Geographically, the Central Division will look familiar this season because the Nashville Predators aren't going anywhere. Not just yet anyway.
But the future of the franchise in its current location is in doubt, and the impact of the uncertainty will be felt throughout the division. Although the Detroit Red Wings never seem to get younger while remaining the best of the bunch, the budget-driven dismantling of the Predators in the last couple of months creates openings for other Central Division teams to think realistically about playoff spots.
|The Red Wings will be just as strong with Brian Rafalski aboard. (Getty Images)|
Here are the Central Division mid-summer report cards:
Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings were the only team to give the Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks a serious run for their money during the playoffs, and might have won their series if not for a momentum-turning giveaway that cost them a pivotal overtime game.
There might have been some insult added to injury when Anaheim quickly signed two Red Wings players when free agency began, but Detroit moved quickly to fill those voids, while keeping the core of last season's impressive lineup together. The Red Wings replaced Mathieu Schneider with Brian Rafalski -- a defenseman similar in offensive mindset and four years younger -- and added Dallas Drake, who will provide some of the physical presence that trade deadline rental Todd Bertuzzi was unable to.
Detroit parted ways with veterans Robert Lang, Danny Markov and Kyle Calder, but re-signed ageless wonders Dominik Hasek and Chris Chelios along with one of its good young players, Jiri Hudler. Detroit still has some cap space so more moves before or during the season are possible. Grade: A-
So how do you ruin a good thing in just the blink of an eye? The Nashville Predators can offer some clues after spending the last few months taking apart a team that has been one of the league's elite since the lockout.
The work stoppage was supposed to save small-market teams like Nashville and it did allow them to become competitive. But for all its success on the ice, the Predators have been bleeding financially and are looking for a lifeline. So while the controversial sale efforts play out, Nashville has been dumping top players at every opportunity.
Gone since the season ended are All-Star goalie Tomas Vokoun, captain Timmo Kimonen, Paul Kariya, Peter Forsberg and Scott Hartnell, replaced on the roster by low-rent free agents like Radek Bonk, Jed Ortmeyer and Greg de Vries. There are still a group of good young defenseman, a competent goalie and a few scorers up front, but the changes are not a great tradeoff overall. Grade: F