Preview: Central Division

Saturday, 28.09.2013 / 12:01 AM

Lost in the web of offseason trades and free-agent signings? Let us walk you through what happened in the NHL over the summer.

Chicago Blackhawks

The defending cup champions lost a few players to free agency during the off-season, but are still the favourites to go all the way again in 2013-14. Coach Joel Queneville’s team started the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign with a 24-game undefeated streak in regulation time, an NHL record, and wrapped up the season with an outstanding 36-7-5 record. While the Blackhawks lost experienced goaltender Ray Emery, they have replaced him with Nikolai Khabibulin, who is in his second stint with the team. On offense, gone are Viktor Stalberg and Michael Frolik, but the core of Toews, Kane, Hossa and company remains intact.

Colorado Avalanche

After a less than stellar 2012-13 campaign that saw the Avalanche finish 29th in the NHL standings, the organization decided to turn back the clock to recoup some of the prestige it may have lost. Not long after Joe Sakic was brought on board as executive vice-president, Patrick Roy also returned to Denver to try his luck behind the bench of an NHL team after helming the Quebec Remparts for eight years. Roy will also have the chance to work with a player he knew rather well in the QMJHL ranks in 2013 first-overall selection, Nathan MacKinnon.

Dallas Stars

With a new voice behind the bench in veteran head coach Lindy Ruff, the Stars enter the 2013-14 campaign vying for their first playoff appearance since 2008. After finishing fifth in the pacific division last season, Dallas retooled offensively, adding three players with Stanley Cup rings in Tyler Seguin, Rich Peverley and Sergei Gonchar. They also signed former Oilers captain Shawn Horcoff. The Stars’ latest acquisitions join newly-minted captain Jamie Benn – the club’s leading scorer in 2012-13 – in the Lonestar State. Goaltender Kari Lehtonen remains among the league’s top netminders, having posted a 2.66 goals-against average and a .916 save percentage in 36 games last season.

Minnesota Wild

Big signings Zach Parise and Ryan Suter had solid first seasons for the playoff-bound Minnesotan team. Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding still form one of the best goaltending duos in the league and the defense-first team, under head coach Mike Yeo’s direction, is looking to do more in the offensive zone during the upcoming 2013-14 season. Despite losing several good scorers (Cullen, Bouchard and Devin Setoguchi), the Wild still boasts established offensive threats in Parise, Mikko Koivu, Jason Pominville and Dany Heatley.

Nashville Predators

After finishing 14th in the western conference in 2012-13, two points removed from last place, the Predators are hoping a few new additions can help improve their performance this season. Having joined the NHL’s central division, the team led by captain Shea Weber will try to earn a postseason berth by turning to key personnel. Among those players arriving in the Music City are Viktor Stallberg, Matt Cullen and Eric Nystrom. Ryan Ellis and Roman Josi are among several reliable rearguards on the backend, while Pekka Rinne is a mainstay in the Nashville goal. The 2013-14 season marks the Predators’ 16th year in the NHL.

St. Louis Blues

The Blues finished a surprising 4th in the West during the 2012-13 regular season. Backstopped by Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliot, the team excelled on the defense, allowing only 2.29 goals per game during the course of the season. However, the offensive output of the team was below-average and the squad was bounced in 6 games in the first round of the playoffs by the Los Angeles Kings. The need for more consistent scoring was partially addressed by team management during the summer. While David Perron was dealt to Edmonton and Andy McDonald decided to hang up his skates due to persistent concussion issues, the acquisition of playmaking center Derek Roy should prove to be a boon for scoring wingers such as Chris Stewart and David Backes, the top two point-getters in St. Louis last season.

Winnipeg Jets

The Jets have yet to make the postseason since their arrival in Manitoba, and are looking to remedy the situation in 2013-14. Head coach Claude Noel’s troops received a boost during the off-season when the NHL realigned its divisions, shifting the Jets to the Western Conference and thus lightening the team’s travel schedule. In addition to the acquisition of Devin Setoguchi, the Winnipeg Jets could also count on several prospects making the jump to the NHL and helping the team on a full-time basis. Center Mark Scheifele and defenseman Jacob Trouba are the most likely candidates for such a career progression this upcoming season.

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