Gauging the NHL’s Central Division: Connor Bedard is the future, but who are the

Central Division, meet Connor Bedard!

The Blackhawks’ No. 1 pick from the 2023 NHL Draft is expected to dazzle the division for years to come. That may take some time, though, and in the meantime, Chicago is likely to take more lumps.

What about the rest of the Central? How’s it shaping up for 2023-24 after the Avalanche narrowly edged the Stars (109-108 points) for the division title last season? Are the Avs better than a year ago when they were ravaged by injuries? Does Dallas deserve even more respect after the job coach Pete DeBoer has done in Big D?

How about Minnesota, where general manager Bill Guerin continues to work around severe salary-cap restrictions? Or Winnipeg, where goalie Connor Hellebuyck’s future remains uncertain? Should we believe in Nashville now that Barry Trotz is back as GM and making a heavy imprint? Is there a timetable on St. Louis’ re-tool? And is Arizona really ready to make some progress?

To answer these questions, The Athletic put together a roundtable of Central Division writers to catch up on what’s happened this offseason — who’s new, who’s gone and reasons for optimism and concern.

We also asked them to make one bold prediction and pick the order of finish, Nos. 1 to 8, with the first-place team receiving eight points, second place (seven), third place (six), etc.

Here are the results of that poll, including each team’s total number of points and first-place votes:

If that’s how the Central Division plays out this season, it’ll be the end of the Avalanche’s two-year run as the division winner and the Stars’ first time on top since the 2015-16 season.

We’re less than two weeks away from teams reporting to their respective training camps, so let’s get caught up.

Dallas Stars

Who’s new: C Matt Duchene, RW Craig Smith, C Sam Steel

Who’s gone: LW Joel Kiviranta, C Luke Glendening, C Max Domi, LW Fredrik Olofsson, LW Riley Tufte, D Colin Miller

Reason for optimism: The Stars made it to the conference final and somehow managed to get better. On offense, Duchene should be an upgrade over Domi, and on defense, there’s real potential for growth from within. Thomas Harley was so good in the playoffs that it can feel like he was part of the mix last season, but he played only six regular-season games. He enters 2022-23 as arguably the second-best defenseman on the roster. Nils Lundkvist struggled last season but it’s important to remember that he’s still a young player, too, and offensive defensemen often require extra patience. The Stars are optimistic about his upside. More kids are coming, too. Defenseman Lian Bichsel is still a year away so tap the brakes on that, but forwards Logan Stankoven and Mavrik Bourque are on the cusp. One could make the opening night roster — maybe both if things get wonky — and both should get looks at some point this season. Given the depth the Stars have at forward, they don’t need to force the issue but there’s no question…

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Read More: Gauging the NHL’s Central Division: Connor Bedard is the future, but who are the 2023-09-11 18:08:16

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