It’s that time of year when we Americans gather around a family table, try not to bring up politics and eat way too much food. It’s a fun time, but a stressful one as well. We wanted to give you something to read while waiting for that emergency turkey to thaw. Something you can use to change the subject after your least racist uncle gets too deep into the bar. We all have a lot to be thankful for, even the Blackhawks fans. In no particular order, let’s give thanks for what each Central Division team brings to the best division in hockey.
We are a quarter of the way into the season and I'm still not sure whether the Dallas Stars are a real playoff contender or simply pretenders. Sitting in the middle of the pack in the Central, the Stars have had a stop-start kind of year, only winning back to back games five times thus far. Week to week, the offense has its moments, the defense has its moments and even the top line, one of best in the NHL on paper hasn’t been able to consistently turn on the afterburners. There has been one constant to the Stars’ season. It has been their captain, Jamie Benn.
Second in points only to Tyler Seguin, Benn has been steady in all facets of the game. With seven goals, seven assists and 36 hits, Benn seems to be everywhere. He’s even been in two fight of the year candidates. That leadership, and more importantly, that stability is what Dallas will need if they hope to finally turn the corner and make a real push towards the playoffs. Be especially thankful for that eight-year extension he signed at the beginning of the season.
On paper, the Winnipeg Jets have a very good roster. On paper, this roster should be very good at scoring goals. In reality, Winnipeg ranks 21st in overall goals for. When you look at even strength goals, they fall all the way to 26th in the league. These are literally lottery team numbers. The Red Wings, Oilers, Hurricanes & Panthers all rank above the Jets. The only reason Winnipeg is currently sitting in a playoff spot is their insanely good power play.
The Jets sit at sixth in the league in power play goals (17) which might not sound elite until you realize they’ve had the smallest number of power plays in the NHL, only getting 51 bites at the apple at time of publication. When you break that down, the Jets are scoring on every third power play. As the rest of their game tries to find some footing, be thankful for this incredibly fun to watch crutch the Jets are using to steady themselves.
Much like our first entry on this list, the Avs have struggled to find a lot of consistency. And much like our first entry on this list, Colorado has been heavily dependent on the consistency brought on by offensive talent. In Denver though, that talent comes in the form of a holy trio blessed by the hockey gods, hallowed be their names. Mikko Rantanen leads the league in both goals and total points. Add his totals to Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog and this first line has 83(!!!) points. At one point this season, the top line was responsible for nearly half of Avalanche goals. They are a dream to watch and even as the rest of the offense struggles to find their footing, the best line in the NHL will be around to pick up the franchise.
MacKinnon is 23, Rantanen is 22 and Landeskog is 26. Be thankful that this pairing will be together for years to come, hockey gods willing, hallowed be their names. Because one day, those hollowed names might be MacKinnon, Rantanen & Landeskog.
The Nashville Predators should not exist. In 1990, if you would have brought up the idea of NHL expansion to Nashville, Tennessee, not only would you be laughed out of the building, you’d be laughed into the Atlantic. Even when the team was awarded to the city and they started playing hockey, it shouldn’t have succeeded. At one point, it seemed the Preds were going to give Hamilton, Ontario the team they had spent decades yearning for. Through all of this turmoil, there was one man guiding the ship.
David Poile took the General Manager’s job all the way back in 1997 and over the years, he battled a small budget, low expectations and the challenge of making Nashville a hockey market which was able to lure big-name talent and keep homegrown talent. It took more work than I think most of us can really understand, but after 20 seasons, The Nashville Predators are a marquee franchise in the NHL. Just look at the roster he’s been able to cultivate during the Salary Cap Era. Pekka Rinne, P.K. Subban, Ryan Ellis, Kyle Turris, Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson & Ryan Johansen are all on the same team. That’s NUTS! Nashville has made the playoffs 11 times under Poile’s leadership and that number will only expand over the next half-decade. Be thankful, Nashville, to have a shepherd who loves you so much he literally gave his eyesight for your passing happiness.
For the most part in North American sports (I'm looking at you, baseball) when a team goes out of their way to make a big splash on the free agent market, it can be a toss-up as to whether or not the team actually gets better. The St. Louis Blues made quite the splash this offseason. They brought home native son Patrick Maroon and former Blues winger David Parron with varying degrees of success. Only one addition has truly been a smash hit, and it has almost singlehandedly kept the Blues above water during the start of this season.
Ryan O'Reilly has been a dream for the Blues. At the time of publication, O'Reilly has seven more points than his closest teammate, Vladimir Teresanko. The man currently has 10 goals and 13 apples, leading St. Louis in both categories. It's not just O'Reilly's offense that Blues fans should be loving ether. The team's top center is winning over 61% of his faceoffs so far this year and his two-way talent shines when you compare his 25 takeaways to only five giveaways. The man has clearly found his passion for the game since leaving Buffalo and I think we can all be thankful that he doesn't live anywhere near a Tim Horton's anymore. And no, I will never stop making that joke.
Last year, it was honestly in doubt. In the past two seasons, Zach Parise only played a total of 111 games. For Parise, who at the time was 33 years old, it really must have seemed like the world was out to get him.
Ever since signing a huge deal to play in his home state, Parise had only played more than 70 games once. A consistent 30-goal scorer, he hadn’t managed the feat since the 2014-15 season. Not only was his own playing career leeching away before his eyes but so were the Stanley Cup hopes of the Minnesota Wild. The talents of the likes of Ryan Suter and Devan Dubnyk were on the brink of being inconsequential, squandered by timid teams, too often too injured to put up much fight by April.
This season started in a similar fashion as the Wild lost four of their first five games. It seemed like the end. But there was one silver lining during that stretch. Parise scored his first goal since breaking his sternum in the playoffs. Since then, he has scored eight more and added nine assists to his ledger. No, not exactly superstar numbers, but they were consistent numbers, even when the Wild were anything but. Where his play really shines is in the little things. He’s once again a net-front pest, an excellent passer and more often than not he's a winner along the boards. Even after all those injuries, Parise sticks his nose into the grinder for his team. Leadership by example makes a difference and this team is clearly better when he dresses than when he doesn’t.
If the Wild are going to make something special out of this season, and it’s on the fence as to if that is even possible, they will need Parise to continue to lead by example. Be thankful that the State of Hockey’s new Goal King is back, hopefully for good.
Yeah, this season is probably going to suck, just like last season. And yes, Chicago's best coach in franchise history has gone from taking shots at practice to taking shots in parking lots. And yes, the idiot who fired him and created this top-heavy roster is still employed. You know what you should be thankful for, Hawks fans? ALL THE WINNING THAT HAPPENED BEFORE NOW.
Three Stanley Cups in five years. Five trips to the Western Conference Finals in six years. Marion Friggin' Hossa living in the heads of Predator's faithful for a full decade. Watching Dustin Byfuglien play forward and crushing it. Corey Crawford's amazing parade speech. Going 24 straight games without a regulation loss, saving hockey's ratings during that shortened lockout year, chasing the Detroit Red Wings out of the Western Conference & scoring twice in 17 seconds against the Bruins for their 5th title. I think it's even possible to argue that Gritty, the love of my life, wouldn't exist if the Blackhawks had not beaten the Flyers in OT back in 2010.
Yeah, it looks like a rough road is ahead. But as the 13-year-old girls say on Tumblr, don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened.
For us at Central Divided, we are very thankful for you, our listeners and our readers. It’s pretty crazy to think back to when this all was just a half-baked drunken idea at the bar Zack & I worked at. And now… now people yell at us on the internet. Dreams really do come true. So, from both of us, we wish all of our American friends a very Happy Thanksgiving.