Bobby and I had the privilege once again to contribute to the fine publication known as The Committed Indian. Here’s what we had to say.
The 2008-2009 season was a banner year for the former laughingstock known as the Central Division. Four of the five teams qualified for the playoffs (Detroit, Chicago, Columbus and St. Louis) and the only team that missed the playoffs (Nashville) was four points away from qualifying. In a stroke of poetic justice, it was two teams from the Central that battled it out for the right to represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals. No need to re-live the events of that here. Lord knows it would hurt like a Patrick Sharp spear to the groin.
What we are here to do – besides diverting your attention from #14 in white and his beautiful, memory-filled beard – is help to keep score of what exactly happened this off-season in the Central Division. After all, with six games to play against each team, we might as well get to know them now. Without further adieu, let’s get down to business.
Detroit Red Wings (aka Scum) – Perhaps no team in hockey faced as much turnover as the defending Western Conference Champions. Gone from last year’s squad, among others, are Marian Hossa (40 goals) and Jiri Hudler (23 goals). In their place come the immortal Todd Bertuzzi and Jason Williams. Excuse us for a second as we pour champagne all over each other….OK, back to it.
If Detroit’s braintrust is as smart as everyone tells us they are, it won’t take long for Bertuzzi and Williams to take a backseat to youngsters Darren Helm and Ville Leino. Here’s hoping they don’t figure it out for a while. Both rookies were ultra impressive during last year’s playoffs, while Bertuzzi has yet to adapt to the “new” NHL that debuted five years ago and Williams is downright incapable of playing in any even-strength situation.
Also gone are Mikael Samuelsson (19 goals), Tomas Kopecky (79 games played) and the corpse formerly known as Chris Chelios (102 HGH/5-Hour Energy Cocktails).
Until we’re proven otherwise, it’s still their division to lose. After all, Ken Holland has made a career out of unearthing secondary scorers, and having three out of the NHL’s ten best players – that according to The Hockey News’ annual Yearbook – ain’t bad.
Chicago Blackhawks – Do we really want to re-live the 20 car pile-up that was the Blackhawks off-season? Yeah, we didn’t think so.
But, we may or may not have watched CSN’s recent encore presentation of game four of the Western Conference Semi-Finals against the Vancouver Canucks together in interlocked fetal positions. Suffice it to say we miss Martin Havlat’s musk, and when this is all over, we want to get an apartment together – preferably a studio.
Please hurry back soon, Marian, so we can put the memory of the metrosexual Czech to bed once and for all.
Columbus Blue Jackets – One of the biggest criticisms of Dale Tallon’s reign in the Blackhawks front office was his tendency to give a lot of money to players who may or may not deserve it. Apparently, Columbus GM Scott Howson is cut from the same cloth. This off-season he locked up Derick Brassard for the next four years at $12.8 million; he of the 48 career games and 27 career points. And you wanted to slit your wrists when the Kris Versteeg contract figures came out.
Antoine Vermette did a nice job for them when he came over at the trade deadline scoring 13 points in 17 games. He was, in turn, rewarded with a five-year, $18.75 million deal.
Former Hawk Sammy Pahlsson was signed on July 1st to a two-year, $5.3 million deal. This may have been the best move Columbus made all summer. Seeing him six times a year will become quite the frustrating experience for all of us, especially those who damned him during his short stint as a Hawk last season.
Finally, Howson averted a potential disaster by extending Columbus’ favorite son, Rick Nash, with an eight-year, $62.4 million deal that will kick in next season. And, don’t fret, kids: Nash was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent following this season, so neither Toews’ nor Kane’s impending deal will look anything like it.
St. Louis Blues – A lot of people are predicting this year’s Blues will be last year’s Blackhawks; the young team taking the next step into the threshold of elite teams. The Blues are banking on Paul Kariya and former first overall pick Erik Johnson returning from injuries as their key off-season acquisitions.
While Johnson may soon prove to be worthy of the number one pick, it’s worth noting Blues fans are already starting to question whether their team made the right selection with the first pick in the 2006 draft. On the positive side: he’s given up golf. No joke. Blues’ President John Davidson probably would have settled for Johnson giving up 40-mph turns in golf carts, but one can never be too safe.
As for Kariya, his best days may be behind him, but if he stays healthy, he’ll give St. Louis a second playmaker they desperately needed last year. He’ll only be 35-years old this season; was a fulltime point-per-game player as recently as 2005-’06; and had 15 points last season in only 11 games. Unfortunately, he also has the brain of a 74-year old man thanks to Scott Stevens.
And, to insure themselves against goalie Chris Mason’s annual blow-fest, they signed Ty Conklin. If recent history is any indicator, he’s good for about five wins this season over the Hawks.
Nashville Predators – We’re sick and tired of writing off the Predators every summer and then watching them become a tough game night-in and night-out. Not much changed this summer: the Predators lost forwards Vernon Fiddler, Scott Nichol, Radek Bonk and Antti Pihlstrom as well as defensemen Ville Koistinen and Greg Zanon. Incidentally, they were also an answer last week on Jeopardy. Question: Who are six NHL players who can’t be identified by their own mothers?
In their place, they brought over career fourth liners (and that’s a complement for these guys) Marcel Goc, Peter Olvecky, Ben Guite and Ben Eaves. If you haven’t heard of three of these guys and swear your sister’s friend dated the other, you’re not alone. Somehow, though, the team will end up with 85 to 90 points, and you’ll find yourself cursing the day Gary Bettman ever decided to bring a franchise to Tennessee.
The over-under for how many Chicago-area televisions will have a loafer thrown through them while the country lyrics of the long-time Predator goal song, “I like it, I love it, I want some more of it,” blare through the speakers: 316. We’ll take the over, but keep your shoes on.
For the second year in a row, it appears as though the Central Division will be the toughest division in all of the National Hockey League. Each team will have their work cut out for them if they want to improve upon last year’s impressive performance.
The race to the division title may turn into a battle of attrition and if it is indeed the Blackhawks who end up at the top of the hill, here’s hoping they still have something left in the tank when the calendar flips to April.