Last Season: 48-28-6, 104 pts, 2nd in Central Division
Playoffs: Defeated Nashville in 1st round, Defeated Minnesota in 2nd Round, Defeated Anaheim in 3rd Round, Defeated Tampa Bay in Stanley Cup
GF/GP: 2.68 (17th in NHL)
GA/GP: 2.27 (2nd in NHL)
PP%: 17.6% (20th in NHL)
PK%: 83.4% (10th in NHL)
Additions: F Artem Anisimov, F Marko Dano, F Jeremy Morin, F Corey Tropp, F Viktor Tikhonov, D Trevor Daley, F Ryan Garbutt
Subtractions: F Brandon Saad, G Antti Raanta, F Patrick Sharp, D Johnny Oduya
The Blackhawks will make the playoffs if… In all honesty, the Blackhawks will likely not be challenged at the top of the Central Division this season. The champs made a number of shrewd offseason moves, including offloading two older players with poor contracts to division rival Dallas.
The Blackhawks will miss the playoffs if… The combination of Andrew Baun, Artem Anisimov, and Ryan Garbutt do not fill the void for the forwards that left via trade in the offseason. Chicago scores just below the league average per game, and a drop in that statistic will bring them back towards the pack.
Statistic to Watch: The Blackhawks scored 1 goal every 9:46 of powerplay time last season.
Prediction: 1st Place in Central Division
Last Season: 39-31-12, 90 pts, 7th in Central Division
Playoffs: Missed Playoffs
GF/GP: 2.55 (23rd in NHL)
GA/GP: 2.72 (21st in NHL)
PP%: 15.0% (29th in NHL)
PK%: 84.6% (5th in NHL)
Additions: F Carl Soderberg, F Mikhail Grigorenko, D Nikita Zadorov, D Francois Beauchemin, F Blake Comeau
Subtractions: F Ryan O’Reilly, F Jamie McGinn
The Avalanche will make the playoffs if… The Avalanche defense corps improve their dreadful team Corsi %. The Avalanche had the second worst Corsi Close % in the NHL last season (43.1%). The lack of puck possession impacted both the Avs goals for and goals against totals.
The Avalanche will miss the playoffs if… Nathan MacKinnon cannot return to the form of his rookie season. MacKinnon’s shooting percentage dropped from 10.0% in 2013-14 to 7.3% in 2014-15. If MacKinnon had played a full season last year and shot at the same percentage as 2013-14, he would have finished with 24 goals, rather than the 14 he scored last year. MacKinnon’s success alongside Landeskog and Duchene would have this team contending for 1st in the division again.
Statistic to Watch: Colorado goalie Semyon Varlamov faced the 9th most shots per 60 minutes in the NHL last season (32.49).
Prediction: 7th Place in Central Division
Last Season: 41-31-10, 92 pts, 6th in Central Division
Playoffs: Missed Playoffs
GF/GP: 3.13 (2nd in NHL)
GA/GP: 3.13 (T-26th in NHL)
PP%: 19.0% (T-11th in NHL)
PK%: 80.7% (19th in NHL)
Additions: G Antti Niemi, F Patrick Sharp, D Johnny Oduya
Subtractions: F Shawn Horcoff, D Trevor Daley, F Ryan Garbutt
The Stars will make the playoffs if… The tandem of Niemi and Lehtonen can improve the Stars’ dreadful goaltending. Only 3 teams finished giving up more goals last season than Dallas (Edmonton, Buffalo, and Arizona). The difference between these 3 and the Stars was the fact that the Stars’ defense was not nearly as bad as these teams. The Stars ranked 18th in Unblocked Shot Attempts Against last season, yet conceded the same number of goals against as the Toronto Maple Leafs, who ranked 28th in Unblocked Shot Attempts Against. If the Stars can improve their goaltending, they should be optimistic about a return to the playoffs.
The Stars will miss the playoffs if… They cannot improve their record at American Airlines Center. The Stars had the 3rd worst record at home last season (17-16-8, 42 pts, .512 Pts %). Last season, all 8 Western Conference teams finished with at least 50 points at home. If the Stars had hit that number, they would have been in the Playoffs.
Statistic to Watch: The Stars finished with the 4th most Road Points in the Western Conference (24-15-2 on the road)
Prediction: 5th Place in Central Division
Last Season: 46-28-8, 100 pts, 4th in Central Division
Playoffs: Defeated St Louis in 1st Round, Lost to Chicago in 2nd Round
GF/GP: 2.77 (T-12th in NHL)
GA/GP: 2.42 (6th in NHL)
PP%: 15.8% (27th in NHL)
PK%: 86.3% (1st in NHL)
Additions: D Mike Reilly
Subtractions: F Matt Cooke, F Kyle Brodziak
The Wild will make the playoffs if… Devan Dubnyk continues to prove that he is a better goalie than his statistics in Edmonton and Arizona indicate. The stats indicate that he is playing in front of a much better defense in Minnesota. In 2013-14, when he hit rock bottom with the Edmonton Oilers, Dubnyk faced 31.64 shots/60 minutes. In 2014-15 with Minnesota, Dubnyk faced just 27.84 shots/60 minutes. This reduction in workload will continue to help Dubnyk perform at the level he finished last season at.
The Wild will miss the playoffs if… They cannot improve one of the league’s worst powerplay units. The Wild powerplay finished 27th in the NHL with a 15.8% efficiency rating; only Anaheim, Colorado and Buffalo had worse efficiency. The Wild powerplay especially struggled on the road, scoring a Western Conference low 12 goals in 108 road powerplay chances (11.1% efficiency).
Statistic to Watch: For all the talk of the Wild playing a tight, defensive style that results in low scoring games, the Wild had 22 games decided by 3+ goals last season. The Wild were 14-8 in those games.
Prediction: 2nd Place in Central Division
Last Season: 47-25-10, 104 pts, 2nd in Central Division
Playoffs: Lost to Chicago in 1st Round
GF/GP: 2.76 (14th in NHL)
GA/GP: 2.46 (9th in NHL)
PP%: 16.2% (25th in NHL)
PK%: 80.8% (18th in NHL)
Additions: D Barret Jackman, F Cody Hodgson
Subtractions: F Rich Clune, F Viktor Stalberg, F Taylor Beck, F Matt Cullen
The Predators will make the playoffs if… They continue to possess one of the best records in the NHL in 1 goal games. The Predators had a .638 winning percentage in 1 goal games (30-7-10, 70 points). The biggest factor is the presence of Pekka Rinne. Rinne tied for the 5th best save percentage in the NHL last season at .932, with 4 shutouts on the season. If he can continue to stay healthy and perform at his peak level, the Predators will always be in the mix.
The Predators will miss the playoffs if… Their penalty kill continues to struggle, although they do not give up very many powerplay opportunities. The Predators gave up just the 5th fewest number of penalty minutes (8.5/game), but the Preds gave up 45 goals on just 234 attempts. If the Predators continue to perform at this level, they will be pushed in an ultra-competitive Central Division.
Statistic to Watch: The Predators had the fewest number of road points of any playoff team in the Western Conference
Prediction: 3rd Place in Central Division
St Louis Blues
Last Season: 51-24-7, 109 pts, 1st in Central Division
Playoffs: Lost to Minnesota in 1st Round
GF/GP: 2.92 (5th in NHL)
GA/GP: 2.40 (T-4th in NHL)
PP%: 22.3% (4th in NHL)
PK%: 83.7% (8th in NHL)
Additions: F Troy Brouwer, F Kyle Brodziak, D Robert Bortuzzo
Subtractions: D Barret Jackman, F TJ Oshie
The Blues will make the playoffs if… Vladimir Tarasenko lives up to his massive contract from the offseason. Tarasenko scored 15.5% of the Blues goals, and finished 3rd in the NHL in even strength points, only behind Jamie Benn in Dallas and Jiri Hudler in Calgary. With the departure of TJ Oshie to Washington in the offseason, the onus is on Tarasenko to pick up the offense that departed with Oshie leaving.
The Blues will miss the playoffs if… The departure of TJ Oshie affects one of the league’s most potent powerplays. The unit of Steen-Backes-Oshie-Tarasenko-Pietrangelo was one of the league’s best units last season, and the Blues have several strong forwards to fill Oshie’s spot. If they cannot find one however, their powerplay may struggle, and that may cost them some wins.
Statistic to Watch: St Louis had the second best PP+PK% in the NHL last season (106.0%), only behind Washington (106.4%).
Prediction: 6th Place in Central Division
Last Season: 43-26-13, 99 pts, 5th in Central Division
Playoffs: Lost to Anaheim in 1st Round
GF/GP: 2.72 (16th in NHL)
GA/GP: 2.49 (T-10th in NHL)
PP%: 17.8% (T-17th in NHL)
PK%: 81.8% (13th in NHL)
Additions: F Alex Burmistrov
Subtractions: F Michael Frolik, F Lee Stempniak, F Jiri Tlusty
The Jets will make the playoffs if… Ondrej Pavelec continues to perform above his career average. Pavelec’s save percentage was 12 percentage points above his career average, and even with that, it took 3 shutouts on the final week of the season to clinch a playoff spot in the Central Division.
The Jets will miss the playoffs if… They cannot improve the number of shorthanded opportunities they face on a per game basis. The Jets were shorthanded 57 times more than the league average last season. If the Jets were at league average in number of times shorthanded and performed at the same penalty kill efficiency as last year, they would have given up 10 fewer goals than they did last year, which would have pushed their team goals against to 2.33 GA/G (4th in league). This is an important stat to monitor for the Jets all season as they push for another playoff spot this season.
Statistic to Watch: The Jets were 5th in Corsi Close (53.5%) and 6th in Fenwick close (53.2%)
Prediction: 4th Place in Central Division
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