The start of the 2022-23 National Hockey League campaign is just over seven weeks away. With the offseason coming to an end, it’s time to examine several franchises and what their prognosis holds as playoff contenders heading into October. This article will place a particular focus on the St. Louis Blues, Nashville Predators, Chicago Blackhawks, and Minnesota Wild of the Central Division.
Without further ado, let’s examine Part One of the “Contenders and Pretenders” installment.
Make sure to check out all of our other NHL Contenders and Pretenders articles.
St. Louis Blues: Contender
First up on our list is the NHL’s lone representative from the Midwest, the St. Louis Blues. The Blues have been one of the most consistent teams over the past few seasons, capped off with a Stanley Cup triumph back in 2019. As a team, the “notes” are deep, talented, speedy, youthfully exuberant, experienced, and one of hockey’s model franchises. In addition, their GM-coach dynamic duo of Doug Armstrong and Craig Berube remains one of the single-best tandems in the NHL. In short, there’s not much to dislike about this Blues team. Will there be playoffs in April in the midwest? Without a shadow of a doubt.
Nashville Predators: Contender
Next up is the pride of the Music City, the Nashville Predators. As a team, the Preds have had a sneaky good offseason led by their GM, David Poile. Entering the fray are the likes of Nino Niederreiter, who signed on as a free agent, and two-time Cup winner Ryan McDonagh, who came over in a trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Predators have a talented core of forwards and a strong defense backstopped by Juuse Saros, who is widely regarded as one of the best goaltenders in the NHL. After making the postseason a year ago, look for the Predators to take an even bigger leap forward in 2022-23.
Chicago Blackhawks: Pretender
The Chicago Blackhawks enter the 2022-23 NHL campaign at the very start of an old-fashioned “tear it down, build it back up” rebuild. The name of the game in Chicago now shifts to prospects, young players, and draft picks. In addition, gone are the likes of star winger Alex DeBrincat and veteran netminder Marc-Andre Fleury. For neutral hockey fans, one major question remains as it pertains to the Blackhawks: what is the status of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane? Will the Chi-town lifers, who brought the franchise three Stanley Cups, stick around and finish up the final year of their respective contracts? Or will they look elsewhere given the current state of the franchise? One thing is for certain: it’s going to be a fascinating season in the Windy City.
Minnesota Wild: Contender
Rounding out the list are the ever-pesky Minnesota Wild. After being ousted in the first round of the playoffs last spring, the Wild will be looking for redemption (and a playoff series victory) in 2022-23. The Wild are deep at almost every position and should greatly benefit from a full season of Fleury between the pipes. In addition, Minnesota boasts one of the most dynamic and explosive wingers in the game in the form of Kirill Kapirzov fresh off a 47-goal, 108-point campaign. It’s going to take something special for the Wild to miss out on the dance come April. We’ll see you there, Minny fans, and then some.
Follow Dom Lunardo on Twitter @DLunardoNHL1