We’re approaching the Christmas Break in the NHL, which is the perfect time for reflection. In the parity-filled NHL, only six points separate eight place and first place in the Western conference. 

Here’s our projection of the three division winners when it’s all said and done at the end of the NHL’s regular season:

Central Division: Detroit Red Wings

The Central Division has a couple of big boys in the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks, a couple of up-and-comers in the Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues, and a wannabe in the Columbus Blue Jackets. But when it comes to winning in 2010, is there any betting against the Red Wings?

After a year off, they are back on their game with a vengeance. Without question, Detroit has more depth than anyone in the division and with the Chicago Blackhawks still adjusting to a Stanley Cup hangover and their offseason roster losses, the Red Wings should be able to return as champs of the Central in 2010.

Northwest Division: Vancouver Canucks

Just as it was for most of the 2009-10 season, the Colorado Avalanche are surprisingly atop the Northwest Division. It’s a marginal lead but once again, but who really thought they’d be there?

But this is a marathon and not a sprint and just as it was last year, the Avalanche are not built to outplay, outwit and outlast. The Vancouver Canucks might be a hair behind but with Roberto Luongo between the pipes, they still have to be considered the favorites in the Northwest even if they trail the Avs by a slight margin.

As far as the Calgary Flames, Minnesota Wild and Edmonton Oilers are concerned, go ahead and write them off. None of those teams are ready to compete for the division in 2010 and a couple of them – particularly the Flames – could be sellers at the trade deadline.

Pacific Division: San Jose Sharks

In the Western Conference, there is no division more wide open than the Pacific. The Dallas Stars are currently in the lead but that is as tenuous as Lindsay Lohan’s sobriety.

The San Jose Sharks are the expected champs and they have looked more like it in December. But they typically run this division from start to finish in the regular season and since they aren’t doing that this year, some bettors believe there are some chinks in the armor.

Meanwhile, the Kings and Coyotes are trying to prove they are for real but both would be outside of the playoffs looking in if they started today.

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Detroit Red Wings at Colorado Avalanche – December 27th

  • Two division leaders meet the day after Boxing Day and this will serve as a litmus test for the Avalanche. Are they for real or will they fade like last season?

San Jose Sharks at Chicago Blackhawks

  • Another episode of the rematch from last year’s Western Conference Finals, the Blackhawks better prove that they aren’t still hungover from their Cup win. The Sharks have won the first two meetings between the teams (5-2 and 2-1) and some might be wondering if that’s just another sign of the Blackhawks diminishment. We’ll find out in round three.

Vancouver Canucks at Dallas Stars – December 31st

  • Both teams play very well at home but both struggle on the road. The Canucks need quality road wins like this if they do in fact plan to make a Cup run this year.

San Jose Sharks at Los Angeles Kings – January 1st

  • If the Kings want to prove they are for real, a home win against the Sharks is a must. It will set the tone to start the new year.

Nashville Predators at Anaheim Ducks

  • Could this be a preview of a first-round playoff matchup? These two teams are in the thick of the playoff race but most people thought they’d be on the outside looking in.