The time is upon us as the NHL kicked off the 2019-20 regular season on Wednesday. Over the past month, Last Word on Hockey gave you a detailed look into each team during the Puck Drop Preview series to go along with divisional previews. Out of all the divisions, the 2019-20 Central Division was the toughest to pick. With so many changes in the off-season, the division is wide-open. With predictions in the books let’s take a look at the top questions facing the 2019-20 Central Division.
NHL Notebook: 2019-20 Central Division
Will Blues Experience A Stanley Cup Hangover
Last season, the St. Louis Blues were a playoff team on paper, but they got off to a slow start. It was a historic rise from being at the bottom of the standings to winning the Stanley Cup. Things fell into place for the Blues. Just like last season, the Blues are built for the playoffs and not the regular season. There are not many changes to the winning roster. However, there is no more Pat Maroon and the team just acquired Justin Faulk. It will be interesting to see what kind of start the Blues get off to this season. While there is no doubt they are a playoff team again this season, another poor start could be hard to climb out of as the division not to mention the conference is better. While everyone is worried about the Blues having a hangover, what about Jordan Binnington. Can he have a repeat performance?
Can the Winnipeg Jets Survive Loses on Defence?
Over the past several years, the Winnipeg Jets have done everything right from drafting to developing players to be a contender. However, the Jets have become a cap-strapped team. The Jets have been forced to figure out which players they value over others. Unfortunately with the RFA situations involving Kyle Connor and Patrik Laine, the Jets could do not much this off-season. Therefore one area the Jets could not focus on was the defence. Last season, the defence for the Jets was elite. Heading into this season it’s an area of concern. Jacob Trouba, Ben Chiarot, and Tyler Myers left via free agency. With Dustin Byfuglien unsure of his future, the Jets could not afford anymore loses. Now with Nathan Beaulieu out at least a month, look for the Jets to try to outscore their opponents and hope Connor Hellebuyck has an MVP type season.
Will the Colorado Avalanche Rely on One Line Again?
Last season the Colorado Avalanche rode their top line of Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon, and Gabriel Landeskog to the playoffs. The Avalanche’s top line was one of the best lines in hockey last season. However, when the top line struggled the team could not produce offence. This season, the Avalanche acquired Nazem Kadri in a deal that sent Alexander Kerfoot and Tyson Barrie to the Toronto Maple Leafs. He will help with secondary scoring. There is no doubt that MacKinnon is an MVP candidate, but he can’t do it all by himself. With Joonas Donskoi and Andre Burakovsky added to the mix, the Avalanche could finally have the depth they need to propel themselves to Stanley Cup contender. Not to mention Cale Makar who can provide offence from the backend.
Have the Dallas Stars Done Enough to Increase Goal Scoring?
The Dallas Stars were another team that needed to find more scoring to be successful in the 2019-20 Central Division. The Stars are hoping free agent signings Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry will help this. Last season with the San Jose Sharks, Pavelski posted 38 goals. That will be helpful for a team that relied on Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Alexander Radulov for most of the season to score goals. Pavelski will replace the goals lost from the departing Mats Zuccarello. Perry is on the backend of his career, but his contract is a low risk, high reward type deal. And what can the Stars expect from Roope Hintz this season? His breakout performance propelled the Stars to within one win of the Western Conference Final. The Stars hope he carries that into the season.
Can Matt Duchene Elevate the Nashville Predators Offence?
One of the big fish of this past off-season was Matt Duchene. Duchene had been linked to the Nashville Predators once his season was over with the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Predators were another team in the Central Division having problems scoring goals. Outside of Viktor Arvidsson, the Predators did not have another 30-goal scorer. Filip Forsberg was next on the team with 28 goals. Duchene had 31 goals between the Ottawa Senators and Blue Jackets last season. He instantly makes this team more dangerous offencively. However, the Predators will need more production from Ryan Johansen and Mikael Granlund who came over at the trade deadline from the Wild.
Can Corey Crawford Stay Healthy?
For the Chicago Blackhawks, the biggest question facing the team is goaltending. As Corey Crawford goes so do the Blackhawks. In the last two seasons, Crawford has dealt with injuries that prevented the team from fighting for a playoff spot. In the 2017-18 season, Crawford sat seventh in goals-against average and fourth in save percentage before suffering an injury that cost him the rest of the year. Last season, Crawford suffered a concussion and his season was in question. Crawford would come back from injury and play well for the Blackhawks. At one point in the season, the Blackhawks had a shot at the playoffs. The one thing the Blackhawks did not have was a good backup goalie. They have it now in Robin Lehner. If Crawford were to go down, Lehner could guide the ship until he is healthy and possibly even further.
Will Matt Dumba Bounce Back After His Injury?
Last season Mathew Dumba was having a great season for the Minnesota Wild before getting hurt. He was in the conversation for the Norris Trophy before getting into a fight with Matthew Tkachuk. That fight cost Dumba the rest of his season as he tore his pectoral muscle. Dumba needed surgery and did not return to the ice until this preseason. The Wild need Dumba to be the player before he got in the fight. He will need to be if the Wild want to get to the playoffs. With the competition in the Central Division some of the best in the NHL, the Wild will need to play as one to be successful this season.
These are just some of the questions facing the 2019-20 Central Division. Look for more to come about as these teams kick off the season.