Key themes for the Central Division

Updated: January 15, 2013, 11:14 AM ET
By Craig Custance

St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock is always looking for an edge and isn't the kind of guy who would sit during the lockout and simply wait for a resolution.

He spent a lot of time during the lockout observing college and junior hockey -- some live, some on video -- to see whether there was anything he could implement with the Blues to give them an edge in a Central Division that is once again loaded.

"The cutting edge of learning is in junior and college," Hitchcock said. "Those are the guys to learn from. They take chances, they take risks. We're more of a conservative league. I went back and talked to those guys and in some cases observed some of their training camps. When you go back there, you get better. You find new drills, new ways guys are doing things. I always feel like what ends up being on the forefront in junior, two years later we get."

Hitchcock's continued evolution is what makes him one of the best in the game. Right now, that's an advantage the Central Division has over some of the others. There isn't a single new coach in the division. In the NHL, the Central, Atlantic and Pacific are the three divisions to return every coach, and it's no coincidence that those are the three best divisions in hockey.

Joel Quenneville has a Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks. Mike Babcock is a member of the triple-gold club, coaching a team to titles in the NHL, Olympics and world championships. Nashville's Barry Trotz is the second-longest-tenured coach in the league and there's isn't a more respected coach in the league than he is. Hitchcock is the reigning Jack Adams Award winner.

We're all trying to look for an edge that teams might have during a lockout-shortened season, and maybe we're out-thinking ourselves a bit. Look at the coaches with a track record and established system with their team, and that just might be all you need to know to figure out who has the advantage.

But even the best know there will be challenges this season.