So here’s the Central division, one of the most crazy divisions in the league. There were so many division lead changes here between the Wild, Hawks, Blues , and Preds. Although Dallas didn’t repeat their dominance like the season before, Winnipeg being an up and coming team, and Colorado being….. well I don’t know what the hell the Aves were doing but they were doing it wrong. The Hawks seemingly being the top of the Central were swept by the Preds this past post season on there way to their first Cup appearance in franchise history. This upcoming season will be no different for a couple of these teams so lets look at what they’ve done thus far in free agency.
Well I’d like to start with Chicago, by far the most successful team in the division. Gone now are Panarin, Marcus Kruger, Scott Darling, Nick Hjalmarsson, and van Riemsdyk are who were key players for the Hawks during their Cup runs. The Hawks seem to be trying to get the old band back together, with that said bringing back Brandon Sadd, Patrick Sharp will help the two way offense. They have signed J.F. Berube to a 2 year deal to back up Crawford in net, Tommy Wingels to a 1 year deal, Anton Forsberg to a 2 year deal and Tomas Jurco who they acquired at the deadline last season to a 1 year deal as well. You have to think that the Hawks are going to try to go back to the old ways that got them 3 Cups in that 6 to 7 year period. They must have been devastated by being swept by the Preds in the 1st round of the playoffs, which was Nashville’s first sweep. Poor defense and Crawford looking dumbfounded at times in net, could it be all the regular season and playoff games taking a toll, maybe. In the long run Chicago will be fine, they have Toews and Kane still, but will the loss of Hossa have an impact? Sure will, that’s 25 goals at least they will be missing.
Okay, now to Colorado who seemed to forget how to hockey. Such a dismal season to say it nicely. With Duchene being the talk of many trade rumors and Landeskog needing to drastically improve his game the Aves were bottom dwellers pretty much all season long. So far they signed Jonathan Bernier to back up Varlomov in net, Nail Yakupov, a number 1 overall pick for a 1 year deal and Colin Wilson from the Preds, I still am not buying into the Aves. The offense was terrible, so too was the defense, leaving Varlomov all alone in the defensive zone. They need top 4 scoring and puck movers to help this team out, ( they’ll need a live chicken), Major League reference there. Sorry to say that my brothers favorite team growing up will miss the postseason again. Mr. Sakic needs to make some drastic moves to fix this team, but is the answer trading your best player away?
Dallas Stars by far I think has Impressed me the most so far. Getting their hands on Ben Bishop to take over as the starting goalie is a good start. After getting bishop it was either Letohen or Niemi, well the Stars bought out Niemi, which in hand freed up a lot of cap space. The Stars were able to resign Radek Faksa to a 3 year $6.6 million deal and Brett Ritchie to a 2 year $3.5 million deal. After his good year in Montreal, Alex Radulov signs for 5 years $31.25 million and Dallas also signed Martin Hanzal to a 3 year $14.25 million deal. Dallas acquired Marc Methot from Vegas after they selected him in the expansion draft. this Dallas team is going to make alot of noise in the Central, possibly being a better team than the team of 2 years ago when Dallas lead in offense that year. Now that they have a true number 1 goalie and added so much scoring to their roster, this is my sleeper team on the comeback for next season. This team on paper could legitimately could make it deep in the playoffs for another Cup!!!
Moving north to Minnesota, the Wild are another top team in the Central and have a solid team from net out. Guys like Sutter, Parise, Koivu, and Dubnyk, under the guidance of Bruce B behind the bench this team is going to make the playoffs next year and a contender to win the division. The Wild have signed Kyle Quincy to a 1 year deal and acquired Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno from Buffalo. I had the Wild to breeze past St. Louis in the first round last post season and boy was I wrong, the Blues only took 5 games to knock off one of the top teams in the league. Budreau has always had trouble winning in the playoffs no matter where he has been, this has to change, he’s too good of a coach to be beaten like that. I do believe it was Mike Yeo who was fired by the Wild, that wanted revenge on his old team. Minnesota doesn’t need alot of help to get back to the playoffs, and they will get back, but can they get past the 2nd round is yet to be determined!
Nashville, Smashville, well the runner up in the Stanley Cup was the last team to qualify and was the 16th seed overall in all of the playoffs in both conferences. Don’t tell them that, just crushing opponents without much trouble, and was one game from forcing a game 7 against the Pens. The Nashville faithful have embraced not only the game of hockey but their Predators. The Subban trade looks like a gem, and now they are reloading to make another run. The Preds have acquired Alexi Emelin from Vegas and have managed to sign Scott Hartnell, who spent 7 years in Nashville before, and have inked Nick Bonino who has come off 2 straight Cup rings with a 4 year $16.4 million deal. The Preds I feel have gained notoriety with the fans and gained confidence and skill to believe in themselves to make a another magical run. With the way this team looks, Dallas and Chicago better beware of catfish flying!!!
The St. Louis Blues really showed me something especially the way their roster changed losing several players via free agency. Well so far I see them going down the route the Pens have gone, speed. Shipping out Ryan Reaves to Pittsburgh allowed them to bring in Chris Thornburn on a 2 year $1.8 million deal, Beau Bennett on a 1 year $650K deal, and Oskar Sundqvist also with a 1 year $650K deal. The only big trade for St. Louis was acquiring Brayden Schenn from Philly. Stastny, Schwartz, Tarasenko, Parayko, Steen, Fabbri, Berglund, and Jake Allen in net, I’m expecting a big improvement for the Blues in an already crazy division. They’ll be one of the teams vying for the top spot in the Central. Who will be singing the blues at the end of season is anybodies guess!
Last in the Central to look at is the Winnipeg Jets who already have their franchise player in Patrick Laine who was one of the top players in the league last season. The Jets have alot of veteran presence in Ladd and Byfuglien, and Wheeler. They needed help in the goaltending department and they went out and signed Steve Mason to a 2 year $4.1 million deal and added depth to the defense by signing Dmitry Kulikov from Washington for a 3 year $14.33 million deal. The Jets just missed out on making the playoffs despite having a winning record, and will be the ones who will try and change that. Although I don’t think that Steve Mason is the answer, he’s very spotty at best. If the Jets defense can keep traffic clear from in front of him they have a shot at being a wild card team to make it to the dance, but I’m not holding my breathe in this division!!!