It’s finally set on how the divisions will look for the 2020-21 NHL season, and the Nashville Predators will get some old division rivals joining in.
The talk of division realignment has been circulating for a while now, and now we finally know who will be joining the Nashville Predators in the Central Division.
The Predators are a fringe playoff team by my estimation heading out of the offseason. They’re no longer the trendy Stanley Cup pick that they were for several seasons in a row, but instead just an ordinarily average team.
Only the Chicago Blackhawks and Dallas Stars remain in the Central Division with the Predators. The Predators had moderate success against both of those teams last season, and went 4-3-2 against the newcomers in the Central Division:
- vs. Columbus Blue Jackets: 1-0-0 (4-3 win)
- vs. Tampa Bay Lightning: 1-0-1 (3-2 win in OT, 3-2 loss in OT)
- vs. Florida Panthers: 0-1-1 (3-2 loss in Shootout, 3-0 loss)
- vs. Detroit Red Wings: 1-1-0 (5-3 loss, 6-1 win)
- vs. Carolina Hurricanes: 1-1-0 (3-0 win, 4-1 loss)
The rest of the NHL shapes up in interesting fashion with the all-Canada division, or the North Division. That’s going to be extremely entertaining to see play out. The Toronto Maple Leafs look like the clear favorite, but don’t overlook the Edmonton Oilers to make it close.
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The East Division doesn’t really change that much up in terms of matchups as it will naturally all be regular Eastern Conference teams. I have the Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals as my two favorites in that division race.
And then you have the stacked Western Division that features the Blues, Avalanche and Vegas Golden Knights all in a three-horse race that will be exciting to watch.
How do they stack up in the new Central?
Your path to the Stanley Cup Playoffs is always going to be difficult no matter how weird the season is and how the divisions are laid out. With that said, the Central Division got slightly easier in my mind.
The losses exits of the Colorado Avalanche, St. Louis Blues, Winnipeg Jets and Minnesota Wild outweigh the additions from the Eastern Conference.
Yes, the Lightning are the defending Stanley Cup champions and should be prohibitive favorites in this year’s Central Division race. After them, you can make a strong case for who comes in second place.
The Dallas Stars are probably the popular bet to come in right behind the team that beat them in the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, but don’t count out the Hurricanes or Blue Jackets pushing for runner-up behind Tampa Bay.
As for the Predators, they can hang around in this division. They stack up with every team, with the exception of Tampa Bay, on a regular basis. They know Dallas very well, and I don’t see the Florida Panthers, Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks as being ahead of the Predators.
Here’s a standings projection based on analytics from Sean Tierney of Charting Hockey:
This projection has the Predators coming in ahead of the Stars, which I have to admit surprises me. However, I do think that the Predators will be right in the thick of the division race, but well below contention for a division title.
But do they have enough depth and have they fixed their defensive issues to protect their goaltenders in Juuse Saros and Pekka Rinne? The uncertainty in that question is why you can’t put them too high or put them too low.
The schedule should be coming out in the next few days, which will give a clearer picture of how games will be played. There’s been talks about three-game sets, much like in baseball to minimize travel.
There’s also only going to be matchups within the division, so the Predators will be playing many more games against Eastern Conference teams they usually only see twice per season.
Playing teams you’re not accustomed to seeing on a regular basis is going to give it a postseason feel, and make it even more unpredictable that hockey already is.
Here’s my division prediction with where we stand right now as training camps are just a couple weeks away. Bookmark it and make sure you remind me after the season how wrong I was.
- Tampa Bay Lightning
- Carolina Hurricanes
- Dallas Stars
- Nashville Predators
- Columbus Blue Jackets
- Chicago Blackhawks
- Florida Panthers
- Detroit Red Wings