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Central Division Weekly Roundup: More Schedule Changes for Everyone!

With the Dallas Stars’ postponement, the NHL shuffles the Central Division schedule again

Tampa Bay Lightning v Carolina Hurricanes Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

1. Florida Panthers: .765 P% (12-3-2) 26 Points

The Florida Panthers had offered a trade to the Maple Leafs that included 27-year-old defenseman MacKenzie Weegar. Weegar had a career year with 18 points in 45 games played last year. He is third among all defensemen and is currently on track to have his best scoring season of his career with eight points in 17 games so far this season. He also has the second most time on ice on the Panthers with 22:37, only behind Aaron Ekblad’s 24:58. He also ranks 10th on the team in possession with a 52.6% Corsi, despite having started just 40% of his shifts in the offensive zone, the lowest of any defenseman.

The Panthers keep looking better and better as the season goes on. On Monday they had 51 shots on goal and completely dominated the Dallas Stars even though the score was only 3-1. The Panthers have done this on the back of goaltender Chris Driedger, who has a 7-1-1 record in nine games. Coach Joel Quenneville was asked about the goaltender situation and said “Driedger has been on a roll, [Sergei Bobrovsky] will get plenty of opportunities to get the net back.” However, that did not happen in their last game against the Detroit Red Wings in a 2-1 loss. Driedger has now started four of the last five games for the Panthers.

2. Carolina Hurricanes: .735 P% (12-4-1) 25 Points

The Carolina Hurricanes have still been inconsistent this season. After their dominant 4-0 win against the Lightning but they came out completely flat on Monday and lost 4-2, and it could have been much worse. The best thing to come out of the last week for the Canes has been the play of Jake Bean. Bean has looked extremely comfortable in the offensive zone. In Monday’s game, he played the point with the extra attacker situation. The rookie also led the team in shots on goal with seven against the defending champs.

With Teuvo Teravainen out with a concussion, the Canes have struggled to get consistent play from the top lines. While Sebastian Aho was able to score against the Lighting on Saturday, Andrei Svechnikov has now played nine games without recording a non-empty-net goal. The top line of Svechnikov, Aho, and McGinn hasn’t looked as dangerous as the line did with Teravainen. They haven’t had the sustained zone presence and while that could be due to the quality of the opponent, they just haven’t been the same.

This is unfortunate for Teravainen ,who has struggled to get into the groove this season and fully recover from COVID symptoms. He finally was getting back into the swing of things and now is out again with a concussion. He did not make the trip down to Tampa for the back-to-back which is why the team recalled Morgan Geekie from the AHL this week. Hopefully, Teravainen can have a speedy recovery and get back to playing safely soon.

3. Tampa Bay Lightning: .719 P% (11-4-1) 23 Points

After the stat came out about the Montreal Canadiens have a record of 5-6-1 against teams that weren’t the Canucks it made me think of Tampa Bay and it’s a very similar case. Tampa has a record of 5-5-1 against teams that aren’t the Nashville Predators or the Detroit Red Wings. The Predators and Wings rank 27th and 30th in the league in points percentage this season. The Canes have just played three games against those two teams this season with a 2-1-0 record in those games. It's almost like the NHL needs to add a column on the standings for the games remaining against those two teams to give a better perception of true standings.

Now I am not sitting here saying that the Lightning are a bad team, they have just had the advantage of playing an easier schedule to start the season and also had their four games against the Dallas Stars postponed for various reasons. We have yet to see a Stanley Cup rematch from last season that you would tend to think would be with increased energy from the Stars as they look to get revenge.

4. Chicago Blackhawks: .600 P% (10-6-4) 24 Points

This season, the Blackhawks were expected to be one of the worst teams in the league. Patrick Kane has been carrying the team to the middle of the standings through 20 games. He has nine goals and 30 points. He is now just seven games shy of his 1,000th game and two goals from his 400th career goal. He would be just the third Blackhawk and 10th American player to reach that milestone. His 398 goals also rank 10th for American-born players, just eight away from moving to ninth, currently occupied by John Leclair.

Kane hasn’t just been good with scoring goals, as he has been one of the best playmakers in the league. He ranks second in the assists with 21 and fourth in total points with 30. He sits just behind Connor McDavid, Mitch Marner and Leon Draisaitl. Both Pius Suter and Alex DeBrincat have been the beneficiaries of his playmaking with six and nine goals, respectively. The top line has combined for 24 goals, 40% of the team's total.

5. Dallas Stars: .538 P% (5-4-4) 14 Points

The Stars are having a challenging season and are in a terrible stretch. They haven’t won a game since Feb. 2 and have lost six straight games on top of also having four more postponed. Now they have had eight games postponed and have only played 13, the fewest of any team in the league. They now have 11 weeks to play 43 games, which will be extremely hard down the stretch.

The Stars in the Central Division and the New Jersey Devils in the East are two candidates that I would expect won’t finish a full 56-game season. At a certain point, the Stars are going to be cutting it close even without any more games being postponed. If they can’t finish their full season, at least one other team will be affected and will force the league to use point percentage to determine standings.

6. Columbus Blue Jackets: .525 P% (8-7-5) 21 Points

The Blue Jackets are just 1-2-2 in their last six games and have struggled mightily defensively. They have let up 21 goals in the last six games, which equates to 3.5 goals against per game. That also doesn’t include the shootout tally that was given to the Blackhawks last night. It's really tough to win games if you have to score four goals or more to win. When you look at their only win, it was a shut out. That means in the other five games during this span, they gave up 4.2 goals per game.

Unlike the Hurricanes, the Blue Jackets have been practicing and practicing frequently. Coach John Tortorella has been very hands-on with the team in these sessions. They have been working on five-on-five play. When you look at their team this season they just aren’t as hard to play against as they have been in previous seasons. They have the second-worst possession in the league with a 45.5% Corsi. They just haven’t had the forecheck going. Even the captain Nick Foligno was quoted as, “When I watch our team, I don’t recognize our team.”

7. Nashville Predators: .444 P% (8-10-0) 16 Points

The news coming out of Nashville is the rebuild is coming. If they time this right and they start it now, hopefully, it could be more of a re-tooling and a quicker rebuild as compared to a full Buffalo Sabres scenario. The feeling, according to Elliotte Friedman, is that there are only a couple of players who are untouchable in Ryan Ellis, Roman Josi and Pekka Rinne. All three players are long-time vets with Josi and Ellis holding largely untradeable contracts.

What is smart with this strategy is that they may not trade players like Filip Forsberg and Rocco Grimaldi but listening to offers and fielding ideas means that they could end up with an incredible package to help accelerate any kind of rebuild. At this point they only have a couple of years left with just five players signed past the 2021-2022 season. They need to move fast.

8. Detroit Red Wings: .310 P% (5-13-3) 13 Points

This week, GM Steve Yzerman joined calls for the NHL to delay the 2021 draft. There are many different proposals for drafts, the most radical being to split the draft in half based on birthdate. The issue that many GMs are having is simply having the ability to scout players who are not playing. The OHL is the only CHL league that is returning to play, only one-third of the biggest junior league is playing. Only those prospects that have been drafted can play in the AHL this season, so scouts are only watching European leagues and college games.

Obviously, this is a very important draft for the Red Wings, who have three second-round picks in this draft and are likely to have a top-three pick if not higher in the draft. The Red Wings have the second-highest odds to get the top pick in the draft and with the Arizona Coyotes’ forfeited pick, the second pick will be even more valuable. One other piece to remember going into the draft is that the Seattle Kraken will have the odds of the third to last-place team in the draft with an 11.5% chance to win the top pick.