Balance Gives Blackhawks an Edge
St. Louis needs a little more scoring; Dallas needs more defense; Chicago needs to re-establish its dominance; and Nashville needs to channel some of that competitive fire they had in last year's playoffs. The winner of the NHL Central Division will have to come through with something unexpected. Here are how the favorites stack up:
The 'Hawks hoisted the Stanley Cup in 2015, and you can look for them to make a serious push for a return to the championship in the coming season. They finished third in the division behind Dallas and St. Louis last year. Then they lost to the Blues in a bitter seven-game series in the first round. You can count on them stewing over that and getting back on top. Chicago was hampered by salary cap in the off-season, dropping Andrew Ladd as well as others. But they still have the basic elements of a winner, led by Hart Trophy winner Patrick Kane, who had 46 goals and 60 assists last year. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook lead the defense, and Corey Crawford is an able net-minder. As the best team with any sense of balance, the Blackhawks should win the division.
The winner of the division last year, the Stars lost in the second round to St. Louis when their defense went south. And they did little in the offseason to make the defense better. In fact, they lost Alex Goligoski in a deal for a draft pick. Sure, the Stars have plenty of offense, with Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Jason Spezza combining for 107 goals last year. But will that get them by? Maybe during the regular season, but sooner or later they'll be exposed.
St. Louis Blues
Conversely, the Blues are a good defensive team without much scoring. They have 40-goal scorer Vladimir Tarasenko, but the offense drops off considerably after that. The defense is rock solid, despite the fact that goalie Brian Elliott departed. Jake Allen proved himself between the pipes last year. The Blues got over the hump by winning exhausting seven-game series against Chicago and Dallas last year. They simply ran out of steam vs. San Jose. Ken Hitchcock has chosen to coach for one more year before he retires. The Blues should work hard to make the year count.
The Preds surprised a lot of people last year by stunning the Anaheim Ducks in Round 1 of the playoffs and taking the San Jose Sharks to seven games. A middle-of-the-road team statistically, they do have Filip Forsberg and defenseman Roman Josi to provide effective offensive punch. And Colin Wilson came around in the playoffs last year. With the addition of P.K. Subban on defense and able goalkeeping by Pekka Rinne, this team should improve. They may not win the division, but they'll be a thorn in the sides of many foes.
Don't look for many bargains from Chicago this year in NHL game betting. But +550 to win the Western Conference in the NHL futures is worth a shot. The Predators should offer value in game betting, while Dallas should hit the over and St. Louis the under.
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