NHL Preview Capsules: Central Division
LAST SEASON: 45-26-11, 101 points. Lost to Phoenix 4-2 in first round.
COACH: Joel Quenneville, 5th season with Blackhawks, 186-99-39; 16th overall, 624-382-157 in NHL.
PLAYER TO WATCH: G Corey Crawford
OUTLOOK: Other than Rozsival and Brookbank, who each signed as free agents, there has been little turnover from last season. The Blackhawks have continuity going for them. Question is: Can they make a playoff run? It's been back-to-back first-round exits since they captured the Stanley Cup, and the Blackhawks are looking for more. Crawford's play will go a long way toward determining that, and he's coming off a shaky season in which he didn't post a shutout and let in two soft overtime goals in the playoffs.
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
LAST SEASON: 29-46-7, 65 points. Missed playoffs by finishing last in the Western Conference.
COACH: Todd Richards, 2nd season with Blue Jackets, interim head coach last year, 18-21-2; 4th overall, 95-92-18 in NHL.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Bobrovsky. Acquired in trade with Philadelphia, he'll likely either take over the starting job or push Steve Mason, who won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year in the Blue Jackets' only playoff year in 2009 but has struggled in the past three seasons.
OUTLOOK: Coming off the worst record in the league, and with captain and lone offensive star Nash asking for a trade, the Blue Jackets transformed their roster by dealing him to the New York Rangers along with a minor-league defenseman and a third-round pick for Dubinsky, Anisimov, Erixon and a first-round pick. With three first-rounders this summer, new team president John Davidson is building for the future. These 48 games are hoped to be a first step back toward respectability.
DETROIT RED WINGS
LAST SEASON: 48-28-6, 102 points. Lost to Nashville 4-1 in first round.
COACH: Mike Babcock, 8th season with Red Wings, 352-154-68; 10th overall, 421-216-19 in NHL.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Brunner. The 26-year-old rookie led the Swiss league with 60 points last season. He might get a lot of chances to produce on a line with Henrik Zetterberg, a teammate overseas during the lockout, and Pavel Datsyuk.
OUTLOOK: Without Lidstrom and Stuart on the blue line, extending the franchise's postseason streak to 22 will be quite a challenge. The Red Wings, though, have a shot to be better offensively and in net with a series of subtle moves after failing to make a splash in the summer when free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter turned down their offers to play together in Minnesota.
LAST SEASON: 48-26-8, 104 points. Lost to Phoenix 4-1 in Western semifinals.
COACH: Barry Trotz, 14th season, all with Predators, 503-424-60.
PLAYER TO WATCH: D Roman Josi. The Predators will start pairing the 22-year-old defenseman with captain Shea Weber trying to replace Suter, who averaged a team-high 26 minutes and 30 seconds of ice time per game last season. Josi averaged 18:23 with the Predators going 34-15-3 with him in the lineup last season and 14-11-5 without him.
OUTLOOK: With Weber and goalie Pekka Rinne now signed through the next six years, the Predators believe that core and youth has them primed to build on consecutive trips to the Western Conference semifinals and get them to the Stanley Cup.
ST. LOUIS BLUES
LAST SEASON: 49-22-11, 109 points, Central Division championship. Lost to Los Angeles 4-0 in second round.
COACH: Ken Hitchcock, 1st full season with Blues, 43-15-11; 16th overall, 576-365-169 in NHL.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Shifty, inventive LW David Perron has potential to lift a grinding offense that ranked in the bottom third of the NHL after scoring 42 points in 57 last season after recovering from concussion that sidelined him a full season.
OUTLOOK: The Blues stood pat after second-best point total in franchise history, banking on continued development of youthful roster, and figure to be among top teams in Western Conference. Hitchcock was NHL coach of year, elevating play across the board of roster that was 7-7 before he replaced Davis Payne.
Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press
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