With Stanley Cup contenders and pretenders from the Atlantic and Metropolitan divisions analyzed, here is an in depth look at the Central division.

Minnesota Wild:

Yeah, I’m not too hot on Minnesota. Crazy right? One of the highest scoring teams, paired with the clear cut favorite for the Vezina Trophy. Sounds like a team to be reckoned with, right? Not so fast. Minnesota is second in sv% and third in GF60.  Both rank highest in the Western Conference.  They also lead the West in not only goal differential, but points as well.  So why am I only lukewarm on the Minnesota Wild? Two reasons: Devan Dubnyk has been awful the past two postseasons, and they do not control play and shoot in high volumes to ensure that they keep scoring come playoff time.

Lets start with Dubnyk’s playoff woes.  Dubnyk the past two postseasons with Minnesota owns a 6-10 record, along with a 2.84 gaa, and a .896 sv%.  Playoff hockey is just different, and until Dubnyk can prove himself as a big-time goalie, Minnesota can not count on him. Next, the Wild are shooting the puck at an incredibly unsustainable 11.03%, as of right now. While teams like Washington (serious contenders), also have incredibly high shooting percentages inflating their performance, the Capitals do not lag behind in total control of play.

A good corsi ranking is a quintessential trait of a championship team. Over the past nine years, a top four corsi team has won the Cup seven times.  The lowest ranked corsi team to ever win a Cup was the 09 Penguins (19th), and you can not soberly compare the talent pools.  This is not so much analysis as it is a definitive trend; corsi is a huge indicator of success.  Ranking a lowly 26th in even strength corsi, the Wild are bound to cool off offensively.

Relying on a goaltender, who has never seen any success in the playoffs, to continue his Vezina-worthy play is questionable to say the least.  Asking the prolific offense of the Wild to continue their torrid pace, without generating high volume shots… unlikely. In the postseason, teams must be ready for anything.  Hot goal tending, offense running dry, and teams getting a long look at you over the course of a series.  The advanced stats corroborate with my view of the Wild being a fraudulent team come playoff time.

Contender or Pretender: Cup Pretender

Chicago Blackhawks:

The championship mettle of the Chicago Blackhawks should be more than enough to propel them to serious contender status regardless of how they look on ice.  Basically get them into the playoffs and they are everyone’s toughest out.  But track record and moxy aside, this team lacks the scoring depth that has made them into the mini-dynasty that they are.

Chicago has an even corsi line of 50.3%.  Nothing to brag about, but when you have the high-end talent that Chicago has, being even in play is likely a winning situation.  The problem is, Chicago is not approaching the corsi or defensive stats of any of the previous three Cup teams.  In terms of corsi, Chicago ranked 1st in 2010, 4th in 2013, and 2nd in 2015.  This year, Chicago ranks 17th.  Driving play isn’t the only issue in Chi-town right now. Chicago’s last two cup teams ranked 2nd and tied for 3rd in GA60, while this year Chicago slips to 8th. Facts are facts; Chicago is playing a game that is slightly less dynamic and certainly less buttoned-up.  There is a slight dip all around in the Blackhawks overall game.

Although this installment of Blackhawks team does not appear up to snuff with the other championship teams, the Blackhawks are still one of the favorites in the West.  Look around… the West is weak. The only team that can truly instill fear into the Blackhawks is San Jose.  A thin west and an experienced team bodes well for Chicago come spring. Expect the Blackhawks to find a third line scoring option come deadline day to truly bolster their odds as well.

Contender or Pretender: Cup Contender

St. Louis Blues:

As ridiculous as it may sound, St. Louis is a Cup contender.  They still possess the characteristics that make them difficult to play against and have a slightly more explosive offense.  Most importantly, The Blues’ goalies have gotten it together of late.  Carter Hutton has two shutout wins, and Jake Allen has .934 sv% in 7 games.  The Blues are now 7-3 in the Mike Yeo era and now sit relatively comfortably in a playoff spot. Whether or not the nine game sample size, since the firing of Ken Hitchcock, is enough remains to be seen.

You have to think that the Blues are going to take a chance on a goalie at the deadline. A low-event team without good goaltending is seemingly a disaster.  They can not possibly stand pat at the deadline with their goalie situation being as bad as it is, but crazier things have happened.  St. Louis is scoring more than we are accustomed to and still is a sound defensive team that imposes their will physically.  The West is thin, and the Blues still play that no-budge brand of hockey, but this time with a little more offensive punch.  Lets see if they can find someone to save their season in net.

Contender or Pretender: Cup Contender

Nashville Predators:

The Predators are a well balanced club. 13th in GF60, 14th in GA60, and 5th in corsi at even strength. There is no glaring hole in the Predators game, as they are sound in all phases. Pekka Rinne has upped his sv% from .908 to .918 this year, and Juuse Saros looks solid, as well.  Through all of this though, there is not anything that Nashville does exceptionally well.  Right now, their identity is “above average.”  Their record and statistical rankings all prove that true.

Prior to this season, it was hard to not like the direction Nashville was heading.  On paper, exchanging Shea Weber for PK Subban is like taking a sports car with 150,000 miles and overnight flipping the switch to only 50,000.  It all made sense, but Subban has not added the game-breaking edge we all were so sure they were getting. Balance is key, but in what facet does Nashville truly excel?  Expect Nashville to get bounced first round to one of the West’s elites.

Contender or Pretender: Playoff team

Winnipeg Jets:

Well, at least Patrik Laine is a stud.  Although things have not been all sunshine in Winnipeg, the Jets have struck gold in drafting the league’s next premier sniper.  And by premier sniper, I mean a perennial 50 goal guy. Currently are floating only four points behind the final wildcard spot in the west, the Jets have a chance.  Still, it does not appear likely that they are well equipped enough to make a serious run at a postseason berth.

As a fan, you have to be excited about their pool of talent.  Laine, Mark Scheifele, Nikolaj Ehlers, Jacob Trouba, Josh Morrissey are all hits or home runs.  The core is intact and all 23 or younger. Couple that with Blake Wheeler and Dustin Byfuglien still having an impact, and the Jets have a chance to make strides next year. Their talent is enviable and undeniable, but they are a year off and a goalie away from putting it all together.

Contender or Pretender: Pretender

Dallas Stars:

It was pretty obvious that Dallas was not going to replicate the success of last year. Playing keep up with your goalies can only work for so long.  The Stars rotation of Finnish goalies, who can’t stop the puck, is not working out.  Regardless of their forward unit, do not take them seriously until they get that sorted out.

Get a load of this stat: At 5v5 the Dallas Stars are tied for 8th in GA60, giving up 2.11 gpg. When factoring in all situational play they rank 29th, allowing 3.16 gpg.  HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE!??? That is over a goal per game on the penalty kill.  The Stars are killing off just 73% of their penalties.  Only the 1988-89 Maple Leafs have faired worse on the penalty kill (72.7%), in NHL history, that is. In the hundred year history of the NHL, you are damn close to the worst, Dallas.  Lindy Ruff has proven to be a good coach, but if this isn’t a fireable offense, then I’m not sure what is.

The Stars would be shrewd to package together Patrick Sharp, Patrick Eaves, or whatever they are willing to part with to get a young goalie. Allowing three goals a game can not be the standard, no matter how many offensive monsters you have.

Contender or Pretender: Pretender

Colorado Avalanche:

Yikes, just yikes.  This is Edmonton of a few years ago, but worse.  Connor McDavid is not the fall of a ping pong ball away waiting to save them.  Young talent is there, but will not be for long. Essentially, General Manager Joe Sakic is trying to move young talent (Duchene) for young talent he can only dream of being as good as Matt Duchene. Colorado will not find a better way to spend six million dollars than a 26 year old Duchene.

The best course of action this deadline is to stand pat with their pool of talent. Set Jarome Iginla, and whoever else you can, free for more draft stock.  Too many teams force themselves into desperation moves come deadline day. Keep the young nucleus, accumulate more, find goaltending, bring in Michel Therrien to kick them in the pants, and move forward.  Too much young talent to be this bad.

Contender or Pretender: Burning Building

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