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The Chicago Blackhawks have won the Stanley Cup three times in the last seven seasons. But last year, they lacked their usual dominance and were ushered out of the playoffs in the first round by the St. Louis Blues. After retooling the roster a bit, the Blackhawks are once again pegged as the team to beat in the Central Division.

 

The Favourite

The Blackhawks (+290) have enough credit to remain in the top spot on the futures board despite being eliminated in the first round of the playoffs last season. The core is still intact with captain Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane up front, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook on the blue line and Corey Crawford in goal. However, with so much money tied up in these stars, the Blackhawks had to maneuver around the cap once again this offseason.

Centre Andrew Shaw and left wings Teuvo Teravainen and Andrew Ladd are gone, leaving the Blackhawks with question marks among their forwards. They were mostly a one-line team last year, featuring Kane, Artem Anisimov and Artemi Panarin on their top line, but the Blackhawks will need support from the other lines if they’re to contend for the Central title or make another serious playoff run.

 

The Best of the Rest

Next in line is a trio of teams with matching odds: The Dallas Stars, St. Louis Blues and Nashville Predators (all +325 to win the division).

The Stars are the defending division champions, but have the most health concerns entering the season. Left wing/centre Jamie Benn had offseason surgery and is easing his way back through preseason action. Centre Tyler Seguin and right wing Ales Hemsky suffered injuries in the World Cup and are aiming for an early season return. Centres Cody Eakin and Mattias Janmark will be out long term with knee injuries.

On the bright side, Benn and Seguin make a powerful duo, while centre Jason Spezza, left wing Patrick Sharp, right wing Ales Hemsky and now right wing Jiri Hudler make up a cast that should again be among the league leaders in goals scored. They need to get healthy first and then find solutions at the back end (19th in goals allowed) if they want to repeat as division champs.

The Blues might be feeling a bit overlooked considering they beat the Blackhawks and Stars in the playoffs last year before bowing out to the San Jose Sharks in six games in the Western Conference Finals. Some changes were made including losing David Backes and Troy Brouwer in free agency and goaltender Brian Elliott in a trade. The Blues are moving forward with Jake Allen as their No. 1 goaltender after he went 26-15-3 while posting a .920 save percentage last season. He’ll be protected by one of the best defensive units in the NHL, powered by Kevin Shattenkirk, Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester. The Blues allowed the fewest goals in the division last year.

As for the Predators, they’re on the rise by ousting the Anaheim Ducks in the first round of the playoffs last year. Equipped with what many experts consider to be the best blue line in the league, the Predators are a popular pick to make a run.

The Central Division long shots are the Minnesota Wild (+900), the Winnipeg Jets (+1200) and the Colorado Avalanche (+1400).

 

*Odds as of October 7, 2016