PHT’s 2020-21 NHL Central Division predictions

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020-21 NHL season begins with Wednesday triple header featuring Flyers-Penguins, Blackhawks-Lightning, and Blues-Avalanche.

NBCSN LIVESTREAM: Penguins vs. Flyers – coverage begins at 5:15 p.m. ET

NBCSN LIVESTREAM: Blackhawks vs. Lightning – coverage begins at 8 p.m. ET

NBCSN LIVESTREAM: Blues vs. Avalanche – coverage begins at 10:30 p.m. ET

The Lightning will defend their Stanley Cup title in a new division for 2020-21. The new-look Central takes a little bit from the old Atlantic, Metropolitan, and Central Divisions for an interesting eight-team mix.

One fun wrinkle is that the Lightning will be mixed in the Central with the Stars, the team they beat in six teams for the Cup last season. Will Tampa smooth through the 56-game schedule or can the Hurricanes, Stars, Blue Jackets, or Predators challenge them for the division crown?

As we get ready for the season to begin, here’s how the PHT staff think the Central Division will shake out.

[PHT PREDICTIONS: EAST/NORTH/WEST/]

Be sure to give us your picks in the comments!

CENTRAL DIVISION

Sean Leahy, NHL writer: Even without Nikita Kucherov, the Lightning should breeze through. It’s really about how much can the Predators bounce-back from last season and just how improved are the Panthers going to be.

James O’Brien, NHL writer: Gee, did the defending champions ever get a gift with divisional realignment. Without Nikita Kucherov, the Lightning may not win their division, but they figure to have breathing room. The most cynical central squabble could be for last place between the fledgling Red Wings and the potentially abysmal Blackhawks.

Adam Gretz, NHL writer: Even without NIkita Kucherov Tampa Bay is the class of this division. Carolina and Dallas are going to be worthy contenders as well and should be playoff teams. The intrigue for me is what happens with Columbus, Nashville, and Florida in that fourth spot. Columbus always seems to find a way to figure this out and I think it happens again. 

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Marisa Ingemi, NHL writer: The Lightning and Stars make the top of this division as tough as any else. The bottom two playoff spots will be a battle.

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: Tampa, even absent Nikita Kucherov, is still the class of this group. From there, I feel most strongly about Carolina being a playoff group. Then, I could see any of the next five teams I listed making or missing.

Michael Finewax, Rotoworld Senior Hockey Writer/Editor: Tampa Bay is the easiest call in the NHL as they are the best team in the league. Dallas made it to the Cup Final and should be ranked second. Carolina and Florida are talented and should finish three-four with Columbus and Nashville making it close as the season draws to an end in May. Chicago has been decimated by injuries and have questionable goaltending. The Red Wings are building but are not close to being playoff contenders.

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