We have a new clear front runner in the NHL for the “toughest division” award*. The Central division is filled with teams that could make deep playoff runs. After their slow start the Blues have come on strong and made a mid season push to take the division lead. The Blackhawks are slumping of late but are poised to be a threat come playoff time and could easily win their second Cup in three years. The Red Wings are… well, still the Red Wings. The Predators are also predictably good given that they’ve been a solid squad for years now.
This is just a telltale sign of the new NHL. It was just a short time ago when it was an accomplishment to make a deep playoff run, but noow we’ve hit a point in the league when you are a borderline elite franchise if you consistently make the playoffs. Say what you will about the San Joses of the world and their inability to seal the big wins, but to suggest they ought to blow it up because they will never get it done is insane. In a league where three points could be the difference between a playoff home ice advantage or not making the playoffs at all, making the playoffs every year and going deep into the playoffs makes you a model franchise.
Speaking of model franchises, we have four here right in the Central. Obviously Detroit and Chicago are modern day archetypes for doing things right. Nashville has had almost no turnover since the day they were formed and St. Louis, outside of a couple of down years in terms of the playoffs, have quietly built one of the most solid farm systems in hockey and are poised to make a run this year.
With half a season left to play, look for the Central division to decide a lot of playoff spots. Don’t be surprised, though, when four of the eight playoff teams in the West come from it. It’s the toughest division in hockey, after all.
*Honorable mention to the Atlantic which would be scary if the
Capitals weren’t totally frustrating and (That’s embarrassing that I wrote that, sleep matters kids.) the Penguins were healthy