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NHL Division Preview: Central Division Preview
Team Most Likely to Win: St Louis Blues, +333
The reigning champion of the Central did not manage much after the season ended and the playoff began, but they proved to most NHL fans and bettors of being a finely tuned machine during the regular season. Finishing in the top 5 in both goals scored and goals allowed and posting 10 shutouts as a team, the Blues are strong injust about every facet of the game. The team has most of their division winning roster returning in 2015, including their best defenseman – Kevin Shattenkirk – who only played in 56 games but mustered an excellent 44 points and was +19. The Blues have averaged 110 points over the last two season – or from when the NHL realigned the divisions – and are a great choice to win the division, even if they are not the favourite.
Team Most Likely to Challenge for the Division Title: Chicago Blackhawks, +220
The reigning Stanley Cup champs – and winner of three of the past six Cups – did not need home ice advantage for their most recent win. The most successful NHL franchise over the past 7 NHL seasons has had a somewhat tumultuous offseason – with many players leaving and another star getting into a fair bit of trouble. The losses of Brandon Saad and Brad Richards will hurt the depth of the team, while some viewed the loss of veteran Patrick Sharp as a positive. Though those losses are survivable, the fate of All-Star Patrick Kane will be the toughest for the Blackhawks to digest. The Blackhawks have enough experience and depth to survive, but the sheer amount of player turnover could hold them back from winning the division.
Biggest Sleeper Team to Win the Division: Nashville Predators, +600
Nashville will need some seriously productive seasons from their young stars and a healthy Pekka Rinne between the pipes to steal the Central division crown this year. The Predators did finish with 104 points last season – good enough for second in the Central – and with some of their best players under 25, improvement is possible. The defense for the Predators is their greatest strength, helmed by veteran Shea Weber and youngsters Seth Jones and Roman Josi. The offense is where the Predators need for production. Filip Forsberg – no relation to NHL Hall of Famer Peter Forsberg – will need a healthy James Neal and someone to really step up at right wing for the offense to get enough out of their first line to win the important games against the Blackhawks, Blues and even the Minnesota Wild for the team to win the division. Keep an eye on the teams pre-season performances. If they can sort this issue out, they will be good enough to win the division this year.
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