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Second City Hockey’s 2018-19 Blackhawks preview: Central Division

A look at teams that will be Chicago’s most frequent foes this season.

St Louis Blues v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Central Division was the NHL’s toughest during the 2017-18 season, with three teams eclipsing the 100-point plateau, including the teams with the top two records in the NHL. And that division might be even tougher in the 2018-19 season.

Colorado Avalanche

Last season: 43-30-9, 95 points, fourth place
Key losses: Blake Comeau, Nail Yakupov, Jonathan Bernier
Key additions: Philipp Grubauer, Matt Calvert, Ian Cole

Last season’s Avalanche tested the theory of how far one line can carry a team, with the trio of Gabriel Landeskog-Nathan MacKinnon-Mikko Rantanen eviscerating the NHL at times and pulling Colorado into a playoff spot. The addition of Grubauer gives Colorado a solid 1-2 combination in net with Semyon Varlamov assuming the top spot. But finding scoring depth behind that top line will be crucial for Colorado’s hopes of advancing beyond the first round of the playoffs.

Dallas Stars

Last season: 42-32-8, 92 points, sixth place
Key losses: Dan Hamhuis, Antoine Roussel
Key additions: Roman Polak, Blake Comeau, Anton Khudobin, Valeri Nichushkin

New coach Jim Montgomery inherits a talented forward group that also welcomes Nichushkin back after a brief stint in the KHL to go along with Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and more. John Klingberg leads the D corps, while starter Ben Bishop and trusty backup Anton Khudobin give the Stars a decent team on paper. After a few seasons with the defensive-minded Ken Hitchock in charge, will a new coach breathe new life into the Dallas offense?

Minnesota Wild

Last season: 45-26-11, 101 points, third place
Key losses: Matt Cullen
Key additions: JT Brown, Andrew Hammond, Matt Bartkowski, Mike Liambas, Matt Read

For the third straight season, the Wild were bounced out of the first round of the playoffs. And after a largely quiet offseason, it’s hard to imagine how that improves in 2019. The Wild picked up several players, as listed above, but none of them are the type who will move a team over the hump. Plus, much of this team’s core players, like Devan Dubnyk, Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and Eric Staal, are all into their 30s. Barring a breakout performance somewhere, it’s hard to envision a deep playoff run.

Nashville Predators

Last season: 53-18-11, 117 points, first place
Key losses: Scott Hartnell, Alexei Emelin, Mike Fisher
Key additions: Dan Hamhuis, Zac Rinaldo

There’s an awful lot to like about the league’s reigning Presidents’ Trophy winners. P.K. Subban and Roman Josi are back to anchor one of the NHL’s deepest D corps. Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson provide plenty of scoring talent on the wings. Pekka Rinne is getting up there in age, but Nashville may already have his replacement in Juuse Saros. On paper, the Predators have just about everything required for a Cup run, although there are some questions about whether or not Ryan Johansen is a true No. 1 center. Still, if everything clicks for Nashville, they could be the last team standing come June.

St. Louis Blues

Last season: 44-32-6, 94 points, fifth place
Key losses: Kyle Brodziak, Vladimir Sobotka, Patrik Berglund
Key additions: Ryan O’Reilly, Tyler Bozak, David Perron, Patrick Maroon

St. Louis was just one point shy of a playoff spot last season and spent the offseason upgrading its roster to ensure that doesn’t happen again. That flurry of moves has made them one of the trendiest picks for a breakout season during 2018-19. And there’s a ton of talent assembled on this St. Louis roster. But there’s still one burning question: can goaltender Jake Allen really be the guy? The whole season may ride on that.

Winnipeg Jets

Last season: 52-20-10, 114 points, second place
Key losses: Paul Stastny, Joel Armia, Steve Mason, Toby Enstrom
Key additions: Laurent Brossoit

Not much has changed from the team that finally broke through and reached the 2018 Western Conference final, although Stastny was an excellent No. 2 center for the Jets last year. Still, this is one of the favorites to emerge from the West, and with good reason, because of players like Patrik Laine, Blake Wheeler, Nikolaj Ehlers, Mark Scheifele and old friend Dustin Byfuglien. If Winnipeg can add another piece or two at the trade deadline, few teams can handle this multi-faceted attack.