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Welcome to the Central, or As I call it this season "The Detroit Beige Wings and the rebuilders". Yes the west is the best conference in hockey, DESPITE this awful division. The central could be interesting though because an inferior team here, could sneak into the playoffs while the NW division has their 4 team royal rumble. The central is going to be terrible this season, but all the teams have good rebuilding plans in place, other than Nashville which seems to have maybe possibly shored up their tenuous ownership situation, maybe. Chicago and Columbus fans are hopeful again for the first time in a long time with the departures of two front office maladies. And St. Louis looks like they are ready to make things interesting with a nice young team and some Savvy veterans mixed in. Detroit is still as hate able as ever, and will be at least until they lose Chelios (pictured above) and The Floppinator.

Chicago Blackhawks:
First, let me say that Bill Wirtz was a great human being and the world needs more humans who are as kind, caring and generous as MR. Wirtz seemed to be. RIP mr. Wirtz we will miss you here on Earth.

It's appropriate to say, even though he loved hockey and cared about it, he was not only a detriment to his team but the game itself the last decade or so. If the new owner wanted to improve the team this season I think the best step would be to allow home games on local TV. This would give the fans even more hope and the team would be rewarded with increased attendance and merchandise sales.

Now as for actual on-ice play, the Blackhawks are a mystery. They have a good goalie in Nickolai Habibulin, and they are getting ready for a season with some nice young playmakers (Jonathon Towes and and possibly Kane). They are betting that a change of scenery can help Sergei Samsonov regain his scoring touch and brought him fellow Russian Andrei Zyuzin to help on the blueline. They are also hoping that Free agent Robert Lang can be an effective scorer as well.

I think the departure of Michael Handzus is going to be the downfall of this team this season. He is vastly underrated and was fantastic last season until his injury. Losing Adrian Aucoin and Radim Vrbata. Expect there to be excitement this season mainly over top prospect Jon Toews and possibly Patrick Kane as they try to inject some life into this until recently moribound franchise.

Columbus Blue Jackets:
First let me say, I always liked the bug. I think ti was a pretty unique logo, now it looks like it's gone for good. Maybe getting rid of pests was Columbus' whole offseason goal, because along with the bug they got rid of the franchises only GM Doug MacLean MacLean oversaw the basement dwelling BJ's for their entire existence and his departure was greeted with great delight by fans. Scott Howson was brought in from Edmonton to replace him, but so close to the free agent period that he didn't have much time to do anything in free agency.
Columbus has some talented forwards in David Vyborny and Rick Nash who should have a bounce back season and looked impressive in his duties with tam Canada. Centering that line is veteran Sergei Federov. Adam Foote still anchors the defense and Michael Peca was brought in to be a veteran presence at forward, and if his were 1998 Columbus would have a dangerous team.

After the players mentioned, the BJ's don't have much help. Nickolai Zhederev continues to be a talented, yet morose, indifferent, and selfish forward. Between the pipes Norrena and LeClaire will battle for the number one spot, and the coaches should get ample evidence of how good they are while they are being barraged with a flurry of shots. Help is on the way as they have the 9th best farm system according to Hockey Futures.

Detroit Red Wings:
The Detroit Red Wings keep rolling along, much to the dismay of Avalanche fans. Last year they were able for another trip to the conference finals, before bowing out. This season should be even better for them as they won't have the in-division
competition with Nashville to deal with.

Even if the floppinator goes down with an injury Chris Osgood is more than capable of holding down the fort while Hasek heals. Datsyuk is one of the most dynamic playmakers in the NHL and reminds many of Peter Forsberg in his prime, and Henrik Zetterburg is an often overlooked Hart candidate.

Even when they lose a valuable piece, like Schneider, they plug in UFA acquisition Brian Rafalski. They pick up grizzled veteran Dallas Drake for the penalty kill, and in the best case of addition by subtraction "lose" Todd Bertuzzi and Robert Lang to free agency. curiously though they didn't resign Markov, and did lose Kyle Calder.

Nashville Predators:
anoyone who follows hockey at all knows the Preds have had a tumultuous offseason. An ambiguous offseason made for a lot of free agents, and non-free agents to be let go. Vokun, Forsberg, Kariya, Vishnevski, Hartnell and Timmonen are all gone from the team. Replaced by Rad
ek Bonk (one of my favorite hockey names) Greg DeVries and Martin Gelinas.

It's hard to criticize the front office because this was such a difficult situation, but for a team that needs to average above 14k fans or possibly relocate, they aren't out of the woods yet. This team does have some talent though, as Chris Mason looked strong in net and gets the number one job all season. Their best player in the Sharks series was now sophomore Vladimir Radulov, who should develop into a big name in the next few years. They still do have some scoring talent on the team with Martin Erat, Jason Arnott and JP Dumont as well so the season shouldn't be a total wash. Also be on the lookout for youngster Kevin Klein.

St Louis Blues: The Blues continue to be an enigma. Just when you think they are trying to build the franchise from the bottom up they go out and resign aging vet Keith Tkachuck and sign Paul Kariya. They also traded for young promising goalie Hannu Toivonen from Boston, and are expected to call up future Norris winner Erik Johnson.

One place this team has a lot of good players is young defensemen. Johnson will develop into a stud and Barrett Jackman is already forming into a nice defensemen. These two should follow the mold of Al McInness and Chris Pronger anchoring the Blues D for years to come. Throw in very solid defensemen Christian Backman and Eric Brewer and the Blues have a really good defensive team. Throw in a veteran goalie in Manny Legace and the Blues could be a sleeper team for the playoffs. The Blues are loaded in the farm system, having the #1 farm system according to Hockey Prospects so they should improve and overthrow the Red empire sometime in the next few years, so even if they miss the playoffs there will be excitement.


Picks:

Detroit*
St. Louis*
Nashville
Chicago
Columbus