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Welcome to the Central Division, losers - How to hate our eight

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Who’s in the 2021 Central Division, how they’re doing, and why you should hate them.

Detroit Red Wings vs. Chicago Blackhawks
Luke is a table.
Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

You probably know by now that the divisions have been realigned for this year’s very special short season and that the Red Wings are finding themselves back in the Central Division.

Well, not the Central Division, but a Central Division. The Red Wings will only face the seven other teams in our division and play them each eight times to make a 56-game regular season.

So, what are we up against? (Other than the usual general feelings of doom and despair).

Carolina Hurricanes

2019-2020 record: 38-25-5; 4th in Metro; Lost to Boston in Round 1.

The Canes will be coming to Detroit to kick off the season with games on Jan. 14 and Jan. 16. This will give us our first look at what we’re made of and see if anyone is brave enough to drive the False Hope bandwagon or if we will all just nestle into a cozy cocoon of despair and Draft Lottery rankings from the get-go.

The Hurricanes have been a team who is just kinda there, but over the past few years have a number of Red Wings fans picking them up as a side team. Reasons for this include accusations of the Canes being “a fun team” and guys like The Other Svechnikov, Sebastian Aho and, of course, Petr Mrazek.

I’ve seen some Canes fans posting that the new Central will be a breeze compared to the usual Metro Division. However, they will still be leaning hard on their core players, and with their goaltending swinging randomly between terrible and adequate, any injuries in this short season could be the perfect storm for failure.

What to hate: Petr Mrazek, people who hate Petr Mrazek, people who like Petr Mrazek, Stormy the Ice Hog

Chicago Blackhawks

2019-2020 record: 32-30-8; 7th in Central

Few will be bold enough to predict the Wings dominate any series and skate away with gloating rights, but Chicago isn’t as far above us as they’d like. If there is any series to win and any fanbase to rile up, it’s this one.

The Hawks are also trudging through a rebuild having crashed after the 2016-2017 season and placing 7th, 6th and 7th in the Central in the last three seasons. They haven’t yet fully committed to a scorched earth rebuild and are throwing some newbies and random pieces at a veteran group to see what sticks. And as we know from experience, that always works!

Chicago has been getting hit hard with injuries recently: Alex Nylander is out for 4-6 months after knee surgery and Kirby Dach is out 4-5 months after wrist surgery due to an injury at the World Junior Championship. Jonathan Toews is out indefinitely with an undefined medical issue.

On top of that, their goaltender situation is an even bigger question mark than ours. At least we have old man Bernier to hold down the fort while we sort out our prospects.

Yikes.

What to hate: Everything.

Columbus Blue Jackets

2019-2020 record: 33-22-15; 6th in Metro; Lost to Bolts in Round 1

Columbus is another middling team who I might even classify as a spoiler team. Their road to the playoffs isn’t easy, but they have found ways to really stick it to other teams for underestimating them.

And they are underestimated. I’m not just saying that because of Gustav Nyquist and Dylan Larkin’s former roommate. Also, Nyquist is injured and out until mid-April.

Not a lot of major roster changes, but they did add Max Domi and Mikko Koivu. Pierre-Luc Dubois signed a two year deal, the potential of a trade still has the rumor mill rumbling. We’ll see if Steve has anything up his sweatshirt sleeves.

Their duo of goaltenders, Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins, did a fine job stepping up last year and no reason to think they won’t continue to gain confidence and be extremely irritating to the Red Wings.

Would be a shame if they needed to win the last two games of the season to make the cut and they lost to the Wings.

What to hate: Look at the roster and there’s probably a player you forgot you hated (Domi, Atkinson, Foligno, Jenner, Jones, Savard...)

Detroit Red Wings

Yes, we are looking at every team in the Central which means we must take time for self-reflection. Let’s talk about being Spoilers...

2019-2020 record: 17-49-5; 8th in Atlantic; Lost our damn minds by the end of October

Given how the season is set up, we will have a lot of opportunities as The Trap Team of the Central. With only limited opponents, and having both the Cup Champs and First Losers in our Division, that’s a lot of room for spoiling. Even if Tampa and Dallas grab two “playoff” spots, the other two are anybody’s game. Even ours.

Here’s the thing and I’m gonna tell you, when any team meets the Wings they will probably ice some kind of B-Team assuming, and perhaps rightly so, that they can give some key players a rest day without any problems and save their strength for tougher opponents.

With the Division bubbles, the draft odds will be even harder to set in our favor. We could hurt our own rebuild by being too good at spoiling. Hoisted with our own petard, etc. If you are more petty than strategic, then the thought of making the “playoffs” is absolutely hilarious. Absolute humiliation for the teams that missed.

What to hate: Seat covers, goal horn, postgame interview questions, retro jerseys

Everything else is totally lovable. In a hateful way. We hate out of LOVE because it’s a mess but it’s our mess.

Florida Panthers

2019-2020 record: 35-26-9; 4th in Atlantic; Lost to Isles in Qualifiers

If there is any team that is hard to care about at all, it’s the Panthers. Yes, they are usually in our Division anyway, but it’s never been a real rivalry we just co-exist in the same bubble. Like being the first two people to log in for the Zoom meeting but nobody else has joined yet so you’re just stumbling through smalltalk waiting for the host to arrive.

Not that I can relate.

The Panthers are living that middling existence that screams IT’S TIME TO REBUILD but they never really built anything, so it’s more a need to build than rebuild?

They have been busy in the offseason picking up a number of new players including Patric Hornqvist, Anthony Duclair, and Radko Gudas. They also hired Joel Quenneville and pulled Sergei Bobrovsky out of the free agent goalie pile.

It’s going to be a weird assortment of players and their playoff dreams really depend on Bobrovsky being the cat’s pajamas.

What could go wrong?

Dallas Stars

2019-2020 record: 37-24-8; 3rd in Central; Lost to Bolts in Cup Finals

Dallas and Tampa already have two advantages: experience playing in weird circumstances and the least amount of offseason. However, Dallas has one advantage that Tampa has lost:

The bitterness of defeat.

Having come so close to breaking their long Cup drought and falling short will make any team thirsty for a tall glass of vengeance. They haven’t made a lot of changes during the offseason (if it ain’t broke, etc.), but the players who stepped up during the playoffs will need to keep it going.

The injury bug has also bitten Dallas with both Tyler Seguin and Ben Bishop out until at least March having had offseason surgery. Stephen Johns is also expected to be out for the entire season.

With Bishop being out, the Stars are another team in the Central who will be seeing how their younger goalies will perform and if any stand out as a reliable starter.

What to hate: Allowing up to 5,000 fans in the stands. Is it legal? Yes. Is it wise? The Mavericks certainly don’t think so, at least not yet, and they play in the same building.

Nashville Predators

2019-2020 record: 35-26-8; 4th in Central; Lost to Coyotes in Qualifiers

The Preds hit one reset button replacing head coach Peter Laviolette with John Hynes last January. More recently, they’ve brought back Mikael Granlund and on the same day signed his bestie, Erik Haula. Were they ever roommates? I’m sure Ken Daniels would know.

Other pick-ups include Nick Cousins, Matt Benning and Mark Borowiecki.

Yes, Pekka Rinne is still around and we will probably see him against us as the classic reliable veteran backup goalie. The Preds also have a pretty strong blueline group to help out whoever is in net, must be nice.

What to hate: The color yellow, catfish, players who aren’t on the team anymore but committed crimes against Henrik Zetterberg, or dig up hatred from other past events in the old rivalry and give those grudges new life.

Tampa Bay Lightning

2019-2020 record: 43-21-6; 2nd in Atlantic; Won Stanley Cup

Tampa is probably the most familiar team in the Division, for better or worse. The pressure is off to win a Cup, but an early exit from the playoffs would definitely be seen as a disappointment.

Tampa has found themselves in a bit of a cap crunch and have been making moves. Braydon Coburn and Cedric Paquette (and a draft pick) have been sent to Ottawa in exchange for the dead weight of Marian Gaborik and Anders Nilsson who will be on LTIR.

They have enough players to function, and be a very good team, but some math people have speculated the Lightning should make one or two more deals to have breathing room. Tyler Johnson and Alex Killorn regularly pop up as potential pieces to move, but that’s none of my business.

In other roster news, Ryan Callahan announced his retirement and Nikita Kucherov is not likely to return before the playoffs after having hip surgery.

What to hate: How many times we’ve lost to them, how weirdly mad their fans were at Justin Abdelkader for years, Niklas Kronwall being unfairly suspended that one time, pictures of Steve Yzerman in Tampa gear, does anyone hate Luke Witkowski?

In Conclusion: Sara’s Unofficial Central Division Sub-Divisions

Great Expectations: Bolts, Stars

Bracket Busters: Canes, Jackets

Very Mad Cats: Preds, Panthers

Lottery League: Hawks, Wings

LET’S GO RED WINGS! #TankWithDignity2021