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2021 NHL Central Preview

2020 Cup Finalists Occupy Same Division

Our NHL Central Preview 2021 observes that like the East Division, the Central is very tough. One reason, this division includes the two teams, the Tampa Bay Lightning and Dallas Stars, who met in the Stanley Cup Finals last year. Plus, there are the Carolina Hurricanes and Columbus Blue Jackets. Both are quality clubs. The Central also includes two of the weaker teams in the NHL, the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings. That leaves the Florida Panthers and Nashville Predators as somewhere in between.

NHL Central Preview – Teams

Below you’ll find our short evaluations of each team. To go to our detailed assessments, please click on the appropriate team links.

Carolina Hurricanes – Good Team Will Contend

Together netminders Petr Mrazek and James Reimer offers good goaltending chops. However, this is the weakest part of this team. The good news is the Carolina forwards are top-notch and the blueline is one of the best in the NHL. Last season, forwards Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, and Andrei Svechnikov all topped out with over 60 points. Along with a great group of vets, they also possess some fine young forwards. The D includes premium performers Jaccob Slavin and Dougie Hamilton. This is a very fine team. They’re one of the better teams in what is a very tough the NHL Central.

Chicago Blackhawks – Their Struggle Continues

Last year, this team managed to sneak into the Qualifying Round. However, this season, we don’t expect to see them in the playoffs. The Blackhawks are the weakest teams in what is a very competitive conference. The netminding unit, which is comprised of Malcolm Subban and Collin Delia, is the weakest part of this team. Of the three major units, the forwards are the strongest group. Up front, veteran Patick Kane is the anchor. He’s surrounded by a number of young players who will want to progress throughout the season. Top D-man Duncan Keith, perhaps the best player on this team, is an important two-way player. The Blackhawks are thin.

Columbus Blue Jackets – NHL Central Preview Likes Tenders

The Blue Jackets bring a very fine and deep defense and fine goaltending into this season. They should be able to stop opponents from scoring. In net, both Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins have proven to be effective. They’ll keep Columbus in the game. On defense, Seth Jones anchors the blueline. He’s joined by Zach Werenski, Vladislav Gavrikov, and David Savard, all of whom are fine performers. Center Pierre-Luc Dubois leads what is a low-scoring offense. However, Dubois is unhappy at Columbus. If he is traded, this team will be without a number one center. Despite scoring concerns, we think this Jackets team will get into the postseason.

Dallas Stars – Setbacks Will Challenge Stars

In 2019-2020, the Dallas Stars made it to the NHL Stanley Cup Finals where they lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning. This team is good, but they got some bad news fairly recently. That is, star forward Tyler Seguin is out and will be for much of the season as he recovers from surgery. Still, the first and second lines are sound. The blueline includes a duo of top two-way players, Esa Lindell and John Klingberg. Overall, the D-unit is deep and skilled. More bad news for the Stars as their top goalie Ben Bishop is also out as he recovers from surgery. As he’s not expected to be back until March, Anton Khudobin will be the number one netminder. Khudobin does have the stuff to be a stopper. Backup Jake Oettinger has seen just eight NHL shots. Thus, Khudobin will see a large majority of the minutes in the net. Despite some setbacks, we expect Dallas to be highly competitive this season.

Detroit Red Wings – NHL Central Preview Anticipates them Struggling

In the offseason, the Red Wings worked to make some improvements. They did so by adding forwards Vladislav Namestnikov and Bobby Ryan and defensemen Mark Staal and Troy Stecher. The Wings have also added Thomas Griess in the net. He’s an upgrade over longtime netminder Jimmy Howard who had been slipping. Despite these various additions, Detroit’s offense is still not potent, and their defense lacks depth. Goaltending will be fine but not extraordinary. They’ll battle the Blackhawks for seventh place.

Florida Panthers – Key Losses Will Hurt

Last season, forwards Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barskov did most of the heavy lifting on offense. This season, we expect them to do the same. Especially because during the offseason the Panthers lost two of their top four scorers. As a result, this team will have a difficult time scoring. Additionally, the defense also got weaker as top defenseman Keith Yandle will be held out of the lineup as the Panthers attempt to trade him. Goalie Sergei Bobrovsky looks to rebound from a very poor 2019-2020 season. This team will have many challenges this season.

Nashville Predators – Struggles in NHL Central

The defense is very solid. Norris Trophy winner Roman Josi leads this group. Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm, and Dante Fabbro are all essential in this blueline unit. They include fine two-way players. In net, Juuse Saros and Pekka Rinne will split goaltending duties. Together, we expect them to step up and help keep this team in the game. The big question for this team is will the offense be able to score more goals this season than they did last year. Veteran Filip Forsberg leads the group. This team will battle, but we don’t think they have enough to make it into the postseason.

Tampa Bay Lightning – NHL Preview Likes This Club

Last season, the Tampa Bay Lightning took the Stanley Cup beating the Dallas Stars. This season, the top two teams from last year are in the same division. There’s concern as some players who struggled with injuries last year return. Staying healthy will be essential for this team. Of note, netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy can get the job done. The Lightning offense is dynamic and includes the powerful first line of Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, and Ondrej Palat. This group is especially deep. The blueline, which is led by Victor Hedman and Jan Rutta, is very fine. This is an excellent two-way unit. Watch out for the Lightning. They’ll be hard to stop.

NHL Central – Final Order of Finish

Our NHL Central Preview 2021 envisions the following order of finish:

  1. Tampa Bay Lightning
  2. Dallas Stars
  3. Carolina Hurricanes
  4. Columbus Blue Jackets
  5. Florida Panthers
  6. Nashville Predators
  7. Detroit Red Wings
  8. Chicago Blackhawks

NHL Central Preview – Final Word

This NHL Central Preview 2021 certainly sees both Tampa Bay and Dallas finishing in the one and two spots. Although, we acknowledge that the Stars have their issues due to injuries. However, we think they will overcome the challenges they face. We’re eliminating the Red Wings and Blackhawks from the playoff picture. Of the four remaining teams, we find that Carolina and Columbus have the best chance of playing in the second season. However, you should not rule our neither Florida nor Nashville.


Paul has been writing about sports betting and sports for more than a decade, offering picks on the NFL, MLB, NHL, and NBA, as well as on college sports and European football. He's written thousands of season and post-season previews, innumerable articles on sports betting strategies, and various books on sports and sports betting.

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