Avalanche Journal: Way-too-early NHL Central power rankings

There will be good teams in the NHL’s Eastern Conference that don’t make the playoffs in 2023-24, and it stands to reason that at least one not-so-good team in the Western Conference will qualify for the postseason.

Even after a Stanley Cup champion was crowned out of the Pacific, the current disparity between the East and West has been affirmed this offseason. And there might not be a worse division than the Central as a new NHL calendar nears.

That’s good news for the Avalanche, a consensus Cup contender recently named the best team in the league by Sportsnet.

How exactly does the Central project at this point? Here is our way-too-early power ranking.

8. Arizona Coyotes

The ‘Yotes have a handful of exciting young talents and could very well finish above Chicago in the division standings, but they’ll still be the Central’s biggest losers. Playing at a college rink in Tempe while a future in Arizona appears uncertain at best, times are hard right now. If you a see a Coyotes fan on the street, give them a hug.

7. Chicago Blackhawks

There’s exactly one reason Chicago isn’t last: Connor Bedard. The Blackhawks won the offseason with the No. 1 pick, but they’re probably still a minimum of one year away from being taken seriously. Taylor Hall and Nick Foligno were helpful additions as well.

6. Winnipeg Jets

Last we heard from Winnipeg, coach Rick Bowness was storming out of an abbreviated news conference after proclaiming how “disgusted” he was with the Jets’ lack of “pushback” in a short first-round playoff series vs. Vegas. The NHL’s grandest collapse of 2022-23 was a reckoning in Manitoba. Pierre-Luc Dubois was traded to Los Angeles (for a hearty return) this offseason, and Vezina-caliber goalie Connor Hellebuyck seems unlikely to finish 2023-24 in Winnipeg on an expiring contract. Same goes for center Mark Scheifele.

5. St. Louis Blues

The Blues used all three of their first-round picks after their trade deadline fire sale, but the roster still has issues in the immediate. St. Louis had a defense problem last season, and not much is different now in terms of blue line personnel. Free agency was a quiet time, as the big offseason move was for center Kevin Hayes. Doesn’t look like a playoff team.

4. Nashville Predators

So long, Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen; greetings, Ryan O’Reilly, Luke Schenn and Gustav Nyquist. New general manager Barry Trotz has been busy. But still, goalie Jusse Saros can only take you so far. In a weak West, Nashville should be able to linger around the wild card race, but its ceiling is a first-round exit. (Maybe an ill-fated statement after watching the No. 8 seed Florida Panthers two months ago, but whatever.)

3. Minnesota Wild

Minnesota was too tight against the salary cap to be active in free agency, so it’s a similar-looking team that faded into third place in the last couple weeks of 2022-23. The Wild are likely still a tier below Dallas and Colorado, but it’ll be fun to watch Matt Boldy’s star continue to grow this season.

2. Colorado Avalanche

More like “1A.” Cale Makar, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen remain the best three-headed monster in the NHL, and the Avs re-tooled their depth this offseason for a fresh lineup designed to avoid a repeat of April’s first-round disappointment.

1. Dallas Stars

Instead of the reigning division winner topping this list, the power ranking title belt belongs, for now, to the team that made it deepest in the playoffs. The Stars feel like Colorado’s only true threat in the Central. Evgenii Dadonov is re-signed, Duchene is a great addition and Miro Heiskanen seems poised to take the next leap to Norris Trophy finalist territory.

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