Call it the new-look Central Division.
Gone are superstars Nicklas Lidstrom, who finally retired in Detroit, Ryan Suter, who left Nashville as a free agent for Minnesota, and Rick Nash, traded by Columbus to the New York Rangers.
St. Louis returns everyone from a team that finished with 109 points and made what could be a key addition Friday by signing free-agent defenseman Wade Redden.
There’s no reason to think the Blues won’t win the division again thanks to the 1-2 punch of Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott in goal.
“We’re a good team trying to become a great team,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said.
“We trust our players, but there’s a big difference between good and great. We have to put a lot more into it to become great. We realized in the playoffs (a sweep at the hands of eventual Stanley Cup winner Los Angeles) that there was another level out there.”
The Blues still have David Perron, David Backes, T.J. Oshie and Alex Pietrangelo, and you can also add Vladimir Tarasenko to the mix. Tarasenko comes over to North America after having played two seasons in the KHL in Russia.
The Red Wings lost a lot when Lidstrom decided to hang them up in terms of leadership and ability. Lidstrom still would have been Detroit’s best defenseman had he stuck around for another year.
Filling that void won’t be easy, but Brendan Smith will get a long look. Smith spent the lockout playing at Grand Rapids in the American Hockey League.
Tomas Holmstrom also retired, leaving goalies around the NHL relieved that they no longer have to try and look around that big body in front of the net.
Henrik Zetterberg has been named captain to replace Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk is still around to dangle with the puck. With Jimmy Howard in goal the Red Wings shouldn’t fall off too much.
Replacing Suter in Nashville is almost as big a task as replacing Lidstrom.
Suter was a key piece of the NHL’s best power play and a guy who ate up huge minutes for the Predators.
At least defenseman Shea Weber and goalie Pekka Rinne are still around.
Roman Josi will get the first crack to replace Suter.
“Roman is comparable to Suter’s style of play,” said Predators coach Barry Trotz.
Nashville’s power play was sneaky good last season thanks to the likes of Weber, Patric Hornqvist, David Legwand and Martin Erat — all of whom return.
The Blue Jackets shouldn’t be as bad as they were last season (29-46-7) despite the loss of Nash.
Columbus got some good pieces back from the Rangers for Nash, including left winger Brandon Dubinsky, right wing Artem Anisimov and defenseman Tim Erixon. The Blue Jackets also added center Nick Foligno from Ottawa and veteran defenseman Adrian Aucoin from Phoenix.
The Blue Jackets should be solid on defense with Jack Johnson, James Wisniewski, Erixon, Aucoin and Fedor Tyutin, but as usual their season rests on how well the goalies play.
Sergei Bobrovsky was acquired from Philadelphia in June for three draft picks and spent the lockout going 18-3-2 in the KHL with a 1.94 goals-against average and .932 save percentage — great numbers in any league.
Where the Blackhawks fit in will be known over time — likely somewhere after St. Louis and ahead of Detroit.
The Hawks have issues in goal, however, and that’s the strength of the division with Halak and Elliott in St. Louis, Howard in Detroit and Rinne in Nashville.
Can Corey Crawford hold his own with these goalies?
Time will tell.Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.