With the new NHL divisional/conference format debuting in the 2013-2014 season, the playoffs will have a bit of a different look this season. Like in the previous format, the NHL playoffs will feature 16 qualifying teams. However, the league’s new format leads to the playoffs being divisional based, as well as including a quirky Wild Card system.
The first 12 teams that qualify for the playoffs will consist of the top-3 teams from all 4 divisions. The other 4 teams that will qualify for the playoffs will be the next 2 highest finishing teams, from each conference, regardless of their respective divisions.
Confused? Don’t worry about it, we’ll see how it plays out, next spring. For now, let’s just focus on predicting the minimum of 3 teams for the NHL’s Central Division, that will qualify for the post-season.
3. Nashville Predators
The 3rd ranked guaranteed qualifier for the playoffs, from the Central Division was a toss-up between the Predators, and the Minnesota Wild. In what looks like will go down as an exception, rather than a future norm, the Preds failed to make the post-season, in 2013. Nashville did not go out and address their biggest flaw, their lack of offense, in a way many of their fans had hoped. However, they did build up what has been a traditional strength in the young franchise’s history, shut-down defense. Viktor Stalberg and Matt Cullen were brought in, during the off season, to be boosts for the offense, but I’ll believe that when I see it. Both players will add speed, and Cullen will add some much needed depth, and solid play at center. With an excellent group of top-3 defenseman that includes: Shea Weber, Roman Josi, and Kevin Klein, as well as top draft pick, Seth Jones, the Predators have about as good of top-4 blueline core as any team in the league. This group will also add to the offensive attack of the Preds.
It is crucial that goaltender, Pekka Rinne, bounces back from a sub-par season, as well as a hip injury. In all probability, he will, and for the Predator’s sake, he better, as he will be heavily relied on.
With Nashville, it’s not about heavy, rapid goal scoring, it’s about scoring enough goals to let their super stingy defensive style carry them to victory.