The 2021 National Hockey League season starts Wednesday, January 13th. This year, teams are split into four divisions.
Here's the third of four division forecasts. Read the NORTH DIVISION PREDICTIONS here. Read the EAST DIVISION PREDICTIONS here.
In this article, we look at the Central Division, which includes eight teams – mostly in the central part of the United States.
Here's a look at the ODDS TO WIN CENTRAL DIVISION, according to SPREADS.CA:
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa Bay is the defending Stanley Cup champions, with the core of its team coming back. They have taken a hit with some of their gritty players coming due to pay days, and the team making some moves to be cap compliant. Along with former MVP Nikita Kucherov out for the season with injury, Tampa Bay may have to be more defensive minded this season, playing tighter with the puck in their defensive zones. Look no further than goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, coming off his third Vezina nomination and first Cup. He is starting to come in to his athletic prime and is the best goalie in the league. Vasilevskiy is odds on favorite for the Vezina, but he is 100-1 odds for league MVP. Tampa should be on top of the division and would be an easy bet for making the playoffs.
Overall, Carolina may have the most balanced team in the NHL. The Hurricanes have two young stars (Aho, Svechnikov) that have “superstar” potential. Their defense could be both offensive and defensive strong. Goaltending is also solid (Reimer, Mrazek). Carolina could use one or two players to put them over the edge and they have some trade chips, so look for them to make moves around the deadline. Also, if they start off behind, they could make a deal to look at the future. I predict them to finish 2nd or 3rd in the division.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Columbus has some solid potential, in goal. They're talented, trusted by the coaching staff, and contract-wise: cheap. Lately, they have had trouble with young talent, trading Anderson to Montreal and having contract issues with young center Dubois. Coaching staff has used “underdog” and “no respect” for a few years and their veteran leaders have bought in to it. Management has made hard line for its players and will get equal value for any moves they make. I predict them to make the playoffs, finishing 3rd.
Dallas had a magical run last season and leaned heavily on back-up Anton Khudobin, earning a great contract, and settling in Dallas. Ben Bishop has Vezina-quality skill but might be out for first month of the season. The deep playoff run has led to some injuries (Benn and Seguin). Stars have great young star in Miro Heiskanen, he might be a deep dark horse candidate for Norris (best defensemen) at 20-1. Injuries may slow start for team, they could be in a hole to start the season. I do like them to just make the playoffs, finishing 4th.
Nashville has made a couple moves in the offseason to clear some capital, have a spot or two open for competition. They also lost a solid third liner (Austin Watson), a glue guy that can move up or down in the lineup. Their defense maybe in the top 5, altogether, in the NHL, but may have lost a little due to being one year older. In goal, Pekka Rinne has been the franchise leader, but Juuse Saros has edged his way in the last year. I think they take a step back this year, should be fight for last playoff position (4th or 5th place).
Florida has some stars in Huberdeau, Barkov, and Ekbald, but have fallen short in expectations year after year. Last season, they added two-time Vezina winner Sergei Bobrovsky to huge contract. In the first year of the deal, Bobrovsky fell short early in the season, but making a small comeback later in the year. If Bobrovsky starts off hot, in a short season, he could lead team to playoffs and some success. If he falters early, look for team to make moves and save money for the offseason. I would take flyer on Vezina for Bob (+1700). I predict Florida to finish 6th.
Chicago has had conflicting reports and issues throughout the offseason about this season and their future. Their team is transiting from their championship teams, and their stars, but have not committed to a “rebuild”, rather than “retool”. Captain Jonathan Toews and superstar Patrick Kane are in the middle of their massive contracts and still have enough talent to make a difference for a team. Toews is doubtful for the season, citing “medical issues”. Also, young star Kirby Dach was injured in the World Juniors’ Championship and will be out for the season. Chicago goaltenders also have the least amount of games played in the league, leaving massive questions in goal but leaving potential for evaluators and gamblers. They have enough talent to not finish last in the division, I like them to finish 7th
Detroit Red Wings
Detroit has fallen on hard times, but under former Wings legend Steve Yzerman in the front office, moves have been made to make Detroit competitive….in a year or two. They have cleared most of the payroll and added a few players that should stave off the team till some of their talent in the minors has time to develop. In addition, they have some cap flexibility to add talent in the next year or two, or take on bad contracts from other teams (with draft compensation, of course). Detroit’s goal for this year is to compete without looking like the worst team in the league. They also should be sellers at the trade deadline. Detroit and Chicago should be fighting for the 7th and 8th spot in the division, and a top 5 draft pick.
Predictions by PS.CA NHL writer Patrick Day, who lives in St. Louis and is a Blues fan, but didn't let that sway his judgement. Patrick can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org