What an off season in the Central Division. Lidstrom retires, Suter defects, Weber signed to an offer sheet that was then matched, Kane coming to camp with “something to prove”, and more. This is now a much weaker division than it was last year, it is essentially a two horse race.

Detroit: Let the rebuild begin. While they have a good goaltender, Jimmy Howard is now the biggest star on the team, and that is an issue. Datsyuk has scored less goals each of the last four seasons, Lidstrom is gone, and while I like Colaiacovo more than some, I think he’s not going to restore this blueline to what it was even two seasons ago by himself. They may squeeze into seventh or eighth, but don’t expect them to stick around.

Chicago: The two biggest questions about this team after the health of Jonathan Toews aka the best center in the West, are: 1: Can they play on the road 2: Can their goaltending not suck. If they fixed these in the off season (unlikely given who they still have in goal), they are a monster, if not, the playoffs will not be kind.

Nashville: While they lost Suter, they still have Weber and Rinne. Yes their forward group still needs a smart upgrade, they may actually be the strongest team in the division. Rinne hasn’t done it in the playoffs yet, but he’s perfectly capable of playing 40 games in this shortened regular season and dragging the team into the post season with minimal support.

St Louis: With everybody healthy for the first time in a short eternity, the Blues might just be the strongest team in the West, they absolutely have to improve on their 21st overall in scoring last regular season. A healthy Andy McDonald, David Backes, and David Perron could go a long way in a short time. This year, maybe just maybe Alex Peitrangelo will get some recognition and respect outside of this site and Blues beat writers.

Columbus: While I don’t expect this team to be in the playoffs, their defense is now much better. With the addition of a hopefully resurgent Dubinsky to go with likely future Captain Jack Johnson, this team is on the right path.

Top Dogs: Nashville edges St Louis on the back of an angry Weber.

This season will see lots of players in unfamiliar situations. Some are on new teams, some have had their teams overhauled, and others will be climbing up the depth chart. With all the movement, all the acquired experience, some players are due to rise and rise fast.

Jiri Tlusty has spent two full seasons in the Carolina Hurricanes system after three years with the Leafs. In that time he’s only hit double digits in goals twice. Last season was one of those years, and this might just be his year. In his 228 career games he’s go a meager 74 points, this year don’t be surprised if he cracks the 20 goal and fifty point plateaus, 25/55 isn’t outside possibility either.

Brandon Sutter has the unenviable job of filling Jordan Staal’s spot in the Pittsburgh Penguins depth chart. The good news for him is that everyone is expected to start the season healthy, meaning even if he’s on the ice, given the Penguins depth at forward, he’ll be the third or fourth player most opposing defenses look for, at least for a little while.

Anton Khudobin regardless of who owns the title of number one goaltender in Boston by the end of the season, all Khudobin has to do to have played his last AHL game is simply play smart. If he can do a solid job even as the number two, he will get a lot of interest from other teams when he becomes a UFA next July 1.

Justin Falk I’m a firm believer the best thing you can do for a young defenseman’s development is give them a good mentor. Falk and the Wild’s other youngins are going to have Suter to lean on. Look for his points to double, and his plus-minus to get a lot easier to look at.

Bryan Allen has never been known for his offensive touch. This year he’ll be playing alongside guys like Cam Fowler, and behind Perry, Getzlaf, and possibly Ryan. If Hiller can regain his mojo Allen might just have personal best point totals, and make it to the post season for the first time in since the last lockout. With all the offensive talent on this team, him hitting 30-35 points, as much as ten more than his previous career high is almost a given.

David Perron given the injuries this man has faced in the last couple seasons, last year might be considered a breakout season. 42 points in 57 games is a solid contribution on a very defensive minded team. Do not be surprised if he pops in seventy points this season. It is more than within his talent, and that even allows for the defensive nature of the Blues system.

Sam Gagner Its hard to remember that despite the 8 point night Gagner had about an average season for himself last year. Coming into this season though, there is no reason he can’t get slotted in between top six talent. Eberle, Hall, Paajarvi, Smyth, and potentially Yakupov this team should have a good amount of offense.

The Bruins have a six game road trip on which they can hope to correct the course. They’ve been playing .500 hockey for weeks. In the locker room they have two new faces. The first being small defenseman Andrew Bodnarchuk who the Bruins drafted in 2006. The same draft gave them Milan Lucic and Bodnarchuk’s roommate and friend Brad Marchand. The other is another member of the 2003 draft class, drafted by the Senators, Josh Hennessy. Hennessyis a Brockton, Massachusetts native who has been toiling in the AHL for most of the years since he was drafted. He was picked two slots above Patrice Bergeron, he played 20 NHL games with the Senators and 39 games in the Swiss A league Luguno. Realistically the Bruins need to win four of the six games, but all of them are winnable games if they play well.

Game 1: Montreal Canadiens

On paper the Bruins should win this game handily. Unfortunately for the Bruins the team has piled up most of its losses this season to teams under .500. On top of that between the Candiens and Bruins the standings and records are almost always meaningless anyway. Big body and possible trade piece Travis Moen is questionable for the game.

Game 2: Winnipeg Jets

Evander Kane has emerged as a force this season. Blake Wheeler broke out of his early season slump. Dustin Byfugelin is back and healthy. Add in Ondrej Pavelec you have a goalie that can steal games single handedly. A team that’s fast and capable of the rough stuff. They are seven points out of the Southeast division lead, and the coach has publicly asked for help. They are also four points out of fifth.

Game 3: Minnesota Wild

The Wild have played less games than a lot of the teams ahead of them but are likely to be sellers at the deadline. Marek Zidlicky was heavily rumored to be on the market and having waived his NTC to go to New Jersey, but his friend Patrick Elias denied this around mid day. Expect to see a watered down version of this team on the 19th. It’s highly doubtful there defense or goaltending will be weak, and Clutterbuck and Koivu are almost certain to be on the ice and that means this is not going to be a gimmie.

Game 4: St Louis Blues

This will almost certainly be a goaltenders duel. The Bruins and Blues both have aggressive forechecks and solid defense. David Perron and Andy McDonald are each at different stages of recovery in their return from concussions, both can be potent offensive forces when they can keep an upbeat tempo. Today finds them five points out of the first in the Central division, with two games in hand.

Game 5: Buffalo Sabres

The Sabres are playing well (finally) and this is the second revenge game of the season. The first one was after the Lucic-Miller collision. This one follows the debacle that ended in a six nothing beat down by the Sabres. Patrice Bergeron was one ticked off Bruin, I doubt anyone will have forgotten this one. The Sabres are one point off the basement of the conference, but several have jobs to play for and some pride.

Game 6: Ottawa Senators

Today the Senators are in seventh, with four points on eighth and five on ninth. Unfortunately for the faithful in the Canadian Capital the Senators played more games than anyone in the east. Anderson is playing more consistently and the team is pretty healthy. What the Senators will look like on the 25th when they meet in Ottawa is a good question, if they will look the same three days later when the two meet in Boston is another good question.