Wild’s top-six. You know what you will get out of those two veterans, but we don’t know how good Nino Niederreiter can be just yet. He had 24 goals in 80 games last season and at just 23-years-old, he could have his first 30-goal in 2015-16.

Look to the Draft (Top 5 Fantasy Players)

  1. Zach Parise – LW
  2. Devan Dubnyk – G
  3. Jason Pominville – RW
  4. Mikko Koivu – C
  5. Thomas Vanek – LW

Click HERE for the Wild’s Projected Line Combinations

6. Winnipeg Jets

Additions: Subtractions:
Alex Burmistrov – C Michael Frolik – RW
Matt Fraser – RW Eric O’Dell – C

In 2014-15 the Winnipeg Jets qualified for the playoffs for the first time since moving back to Winnipeg in 2011-12. They were swept by the Anaheim Ducks, but getting back to the postseason was a big step for the franchise. They come into this season with 22/1 odds to win the Stanley Cup.

Despite getting back to the playoffs last year, the difficulty of their division will make it extremely tough to get back to the postseason this year.

Their strength lies with their blueline. Dustin Byfuglien is a fantasy gem because of coverage of all fantasy categories and his high shot volume from the blueline. He is a big dude (6’5” / 265 lbs) and Tyler Myers is even taller (6’8” / 219 lbs), giving the Jets a tonne of length on the backend. Myers was great after being acquired from Buffalo and is poised to get back to 30-plus points in 2015-16. It doesn’t stop there for the Jets. Jacob Trouba is one of the NHL’s best young defenseman and Tobias Enstrom is a consistent point producer.

That blueline will play behind a steady group of forwards. Down the middle, Bryan Little missed 12 games last season but was on-pace for his second straight season of 60-plus points. Mark Scheifele nearly cracked the 50-point plateau last season and should be ready to accomplish that feat this year. Winnipeg also brought back Alex Burmistrov, who should provide stability to the Jets’ third line. On the wings, Blake Wheeler is arguably the Jets’ best forward and he plays the majority of his time on a line with the equally as consistent Andrew Ladd. The most exciting potential new addition to the Winnipeg lineup is the 2014 ninth overall pick Nikolaj Ehlers. Ehlers is an electric winger with tremendous scoring upside and he should crack the lineup this October. He has the potential to work his way into the top-six this season.

Goaltending was much improved in 2014-15 and was probably the main reason the Jets got back to the postseason. Ondrej Pavelec had a career-year, but still isn’t locked into the No. 1 job because of the emergence of Michael Hutchinson. The two split starts 55-45, with Pavelec starting 46 games and Hutchinson getting the remaining 36. Coming into this season they will likely split starts nearly 50-50 once again with coach Paul Maurice riding the hot hand.

Look to the Draft (Top 5 Fantasy Players)

  1. Dustin Byfuglien – D
  2. Blake Wheeler – RW
  3. Andrew Ladd – LW
  4. Bryan Little – C
  5. Mark Scheifele – C

Click HERE for the Jets’ Projected Line Combinations

7. Colorado Avalanche

Additions: Subtractions:
Mikhail Grigorenko – C Ryan O’Reilly – C
Francois Beauchemin – D Jamie McGinn – LW
Carl Soderberg – C Jordan Caron – RW
Nikita Zadorov – D
Blake Comeau – LW

The Avalanche shocked the hockey world when they won their Division in 2013-14, but wound up finishing last in the Central last season. Nobody will deny that it is a difficult Division to make it out of and that is likely why Vegas has Colorado listed as 85/1 to win the Stanley Cup this season.

They made a lot of changes this summer, but they brought in a lot of quality hockey players in the process. They had to part way with Ryan O’Reilly, but acquired players like Mikhail Griorenko, Carl Soderberg and Blake Comeau. Grigorenko was the 12th overall pick in 2012 and just didn’t pan out in Buffalo. Now in Colorado and still just 21-years-old, he could be a future star for the Avalanche. He joins a group that already possessed some great forwards, but the majority of them had a tough 2014-15 season. Their top line of Gabriel Landeskog, Matt Duchene and Nathan Mackinnon has the ability to be one of the most productive lines in hockey for years to come. Joining them in the top-six are veterans Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay, who should help Grigorenko and the rest of the young players develop into great NHLers. This is an up and coming group to be sure, but they are probably another year away from a playoff berth.

In addition to the moves they made upfront, the Avalanche also bolstered their blueline this summer. They signed veteran Francois Beauchemin in free agency and acquired 6-foot-5, 235 lbs. Nikita Zadorov in the O’Reilly deal. Zadorov is a raw talent with loads of potential. He has the look of a future top-pair blueliner with all-around capabilities. Those two join a group that already had Erik Johnson and Tyson Barrie—both of whom are coming off of strong years. Johnson had his cut short by injury, but he was on pace for a 40 point year. Barrie tallied 53 points (12G / 41A) in 80 games and has climbed into the upperechelon of fantasy blueliners.

Between the pipes their duo of Semyon Varlamov and Reto Berra returns. Varlamov started 57 games last season and won 28 of them while posting a 2.56 GAA and .921 SV%. Those numbers are right on par with his career splits and should be considered his floor entering the 2015-16 season. He has battled injuries throughout his career, but if he can stay healthy he is capable of starting 65 games and if that’s the case winning 30 will be no issue.

Look to the Draft (Top 5 Fantasy Players)

  1. Gabriel Landeskog – LW
  2. Matt Duchene – C
  3. Nathan MacKinnon – C
  4. Semyon Varlamov – G
  5. Tyson Barrie – D

Click HERE for the Jets’ Projected Line Combinations

For a Full 30 Team preview and player projections and fantasy analysis for 300-plus players and goalies. Click HERE to purchase our Fantasy Hockey Draft Guide for just $4.95 CAD!

 More Division Previews:

Ales Hemsky, Alex Burmistrov, Alex Goligoski, Alex Pietrangelo, Alex Steen, Alex Tanguay, Anders Lindback, Andrew Ladd, Antoine Vermette, Antti Niemi, Artem Anisimov, Artemi Panarin, Blake Comeau, Blake Wheeler, Brad Richards, Brandon Saad, Brent Seabrook, Brian Elliott, Bryan Little, Carl Gunnarsson, Carl Soderberg, Carter Hutton, Central Division, Chicago Blackhawks, Colin Wilson, Colorado Avalanche, Corey Crawford, Craig Smith, Dallas Stars, David Backes, Devan Dubnyk, Dmitrij Jaskin, Duncan Keith, dustin byfuglien, Erik Johnson, Erik Karlsson, Filip Forsberg, Francois Beauchemin, Gabriel Landeskog, Jacob Trouba, Jaden Schwartz, Jake Allen, James Neal, Jamie Benn, Jarome Iginla, Jason Pominville, Jason Spezza, Jay Bouwmeester, Jhonas Enroth, John Klingberg, Johnny Oduya, Jonas Brodin, jonathan toews, Kari Lehtonen, Kevin Shattenkirk, marian hossa, Mark Scheifele, Marko Dano, Mathew Dumba, Matt Duchene, Michael Hutchinson, Mikael Granlund, Mike Fisher, Mike Ribeiro, Mikhail Grigorenko, Mikko Koivu, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, Nathan MacKinnon, Nikita Zadorov, Nikolaj Ehlers, Nino Niederreiter, Ondrej Pavelec, patrick kane, patrick sharp, Paul Stastny, Pekka Rinne, Petteri Lindbohm, Reto Berra, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, Ryan O'Reilly, Ryan Suter, Scott Darling, Semyon Varlamov, Seth Jones, Shea Weber, St. Louis Blues, Stanley Cup, T.J Oshie, Teuvo Teravainen, Thomas Vanek, Tobias Enstrom, Trevor Daley, Trevor van Riemsdyk, Troy Brouwer, Tyler Myers, Tyler Seguin, Tyson Barrie, Valeri Nichushkin, Vladimir Tarasenko, Winnipeg Jets, Zach Parise