In The Crease

print article archives RSS

Central Division Preview

Saturday, August 14, 2010


Central Division Preview

by Kevin Brown

Chicago Blackhawks

Roster Movement
After the celebration ended and all the champagne had been sprayed, Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman got to work shedding players in order to get the team under the salary cap. Out the door were Andrew Ladd, Kris Versteeg, Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Eager and Brent Sopel, but the Hawks were not done there. In early August, Chicago walked away from the $2.75 million awarded to Antti Niemi by an arbitrator and chose to bring in veteran Marty Turco instead for just $1.3 million.

Projected Top Two Lines
Patrick Sharp-Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane
Troy Brouwer-Dave Bolland-Marian Hossa

Battle for Jobs
The fight for the left wing job opposite Dave Bolland and Marian Hossa on the Hawks' second line will be an interesting one. Troy Brouwer has some experience playing on a scoring line and appears to have the inside track on the spot, but he'll face stiff competition from Brian Bickell and newly-acquired Viktor Stalberg. We anticipate Brouwer starting out the season in this role and having to fighting off Bickell all year.

Key Injuries
The defending Stanley Cup champs appear to be relatively healthy entering training camp.

Player to Watch
While he struggled to find his way during the regular season, Dave Bolland emerged in the playoffs and was a significant factor for the Hawks in their march to the Stanley Cup last spring. With the dust now settled after the massive outflow of talent this summer, Bolland's role with the team is likely to expand.

Team Projection
Despite the loss of many talented players during the off-season, the core of the team remains intact. A small decline is to be expected, but the Hawks should still hold off the Red Wings and the upstart Blues for the division title.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Roster Movement
There wasn't much action to report this past off-season in Columbus. The Jackets managed to retain both Jared Boll and Anton Stralman while also claiming gritty veteran Ethan Moreau off waivers from Edmonton.

Projected Top Two Lines
Kristian Huselius-Antoine Vermette-Rick Nash
Nikita Filatov-Derick Brassard-Jakub Voracek

Battle for Jobs
As has been the case for the past few seasons in Columbus, the role of center on the top line opposite Rick Nash is a much-coveted position. Derick Brassard has spent quite a bit of time in that slot, but was replaced by Antoine Vermette during the second half of last season with great results. Expect Vermette to start the year as the team's top pivot and show considerable chemistry with Nash.

Key Injuries
After torn groin and stomach muscles forced Rostislav Klesla to miss the better part of last season, the rough and tumble Czech defender is well on his way towards making a full recovery this year. Now nearing the end of his rehab, Klesla is hoping to be back at full strength by the start of training camp.

Player to Watch
After a disappointing 13 games in the NHL last season that led to him being loaned to CSKA Moscow of the KHL, Nikita Filatov is back in North America with something to prove. There is absolutely no doubt about Filatov's skill, but he has yet to become comfortable with the North American style of play, as evidenced by his short stints in the NHL the past two seasons. Bank on the immense talent winning out and expect a breakout campaign from the young Russian.

Team Projection
With high-end talents like Jakub Voracek and Nikita Filatov getting accustomed to the NHL and an expected bounce-back season for goaltender Steve Mason, the Blue Jackets should be an improved club, but their lack of scoring depth and thin defense corps will leave them in the cellar of the division and on the outside looking in at the playoffs.

Detroit Red Wings

Roster Movement
After re-signing Todd Bertuzzi, Darren Helm and Patrick Eaves, the Red Wings will enter this season with a team that looks very similar to the one they iced last season. In typical Detroit fashion, the Wings also added reliable veterans to fill out their lineup in the hopes that they'll raise their game by donning the winged wheel on their jersey. This off-season, Ruslan Salei and Mike Modano were brought in on one-year deals to fill the gaps created by the departures of Jason Williams, Brett Lebda and Andreas Lilja.

Projected Top Two Lines
Zetterberg-Datsyuk-Holmstrom
Franzen-Filppula-Bertuzzi

Battle for Jobs
There aren't many battles to be fought at Red Wings camp this fall since most of the roster players have a well-defined role with the club, but there still is some question about which forwards will form the team's third and fourth lines. With Jiri Hudler returning and Mike Modano signing on for one season, players like Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader, Drew Miller and Patrick Eaves now find themselves wondering what their roles will be. We predict that Abdelkader and Helm will get the bulk of the playing time ahead of Eaves and Miller.

Key Injuries
The injuries suffered by the Red Wings last season were truly unbelievable so it's shocking that they appear to be healthy entering training camp.

Player to Watch
Valtteri Filppula showed last season why the Red Wings' brass had shown such faith in him despite his failure to truly break out when he scored 35 points in just 55 games. Slowed by a wrist injury, the young Finn felt he could have done more and intends to prove that this season. Centering the Wings' second line, expect a 60-point pace and keep your fingers crossed that he stays healthy.

Team Projection
The Red Wings can simply never be ignored and despite an aging core, they have the talent to outlast St. Louis and challenge Chicago for the division title if they can avoid last year's injury problems and prevent Jimmy Howard from suffering the dreaded sophomore jinx. Pencil them in for a second place finish in the Central and home playoffs series in the spring.

Nashville Predators

Roster Movement
The depressed level of interest in hockey in Nashville has begun to put a damper on the team's fortunes. During the off-season, the Predators were forced to say goodbye to key contributors Jason Arnott and Dan Hamhuis and while they have brought in reinforcements, few would argue that they have less to work with this season than they did last year. Coach Barry Trotz will attempt to work his usual magic by adding the newly-acquired Matthew Lombardi, Sergei Kostitsyn and Ryan Parent to the fold and compete for a playoff position.

Projected Top Two Lines
Steve Sullivan-David Legwand-Patric Hornqvist
J.P. Dumont-Colin Wilson-Martin Erat

Battle for Jobs
After a dominant season with the University of Wisconsin Badgers, Blake Geoffrion won the prestigious Hobey Baker Memorial Award as the top player in the NCAA and subsequently signed a two-year entry level contract with the Predators. Despite his accomplishments as a student athlete, it's yet to be seen whether Geoffrion will be ready for a full-time role in the NHL this season.

Key Injuries
Steve Sullivan returned last season from a back injury that has plagued him for much of his career. He's injury-free at the moment. The Predators had better hope things stay that way.

Player to Watch
Perhaps a change of scenery is just what the doctor ordered for Sergei Kostitsyn. Playing with brother Andrei under the spotlight in Montreal may have been a little overwhelming for the former London Knight, but the obscurity that comes with being a hockey player in Tennessee could lessen that load. If he can manage to fit into Coach Barry Trotz's disciplined team system he could turn a few heads this season.

Team Projection
The drain of talent leaving Nashville makes it hard for the Predators to compete with some of the wealthier clubs in the division. Expect Coach Trotz to have his team working hard, but ultimately they will finish no better than fourth in the Central Division and come up short of a playoff berth.

St. Louis Blues

Roster Movement
The Blues' major need heading into this off-season was goaltending so there's no question they pulled off a coup by landing Canadiens' netminder Jaroslav Halak in a trade. While it cost them top prospect Lars Eller, St. Louis managed to lock up Halak for four years at an average salary of $3.75 million, solidifying their goaltending situation for the long term. The addition of Vladimir Sobotka from Boston was also a nice move for a team trying to accumulate young talent. With that goal in mind, the Blues said goodbye to a number of veterans this summer as Paul Kariya (free agent), Chris Mason (free agent) and Keith Tkachuk (retired) are no longer with the club.

Projected Top Two Lines
Andy McDonald-Patrick Berglund-Brad Boyes
David Perron-T.J. Oshie-David Backes

Battle for Jobs
It would appear that the Blues currently have seven forwards fighting for six spots on the team's top two lines. We'd pencil in Andy McDonald, David Backes and Brad Boyes for three of those spots, leaving Patrick Berglund, David Perron, T.J. Oshie and Alex Steen to duke it out for the remaining ones. Although Steen came on strong in the second half of last season, we see him being the odd man out as the Blues clear a path for their "next wave" of young players.

Key Injuries
At this moment, defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo is not injured, but depending on when you read this, that may have changed. Otherwise, the Blues seem healthy entering training camp.

Player to Watch
For some reason, Erik Johnson flies under the radar in fantasy circles. Perhaps the fact that he missed the entire 2008-09 season due to a knee injury is the reason, but it's surprising that a player with his pedigree (first-overall pick in 2006) doesn't receive more acclaim. While he may not possess the offensive upside of a Drew Doughty, Johnson still has room to improve on last year's 39-point campaign and should become more of a household name after this season.

Team Projection
With a blue chip young goaltender now added to a roster that was already full of promising young talent, the Blues are arguably the most exciting team in the division. Expect them to take a serious step towards being a Stanley Cup contender by fighting the Wings and Hawks for the top spot in the division and qualifying for the post-season.









Highest Searched Players over the last 7 days



Video Center

  •  
    Beer’s NFL 6 Pack - WR & TE

    Beer’s NFL 6 Pack - WR & TE
  •  
    RotoPat:: Week 3 Rankings

    RotoPat:: Week 3 Rankings
  •  
    Beer’s NFL 6 Pack - QB & RB

    Beer’s NFL 6 Pack - QB & RB
  •  
    Thursday

    Thursday's Fantasy Minute
  •  
    Levitan: Drop options

    Levitan: Drop options
  •  
    Levitan: Biggest flukes

    Levitan: Biggest flukes
  •  
    Wednesday

    Wednesday's Fantasy Minute
  •  
    Levitan: Is Knile top waiver?

    Levitan: Is Knile top waiver?