With 2018 coming to an end, and 2019 set to begin with the Winter Classic, there has been a lot that has happened in the Central Division over the past year. While Nashville and Winnipeg have been the constants, teams like Colorado and Dallas are trying to prove they are for real. While Chicago and St. Louis have fallen from grace. Then there is Minnesota, who seems to be there no matter how far they fall under the radar. Time to go inside the final NHL Central Division Notebook of 2018.
NHL Central Division Notebook: Saying Goodbye to 2018
2018 has been a good year for the Winnipeg Jets. Despite falling short of their ultimate goal of winning the Stanley Cup, the Jets have become one of the elite teams in the NHL. With players like Mark Scheifele, Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor, and Blake Wheeler just to name a few. In fact, Mark Scheifele is making a good case for the Hart Trophy with his play. Going back to last season, Scheifele has been the most valuable player for the Jets. Another player that brings tremendous value is Dustin Byfuglien. In a loss over the weekend, Byfuglien was injured and will be out for four weeks. Even with the Jets sitting in first place in the division, and playing well of late, Winnipeg is still looking for more consistency in their game. Namely from Connor Hellebuyck, who much find consistency in his game going forward.
It has been a bit of a roller coaster ride for the Nashville Predators during 2018. Coming into the season, the Predators had high hopes of repeating as division champions. In the first part of 2018, the Predators won the President’s Trophy, but were bounced in the second round of the playoffs. The way the 2018-19 season things were trending in the right direction. Nashville was dominate and it looked like nothing was going to stop the Predators. All of a sudden the injury bug just hit the Predators. Players like Pekka Rinne, PK Subban, Viktor Arvidsson, and Kyle Turris were in and out of the lineup. Recently, the Predators were on a six game losing streak, before winning their final game of 2018. With the Predators back at full strength, look for Nashville to regain first place in a tough Central Division.
The Colorado Avalanche have come a long way in a year. Once the doormat for some of the best NHL teams, the Avalanche are continuing trend back up the ladder. After making the playoffs at the end of last season, Colorado took Nashville to six games in the first round. Falling short did not sit well with the Avalanche. Colorado started off on fire. The line of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog were one of the best lines in the NHL. At one point in the season, Rantanen and MacKinnon sat one-two in the NHL scoring race. It appeared the changes in the off-season were working. All of a sudden the Avalanche began to struggle. As the top line goes, so to the Avalanche. With the top line broken up, Colorado hopes to end 2018 on a high note.
Best of the Rest:
Dallas Stars – Here is a team that has constantly underachieved over the past several seasons. Coming into this season, things were suppose to be different in Dallas. However, that is not the case. Coming out of the break, the Stars created some controversy. Stars CEO Jim Lite ripped into Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, saying they have not good enough. That is putting it mildly. Prior to the game against the Red Wings, Jamie Benn responded to those comments, saying “he plays for his teammates, not Jim Lite.” The Stars responded with a nice victory, but the saga wasn’t over. Stars GM Jim Nill agreed with Lite’s comments, but the tone Lite used should have been different. If you look at the numbers Seguin and Benn are averaging a point per game but with there contracts they need to be better.
Minnesota Wild – Regardless of what the Minnesota Wild look like on paper, they always seem to be in the playoffs. Minnesota has been a constant in the Central Division. The Wild are looking to extend their playoff streak to seven seasons. Minnesota has been struggling as of late. Most of the season, the Wild were in playoff contention. Minnesota is fighting to get back in the playoff picture. Minnesota sits four points out of the final playoff spot. Last season, Minnesota had to deal with constant injuries to star players. Eric Staal stepped up in a big way, but has taken a step back this season. Thankfully Zach Parise is back and playing like he did when he first joined the Wild. Matt Dumba was a great surprise for the Wild this season, but he will be lost after having surgery for a torn right pectoral muscle.
Chicago Blackhawks – Here is a team that has taken a fall from grace. The Chicago Blackhawks have been the kings of the Central Division for so long, that it is shocking to see them near the bottom of the division and the league. After a so-so beginning to the season, Chicago would fire Joel Quennville and replacing him with Jeremy Colliton. After a rough for Colliton, the Blackhawks are starting to play much better. Over the past six games, the Blackhawks have won five games. Still near the bottom of the league, the Blackhawks are turning into a tough team to play against once again. Unfortunately, Chicago will be without Corey Crawford for some time as he deals with another concussion. Cam Ward will have to shoulder load. While Patrick Kane continues to shine, Jonathan Toews is back to being the player he was during the Cup runs.
St. Louis Blues – Entering 2018, the St. Louis Blues had hopes of being a force to be reckoned with in the Central Division. St. Louis made all these moves in the off-season. Signing free agents and trading for Ryan O’Reilly with hopes of lifting the Stanley Cup. Unfortunately, the Blues have not gotten it together. St. Louis has not been able to bring it all together. The Blues are able to sneak out victories here and there when they play well. In fact, Jake Allen is having a better season than most people will give him credit for. The team in front of him in just not good enough to win. Hate to sound like a broken record, but the Blues have gotten older and slower instead of younger and faster. St. Louis is hoping that 2019 will be better for them.