If the Blackhawks are going to end their postseason drought next season, they are going to have to jump over at least one of the five Central Division foes who qualified for this year’s postseason.
Of course, there is no guarantee the Central will get five teams in next year’s tournament, but let’s look at each club and identify teams that could take a step back next season.
Ever since the Predators swept the Blackhawks and lost to Pittsburgh in the Stanley Cup Final, they have continued to regress each year in their attempts to hoist the Cup.
Last year, they lost to Winnipeg in Game 7 of the second round. This postseason, Dallas ousted Nashville in the first round.
The Predators appear to be at a Cup crossroads. They need to find more scoring than just the JOFA line. Do they need to move P.K. Subban to acquire scoring depth?
They also had the worst power play in the league and 36-year-old goalie Pekka Rinne had a sub-par .905 save percentage in the playoffs.
Expect a busy offseason in the Music City as the Predators look to stay in the upper tier of the Central.
Cup contender trending: Down
Did the Jets run into a team of destiny in the Blues? Or did the opening round loss highlight some areas of concern for Winnipeg?
The Jets season in many ways was the exact opposite of the Blues. Winnipeg started strong and was just average in the second half of the season.
The Jets have seven players that will become unrestricted free agents on July 1st, including Kevin Hayes. They also have six restricted free agents on their roster, which includes Patrik Laine and Jacob Trouba.
The Jets have had a rocky relationship with Trouba and are expected to trade the 25-year-old defenseman. Connor Hellebuyck’s production dropped off a bit from 2018 when he was a Vezina Trophy finalist.
The Jets have a great power play and three lines that can score. A couple of roster tweaks could help this young team take the next step.
Cup contender trending: Even
From last place in the entire league on Jan. 2 to being one of the final four teams standing in pursuit of Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Craig Berube pushed all the right buttons when he took over last November. The Blues commitment to defense was highlighted by finally finding what appears to be a franchise goalie in Jordan Binnington.
The Blues are strong down the middle with centers Brayden Schenn, Ryan O’Reilly and Tyler Bozak.
The Blues' key players are under contract next season. So, other than finding a new anthem to replace “Gloria” the Blues could be a major roadblock in the Blackhawks climb up the Central standings.
Cup contender trending: Up
Another first-year coach in the Central, Jim Montgomery saw his team improve dramatically, as they fell just one goal short of reaching the Western Conference Final.
The Stars have a tremendous 1-2 punch in net with Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin.
They have solid special teams with players like Tyler Seguin, Alex Radulov and John Klingberg putting up monster numbers.
They also saw young players like Miro Heiskanen and Roope Hintz make an impact on the scoresheet.
The Stars spent a second-round pick on Mats Zuccarello. Will the Stars have enough cap room to sign Zuccarello when he becomes a UFA this summer?
Cup contender trending: Even
The Avalanche punched the final postseason ticket in the West and rode it all the way to Game 7 of the second round.
Luck was on the side of the Blackhawks during the draft lottery, but that wasn’t the case for Colorado. They had the best odds for the No. 1 overall pick and ended up with the fourth overall selection.
The Blackhawks won’t have to deal with Jack Hughes in an Avs sweater, but they will have to worry about blue line phenom Cale Makar for the foreseeable future.
The Avalanche had the most dangerous line in hockey for much of the season with Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen.
They are a young, fast team with a steady netminder in Philipp Grubauer. They will see Colin Wilson become a UFA on July 1.
Colorado may end up being the elite team in the Central for years to come.
Cup contender trending: UpClick here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Blackhawks easily on your device.