The Central Division looks like they're redone retooling and tweaking for the upcoming season. The Blackhawks shifted players to the Stars, the Predators snagged Barret Jackman to keep him close to his home for his last few years in the league, and the Avalanche lost Ryan O'Riley and Jamie McGinn but gained Nikita Zadorov, Mikhail Grigorenko and J.T. Compher.
None of the teams in the Central got demonstratively worse, though the Avalanche did downgrade with the loss of O'Riley. The Winnipeg Jets did a thing or two, but to be honest, I don't care about them much. They didn't get better and last season seems like a fluke of Ondrej Pavelec getting his head out of his ass down the stretch.
But who, you might ask, could unseat the Blues as Division Champions (let's focus on the regular season for now, folks)?
I asked some of our staff for their opinions. They shouldn't be shocking.
I can see Nashville giving the Blues fits this season. The Predators come into this season with basically the same team that made the playoffs last year. They re-signed Ribeiro and Carrie Underwood’s husband to long term deals. The only real addition was Jackman. Not that he’s THAT big of an acquisition, but I’m sure he’ll be passing on some notes to his new teammates to get under the Blues' skin. They have enough young talent (yes, I know, we’ve heard that one before) and a mix of veterans to be in the running for the division. They also have Rinne coming back to play a full season. That is, if he can stay healthy. If anything they will be another annoyance that the Blues have to deal with (along with themselves) in the loaded Central.
The biggest threat within the Central Division in 2015-16 might just be the Blues themselves. We all know the Blues’ propensity of late to play as though regular season results matter for something heading into the postseason. As we’ve seen in the last four seasons (and if you want to be technical about it, each of the Blues’ 47 seasons before this one), the regular season is relatively meaningless once you get to the big dance. And really, that’s all I care about now . . . the window to win a Cup for this program is right now, and nothing has come of it in four very promising attempts. We all hope Ken Hitchcock has learned a few things from these failings (i.e. DON’T RUN YOUR FUCKING TEAM INTO THE GROUND IN MARCH), but really, how much do we believe anything will change? And until something DOES change behind the bench, the Blues will basically be battling themselves more than they’ll be battling the Predators, Blackhawks, Wild(s), Jets, Stars and Avalanche(s) over the course of 82 games. That’s not very settling.
My money is on the Blues themselves, much like DK. I don't know if any of the teams got better than they did last year, though the Stars certainly added some punch with Patrick Sharp, and Johnny Oduya is a fine blueline acquisition. I don't think that they'll challenge the Blues, though they will challenge for a playoff spot.
The Blues, though, really need to prove their consistency and step shit up against the playoff-positioned teams during the regular season. They have the stuff, they have a solid top-nine, they have two of the best defensemen in the game. Without everyone playing to full potential and pushing themselves, however, there stands a chance of letting Chicago or Nashville squeak past them. Without the Preds' issues sans-Pekka, the Preds would be raising a banner in October and the Blues would just be planning a calendar giveaway.