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Matching Minors: Central Division Preview

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Marcus and Robert break down the Central Division. How did the Stars improve this offseason compared to their division rivals?

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Are the changes the Dallas Stars made this summer enough to overtake the Central teams they are chasing?

You can get caught up in looking at almost every roster, but where's the fun in that?  Anyone can Google the transaction list for each team over the summer.  Here's how Robert Tiffin and Marcus Dingler break it down:

Chicago Blackhawks

Robert Tiffin: The Stars may not be better than this team right now, but if the goaltending holds together, the Stars look to have a deeper defense (though not quite as elite up top) and more firepower than the reigning cup champs, so I want to give Dallas the edge to finish higher than this team come April.  It should be noted that I am assuming Mr. Kane misses a significant portion of the season here, though.

Marcus Dingler: No. The Hawks have matured and the cap has forced their hand a bit, but they're still the Hawks. Chicago is going to turn into the San Antonio Spurs of the NHL. They will reach the postseason, not always in spectacular fashion; but they will always be a contender. Understand I am not referring to the metaphysical "always", but at least for the next 3-4 years.

The Blackhawks will bamboozle the league into thinking the burden of the cap finally got too heavy, then they will reach the conference finals. Book it. The Stars made up ground on Chicago this offseason, but they're a long ways from catching them.

RT: I do think they'll be in the playoffs, but I don't know that you can look at this team and confidently send them to another Cup or even Conference Final.  I mean, shedding Saad, losing Sharp and Oduya, having Hossa signed for twelve years after his usefulness finally peters out, and potentially losing Kane are all pretty significant blows. I don't see them bouncing back to top-flight status before Dallas gets there.  This is an objective opinion, by me.

MD: I get it. The math doesn't add up. They are getting older, losing good players, and maybe Patrick Kane for a time. The difference between Dallas and Chicago is, they don't have to bounce back to top flight status, they're already there (cue Lonestar). They have a deep prospect system and Coach Q is incredible.

Did the Stars narrow the gap this offseason? You bet. But I would be shocked if after 82 games, the Stars are looking down at the Hawks.

Colorado Avalanche

RT: Frenchy should solve everything, right?  Nah, but really, this team has the best or second-best goalie in the division, but other than that, they are officially behind Dallas in their rebuild schedule.  Dallas should be better this year.

MD: The Avalanche are actually the only team in the division the Stars aren't chasing. I agree with you, but the Avalanche made some radical changes this offseason. The Avalanche either (a) made up a lot of ground on everyone or (b) lost a lot of ground to everyone. Big roster changes don't typical come with a status quo season. They are headed in one direction or another. Should be behind Dallas on the rebuild curve, like you said.

RT: So, there you have it: Duchene and MacKinnon will obviously go nuts this year and score 35 goals apiece while Varlamov wins another Vezina.

MD: That is not an insane position. The Avs have proven volatile, winning the division one year and cellar dwellers the next. They will improve defensively because of Erik Johnson. Duchene had an abhorrent year. Some guys have stupid good years and some guys have stupid bad years. Chalk up 2014-2015 Duchene to the stupid bad category.

Minnesota Wild

RT: The good players are mostly older, and Dubnyk probably isn't actually suddenly the best goalie in history.  This isn't a bad team at all, though, and their defense might still make Dubnyk look like a rock star.  Don't bet on Dallas passing them up quite yet.

MD: The Wild were too good in the second half of last season. I think Dubnyk caught a little lightning in a bottle but with that blue line, if he can play average hockey, the Wild are probably the favorites to win the division. Dallas isn't catching Minny unless everyone breaks their legs.

BONUS: Minnesota and Dallas will meet in the first round of the playoffs.

RT: I don't see them winning the division over St. Louis, but they do seem primed for a #2 finish.  This team feels a lot like the 2005-2008 Stars to me for some reason: good to very good, but unable to slug it out with the best.

MD: The Mild had the best record in the NHL last season post-Dubnyk trade. I do appreciate the 2005-2008 Stars reference, but this team is better than you think. Their problem is they don't have the elite top end forward talent we like to see in our good teams. Zach Parise is fine, but if he is your best forward, get real. But the Wild know who they are and they aren't afraid to do it every single night. They roll 4 lines and press. When they get the puck back they cycle you to death. Wait a minute, this actually sounds a lot like 2005-2008 Dallas Stars.

St. Louis Blues

RT: They seem determined to make their goalies hate everyone else, but this is a team with top-flight talent up front and back, and Steve Ott. (Love ya, Otter.)  Since goaltending is magnified in the playoffs, count them in for another high finish and quick playoff bounce.  Hitch should still get this team into one of the top-two spots this year.

MD: The Stars made up some serious ground on a team that won the Central last year. Most teams in the division got appreciably better this summer, making it difficult to judge whose delta was larger or in the right place, but that isn't the case in St. Louis. The Blues did not get better, traded a fan favorite, and still have goalie issues. The floor may not fall out this season, but the hinges are getting squeaky.

RT: The Blues didn't exactly improve, but there's still a lot to love about this team.  Tarasenko, Lehtera and Schwartz are just gems, and their top four on defense might be as good as Chicago, or better post-Oduya.  But yeah, I don't know, it seems just barely possible that a shaky goaltending situation could go critical and derail even a really good team.  I mean, not that such a thing has been known to happen, but yeah.

MD: All of that might be true, especially the goaltending piece. I would argue that if everyone knows goalie was the Blues' weakness, and they haven't fixed it, why should we expect anything but a steady downward trend? I am probably being too hard on them, and they will probably win the division this year, but I am not sold.

Nashville Predators

RT: Filip Forsberg might have a tough time repeating his fabulous first part of the season, but Rinne is marvelous, and this team can find ways to get things done.  I still can't see them beating Dallas when you compare rosters, but you could have said that the last few years, right?  Well, I guess I'll bet against the Preds this year, but with not very much confidence.  They'll be in the dance, though.

MD: I don't know how they will score enough goals. They need 70 points from Forsberg, James Neal from 3 years ago, and Mike Ribeiro to have another career year after his 35th birthday. Yes, they are excellent on the blue line and in the paint, but the burden on offense is real. They will get hot on and off throughout the year, and they are probably a playoff team.

RT: I don't know how NSH scored as much as they did last year, but clearly they are using a cheat code of some kind and just trying to lay low so that they don't get caught.  Good luck doing that twice in a row, guys.

MD: Whether or not the Stars made up any ground on Nashville this year is hard to say. However, you would have a difficult time convincing me the Preds improved materially this offseason. I am going to say yes Dallas made up ground. But until Nashville proves last year wasn't the stars aligning (no pun intended), I am not sure this is the team Dallas is chasing.

Winnipeg Jets

RT: *looks at goalies* Nah.

MD: Winnipeg is building long term. The re-signing of Stafford doesn't make these guys a juggernaut this year. Look for the Jets to compete for another wild card spot this season. In terms of 2015-2016, yes the Stars could catch and pass the Jets. But the Jets are coming with a great draft and excellent young players. The Stars may have done well this offseason, but the Jets will be a load in 2-4 years.

RT: *looks at forwards* Nah.

MD: Alright, alright. You aren't sold on the Jets. I understand that now, but heads up in a few years. Winter is coming.