There’s under a week to go in the regular season and we just finally had our first Central team officially eliminated from playoff contention. And it was Colorado, who just won the division a year ago. Dallas is next, but there’s a very real possibility that every other club from this group is playoff-bound after that.
With plenty of talent to go around in arguably hockey’s toughest division, what better time to name the All-Central team? Sure, there are still a few games left but, really, how much can happen in the final few days of the season anyway? Everything? Fair enough. But nothing is going to change what these guys have accomplished already in 2014-15.
First Forward Line
Wing: Jamie Benn, DAL. Benn just continues to get it done, notching 30 goals for the second consecutive season and leading the division with 77 points. The Stars are going to miss the playoffs, but it’s not because they can’t score. In fact, their 3.09 goals per game are the best in the West.
Center: Tyler Seguin, DAL. His 37 goals rank him No. 4 in hockey and No. 1 in the Central – despite the fact that he missed 10 games. And his Goals/60 minutes are the best in the division.
Wing: Vladimir Tarasenko, STL. His 36 goals put him at No. 2 in the division, and his 71 points land him at No. 3. His emergence to stardom is the x-factor people point to when saying this could finally be the year the Blues make a deep playoff run and, again, he scored this goal.
Second Forward Line
Wing: Zach Parise, MIN. Devan Dubnyk is getting all the attention for the Wild turnaround, and rightfully so. But it helps to have your captain notching 32 goals to lead a very balanced offensive attack too.
Center: Jonathan Toews, CHI. He’s a staple on this list. His plus-32 rating is the best in the division, his 28 goals and 66 points aren’t that far from career highs and he’s raised his game since Patrick Kane went down. Oh, and his real value to the ‘Hawks doesn’t even always show up on the scoresheet.
Wing: Patrick Kane, CHI. Kane still makes the second line, despite the fact that he’s going to finish the season with just 61 games played. Why? Because he was on pace to become the first American to ever win the Art Ross Trophy when he went down, that’s why.
Third Forward Line
Wing: Jaden Schwartz, STL. Did you know Jaden Schwartz has 28 goals so far this season? Did you know he had 25 last year? Probably not, if you live outside of St. Louis. But it’s another reminder of just how loaded the Blues are up front.
Center: David Backes, STL. Just another season of hovering right around 60 points (57 at the moment), while simultaneously registering 218 hits and 100 penalty minutes – and captaining one of the best teams in the NHL. No big deal.
Wing: Filip Forsberg, NSH. Looked like he had the Calder Trophy on lockdown at the All-Star break, then Jonny Gaudreau came roaring back. Considering the revival he triggered in Nashville this season though, Forsberg and his 61 points could still end up being named Rookie of the Year when all is said and done.
Fourth Forward Line
Wing: Blake Wheeler, WPG. Despite numerous injuries, the Jets may end up defying the odds and sneaking into the playoffs anyway. Wheeler (along with Andrew Ladd) has been the catalyst up front, notching a team-high 25 goals and plus-25 rating.
Center: Mike Fisher, NSH. Flying somewhat under the radar, but his 19 goals and 20 assists in 58 games since returning from a brutal Achilles injury have him on pace for career-highs in goals and total points. Not what you normally expect from a guy working his way back into the lineup at age 34.
Wing: Jarome Iginla, COL. A year ago, Iginla led the Bruins with 30 goals. This season, he leads the Avalanche with 26 goals. He’s the definition of steady, and a solid veteran presence on a Colorado team that had to endure a rough encore following their miraculous rise to the top in 2014.
First Defense Pairing
Defense: Roman Josi, NSH. In a division known for its strong play along the blue line, Josi quietly leads all D-Men with 55 points.
Defense: Dustin Byfuglien, WPG. Matchup nightmare for any opponent who is extremely versatile and knows how to throw his 6-foot-5, 265-pound frame around. Leads the division in hits by a defenseman with 202, despite playing in only 68 games. There was talk in the first half of the season that Byfuglien might deserve Hart Trophy consideration so, yeah, he makes the All-Central team.
Second Defense Pairing
Defense: Duncan Keith, CHI. As usual, the Blackhawks are having a great year. And, as usual, Keith is a major reason why. On top of his 45 points and plus-13 rating, his 332 SAT is No. 3 in the NHL and No. 1 in the Central.
Defense: Shea Weber, NSH. His blue line partner in Nashville may have slightly better stats, but the fact that opposing teams have to account for Weber is undoubtedly a reason why many of his teammates flourish. He’s the anchor on one of the best defensive clubs in hockey.
Third Defense Pairing
Defense: Ryan Suter, MIN. The fact that Ryan Suter is only on the third defensive pairing here shows just how strong the rearguards in the Central have been this season.
Defense: Tyson Barrie, COL. Gets the nod over Kevin Shattenkirk of the Blues, partially because Shattenkirk has only played in 54 games. But don’t let that obscure the fact that Barrie’s 51 points rank him No. 8 among all NHL D-men, and No. 2 at the position in the division.
No. 1 Goalie: Pekka Rinne, NSH. For awhile there, it looked like Rinne might win the Vezina. Then he missed a few weeks due to injury, and Carey Price turned into an actual wall. Rinne has still put together an excellent season though, and will likely be invited to Vegas as a Vezina finalist. The fact that he’s done it all year gives him the slight edge over the No. 2 goalie on this list.
No. 2 Goalie: Devan Dubnyk, MIN. Quiet simply, Dubnyk’s numbers with the Wild are insane. He has literally started 36 consecutive games since joining the club on Jan. 14, going 26-7-2 with a 1.74 GAA and .937 save percentage to completely revive Minnesota’s season. Arguably the best story of the year in the NHL.