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Central
E. M. Swift
October 02, 2006
Nashville Predators
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October 02, 2006

Central

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LAST SEASON 35-43-4, 13th in West
KEY ADDITIONS LW Fredrik Modin
KEY LOSSES G Marc Denis, D Radoslav Suchy

Though the Blue Jackets were a surprising 23-16-2 in the second half of last season, they were not as formidable as that record suggests and will have a hard time picking up where they left off. Beyond 6'4", 215-pound left wing Rick Nash, 22, a superb talent who led the team with 31 goals despite missing 28 games with knee and ankle injuries, Columbus is thin offensively--especially given the left shoulder injury that could sideline Sergei Fedorov until November. The defense was weakened significantly by the loss of free agent Radoslav Suchy, and No. 1 goaltending duties have been turned over to second-year man Pascal Leclaire (3.23 goals-against average in 33 games). This club has not come close to reaching the playoffs in its five-season history, and that won't change this year.

Chicago Blackhawks

LAST SEASON 26-43-13, 14th in West
KEY ADDITIONS C Michal Handzus, LW Martin Havlat, C Bryan Smolinski
KEY LOSSES RW Matthew Barnaby

They won't break their trend of missing the playoffs (seven of the last eight seasons), but the Blackhawks could be more fun to watch. Second-year general manager Dale Tallon set out to add speed and skill to a lineup that had the NHL's second-worst offense last season (2.55 goals per game), and he did so by trading for Senators forwards Martin Havlat (31 goals in 2003--04) and Bryan Smolinski (an able passer). Whether the Blackhawks can contain other teams will depend primarily upon goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, who led Tampa Bay to the Stanley Cup in 2003--04 but bombed in his first Windy City season (3.35 goals-against average and .886 save percentage). Tallon was brimming with optimism after signing Khabibulin last summer ("The Blackhawks are back!" he said), but this year he's more measured--and realistic. "I'm hopeful we're better," Tallon says, "but you never know until we play."

St. Louis Blues

LAST SEASON 21-46-15, 15th in West
KEY ADDITIONS President John Davidson, G Manny Legace, D Jay McKee, C Doug Weight
KEY LOSSES RW Scott Young

The Blues' answer to putting up the worst record in the NHL last season and missing the playoffs for the first time since 1979: hiring longtime NHL broadcaster (and former St. Louis goalie) John Davidson to be team president. The genial Davidson had a busy summer, bringing back veteran center Doug Weight (two years, $7 million), a free agent who won the Cup with Carolina after being traded by the Blues at midseason, and shoring up the defense by signing Jay McKee (four years, $16 million). Davidson also added goalie Manny Legace, who had a good regular season but was a playoff bust (.884 save percentage in six games) last spring for Detroit.

Davidson inherits a team that ranked last in the league in goals (197) and counts on aging power forwards Keith Tkachuk (box, above right) and Bill Guerin, who scored only 13 times last season in Dallas and looked overmatched in the Olympics. Handing the reins to a man who had no managerial experience was a bold move that could eventually pan out. For now, St. Louis fans should prepare for another long year.

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