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This article was published 28/9/2017 (1020 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The Central Division is arguably the toughest one in the National Hockey League. It is perhaps also the most difficult to handicap.
I’ve gone over my preferred statistics. I've looked at some predictive models and I've waded through the lineups in an attempt to come to some conclusions about why I believe the Winnipeg Jets should make the playoffs this season.
I’ll start with the easy one, and toss the Colorado Avalanche onto the scrap heap after a brutal 48-point 2016-17 season. I think they’ll improve, but not enough to threaten the other six teams.
The rest all have legitimate reasons to believe they’ll make the playoffs. Last season’s points are in brackets.
They brought in Tyler Ennis, Marcus Foligno, Matt Cullen and defenceman Kyle Quincey to replace forwards Jason Pominville, Erik Haula, Martin Hanzal and Christian Folin, defencemen Marco Scandella and backup goaltender Darcy Kuemper.
Rookie Alex Stalock has won the backup job, but that could change.
They’ve taken a step back and will need a resurrection of Ennis’s play from years ago and Cullen to forget his age to help lessen the sting up front.
Their defence is top-heavy with Jared Spurgeon and Ryan Suter. A second pairing of Matt Dumba and Jonas Brodin should be OK.
Goaltender Devan Dubnyk and head coach Bruce Boudreau rank in the top part of the league in their respective positions and they drive the boat.
Notable additions are forwards Brandon Saad, Patrick Sharp, Lance Bouma and Tom Wingels, along with defencemen Connor Murphy and Jan Rutta.
They lost defencemen Niklas Hjalmarsson, Brian Campbell, Trevor van Riemsdyk and Johnny Oduya along with forwards Artemi Panarin, Marian Hossa and Marcus Kruger and backup goalie Scott Darling.
That’s a lot of movement, and not for the better. The forward group’s younger players should move forward, and the 'Hawks are hoping for good things from dynamic rookie Alex DeBrincat.
Patrick Kane will still dominate and Saad may spark Jonathan Toews to a strong year.
The loss of Hjalmarsson is huge and overall the defence will have big problems with high-octane offensive teams such as the Jets. Duncan Keith is still very good but his supporting cast has taken a nosedive.
They have a top goalie in Corey Crawford and coach in Joel Quenneville, but the loss of backup Darling could prove costly.
They stepped up over the summer, adding goalie Ben Bishop, forwards Alexander Radulov and Martin Hanzal and defenceman Marc Methot, and lost only forwards Patrick Sharp, Ales Hemsky and Cody Eakin.
The Stars have a group that should score a ton but their defence is still questionable.
If Bishop is healthy and close to his best and new head coach Ken Hitchcock can get the team to buy in on his defensive systems, they could easily win the Central.
If either of them fail, they could miss the playoffs. I have them in, but nothing will surprise me.
They added defenceman Alexei Emelin and forwards Nick Bonino and Scott Hartnell while losing sniper James Neal and captain Mike Fisher.
With an overall decent group of forwards, it’s still the defence that holds this team together. They start the season with a very good Ryan Ellis out until the new year — a tough first test.
I’m not a Pekka Rinne fan, but the 35-year-old bounced back last year. Backup Juuse Saros was excellent in 23 games, but that's a small sample.
Head coach Peter Laviolette has a good handle on this team, and while expectations are high in some areas, they still have a battle on their hands.
They added forwards Brayden Schenn, Beau Bennett and former Jet Chris Thorburn. They got rid of Ryan Reeves, David Perron, Jori Lehtera and Nail Yakupov.
Schenn is a power-play monster, although playing with Vladimir Tarasenko might improve his even-strength numbers.
The forward group is decent but has lost one of its biggest hopes for internal growth, Robby Fabbri, for the season. Patrik Berglund and Zach Sanford are out for months.
They have two excellent defencemen in Alexander Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko. The decline starts after them as age and mediocrity creeps into that group.
Goaltender Jake Allen went from roadkill early in the season to Superman from February on. He’s neither, and landing in the middle of that will be OK, but not good enough.
The Blues should join Colorado and miss the playoffs after many successful regular seasons. This puts the Jets in.
With my prediction of five Central teams in the post-season, the Pacific will get just three spots.
The expansion Las Vegas Golden Knights are out. The Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks are stuck in no-man’s land. The Arizona Coyotes will jump ahead but not enough to challenge here.
I see the Anaheim Ducks and Edmonton Oilers at the top, but believe the elderly San Jose Sharks and the goalie-starved Calgary Flames are two more teams the Jets should beat to the finish line.
I didn’t list my five Central playoff teams in a projected order of finish because I’ve flipped them around many times while going through this process. Every team has a story that could propel them to the top, including the Jets. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them land in the middle here.
Chosen ninth overall by the NHL's St. Louis Blues and first overall by the WHA's Houston Aeros in 1977, Scott Campbell has now been drafted by the Winnipeg Free Press to play a new style of game.
Scott was a member of Winnipeg Jets 1.0 for a couple of seasons and also played for the WHA Jets team that won the last Avco Cup in 1978-79.
Updated on Thursday, September 28, 2017 at 8:07 PM CDT: Fixes spelling of several players' names
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