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November 8, 2011 :: 7:29pm ET
Preds, Blues make big moves
 Two Central Division teams made significant moves in the last few days.

CHICAGO, IL -- In the last few days, the hockey world has been rocked by a couple decisions that caught more than a few people by surprise. Both moves will impact the Central Division, which has been one of the game's most dynamic in the early going this year.

First, Nashville paid someone -- and it was their goalie. Staring down the barrel of salary cap Armageddon this summer, Nashville had to make a decision on netminder Pekka Rinne and their top two defensemen, Ryan Suter and Shea Weber.

They got the ball rolling by throwing seven years and $49M at Rinne, neither of which are numbers many expected to see from a Predators organization that isn't rolling in money like division rivals Chicago and Detroit.

Kudos to the Preds for taking the big step and paying their Vezina finalist. Rinne signed the deal on his 29th birthday and has been a consummate professional during his time in Nashville, winning at least 29 games in each of the last three seasons. With the man between the pipes locked up, they can now look at addressing their blueline.

So many outsiders had considered the Columbus Blue Jackets the most likely team to make the season's first coaching change and seeing Ken Hitchcock getting back into the coaching game wasn't earth-shattering... because he was in the Columbus organization. So, when Hitchcock landed a new gig behind a bench on Sunday, his name wasn't a shock.

But in St. Louis?

At 6-7-0, the Blues are far from buried in the Western Conference; indeed, they're only four points behind Nashville for the second place spot in the Central, and haven't received consistent hockey from Jaroslav Halak between their pipes yet.

But management apparently wasn't thrilled by the style Davis Payne was bringing to the team and made the change. What more, they made a change to a coach with a style many have openly questioned in recent years.

Hitchcock will take over a talented young roster that looked good at the end of last year, and will get into the mix in the division quickly. The Blues will put Halak in net on Tuesday night for a game against a Blackhawks team that, despite being in first place, is coming off an ugly beating at the hands of the Canucks in Chicago on Sunday night.

The Western Conference is, obviously, still wide open. We're just beginning November, and the playoff hopes of teams are a strong as the facial hair being displayed by some of the young stars in the conference.

Trade rumors are still more smoke than fire, and the panic button is being pushed more by fans than front offices. But the strong statements made early in the year by Nashville and St. Louis show that both organizations are focused on this season as much as they are on their futures.

Tam Bamford is a Columnist for and the Chicago Correspondent for The Fourth Period Magazine.



Nov. 01, 2011 Early season surpises
Oct. 28, 2011 The trade that kept Belfour in Chicago
Oct. 25, 2011 It's a young man's game
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