The revamped central division is almost impossible to predict. The teams in the current configuration came from the defunct southeast division, the old central,  and even the former pacific division. There are new coaches, radically reconfigured teams, and a whole new attitude in some places.

St Louis Blues:

Good news: The offense has been bolstered for the the first time in recent memmory with an offensive minded center in Derek Roy.

Bad news: Even if they get the contributions they hope from Roy, Tarasenko, and others, they are going to need  a lighter hand at the reigns in the offensive zone to move into the top ten teams in scoring in the NHL.

Nashville Predators:

Good news: No one is paying any attention to them this season, even with Seth Jones part of the squad. No pressure from outside gives them underdog status all year.

Bad news: Management fell on its face in failing to upgrade the offense at all in the off season.

Minnesota Wild:

Good news: The team is well balanced on paper with both solid defense and offense. Mikko Koivu may even get noticed for the Selke he should own at least one of by now.

Bad news: How well they do on the ice will depend on how well coached they are, and how healthy they are. At least one of those is a major concern.

Dallas Stars:

Good news: They have better skill at center than they did last year. Jamie Benn, Alex Goligoski, and the crew are very, very hungry.

Bad news: Still not a lot of depth. Chemistry might take a while to develop.

Chicago Blackhawks:

Good news: Still the 700lb gorilla in the division. Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Jimmy Hayes and Brent Seabrook are all good reasons they’ll be hard to beat.

Bad news: They can’t count on the luck with health they had last year, and it is almost impossible they will be as hungry so soon after winning.

Winnipeg Jets:

Good news: Frolik and Scheifele bring talent to the center position. Jacob Trouba has looked solid on the blueline, and Dustin Byfuglien might just have his best year to date, and is on pace for 246 points.

Bad news: People in the Jets front office still think Olli Jokinen is a top center.

Colorado Avalanche:

Good news: No one ever, anywhere will ever misunderstand how important anything is to their Patrick Roy. Gabriel Landeskog is back to lead his young team upwards.

Bad news: The roster has several very talented players, but how good of a team they are is a complete unknown.

Top three teams:

Chicago Blackhawks, St Louis Blues, Minnesota Wild.

The Blackhawks lead b a wide margin, the Blues have such a strong system and talented blueline it is almost impossible for them not to make it back. Having gotten to the playoffs once, the Wild are practiced and hungry to erace last years drubbing at the hands of the BlackHawks from the memories of their fans.

The Winnipeg Jets lost three of their last five games to end the season. Two of them were to the Washington Capitals and New York Islanders who they were chasing for a playoff berth. They finished four points short of returning post season hockey NHL to Manitoba. In the process, some things became clear. Their depth at center was inadequate. Their goaltending was something short of iffy, and their resolve wasn’t quite enough to make them a playoff team.

Since last season the two most notable on ice changes are the loss of Ron Hainsey on their blueline, and the addition of Devin Setoguchi. There are youngsters like Mark Schiefele and Jacob Trouba vying for roster spots but the off season saw more in the way of extensions than big new contracts. Off the ice, their transition to the revamped western conference was completed in time to start this new year. With Hainsey gone, this could be the year Zach Bogosion jumps into the spotlight. Evander Kane only needed 74 games to notch his first 30 goal season, it would not be surprise to see him surpass that mark this year.

The Winnipeg Jet’s first season in the western conference opens when they travel just a bit further west to visit the Taylor Hall, Andrew Ference and Jordan Eberle led Edmonton Oiler on October first. They nights later they will be home to host the Los Angeles Kings and then the Anaheim Ducks. October 10th has them in Minnesota to trade chances with the Wild before returning home the next night to engage Alex Goligoski and the Dallas Stars.

Number of days 1-5: 10

Number of cites: 3

Best opponent: Los Angeles Kings

Weakest opponent: Edmonton Oilers

Home games: 3

Projected points: 5

The Anaheim Ducks who have Teemu Selanne in the fold for another year, and the Los Angeles Kings who have a very, very crowded blueline will present stiff challenges to the Dustin Byfuglien, Blake Wheeler and the rest of the squadron. The other three teams are playing at about or slightly below the Winnipeg Jets level. If one or two of the young players can not just make the roster but make a difference early, the Jets have a very solid chance at claiming one of the West’s eight playoff spots. For not just Zach Bogosian, but Mark Scheifele, Jacob Trouba, and Eric Tangradi the future is now.

It’s that time of the season again when we need to take our first hard look at the NHL’s latest crop of wunderkids, studs, and future duds. Forwards, defensemen and goalies will be covered once more and compared to a well known NHL personality. This season the honor goes to the American Captain of last years Stanley Cup champions, Dustin Brown of the Los Angeles Kings. The perennial 20 goal man is different breed of player than past selections Eric Staal and Ilya Kovalchuk. Brown is known more for a physical style of play and two way play than either of the rookie watch alumni.

Dustin Brown:

  • Will play his 600th NHL game Monday night against conference rivals and playoff  sparring partners the Vancouver Canucks.
  • Has started off the season 0-1-1 and a -4 as the Kings remind everyone they partied like royalty all summer, and fall long and work through their Stanley Cup hangover 1-2-1.
  • The Kings sit in 12th place.
  • Brown has a team worst -4, trailing grinder Kyle Clifford by 10, and sophomore by 1 game Jordan Nolan by 8.
  • Has 9 hits, 1 blocked shot and just 7 shots on goal through four games.

Goalies:

  • No rookie goalies have played a game yet this season.

Defensemen:

  • Matt Irwin of the Sharks has been putting in work to the tune of 19:07 average TOI, and has picked up 2 points, including an even strength goal, half a minute of short handed time on ice, and an assist. On this his first tour of duty in the NHL, the 6’2 210 blueliner has handed out 6 hits and blocked 9 shots while doing his Hockey East and AHL experience proud. He’s second in rookie defensemen TOI and 3rd in scoring.
  • Dougie Hamilton of the Boston Bruins is showing no signs of the collective malaise that sank Team Canada’s World Junior Championship hopes. The offensive minded blueliner has already earned some penalty kill time under the very conservative Claude Julien. The 11 shots he’s dished out go nicely with the 8 hits and three blocked shots. The 19 year old has averaged just over 18 minutes a night and is currently second in blueliner scoring.
  • Brendan Dillon of the Dallas Stars may not have scored any points yet, but the 16 hits through five games, make it quite certain the squads from Chicago, Detroit, Phoenix, Saint Louis and Minnesota know who he is. Two blocked shots add to the collection of bruises, and it shouldn’t be all that surprising that he leads his team in hits.
  • Justin Schultz of the Oilers was the most talked about college player in the NHL as he wound down his Wisconsin career and spurning the Anaheim Ducks who drafted him. He’s now skating behind the Oilers plethora of young talents at forward and has rolled to the top of the rookie blueliner scoring. The 22 year old is sitting atop the TOI pile with an average of 24:02.
  • Brendan Smith of the Detroit Red Wings is jumping back into the NHL this season. How well his recovery from last years derailing via a concussion. The soon to be 24 year old is not the only rookie on the blueline, and is middle of the pack in ice time on a blueline that has already skated nine defensemen and is one of just three to skate all four games.

Forwards:

  • Cory Conacher is leading the NHL rookie scoring race as a center for Tampa Bay. The highly compact forward has about the best mentor for someone his size in the NHL playing with Martin St Louis. 2 goals 5 assists and a +4 through four games makes the former Canisius College player another undrafted player in the running to leave league GM’s scratching their heads for decades to come.
  • Tye McGinn’s two points through 3 games for the struggling Philadelphia Flyers has got to be more than some expected from the 119th pick in the 2010 draft. The Fergus, Ontario native who spent last year in the AHL potted just 18 points in 63 game. The rookie is tied in team points with Sean Couterier, Ruslan Fedetenko, and Luke Schenn, and doing it in just over 11 minutes a night.
  • Nail “I do a great Theo Impersonation” Yakupov has brought a great deal of larger than life personality to the Edmonton Oilers. He’s also managed to pack in two goals, one a powerplay tally. This years 1st overall selection has spent 3:19 a night on the man advantage for one half of the Battle Of Alberta.
  • Jonathan Huberdeau of the Florida Panthers much like his former Sea Dogs teammate Hamilton is off to a strong start. With 3 points in five games the former #3 pick is playing almost 16 minutes a night for the surprisingly struggling Sunrise squad.
  • Mikael Granlund of the Minnesota Wild is part of the avalanche of changes in this roster in the last year or two, and he’s popped in two points while earning more and more ice time. He started off at under 15 minutes and in his fourth game topped out at 18:30. The fancy Finn leads all rookies with an eye opening 56.4% faceoff win percentage.
  • Vladimir Taresenko is holding down a top spot with the Saint Louis Blues and is tied with Conacher for points, but has played one more game. The 21 year old Russian has been a big part of the Blues 4-1 start being even or +1 in all five games so far.

Worth watching:

  • Forwards: Mark Scheifele, Stefan Matteau, Sven Baertschi, Jakob Silfverberg.
  • Defensemen: Paul Potsma, Brian Lashoff, Mark Borowiecki, Korbinian Holzer, Patrick Weircioch

This feature will be run roughly every two weeks.

Over the last several weeks we’ve seen all sorts of writing, heard tons of radio and watched countless hours of hockey coverage on where Rick Nash will go, where he’s needed and where he’s not needed. If a team can or can’t afford him is another question that’s been beaten from dead horse to glue, ditto the price of getting him and his contract. The question that hasn’t been asked is: What city or cities would be best for Nash? Leaving aside the cities that don’t have a shot at even the playoffs this year, and teams in the division there are still a few cities that need to be looked at.

Montreal:

The Habs are in chaos and he has two things the team could use: Talent and Size. He’s played most or all of his career against Weber and Suter so playing against Chara and Myers isn’t going to be too much of an adjustment. What Montreal sends back while an important question isn’t really relevant. To the best of my knowledge Nash doesn’t speak French, and has not ever experienced the media storm that would bury him approximately one millisecond after his plane landed. I honestly can’t seem him thriving under it either.

Toronto:

The problem with the Leafs isn’t on the front end. Sure Nash is an upgrade in one way or another over every forward on the team. The media wouldn’t be much less intense than in Montreal, if at all and with his family hailing from Ontario, I can see the constant attention of family members being a distraction. Probably not the best destination.

Vancouver:

The Canucks probably don’t need him at all. And let’s face it, this is a city that’s been tearing apart Luongo for years. Last year he wasn’t even the major issue in the Cup finals. Luongo walked out of the building with a better save percentage than the two goalies who won in previous years. The fans are not quite fair in their evaluations of their players, and while he’s hugely talented, and could form a formidable trio with the Sedins or on a line with Kesler and Booth one wonders where the cap space is going to come from.

New York :

Assuming the Rangers decided to fundamentally alter the fabric of their team, Nash has a decent change of flying under the radar as long as he performs to a reasonable level. Gaborik, Richards, Lundqvist, Staal have been the big names attached to this team for long enough that Nash can slide in behind them. That said, it is New York, even if the media isn’t as virulent as the three Canadian cities, or Boston it’s still a strong force.

Boston:

If his salary were a little lower this might be an excellent fit. Unfortunately with a salary higher than Chara’s he’d have to move mountains and even then my readers at the CBS radio station would never let up. Any time he went three games without a goal the dollar figure would be trotted out. This says nothing of the local papers who would start in with “soft” and trend downhill rapidly. On top of that whoever was given up would be thrown at the public as the solution to what was wrong with the team by certain highly active folks on social media any time the team lost.

Los Angeles:

When all is said and done, assuming the team can retain; Richards, Kopitar, Brown, and Quick, the Kings become a power in the west. Nash gets to a competitive team with a press presence that probably pays more attention to which of Hollywood’s elite is in the stands that game than what’s going on in the standings. Mere hockey players regardless of salary just don’t stand out in So Cal.

Those are some of the names that have been trotted out most frequently, but there are two more cities that might just make  sense if the general managers are willing to part with the right assets, and have the budget to bankroll his salary and a competitive roster around him. One is a team known for anything but offense since it came into the league, the other is merely offensively starved over the last few seasons.

Minnesota:

This is a team that was in first pretty late into the season with a ton of injuries to forwards, defense and goaltenders and probably ran their top ten or fifteen AHL prospects through the system just to keep the wheels on the bus. They have to have a good idea of who and what they can part with and as long as Koivu, and Heatley are still on the Wild when all is said and done the team is stronger.

Winnipeg:

The Jets sit just a point or two out of playoffs, and have a desperate need for offense. They’d end up selling most of the farm, probably including Mark Sheifele to land Nash. With him in the fold for a full season they probably become the instant favorite to with the division next year. The idea of a power play with Kane, Byfugelien, Little and Nash has to appeal to more than a few folks, at least as long as they don’t have to face it. While Winnipeg is as hockey mad as the rest of Canada, it’s still a fairly small city and can’t support the media load that is drawn to New York City, Toronto, or Montreal.

Wherever he ends up, assuming he leaves Columbus at all the team needs to consider if he’ll survive the environment they are putting him into as well as the simpler mathematics of salary and trade compensation. The Carter situation is the perfect example of what happens to an organization that doesn’t consider the impact on the player before acquiring them.

The Eastern Conference is so much harder to predict than the west this season for one hugely important reason: goaltending. I don’t think there has been such a concentration of high end talent in net in either conference before. If you made a list of the top ten starting goaltenders in the NHL you’d probably find seven on your list from the eastern conference, and likely two of the top three backups as well. That one position can be the difference between a team that does good and does great.

Southeast division:

Florida Panthers hands down the most remade team in their division. They are certainly better than they were last year but there’s not a lot of hope of chance of them getting to the playoffs.

Carolina Hurricanes, these boys were right there all season and with the off season tweaks to their roster they should be a better team.  If they are going to make it in someone else needs to falter or they need to all hit their peak at once.

Tampa Bay Lightning, Roloson and Lecavalier will be the players who make the difference in how far this team goes. Playoff bound is not really a question, quite likely they will be second in the division.

Winnipeg Jets are victims of their ownership issues. They drafted Scheifele, Alexander Burmistrov will be in his second season, and the venerable and creaky Evander Kane will enter his third season in the NHL. They have plenty of upside but they need consistency more than anything.  Bubble team if they are inconsistent and other teams falter, playoff team if they put it all together.

Washington Capitals have, on paper the chance to run away with the regular season points race at least in the east and possibly league wide. Great new goaltender, good defense, and an offense that’s capable of otherworldy numbers. Easily the best of the division.

Atlantic division

This one is hard to call because of the number of changes made by some of the teams.

The New York Islanders have a scary amount of very young talent, a questionable amount of elder statesmen and the most likely to be injured goalie brigade in known history. They will be entertaining to watch.

The New Jersey Devils are a very curious team after the injury bug was evicted from their locker room and a coach lost his job they went on a strong run. Zach is back to lead the pack, but the defense is another question mark, as is curiously enough the goaltending. May be the third team to sneak into the playoffs from this division.

The Philadelphia Flyers are a chemistry experiment conducted in the dark and behind the back of the mad scientist in the GM’s office. Some huge potential was brought in, some huge talent, and Brian Boucher were sent packing. Given the age and injury history of some of the key components to this team theres a lot that can go wrong on a trip to not winning the division but playing into a 5-8 slot.

New York Rangers, mama Staal is probably even more disgusted at the injury to Mark, caused by Eric than Tortarella is. Mark is still suffering the post concussion effects from last spring, and if he should have a long recovery time the Rangers are sunk before they start. If he comes back reasonably healthy soon its a whole different story. With Brad Richards in the lineup, and Gaborik (hopefully) healthy, a lot could happen for this team.

Pittsburgh Penguins. Marc-Andre Fluery had a career year last year, and was the teams second best goalie. All three top centers missed about half the season. On the plus side James Neal came over late and will be in town the whole season, Malkin is ready to go, Jordan Staal looked great from his return to the end of the year, and the defense is surprisingly potent. Even if Crosby doesn’t return a very strong team.

Northeast division

If you count Rask you have four of the ten best goaltenders in the NHL in this division. Not surprisingly the three teams in this division with great goalies will probably make the post season if they play in their normal range.

Ottawa Senators, this could be a very entertaining team to watch skate to last in the division.

Toronto Maple Leafs, some deceptively good low level moves by Burke in the off season and late last year should see this team notably improved if they can get all the misfit toys to march in the same direction. Phaneuf, Kessel, Komisarek, Lupal all need to pull their weight this season for the team to succeed. Will bite at the heels of whoever is third in the division.

Montreal Canadiens, not much change in Habsland.  Wiesnewski out and Cole in. Odd, but ok. Maybe the have better health from their players, but they essentially stood still while the Sabres got better. They should still be a playoff team but its not gonna be pretty.

Buffalo Sabres, have changed a lot since Pegula took over mid season last year. New forwards, new defensemen, and best of all, Ryan Miller still in the crease. The defense should be more reliable, the forwards are hoped to be more durable and creative than some of the the players they replaced. A lot of people have made picks for coming out of the east, I have yet to hear anyone pick this team. Anyone surprised if they are in the eastern conference finals or beyond.