Corey Abbott

In The Crease

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Central Division Preview

Saturday, August 13, 2011


Central Division Preview

DETROIT RED WINGS

Roster Movement

The Red Wings witnessed a total of 10 Stanley Cup rings walk out of their dressing room when Brian Rafalski, Kris Draper and Chris Osgood decided to hang up their skates this off-season. Detroit also allowed Ruslan Salei, who signed on with the KHL's Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, and Mike Modano, who is contemplating retirement, to leave the team as well.

Despite the surprising loss of Rafalski, the Wings will have All-Star defender Nicklas Lidstrom back in 2011-12 after he decided to put off retirement and return for another year. Detroit added Ian White, Mike Commodore and Garnet Exelby to help replace some of the depth they lost on the blueline. They also signed goaltender Ty Conklin to serve as Jimmy Howard's backup.

Projected Top Two Lines
Henrik Zetterberg - Pavel Datsyuk - Daniel Cleary
Todd Bertuzzi - Valtteri Filppula - Johan Franzen

Battle For Jobs

The Wings appear to be willing to give Cleary a big push this season and his name has been linked to Datsyuk as a possible line combination. Whether coach Mike Babcock chooses to keep him in that role instead of long-time linemate Tomas Holmstrom is a decision that will be made at training camp. Jiri Hudler also has the potential to move up the lineup, but he struggled in 2010-11 and frequently found himself in the coach's doghouse as a result.

Ian White and Jonathan Ericsson are expected to battle it out for a top-four spot alongside Lidstron on the back end.

Detroit lost a handful of veterans this summer and some new blood might be brought into the organization in the form of youngsters Cory Emmerton, Jan Mursak and Tomas Tatar. Top prospect rearguard Brendan Smith is expected to push hard for a roster spot as well out of camp this fall.

Key Injuries

Pavel Datsyuk hasn't fully recovered from a wrist injury that he played with during the playoffs, but he should be fine by the time the regular season rolls around.

Player to Watch

Hudler was expected to be a driving force of Detroit's offense last campaign, but he managed to produce just 10 goals and 37 points in 73 games. That is nowhere near the 70 points that Babcock predicted, but he should get the chance to rebound this year.

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS

Roster Movement

The Blackhawks found themselves in a much better position this off-season than they did a year ago when they were forced to dismantle their Stanley Cup-winning roster due to salary cap issues. However, it didn't stop them from altering their roster at depth positions.

The Hawks traded high-priced defenseman Brian Campbell to Florida in exchange for winger Rostislav Olesz and they acquired the rights to free agent Steve Montador from the Buffalo Sabres for a seventh round draft pick. They then signed Montador to a four-year/$11 million deal. Restricted free agent Troy Brouwer was also shipped out of town, to Washington, and Tomas Kopecky joined Campbell in Florida in another trade before signing with the Panthers as a free agent. The Blackhawks walked away from Chris Campoli's arbitration hearing, making him an unrestricted free agent, and they aren't expected to bring back Fernando Pisani, Ryan Johnson, Jordan Hendry and Marty Turco. Jake Dowell inked a deal with Dallas on July 1st as well.

Chicago added veteran scorer Andrew Brunette, while addressing team toughness with the signings of Daniel Carcillo, Jamal Mayers and Sean O'Donnell. Defenseman Sami Lepisto was also brought in. Ray Emery will attend the team's training camp on a tryout basis and compete with Alexander Salak for the backup goalie job.

Projected Top Two Lines

Andrew Brunette - Jonathan Toews - Patrick Kane
Bryan Bickell - Patrick Sharp - Marian Hossa

Battle For Jobs

Bickell exhibited a scoring touch in his first full season in the NHL last campaign and with a strong camp he could end up on the second line. Marcus Kruger is viewed to have tremendous potential and he could find himself on a scoring unit as well this season.

The Blackhawks replenished some depth on the back end and the competition for a top-six spot should be one of the top battles at camp. But Sean O'Donnell and Sami Lepisto will have their work cut out for them if they don't want to start the 2011-12 season as spares.

As mentioned above, Emery and Salak will vie to be Corey Crawford's backup, but Emery's experience and solid play last year with Anaheim down the stretch may give him a slight edge.

Key Injuries

Patrick Kane underwent wrist surgery in late July, but he will probably be fine for the start of the year.

Player to Watch

Nick Leddy was bounced between the minors and the NHL frequently in 2010-11 to save money on the salary cap. With Campbell being sent to Florida, Leddy could see much more playing time as a top-four blueliner on the Blackhawks. He has plenty of mobility and offensive upside to succeed at the NHL level and should break out if he gets the opportunity.

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS

Roster Movement

The Blue Jackets pulled the trigger on a blockbuster trade with the Philadelphia Flyers to land prominent center Jeff Carter just before the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. Columbus dealt Jakub Voracek, a first round pick and a third round pick for the talented sniper. They also acquired pending unrestricted free agent James Wisniewski's negotiation rights from Montreal for a seventh round draft pick and then inked him to a lucrative six-year, $33 million contract.

Columbus welcomed forward Vaclav Prospal, defenseman Radek Martinek, as well as netminders Mark Dekanich and Curtis Sanford to their roster to help replace the losses of Scottie Upshall, Jan Hejda and Mathieu Garon in an eventful off-season for the organization.

Projected Top Two Lines

Vaclav Prospal - Jeff Carter - Rick Nash
Antoine Vermette - Derick Brassard - R.J. Umberger

Battle For Jobs

Ryan Johansen is regarded as the top prospect in the Blue Jackets' pipeline and all eyes will be on him during training camp to see if he is ready to make the jump to the NHL. However, Columbus is starting to boast some depth at the center ice position, so another year in junior wouldn't be out of the question.

Key Injuries

Kristian Huselius suffered a torn pectoral muscle in mid-July that is expected to sideline him for four to six months. General manager Scott Howson said the team is hoping to have him back in November at the earliest, but he may not be available until January.

Player to Watch

Steve Mason enjoyed a sensational rookie season in 2008-09, but he has submitted two sub-par campaigns following his successful debut. The Jackets may still bring in an experienced backup to help him out, but Mason must be better if the team wants to make any steps forward this campaign.

ST. LOUIS BLUES

Roster Movement

The St. Louis Blues signed a number of veterans to help with their young core of talent this summer. They agreed to terms with Jamie Langenbrunner and Jason Arnott on one-year deals, while bringing in Scott Nichol, Kent Huskins, Danny Syvret and Brian Elliott as well.

They also lost very little in the off-season with just tough guy Cam Janssen (New Jersey) and Ty Conklin departing the team for other clubs.

Projected Top Two Lines

Andy McDonald - David Backes - Matt D'Agostini
T.J. Oshie - Patrik Berglund - Chris Stewart

Battle for Jobs

D'Agositini is penciled in on the top line after the success he had there last season and because David Perron isn't projected to be ready for the start of 2011-12. However, it would not be shocking to see a player like Jamie Langenbrunner move up the depth chart if D'Agostini cannot duplicate the same magic.

Brian Elliott is coming off a terrible year with Ottawa and Colorado, so he signed a two-way deal with the Blues. He will compete with Ben Bishop for the second-string goalie position behind Jaroslav Halak at training camp.

Another player to keep an eye on at camp is Ryan Reaves for the enforcer job. If he earns a permanent spot on the St. Louis roster then he should pile on the penalty minutes.

Key Injuries

As mentioned previously, Perron is not expected to be available for the beginning of the regular season because of a concussion that limited him to a mere 10 games last year.

Player to Watch

Chris Stewart should continue to progress in his first full campaign with the St. Louis Blues. He netted 15 goals and 23 points in 26 games after being acquired from Colorado and he has scored 28 markers in each of the past two seasons.

NASHVILLE PREDATORS

Roster Movement

The Nashville Predators parted with a number of players this off-season. They made a tough trade to Toronto to dump the salary of Matthew Lombardi, but they had to give up a gifted young rearguard in Cody Franson to complete the transaction. In return, the Predators got Brett Lebda, who they ended up buying out, and minor-leaguer Robert Slaney. Nashville also bought out the remainder of J.P. Dumont's contract, while allowing Steve Sullivan, Joel Ward, Shane O'Brien and Marcel Goc to sign elsewhere as free agents.

Niclas Bergfors was signed to a one-year deal by Nashville. The Predators also brought in defensemen Jack Hillen and Tyler Sloan as well as pugilistic forward Zack Stortini for this coming season.

Projected Top Two Lines

Sergei Kostitsyn - Mike Fisher - Patric Hornqvist
Martin Erat - David Legwand - Colin Wilson

Battle For Jobs

Bergfors could challenge for a top-six forward role at training camp and the Predators are salivating at the thought of what prospect Craig Smith could bring to the table. Smith received glowing reviews from the team's brass after a strong showing at the 2011 World Championships with Team USA and coach Barry Trotz believes the 21-year-old will see NHL action this year.

On the back end, Roman Josi, Teemu Laakso, Mattias Ekholm and perhaps Ryan Ellis are expected to be in the mix to occupy a spot on Nashville's third pairing.

Key Injuries

Francis Boullion should be considered questionable for the start of training camp due to a concussion.

Player to Watch

The hype train for Craig Smith is full steam ahead going into training camp, but the Predators have not been shy about keeping their prospects in the minors for at least one season. That being said, he is an intriguing player to keep an eye on this fall.






Corey Abbott is an Associate Editor for Hockey on Rotoworld. Feel free to follow him Twitter @CoreAbbott.
Email :Corey Abbott



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