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Looking at the Penguins vs. Central Division teams on paper

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How do the Pens matchup against their potential new division mates?

NHL: DEC 12 Penguins at Blackhawks Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The 2020-21 NHL season will be a lot different than normal. We still don’t have a set start date, though deadlines tend to make progress and it looks like an agreement by December 11th or 12th could be the magic date to get an agreement to get the ball rolling for a January 1 start. So you can enjoy your Thanksgiving week knowing not much is likely to change now with the timing looming down the line.

When the league does start, due to Canadian border restrictions, we’re likely to see unique one year divisional play with the Penguins reportedly jumping over to a newly created Central Division. While it’s jarring to not see the Pens beating up on the Flyers, Rangers and Caps for another year, it’s something new. And new can be exciting.

As we discussed, Pittsburgh jumping to the Central makes a lot of sense from a television and competitive perspective. The Pens are good, the East/Metro is good, sliding over to the Central balances a lot out to balance the structure of powerful teams.

But just how does it stack up, at least in the pre-season and on paper? Let’s get it a look.

Pittsburgh

Expected/potential starting lines

Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Kasperi Kapanen
Jason Zucker - Evgeni Malkin - Bryan Rust
Jared McCann - Mark Jankowski - Evan Rodrigues
Sam Lafferty - Teddy Blueger - Brandon Tanev

Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang
Marcus Pettersson / John Marino
Mike Matheson / Cody Ceci

Tristan Jarry - Casey DeSmith

—We’ve been over the Pens time and time again, so we’ll keep it short and sweet. This lineup is certainly imperfect and counting on a couple of bouncebacks on the third line and third pair, which may or may not be a wise idea. But the Pens’ top six forward group and top four defense are also super stacked and as talented as anyone in that regard. And often in the regular season, overwhelming skill is what racks up the wins.

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Chicago

Potential starting lines

Dominik Kubalik - Jonathan Toews -Mattias Janmark
Alex DeBrincat - Kirby Dach - Patrick Kane
Alex Nylander- Dylan Strome (RFA) - Ryan Carpenter
Zach Smith - Lucas Wallmark - David Kampf

Duncan Keith / Adam Boqvist
Calvin de Haan / Connor Murphy
Nick Seeler / Nikita Zadorov

Collin Delia - Malcolm Subban

—You can really see why Jonathan Toews was pissed off Chicago traded Brandon Saad for little help and Corey Crawford was let go. The Blackhawks goaltending looks like a big weak point and the loss of Saad from the top-six turns what would have been a more lethal group into something less. Andrew Shaw and Brent Seabrook could be back in the picture coming back from IR, but it’s debatable how much more either will have to offer above replacement level. Chicago has enough pieces to be OK, but it sure isn’t 2013 or 2015 any more for them.

Columbus

Potential starting lines

Alex Texier - Pierre-Luc Dubois (RFA) - Oliver Bjorkstrand
Nick Foligno - Max Domi - Cam Atkinson
Boone Jenner - Mikko Koivu - Liam Foudy
Riley Nash - Mikhail Grigorenko - Emil Benstrom

Zach Werenski / Seth Jones
Vladislav Gavrikov / David Savard
Gabriel Carlsson / Dean Kukan

Joonas Korpisalo - Elvis Merzlikins

—Somewhat quietly, CBJ has re-made their depth down the middle this offseason by adding Domi, Koivu and Grigorenko (an NHL vet who has been in the KHL the past few years). They’ll also have Gustav Nyquist in the mix coming off IR as well. Korpisalo was a playoff hero who stood on his head, and other than that top pair he will be needed to be big again for the Blue Jackets to make waves.

Detroit

Potential starting lines

Tyler Bertuzzi - Dylan Larkin - Anthony Mantha
Robby Fabbri - Vladislav Namestnikov - Bobby Ryan
Sam Gagner - Valtteri Filpulla - Filip Zadina
Darren Helm - Luke Glendening - Adam Erne

Patrik Nemeth / Filip Hronek
Danny Dekeyser / Troy Stretcher
Marc Staal / Jon Merrill

Thomas Greiss - Jonathan Bernier

—Detroit went 17-49-5 last year. They added a bunch of new faces, which might turn into valuable deadline day trades, but other than that it’s still a rebuilding year for the Red Wings. Especially on defense it’s a tough go with the talent level there. The top line is pretty nice and Greiss is a sturdy option in net, but this is looking like another bottom level team in Detroit looking towards the future.

Florida

Potential starting lines

Jonathan Huberdeau - Aleksander Barkov - Patric Hornqvist
Grigori Denisenko - Aleander Wennberg - Owen Tippett
Aleksi Saarela - Carter Verhaeghe - Frank Vatrano
Brett Connolly - Noel Acciari - Vinnie Hinostroza

Mackenzie Weegar / Aaron Ekblad
Keith Yandle / Markus Nuutivaara
Anton Stralman / Radko Gudas

Sergei Bobrovsky - Chris Driedger

—What’s the deal with Bob? That’s the biggest question for Florida — do they get a Vezina winner and one of the top goalies in the league? Or the guy they had last year who struggled? Beyond that, the new faces of Denisenko, Tippett and Saarela need to step up big time and replace the production of departed players like Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov. This isn’t a team without talent, and a scrappy 4th line, but overall there still looks like quite a few holes no matter how they shake out the lineup.

Nashville

Potential starting lines

Filip Forsberg - Ryan Johansen - Victor Arvidsson
Eeli Tolvanen - Matt Duchene - Luke Kunin
Nick Cousins - Philip Tomasino - Calle Jarnkrok
Colton Sissons - Brad Richardson - Rocco Grimaldi

Roman Josi / Ryan Ellis
Mattias Ekholm / Dante Fabbro
Mark Borowiecki / Matt Benning

Juuse Saros - Pekka Rinne

—The Predators look like the picture of NHL parity. Good enough to win on any given night, but not strong enough to be a top team. They have some nice pieces and are still strong on the back-end with Norris winner Roman Josi, but otherwise still some questions up front.

St. Louis

Potential starting lines

Jaden Schwartz - Brayden Schenn - Robert Thomas
Zach Sanford - Ryan O’Reilly - David Perron
Sammy Blais - Tyler Bozak - Oskar Sundqvist
Kyle Clifford - Ivan Barbashev - Jordan Kyrou

Torey Krug / Colton Parayko
Marco Scandella / Justin Faulk
Vince Dunn / Robert Bortuzzo

Jordan Binnington - Ville Husso

—The loss of team captain Alex Pietrangelo to free agency looms large here and while many elements of the 2019 Stanley Cup team remains, some holes have emerged. Especially with Vladimir Tarasenko undergoing a third shoulder surgery and out at least for the beginning of the season. The Blues have added Krug in free agency and definitely aren’t a weak team, but on paper if you didn’t know this team won a Cup 17 months ago, I’m not sure you would be able to tell at this point.

Tampa

Potential starting lines

Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Nikita Kucherov
Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli (RFA) - Steven Stamkos
Barclay Goodrow - Yanni Gourde - Blake Coleman
Patrick Maroon - Cedric Paquette - Tyler Johnson

Victor Hedman / Erik Cernak (RFA)
Ryan McDonaugh / Mikhail Sergachev (RFA)
Braydon Coburn / Luke Schenn

Andrei Vasilievskiy - Curtis McElhinney

—The salary cap might jump up and cause some changes here, since TB only has $2.8 million of space left and a few key players to sign (though maybe they could Marcus Pettersson 2019-handshake deal on a QO some of them....) so we’ll have to see how this one sorts out and allow for changes from this lineup.

But, still, no matter what Tampa needs to lose to re-sign Cirelli and Sergachev, they still have a very powerful team. That now has the confidence of winning. They arguably have the best defenseman in the game (Hedman), the top goalie in the game (Vasilievskiy) and a couple of forwards who are playing close to being the best in the game (Kucherov and Point). They’ll be dangerous no matter how it shakes out.

All in all, even though Pittsburgh doesn’t have a perfect lineup, on paper they’re not much below the 2nd or 3rd best team in this proposed division, depending on how St. Louis does. Teams like Nashville and Columbus won’t be pushovers, but are clearly a notch or two below the top teams here. Florida and Chicago aren’t without talent but have significant flaws. And Detroit? Well, Detroit is also here too.

Of course, that division still has to be finalized, as does the season. Overall though, just to break the ice and look around and see how the new division is after the season it will be interesting to reset and figure out what we have here for competition for the Pens.

Where do you think the Pens would finish in a 50ish game season against these clubs?