NHL 2021 Central Division Expert Analysis & Predictions

NHL 2021 Central Division Expert Analysis & Predictions

Written by on January 18, 2021

With the 2020-21 NHL season one week old, it’s time to make some fun-filled predictions on what we’ll be seeing out of the eight teams that make up the new Central Division. Let’s jump right into action so you can make your bets against their NHL odds.

2021 NHL Season Predictions: Central Division

The longest active rivalry in the new Central Division belongs to Tampa Bay and Florida, who will be division rivals for the 27th straight season. A pair of ‘Original Six’ rivals, Chicago and Detroit will play in the same division for the 47th time and first time since ending a run of 31 consecutive seasons in 2012-13. The two franchise, which both entered the NHL in 1926-27, will face off against six franchises that either joined the NHL or began play in their current city in the 19902 or later.

The defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning played their inaugural season (1992-93) in the Norris Division, which featured the Blackhawks, Red Wings and North Stars at the time. Columbus returns to the Central Division, where it competed for each of its first 12 seasons

Carolina, Tampa Bay and Florida were in the Southeast Division together for 14 seasons (1998-99-201213). Before relocating to Raleigh, the Hartford Whalers played their first two NHL seasons in the Norris Division with Detroit (1979-80-1980-81).

Last but not least, Tampa Bay and Dallas will become the first two teams in 40 years to compete in the same division in the season after meeting in the Stanley Cup Final. The last time that happened was way back in 1980-81 when the Islanders and Flyers competed in the old Patrick Division.

This season, the top four teams in each division will qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, with inter-divisional play in the first two rounds of postseason action. Now, let’s get to my Central Division NHL betting predictions.

Tampa Bay Lightning

  • Additions: Marian Gaborik (LTIR) and Anders Nilsson (LTIR)
  • Subtractions: Kevin Shattenkirk, Cedric Paquette and Braydon Coburn
Tampa Bay went 43-21-6 last season to finish second to Boston in the Atlantic Division. The defending Stanley Cup champions finished first in scoring (3.5 gpg) while ranking eighth in goals allowed (2.8 gpg).

Tampa Bay will be without superstar forward Nikita Kucherov for the entire 2021 regular season as he recovers from hip surgery after recording a team-high 33 goals and 85 points, but the Lightning have a ton of elite talent with Steven Stamkos back from his own lengthy injury last season and both, Brayden Point and Victor Hedman being elite offensive performers. Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy went a stupendous 18-7 with a jaw-dropping 1.90 goals against average and one shutout. Maybe it’s me, but I’m not sensing a Stanley Cup letdown this season!

Prediction: First

Dallas Stars

  • Additions: Mark Pysyk
  • Subtractions: Mattias Janmark and Corey Perry

The Stars went 37-24-8 to finish third in the Central Division behind St. Louis and Colorado. Dallas finished an uninspiring 26th in scoring (2.6 gpg), but a stellar second in goals allowed (2.5 gpg) and caught fire in the playoffs to win the Western Conference crown before falling to Tampa Bay in the Stanley Cup finals. Tyler Seguin (hip labrum) and Ben Bishop (right knee surgery) will miss the beginning of the season, but I’m expecting Jamie Benn, Alex Radulov and  Anton Khudobin, first and foremost, to keep the Stars afloat until Seguin and Bishop are back on the ice. Dallas will challenge for the Central Division title, even if i have them coming up a bit short.

Prediction: Second

Nashville Predators

  • Additions: Luke Kunin, Mark Borowiecki, Nick Cousins, Matt Benning and Brad Richardson
  • Subtractions: Craig Smith, Kyle Turris, Nick Bonino, Austin Watson

Nashville went 35-26-8 last season to finish fifth in the Central Division while ranking a modest 16th in scoring (3.1 gpg) and 21st in goals allowed (3.1 gpg). Winger Filip Forsberg was the only player to record at least 20 goals, even though defenseman Roman Josi is elite and finished with a team-high 65 points.

If centers Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen improve on their uninspiring 30-plus point seasons, I like Nashville to challenge for a playoff berth. The Predators have won one playoff series since they reached the Stanley Cup Final in 2017, but I’ve got Nashville back in the playoffs in 2021!

Prediction: Third

Florida Panthers

  • Additions: Anthony Duclair, Radko Gudas, Patric Hornqvist, Markus Nutivaara
  • Subtractions: Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov

Florida went 36-26-8 to finish fourth in the Atlantic Division last season while ranking a pitiful 28th in goals allowed (3.2 gpg), but an encouraging sixth in scoring (3.3 gpg). The losses of Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov will definitely hurt and the Panthers need goalie Sergei Bobrovsky to be better in met after finishing with a mediocre 23-22 record with a 3.23 GAA. Still, I like Florida to get past a pair of teams they look virtually identical to in Columbus and Carolina.

Prediction: Fourth

Columbus Blue Jackets

  • Additions: Max Domi, Mikko Koivu
  • Subtractions: Markus Nutivaara

Columbus went 33-22-15 last season to finish fifth in the Metropolitan division while ranking 27th in scoring (2.6 gpg), but a stellar fourth in goals allowed (2.6 gpg). I love the Blue Jackets’ addition of Mikko Koivu and Max Domi, but I’m not real fond of Columbus‘ goaltending situation and I believe a lack of experience in goal could keep the Canes from reaching the playoffs for a fifth straight season.

Prediction: Fifth

Carolina Hurricanes

  • Additions: Jesper Fast
  • Subtractions: Justin Williams

Carolina went 38-25-5 to finish fourth in the Metropolitan Division last season while ranking 11th in scoring (3.2 gpg) and an identical 11th in goals allowed (2.8 gpg). The Hurricanes only had one player finish with over 25 goals as right-winger Sebastian Aho racked up 38 goals and 28 assists. Carolina didn’t make any moves in the offseason besides their addition of Jesper Fast and that fact will be Carolina’s undoing in 2021.

Prediction: Sixth

Chicago Blackhawks

  • Additions: Nikita Zadorov, Anton Lindholm
  • Subtractions: Corey Crawford, Brandon Saad

Chicago went 32-30-8 last season to finish last in the Central Division while ranking 18th in scoring (3.0 gpg) and 16th in goals allowed (3.1 gpg). The Blackhawks are rebuilding, but they still have some talent starting with Patrick Kane (33 goals) and Dominik Kubalik (30 goals), but former superstar Jonathan Toews is clearly on the downside of his stellar career and the Blackhawks just don’t have many proven goal scorers after that trio, although winger Brandon Saad did top the 20-goal mark. Maybe it’s me, but I’m thinking things could get ugly in the Windy City in 2021!

Prediction: Seventh

Detroit Red Wings

  • Additions: Thomas Greiss, Jon Merrill, Marc Staal, Troy Stecher, Bobby Ryan, Vladislav Namestnikov
  • Subtractions: Jimmy Howard, Trevor Daley, Jonathan Ericsson, Justin Abdelkader, Brendan Perlini

Detroit went a pitiful 17-49-5 to finish last in the Atlantic Division with the worst record in all of hockey. The rebuilding Red Wings finished a dismal 31st in scoring (2.0 gpg) and goals allowed (3.7 gpg) and moved on from veteran net-minder Corey Crawford. Center Dylan Larkin and winger Tyler Bertuzzi were the only players to record at least 40 points last season and Detroit looks like a franchise that is going to be rebuilding for a few years at the very least!

Prediction: Eighth


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