Ahh, the Central Division. Home of the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks. I just puked all over my new Hextall t-shirt.
Tomas Kopecky - Jonathan Toews - Marian Hossa
Troy Brouwer - Patrick Sharp - Patrick Kane
Viktor Stalberg - Dave Bolland - Fernando Pisani
Bryan Bickell - Jake Dowell - Jack Skille
While the "core" group of forwards remains for the defending champs, we saw plenty of departures up front from this group over the summer. Specifically, the Hawks come into this season without the services of Dustin Byfuglien, Kris Versteeg, Andrew Ladd, John Madden, Ben Eager, Colin Fraser, and Adam Burish. Hmm, who's left to call Pronger funny names? Despite these departures, the Blackhawks are dangerous up front. Toews and Kane lead the way in this department with Sharp and Hossa rounding out most of the scoring. Two guys that are going to have to step it up this year are Troy Brouwer and Dave Bolland. Brouwer put up a decent regular season last year (40 points), while Bolland got hot during the playoffs (16 points in 22 games). It looks like there's a void for a scoring winger on that 2nd line. Overall, this is still a dangerous group of forwards but they lack depth compared to last season.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Kristian Huselius - Antoine Vermette - Rick Nash
Nikita Filatov - Derick Brassard - Jakub Voracek
Ethan Moreau - Samuel Pahlsson - R. J. Umberger
Jared Boll - Andrew Murray - Chris Clark
While Antoine Vermette and Kristian Huselius had good statistical years last season (27G, 38A and 23G, 40A, respectively), I can't help but look at this lineup and think once again that Rick Nash doesn't have an adequate supporting cast around him. What would prove me wrong? Well, there are plenty of young developing forwards in the top 6 here, so one could always play the "potential" card. For example, 3rd-year man Jakub Voracek looks to improve on a 50-point campaign last year while leading what is a young and talented 2nd line. R.J. Umberger will likely be moved around a bit throughout this lineup. He's a guy who can fill in on top-line duty if needed, provide secondary scoring on a 2nd line, or be in more of a defensive checking role on the 3rd line. Long-time Oiler Ethan Moreau will provide a veteran presence to this lineup. Overall, we can expect this group to perform similarly to last year's group, unless the young forwards develop faster than expected. Columbus fans should just be happy that the Fat Man didn't eat Nikita Filatov before his departure.
Detroit Red Wings
Henrik Zetterberg - Pavel Datsyuk - Tomas Holmstrom
Johan Franzen -Valtteri Filppula - Todd Bertuzzi
Dan Cleary - Mike Modano - Jiri Hudler
Patrick Eaves - Kris Draper - Darren Helm
I know that our resident editor hates the Red Wings, but it's hard to look at this lineup and not be at least a little intrigued. Coach Babcock has the freedom to mix and match throughout this entire lineup, and he probably will. It remains to be seen how much gas is left in the tank for newcomer Mike Modano (prediction: not much), but that won't matter very much. The Red Wings got Jiri Hudler back from the KHL, where he had a point-a-game campaign last year. The guy still looks like a mutant, though. Overall, this is a group with plenty of scoring ability, well-roundedness, and depth, and Matteau hates that.
Steve Sullivan - Cal O'Reilly - Patric Hornqvist
Colin Wilson - Matthew Lombardi - Martin Erat
J.P. Dumont - David Legwand - Joel Ward
Sergei Kostitsyn - Marcel Goc - Jordin Tootoo
Let's be clear about this lineup: I hate it. They don't have a legit first line, the middle of the lineup seems disjointed, and there's a Kostitsyn on the 4th line. But, let's also be clear about the fact that Barry Trotz will prove me wrong by once again making due with a mediocre group, waving his magic wand, and allowing this team to be competitive. Realistically, this isn't a group that's going to score a ton of goals. They were 18th in goals scored last year, and I don't see many reasons to think that will improve. However, they might get decent scoring support throughout the lineup, but the strength of their team clearly lies outside of the forward department.
St. Louis Blues
T.J. Oshie - Andy McDonald - Patrik Berglund
David Perron - David Backes - Brad Boyes
Alex Steen - Jay McClement - B. J. Crombeen
Brad Winchester - Vladimir Sobotka - Cam Janssen
Warning: here's where my bias will be apparent. Whenever you have a guy tell the media that in preparation for the Olympics, he's trying to fight every Canadian from the Olympic roster he can, that guy jumps to "elite" status. I don't care if David Backes finishes with 4 goals and 8 assists this year. He's awesome. He'll be joined by T.J. Oshie, a scrappy little guy who will look to improve upon a 18G, 30A 2nd year. Brad Boyes had a disappointing season last year compared to his previous 2 seasons of 33 and 43 goals. He'll need to have a rebound season to help along youngsters Patrik Berglund and David Perron. One acquisition I like is Vladimir Sobotka. He was fiesty for the Bruins in the playoffs last year, and I think his rough upbringing along the docks in Baltimore will do him well in the NHL. Overall, this is still a young group that has some growing to do. But, if the pieces come together, they might surprise some people.
Central Division Forward Rankings
1. Detroit Red Wings
2. Chicago Blackhawks
3. St. Louis Blues
4. Columbus Blue Jackets
5. Nashville Predators