The Central Division has last year’s Stanley Cup winner, a few teams in search of a playoff bid, and a couple of teams that perhaps should hang up their skates and call it a season. For some of these teams, it was apparent from the beginning where they were going to end up, and a few have surprised us. So let us take a look and see who is at the top of the class.
Is your team making the grade? Check out our midseason grades.
Midseason Grade: D-
In the offseason, you might say they were the joke of the NHL, especially having to use a college arena as their home base. While they are not the worst team in the league, there are near the bottom. They have taken on the mantle of a full rebuild, so you cannot totally blame them for their poor performance this season. It does not negate how horrible they have been in the past, but at least they are attempting to take steps to correct the problem. They are looking to the future, and right now, their one bright spot is Clayton Keller. However, one good player will not solve all their issues, and the bottom line is that the Coyotes are about where we thought they would be in the standings.
Midseason Grade: F
Another team going into rebuild mode; the Blackhawks are currently in 31st place. The draft lottery never looked so good to their GM, Kyle Davidson. If not this season, Chicago fans better prepare to see their favorites Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Max Domi gone within the next few seasons. Then you know the real work is starting. Davidson needs to invest in goaltending because none of the ones playing right now for them are working out, including Petr Mrazek. However, maybe that is Davidson’s plan all along. For that alone, they should get a failing grade, but the woes of the Blackhawks are so great they bring on that grade all by themselves.
Midseason Grade: B
Last season’s Stanley Cup winner still has a powerhouse roster. Despite getting off to a slow start, they are still in contention for a playoff spot. We saw a similar modus operandi from them last season, and it turned out okay. They still have their Norris Trophy winner Cale Makar, and they have added goaltender Alexandar Georgiev to their roster for this season. While they are not performing as well as they could be, they are not drowning in losses either. Injuries throughout the season to players like Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, Valeri Nichushkin, and Josh Manson have not helped either. It is not what we want to see from the reining champions, but if they want to try again for the cup, they need to do better than third place in the division.
Midseason Grade: A
Having players like Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Jason Robertson has certainly given Dallas a chance at the postseason. They are gliding along, playing better than expected, essentially picking up where they left off at the end of last season. The Stars are one of the best defensive teams, despite some of the downs during the season. As long as they keep Jake Oettinger playing and improving each season, they can make the playoffs for the next few seasons.
Midseason Grade: C+
This season the Wild have been average. They certainly have not played as well as they have the past two seasons, but they are hanging in there. Currently fourth in the division, they better hope that nothing happens to Mats Zuccarello or their best scorer, Kirill Kaprizov. After buying out Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, it will be challenging to get higher-value players, thanks to the cap hit. They lost players like Cam Talbot and Kevin Fiala in the offseason, and being held back by cap issues has not helped them replace those players. Marc-Andre Fleury is doing what he can at the goaltending position, but having Talbot there was great to take some of the pressure off Fleury. The Wild will have to be thinking about how they will eventually have to find someone to replace Fleury when he decides he no longer wants to do this thing called hockey.
Midseason Grade: C
The Predators have merely been average. They have left poor Juuse Saros alone to defend the net, well, at least at times, it appears that way. He has kept them in games when they should have failed. They need a lot more scoring from their forwards. Players like Filip Forsberg, Roman Josi, Matt Duchene, and Mikael Granlund have high-point totals on the team. However, as of right now, none of them have scored 20 or more goals. If they want to get themselves into a position to make the playoffs, they will need to drag themselves out of the middle of the pile. They won’t be able to do that if Saros does not get more help or if they keep not scoring goals.
St. Louis Blues
Midseason Grade: B-
They have had a tough season and cannot seem to make up their mind about where they want to be in the standings. Players like Jordan Kyrou, Pavel Buchnevich, and Brandon Saad have been their goal-scorers. However, that does not make up for the consistency needed in the offense to get them, if not into the playoffs, then from being a middle-of-the-road team. With Buchnevich and Ryan O’Reilly on injured reserve, the Blues will still be able to play, but they will still be stuck in the middle. Jordan Binnington needs to find a way to be the goalie he was when they won the Stanley Cup. He has not been the same since. Perhaps he never was, but the Blues need him to step up big-time for the remainder of the season.
Midseason Grade: B+
Last season the Jets did not inspire anyone, including fans. However, they have performed better than most expected at the beginning of this season. Most of that is due to the outstanding play of goaltender Connor Hellebuyck. In addition, Josh Morrissey is performing well defensively, and whispers of the Norris Trophy swirl around whenever he is mentioned. While their record is not ideal, as of right now, they are shaping up to be one of the better defensive teams out there. If they continue on the path they have set for themselves, they will have no problems getting into the playoffs, and from there, anything can happen.
Midseason Grade: B–
The Central Division is not bad or great. The teams are really just stuck in the middle. There is nothing spectacular about these teams except for maybe Dallas and Winnipeg. They are working hard to keep up with teams like the Boston Bruins and Carolina Hurricanes. All a few of these teams need to do is tweak something on offense or defense, and they would be more surprising and exciting.
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