Way-Too-Early Power Rankings: Central Division Edition

Welcome to the dog days of the National Hockey League offseason. With only about a month left until hockey begins, I have taken the opportunity to power rank every division from worst to first. So without further ado, welcome to the Central Division edition of the way-to-early power rankings.

8. Arizona Coyotes

The marriage between the Arizona Coyotes and the National Hockey League just won't seem to end, despite all circumstances and colossal failures that plague the organization and league. Despite not being a competitive team since the 2013 lockout, this team has never had the first overall pick. As far as their longtime fanbase is concerned, there is no hope for this team heading into the 2022-2023 season.

In addition to being insatiably miserable on the ice, the off-ice product may be even worse, as the team now finds themselves playing in a 5,000-seated college arena. They have had six different owners and nine different general managers since filing for bankruptcy in 2009 and saw a drop of 62.3% in ticket sales since 2018. Considering the team starts the season with a six-game road trip as well as 23 and seven home games, it's evident that the small fanbase will suffer just as much as this entire team's direction will be affected.

7. Chicago Blackhawks

This team is going to be terrible. If this offseason told us anything, it's that the Blackhawks don't know what to do or where to go. After making a horrendous trade and signing for Seth Jones, the 'Hawks have realized that they can't rely on talent when it runs out. Their rebuild has started by trading away young pieces who they should've built their team around, and by doing this have signed a goodbye slip for future Hall of Famers Patrick Kane and Johnathan Toews.

Their major additions include one-year contracts to Max Domi and Andres Athanasiou, who will be used as deadline fodder for teams to splurge on before the trade deadline, along with a third-round pick in 2024 for right-handed winger Alex DeBrincat, who is coming off a 40-goal campaign. They lost a lot of pieces, and with the contracts of Kane and Toews coming to an end after this season, it won't be shocking to hear rumors about these two being on the move. Don't expect this team to compete, as they will be looking to sell off major assets as fast as possible.

6. Winnipeg Jets

Let's just be clear: The Jets are miles higher than the Blackhawks and Coyotes. They still have some pieces to be competitive. With that said, however, it feels like the Jets are being navigated by a kamikaze pilot. They made more quiet moves, including kicking the can down the road for another year with former third overall pick Pierre-Luc Dubois. With the core aging another year, their time to win is now.

But a different head coach was supposed to make that happen. After the incompetent New York Islanders decided to destroy the one thing that was working for them, Barry Trotz was a free agent on the market. Although they made an effort, the Jets were not able to get the Stanley Cup-winning head coach, as he decided to take a leave of absence. So instead they settled with Rick Bowness. This team is going to live or die based on the play of Connor Hellebuyck, aren't they?

5. Nashville Predators

This team could be very special if everything clicks for them. Last year they had the misfortune of running into an elite group that went on a historic run in the Colorado Avalanche. Even so, this team still has plenty to offer, as they managed to resign Filip Forsberg and acquire the talent of Ryan McDonagh from the Tampa Bay Lightning. They still have the pieces to make a deep run, with former Norris trophy winner Roman Josi leading the defense and Vezina finalist Juuse Saros protecting the cage.

So why are they so low? Why am I not high on them if they have all these pieces and them some? It really comes down to two simple factors. The first factor is the lack of consistency, especially in right winger Matt Duchene and center Ryan Johanson. They were putting up numbers they struggled with over the past few seasons, and though it could be a sign that they are on the come-up, the other is that they will come back down to earth, as Duchene was shooting at a 12.4% rate.

The second factor is their head coach: John Hynes. His play scheme and dynamics lead this team to finish 18th in penalty kill success with a 79.2% rate. As long as Hynes is here, this team will continue to flirt with mediocrity.

4. Minnesota Wild

Another team with too many questions and not enough answers. They were able to keep the trade deadline prize, Marc-Andre Fleury, on a two-year deal, worth $3.5 million dollars on average; however, by signing this contract, they had to trade goalie Cam Talbot to the Ottawa Senators for Filip Gustavsson. They also lost point-per-game star Kevin Fiala, who they were forced to trade to the Kings due to the cap crunch. Fiala had a career year this past season, plotting 85 points and playing a full 82-game season, and was a big piece in their short playoff run. They lost a lot this season.

But this team has Kirill the thrill Kaprizov on the roster. They also have a defensive core with the likes of Matt Dumba, Jonas Brodin, and Jared Spurgeon. This core still has the talent to be a top-tier regular-season team. Playoffs...different story.

3. Dallas Stars

I may be higher on the Dallas Stars than most people, but I have my reasons for that. This team had a down year last season, with players like Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn both having down years. Seguin plotted 49 points in an 81-game stint, but only shot for 11%. Those numbers are bound to increase under the new coaching regime of Peter DeBoer, who was able to help both the San Jose Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights stay competitive in the regular season. A Stars team that is seen as second fiddle to the elite teams in the league will benefit from DeBoer's grit and two-way scheme.

But what really holds this team together is the goaltending. Unfortunately, injuries to a few pieces have led the Stars to some misery and quick fixes. It started with Ben Bishop, then Anton Khudobin, and then it was Braden Holtby. Both Bishop and Holtby sustained so many injuries that they have been forced to retire, and Khudobin was out for the season with a hip injury, and his long-term play is still unknown. To say the least, this Stars team has had the misfortune of gaining too much good at the wrong time. With all that said, there is some light at the end of the tunnel, with one goalie in particular.

His name is Jake Oettinger, the former first-round pick who has made a name for himself due to a historic 7-game stint against a far superior Flames team. Not only did he put up 10.1 goals saved above expected, but he also plotted a 1.81 goals against average against an offensive-forced Flames squad, including a game 7 loss where the young Stars netminder stopped 64 shots. If he can continue that momentum, this Stars team is going to be scary.

2. Colorado Avalanche

Is this bold? Yes. Am I going to continue? Also yes. Despite being the recent Stanley Cup champions, I think some things are going to hit this team harder than expected. Obviously the cup fatigue, but also with the rest of the core regarding the cup tax. For those who don't know, the cap tax is when a team has to overpay players due to their services in a playoff run. We saw this with the likes of Darcy Kuemper, Andre Burakovsky, Valeri Nichushkin, and Nazem Kadri. These pieces helped the team win their first cup in over two decades, and they were paid like it. Another loss was with their general manager, Joe Sakic, who became president of hockey operations.

With all that said, this core still has the pieces to go far. As long as they have Nathan MacKinnon, Norris trophy winner Cale Makar, and captain along with the heart and soul of the team in Gabriel Landeskog on the ice, this team will still be contenders and more. They have the pieces to make a deep run and more, it's just a matter of consistency and rhythm. But one team will continue their momentum and more and top them.

1. St. Louis Blues

And that team knows a thing or two about being on top. The St. Louis Blues seems like a hot take to win the division, but they really shouldn't be underestimated. This team always has the tools to go on a deep run, as they proved in 2019. It's just a matter of everything clicking together. They not only lost their starting goaltender in Ville Husso, who had 13.5 goals saved above expected and 2.54 goals against average, but also key depth forward Robby Fabbri to free agency.

But this team continues to surprise. They kept the same core intact and have a plethora of top-tier defensemen, including Coltyn Parayko, Torey Krug, and Justin Faulk. This team just needs a little luck and a little Gloria to help this get back to its cup-winning ways. Don't be surprised if this team is once again a favorite for the cup, as Robert Thomas continues to impress and the core continues to find ways to win.

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