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Get to Know the Central Division

Breaking down the seven opponents the Canes will face in 2020-21

by Michael Smith @MSmithCanes / Hurricanes.com

The entirety of the 56-game 2020-21 regular season in addition to the first two rounds of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs will feature intradivisional play.

That is to say, the Carolina Hurricanes won't see any team from outside the newly formed Central Division until at least the third round of the postseason.

HOW NEW DIVISIONS, SCHEDULE WILL WORK IN 2020-21

That's a long way off from now, so let's get to know each of the Canes' seven divisional opponents for the upcoming season.

"It's interesting. It's teams we haven't played a ton, so that will make it different," Jordan Staal said. "It's weird we're going to play those same teams the whole year, which I think is going to maybe cause some quick rivalries and good games."

 

Chicago Blackhawks

2019-20 record: 32-30-8, 72 points (.514 points %), 7th in Central Division
CAR vs. CHI in 2019-20: 2-0-0
2019-20 leading scorer: Patrick Kane, 84 points (33g, 51a) in 70 games
Key additions: Mattias Janmark (C), Lucas Wallmark (C), Nikita Zadorov (D)
Key subtractions: Corey Crawford (G), Olli Maatta (D), Brandon Saad (LW)

The Blackhawks are in the midst of a rebuild, as stated in a letter to their fans. Core veterans, like forwards Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane and defensemen Duncan Keith and Brent Sebrook, will be leaned upon to groom their crop of young players.

The Canes and Blackhawks typically see each other just twice in a single season. Quadrupling that while Chicago proceeds through a rebuild should give Carolina an advantage in the head-to-head.

 

Columbus Blue Jackets

2019-20 record: 33-22-15, 81 points (.579 points %), 6th in Metropolitan Division
CAR vs. CBJ in 2019-20: 0-2-1
2019-20 leading scorer: Pierre-Luc Dubois, 49 points (18g, 31a) in 70 games
Key additions: Max Domi (C), Mikko Koivu (C)
Key subtractions: Josh Anderson (RW), Alexander Wennberg (C)

The Blue Jackets have qualified for the postseason in each of the last four years. In 2020, they rebounded from a heartbreaking Game 4 loss to shut out the Toronto Maple Leafs, 3-0, in the decisive Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers. Columbus then fell in five games to Tampa Bay in the first round, the third time in the last four years that they've been bounced from the playoffs by the eventual Stanley Cup champions.

Rod Brind'Amour and John Tortorella tend to get the most out of the clubs they coach, and the result is, more often than not, a tightly contested battle between these two teams. Columbus is the lone Metropolitan Division opponent that joins the Canes in the Central.

 

Dallas Stars

2019-20 record: 37-24-8, 82 points (.594 points %), 3rd in Central Division
CAR vs. DAL in 2019-20: 0-2-0
2019-20 leading scorer: Tyler Seguin, 50 points (17g, 33a) in 69 games
Key additions: Mark Pysyk (D)
Key subtractions: Mattias Janmark (C), Corey Perry (RW)

Led by former Hurricane Anton Khudobin in net, who recorded 14 wins, a 2.69 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage in 25 postseason games, the Stars made a run to the Stanley Cup Final, losing to Tampa Bay in six games. Though the Stars' roster remained largely untouched in the offseason, they will begin the season without forward Tyler Seguin, who led the team in scoring in 2019-20, and goaltender Ben Bishop, both of whom could return in March.

The Stars still figure to be a tough opponent and will be looking to make another run at the Stanley Cup. The Canes, who dropped two 4-1 decisions to Dallas in the 2019-20 season, will have their hands full eight times against this club in the upcoming season.

 

Detroit Red Wings

2019-20 record: 17-49-5, 39 points (.275 points %), 8th in Atlantic Division
CAR vs. DET in 2019-20: 3-0-0
2019-20 leading scorer: Dylan Larkin, 53 points (19g, 34a) in 71 games
Key additions: Thomas Greiss (G), Jon Merrill (D), Vladislav Namestnikov (C), Bobby Ryan (RW), Marc Staal (D)
Key subtractions: Justin Abdelkader (LW), Brendan Perlini (LW), Trevor Daley (D), Jimmy Howard (G)

The Red Wings limped through the 2019-20 season, finishing with the worst points percentage (.275) of any team in the league's salary cap era. General Manager and former Red Wings great Steve Yzerman is leading the rebuild from the front office, while Jeff Blashill enters his sixth season as the team's bench boss, looking to break a four-year playoff drought with a retooled roster.

The Canes and Red Wings most notably met in the 2002 Stanley Cup Finals, as the Wings bested the Canes in five games to claim their 10th championship in franchise history. Now 18 years later, the Canes should have the upper hand in the divisional head-to-head tilts.

 

Florida Panthers

2019-20 record: 35-26-8, 78 points (.565 points %), 4th in Atlantic Division
CAR vs. FLA in 2019-20: 2-1-0
2019-20 leading scorer: Jonathan Huberdeau, 78 points (23g, 55a) in 69 games
Key additions: Anthony Duclair (LW), Patric Hornqvist (RW), Alexander Wennberg (C)
Key subtractions: Evgenii Dadonov (RW), Mike Hoffman (LW), Mike Matheson (D)

After losing to the New York Islanders in four games in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, the Panthers spent the offseason making changes both on and off the ice. They added a veteran Stanley Cup pedigree with the acquisition of Patric Hornqvist and boosted their offense with the late signing of Anthony Duclair. They also created a Goaltending Excellence Department, headed by Francois Allaire and Roberto Luongo.

The Canes and Panthers played in the Southeast Division for 14 seasons. Carolina captured three division championships, while the Panthers won their first in the 2011-12 season.

 

Nashville Predators

2019-20 record: 35-26-8, 78 points (.565 points %), 4th in Central Division
CAR vs. NSH in 2019-20: 1-1-0
2019-20 leading scorer: Roman Josi, 65 points (16g, 49a)
Key additions: Matt Benning (D), Mark Borowiecki (D), Luke Kunin (C)
Key subtractions: Nick Bonino (C), Mikael Granlund (C), Craig Smith (RW)

After being upset by the Arizona Coyotes in four games in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, the Predators retooled their supporting cast around key pieces like forwards Matt Duchene and Filip Forsberg, defensemen Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis and goaltender Pekka Rinne. Josi won the 2020 Norris Trophy after putting up career highs in goals (16), assists (49) and points (65) in 69 games, second among all NHL defensemen in each category.

It's tough to stoke the flames of a rivalry when teams face each other just twice in a given season, but the 2020-21 campaign could be a real chance for a regional rivalry to develop between Carolina and Nashville, two very competitive teams with passionate fan bases in cities separated by only an eight-hour drive. This season series could be a lot of fun.

 

Tampa Bay Lightning

2019-20 record: 43-21-6, 92 points (.657 points %), 2nd in Atlantic Division
CAR vs. TB in 2019-20: 2-1-0
2019-20 leading scorer: Nikita Kucherov, 85 points (33g, 52a) in 68 games
Key additions: The Stanley Cup (because really, there's no cap space for anything else)
Key subtractions: Zach Bogosian (D), Kevin Shattenkirk (D)

The Lightning tied an NHL record with 62 wins in the 2018-19 regular season. Just four games into the 2019 postseason, their Cup hopes were suddenly and unpredictably dashed, having been swept by Columbus. Eighteen months removed from that humbling experience, the Lightning lifted the Stanley Cup after besting the Dallas Stars in six games in the Final inside the Edmonton bubble. Their roster remains largely unchanged, and they figure to be another top team heading into the 2020-21 season.

Tampa Bay is another old foe from the Southeast Division, which the Lightning won in back-to-back seasons (2002-03 and 2003-04). The Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup in 2006 after the Lightning won it in 2004, which was technically the season prior. Fast forward to 2020, and the Lightning are champs again. Could the Canes follow suit in 2021?

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