Central Division Preview

Here is a preview of the Central division. Included is the list of the players each team has at each position, UFAs, prospects, needs for each position (if any), coaches and ratings for each position for each team.

Chicago Black Hawks

Forwards: Arnason, Bell, Calder, Daze, Ruuttu Moen, Nichol, Brown, Barnaby

Key UFAs: Korolev

Prospects: MKeith, Vorobiev, Yakubov, Radulov, Bickell, Boland, Nordqvist, Sindel, Ellison

Needs: scoring, size and toughness, experience

Rating: (C+) the grade goes up as long as their kids continue to improve and Daze stays healthy. the do however need a top centre and a top sniper as most of the guys they have outside of Ruutu are better suited to be support scorers and 2nd/3rd liners. Val Bure isnt a top guy but would add depth to the team. he played and played well under Sutter in the past so he is possible. Another guy they could look into is Allison. of course he isnt quite healthy and seeing how Wirtz spends money he will likely never take the risk.

Defence: Berard, McCarthy, RObidas, Vandermeer

Key UFAs: Quint, Poapst

Prospects: Barker, Babchuk, Seabrook, Barinka, Kukkonen, DKeith, Malmivaara

Needs: toughness, veteran dman, minute muncher

Rating: (C) a top blueliner is needed badly. after a couple of years where guys like Poapst, Klemm or Robidas who are 5th/6th dmen at best carry the load, it is time to get a top blueliner. they have set themselves up in a few years to have 3 of them at once with their prize prospects soon NHL bound but in the mean time they need someone to bridge the gap. perhaps a Zhitnik or a Schneider would fit the bill nicely. look for maybe Todd Simpson to find his way to Chicago as he played for Sutter in the past and he brings lots of muscle and toughness.

Goal: Thibault

Key UFAs: Passmore

Prospects: Munro, Crawford, Leighton, Anderson

Needs: healthy no 1

Rating: (B+) Thibault is a really good goalie. he can carry a team and take on a big workload. however he gets hurt alot and when he does the Hawks really struggle badly. hopefully one of the kids will step up and be a solid backup otherwise another long year if Thibault gets hurt again.

Coach: Sutter

Rating: (B) Sutter is a good coach but he has a run ins with some of his players, and he hasnt brought the Hawks much success. but he hasnt had his type of gritty in your face team. his style of play that involves lots of physical play couldnt work with the kind of soft, small players they had in the past. they need to bring in a few more Barnaby’s or Bell’s to make this work for Sutter.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Forwards: Cassells, Sanderson, Letowski, Vyborny, Marchant, Svitov, Zherdev, Nash, Wright, Malholtra, Shelley, Reich

Key UFAs: Holtzinger

Prospects: Fritsche, Jackman, Picard, Pinneault, Lindstrom, Pandolfo, McDonnell

Needs: scoring, two way wingers, grit

Rating (B-) they have 2 of the best young stars in the game and some ok veterans mixed in with some ok young players but they just dont have great chemistry. possibly due to so much turnover and injuries. their veterans need to stay healthy for the Jackets to have any chance. they do not have the depth to overcome an injury bug and it is unlikely they will bring any outside help in.

Defence: Klesla, Suchy, Lachance, Richardson, Spacek, Scoville, Westcott

Key UFAs: Eriksson

Prospects: Johnson, Tollefsen, Manning

Needs: PP QB, size and toughness, top 2 dman

Rating (D) Klesla has not developed into the kind of player that he was projected to be but he is still young. there just is not enough talent and too many journeymen type guys to carry the load. surprisingly for a young team they have an old defence that doesnt have much promise outside of Klesla so the future doesnt look much better. very unlikely they will dip into the FA pool and they can only hope their guys overacheive.

Goal: Denis, Irbe

Key UFAs: Braithwaite

Prospects: Leclaire

Needs: none

Rating: (B-) Denis is a solid goalie but he may be overworked and overwhelmed. he faces way too many shots a night with a pourous defence in front. he could be trade bait if they decide Leclaire is ready and that could be real soon.

Coach: Gallant

Rating: (D+) not much experience and not much success so far. he will get to prove it with the Jackets but there is more pressure to win with the success of the Preds and Wild. He was a hard nosed player and he’ll try to get the Jackets to play the same way.

Detroit Red Wings

Forwards: Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Lang, Maltby, Draper, McCarty, Whitney, Holmstrom, Williams, Mowers

Key UFAs: Yzerman, Shanahan, Hull, Thomas

Prospects: Grigorenko, Hudler, Franzen, Kopecky, Robinson

Needs: size, toughness, speed, youth

Rating: (B+) they have the best checking line in hockey, they have tons of skill around and quality playoff performers. they just need to get a bit more size and speed into their lineup. many of the wings felt they were pushed around making them easier to play against. they need perhaps a guy like Lapointe who gave them sandpaper but they also need to be more dangerous offensively. Kariya would fit nicely here as he is still young and would be someone whom they can build around if Yzerman doesnt return. Murray has been rumoured to come here too. he too would give them some good size which they need.

Defence: Lidstrom, Hatcher, Kronvall, Fischer, Dandenault, Chelios, Woolley

Key UFAs: Schneider

Prospects: Groulx, Meech

Needs: youth

Rating: (A-) any team with Lidstrom is going to have a strong defence. his number will go up now that he will return to being the PP QB with Schneider gone. I wouldnt be surprised if the wings went out and signed Zhitnik as he would fit in nicely. he is kind of like a poor man’s Konstantinov but not as big an impact player. they have a good mix of size, speed, skill and toughness but they are not getting younger.

Goal: Joseph, Legace

Key UFAs: none

Prospects: Liv, Howard

Needs: none

Rating: (B+) Cujo and Legace are a great tandem and will give the wings fine goaltending. they should play better because there is no 3rd wheel around as a distraction.

Coach: Lewis

Rating: (B-) he has had great regular season success but that has not translated to playoff success. He just cant seem to keep up with his opponent and seems one step behind. He has gotten better at mixing up lines and line matching but he still needs to work on strategy and staying a leg up on his opponent. he needs to be more innovative like Bowman was. he is too predictable.

Nashville Predators

Forwards: Arkhipov, Sullivan, Walker, ERat, Hall, Hartnell, JOhnson, Legwand, Orzagh, Tootoo, McKenzie

Key UFAs: Johansson, Zholtok

Prospects: Upshall, Fiddler, Platonov, Shishkanov, Andersson, Radulov, Soin

Needs: size, offensive centre, scoring

Rating: (B-) they are a good young group but they are not good enough to contend right now. unlikely will they dip into the FA market for help. they need a top 2 centreman as Arkhipov just cant get the job done. a guy like Nedved would fit in nicely as he has good speed and skill but unlikely will they meet his price.

Defence:Eaton, Hamhuis, Zidlicky, Timonen, Hnidy

Key UFAs: Allison, Bombardir, York

Prospects: Suter, Hutchinson, Klein, Weber

Needs: size, toughness

rating: (B-) they are set offensively now and in the future but they do not have a big tough stay at home blueliner. too often the preds are outmuscled and they just cant protect Vokoun well enough. they should try to keep york but will likely go for other cheap vets like Baron, Leschyshyn or Tamer.

Goal: Vokoun, Mason

Key UFAs: none

Prospects: Finley

Needs: none

Rating: (B+) not a lot of playoff experience but has shown flashes of being able to carry a team. he is a solid proven no 1 guy.

Coach: Trotz

Rating: (B-) only coach in team history, loyalty is paying off. the preds have improved every year and his longevity has given the club some credibility and stability. a young team needs it and needs his solid teaching.

St Louis Blues

Forwards: Boguniecki, Cajanek, Low, Tkachuk, Weight, Johnson, Drake, Sillinger, Mayers, Rycroft

Key UFAs: Mellanby, Demitra

Prospects: McCLement, Sejna, Pohl, Backes, Shkotov

Needs: Scoring depth, skill, youth

Rating: (B-) can grind it out with any team but cant score enough to win the close games. with a few big time contracts, they dont have the money to spend like in the past. there was talk of bringing Hull back and perhaps sign a bigger name like Palffy or Kariya but they already have about 30 million tied to 4 guys (Lalime, Pronger, Weight, Tkachuk). they could start rebuilding and trade away Weight and/or Tkachuk for younger, cheaper players. outside of goaltending there isnt much coming up in the system so may be that would be a good thing to replenish and start over.

Defence: Pronger, Jackman, Salvador, Backman, Weinrich, Khavanov

Key UFAs: MacInnis, Baron, Finley

Prospects: Walker, Stuart, Fitzgerald

Needs: PP QB

Rating: (B+) a real good group if healthy. they could match up with any team as they have a decent mix of speed, skill, size, toughness and grit. the loss of MacInnis hurts the PP. the only question is will they or wont they trade Pronger?

Goal: Lalime, Divis

Key UFA: Osgood

Prospects: Bacashihua, Schwarz, Sanford

Needs: none

Rating: (B) Lalime will likely do better with a change in scenery. they have some good prospects coming up too. and being in a non- hockey market will mean less pressure for Lalime.

Coach: Kitchen

Rating: (C) he has been a good assistant for a long time but can he be “the man” this time? he is a tireless worker and will get his team to play that way too. but any bit of faltering and he could be jettisoned for a bigger name coach. too bad cause he is a good team guy.

This could be a competitive division…………..for second place. it is a given that the wings will win the division but the rest of the teams have the potential to challenge for the last few playoff spots in the conference. Nashville, Columbus, and Chicago are young teams that can only get better.