Get to know the Central: Hurricanes have new division in ’21

The new-look Central Division includes two teams from the Metro, both Stanley Cup finalists and other unfamiliar foes

Former Hurricanes Anton Khudobin, left, and Andrej Sekera helped Dallas reach the Stanley Cup Final last season, and both re-signed with Stars this offseason. (Sam Hodde / AP Photo)

RALEIGH — The Carolina Hurricanes opened their abbreviated training camp for the 2020‑21 season this week without a lot of questions about how the opening night lineup will look.

Coach Rod Brind’Amour will need to figure out where newcomer Jesper Fast fits into his lines, how the team’s defense will be paired, and which players Carolina will carry on its taxi squad.

What will look different are their opponents this season — seven teams from the newly formed Central Division that will serve as the only competition the Hurricanes will play until the playoffs in May. Each team will play each other eight times, with the top four teams reaching the postseason.

So with one week until opening night in Detroit, here’s a look at the seven other teams in the Central and what you need to know before they all become very familiar with one another over the course of the shortened 56-game season.

Chicago Blackhawks

2019-20: 32-30-8, 72 points; 4-1 series loss to Vegas in first round

Newsworthy: Chicago was already aging and thin on talent — not to mention inexperienced in goal — then it lost its top two centers on the eve of camp. Captain Jonathan Toews is out indefinitely with an undisclosed illness, and up-and-comer Kirby Dach suffered a fractured wrist at the World Juniors that will keep him out most of the season. Forward Alex Nylander is also out with a knee injury.

The Blackhawks’ three-headed goalie of Collin Delia, Kevin Lankinen and Malcolm Subban will try and replace the departed Corey Crawford in net, but 2020-21 has all the makings of a rough season in the Windy City.

Familiar faces: Lucas Wallmark, traded by the Hurricanes to Florida in the deal that brought Vincent Trocheck to Carolina last season, signed a one-year deal with the Blackhawks during the offseason and suddenly looks like he’ll be a middle-six pivot for Chicago. Defenseman Calvin de Haan is in his second year with Chicago since being traded there by Carolina last offseason.

Columbus Blue Jackets

2019-20: 33-22-15, 81 points; 4-1 series loss to Tampa Bay in first round

Newsworthy: Would it be a Blue Jackets season without contract drama? Columbus signed franchise center Pierre-Luc Dubois to a two-year extension before training camp, but he also requested a trade. Now coach John Tortorella and his team could again be facing what they dealt with when both Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin let it be known they wanted out of Ohio two seasons ago.

The Blue Jackets did trade Josh Anderson for Maxi Domi in the offseason while also adding veteran center Miko Koivu.

Familiar faces: Almost everyone. Other than the newcomers like Domi and Koivu, Carolina knows the Central’s only other Metropolitan Division team well. Former Hurricanes Zac Dalpe, Nathan Gerbe and Riley Nash will all have a chance at bottom-six roles for the Blue Jackets.

Dallas Stars

2019-20: 37-24-8, 82 points; 4-2 series loss to Tampa Bay in Stanley Cup Final

Newsworthy: After a run to the Stanley Cup Final, the Stars will start the 2020-21 season without star forward Tyler Seguin and goalie Ben Bishop. Dallas still boasts a solid mix of established veterans, like Jamie Benn, Joe Pavelski and Alexander Radulov, and young talent, namely Miro Heiskanen and Roope Hintz.

Familiar faces: With Bishop out, the goaltending reins again fall into the hands of Anton Khudobin, who handled those duties during the Stars’ playoff run last year. Defenseman Andrej Sekera, another former Hurricane, is back for another year in Dallas.

Detroit Red Wings

2019-20: 17-49-5, 39 points; did not qualify for postseason

Newsworthy: It’s likely to be another tough year for the Red Wings, but GM Steve Yzerman should start to see some of the young talent he’s assembled on the ice this season. Thomas Greiss will provide some stability in net, but Detroit still looks like it will be the doormat of the division.

Familiar faces: No former Hurricanes are in line to be on the Detroit roster, but there will be some sibling sightings. In a cap move, the Red Wings took on the final year of defenseman Marc Staal’s contract from the Rangers, while Evgeny Svechnikov is recovered from a knee injury and hopes to carve out an NHL role and face his little brother Andrei this year.

Florida Panthers

2019-20: 35-26-8, 78 points; 3-1 playoff qualifier series loss to Islanders

Newsworthy: The Panthers lost firepower up front with the departures of Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov, but there’s top-shelf talent with Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau along with additions Patric Hornqvist and Anthony Duclair.

Familiar faces: A couple former Hurricanes prospects from Finland will get a shot to make the Panthers this season in Aleksi Saarela and Eetu Luostarinen. Defensemen Jake Massie and Chase Priskie were also once in the Carolina pipeline. Prospect Riley Stillman — son of Cory Stillman, who won a Cup with the Hurricanes in 2006 — could make the team.

And then there’s Scott Darling, the goalie who bombed out in Carolina halfway through his big four-year deal and is now on a professional tryout in Florida — the team that officially bought him out following the James Reimer trade before last season.

Nashville Predators

2019-20: 35-26-8, 78 points; 3-1 playoff qualifier series loss to Arizona

Newsworthy: The Predators look like a team that’s headed toward a rebuild. There’s still talent — most notably Roman Josi and Ryan Johansen — and solid goaltending, but the roster has a patchwork feel after Nashville added a couple pieces right before camp that could block some of their young talent from getting NHL experience.

Familiar faces: Erik Haula, whose expiring contract was traded to Florida at the deadline last year in the Trocheck trade, signed a one-year deal with Nashville just before Christmas. He’ll miss the start of camp as he awaits the birth of his first child.

Tampa Bay Lightning

2019-20: 43-21-6, 92 points; Stanley Cup champions

Newsworthy: The Lightning are built to take a run at defending their title, and they will have captain Steven Stamkos back in the fold to join a wealth of talent that won a Cup mostly without him. Missing, however, is Nikita Kucherov, the 2018-19 Hart Trophy winner who is out for the regular season following hip surgery. Tampa Bay had to jostle its roster to become cap compliant, losing several key complementary players from a season ago, but the Lightning still have the likes of Brayden Point, Victor Hedman, Andrei Vasilevskiy and Canes killer Tyler Johnson.

Familiar faces: Former Hurricanes backup goalie Curtis McElhinney is again the No. 2 in Tampa Bay this season. Rough-and-tumble Barclay Goodrow was a prospect camp invitee for the Hurricanes long ago.