2017 NHL Offseason Analysis: Central Division

Central Division

2017 NHL Offseason Analysis

CENTRAL DIVISION

Once thought to be the strongest division in the National Hockey League, the Central Division has seen its reputation drop in recent years. With the Blackhawks getting swept in the first round and the Avalanche putting together one of the worst campaigns in recent memory, the division would appear to be on the decline. However, with a momentous offseason push by the Dallas Stars, the Predators’ recent Stanley Cup appearance and the Blues’ and Wild’s determination to stay relevant, this division could produce several prime playoff contenders. Here is an overview of the offseasons for the Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, St. Louis Blues and Winnipeg Jets.

 

2016-2017 Central Division Standings

  1. Chicago Blackhawks — 109pts
  2. Minnesota Wild — 106pts
  3. St. Louis Blues — 99pts
  4. Nashville Predators — 94pts
  5. Winnipeg Jets — 87pts (missed playoffs)
  6. Dallas Stars — 79pts (missed playoffs)
  7. Colorado Avalanche — 48pts (missed playoffs)

 

Chicago Blackhawks

Central Division

Photo credit: Stephen Dunn-Getty Images

2016-2017 By the Numbers

Overall Record: 50-23-9-109
Playoff Result: Eliminated in Conference Quarter-Finals by Nashville (4-0 NSH)
Standings: Central Division: 1, Western Conference: 1, League: 3
Goals For: 240 (NHL rank: 9)
Goals Against: 212 (NHL rank: 20)
Power Play Percentage: 18.0 percent (NHL rank: 19)
Penalty Kill Percentage: 77.7 percent (NHL rank: 24)
Leading Scorer: Patrick Kane (34-55-89)
 

Summary of 2016-2017 Season Results

The Chicago Blackhawks had an excellent regular season, reaching 50 wins for the first time since the 2009-2010 season. The Conference-clinching club, considered by all to be an automatic Cup threat, saw its Cup chances cut short surprisingly early. Though the team ran into a surging Pekka Rinne and the Nashville Predators, the eventual Stanley Cup representative from the Western Conference, the season left a sour taste in the collective mouths of the players, management and fans in the Windy City. Offseason change, which had become a yearly foregone conclusion because of cap constraints, was imminent. General manager Stan Bowman has already made multiple game-changing moves and could have more on the way.
 

Most Significant Offseason Moves

Trading the Bread Man

Central Division

Photo credit: Jonathan Daniel-Getty Images

Just prior to the NHL Entry Draft, the Blackhawks sent shockwaves through the hockey world by completing a trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets that essentially flipped superstar winger Artemi Panarin for Brandon Saad.

Panarin, named rookie of the year in 2015-2016, has 61 goals and 151 points in 162 games over the past two years. He has put up back-to-back 70-plus point campaigns.

Saad, drafted by Chicago in 2011, put up 55 goals and 106 points in 160 games over the past two seasons in Columbus, including 53 points in each campaign. He spent parts of four seasons in Chicago before being dealt to Columbus for cap reasons in the summer of 2015.

On the surface, this looks like a lopsided move in favor of the Blue Jackets, but it’s not that simple. In no way is this trade an indication of Bowman’s dissatisfaction with Panarin’s performance. Rather, it has to do with ongoing cap management. Panarin and Saad both carry the same $6 million cap hit, but Saad’s deal carries an extra two years. Those two years are huge for a cap-straddled team looking to continue to contend for years to come.

Saad not only carries the extra two seasons of cap stability, but he could get star center Jonathan Toews back on track after back-to-back down years and an unremarkable playoff performance. The combination of those factors made sense for Bowman, but it is a very risky move any way you look at it. It would be unfair to simply compare the statlines of the two players next season, especially when so many aspects of the game factor into a player’s production. But both names will be linked, and Saad has a tall order to fill in Chicago.

The Marian Mess

Central Division

Photo credit: Bill Smith-NHLI

When the initial rumors surfaced on Twitter, many thought the idea that Marian Hossa’s career could be over was someone’s idea of a sick joke. When the story gained traction and got confirmation from official sources, it was nothing less than stunning.

Hossa will miss the 2017-2018 season in its entirety because of a progressive skin disorder. The disorder is something he has been treating and managing for years, but he has suffered severe side effects from necessary medications, thus forcing his hand at least for next season. Many have questioned the legitimacy of the claim, however.

Hossa’s age (38) and contract (he signed a 12-year, $63.3 million deal in 2009 with just a $1 million salary starting this year) are the main reasons many have accused Chicago of cap circumvention. The league is investigating the matter to determine what form of cap relief, if any, the Blackhawks can obtain because of Hossa’s situation. According to Hawks president John McDonough, “conversations with the NHL are ongoing.”

Losing Hossa from the lineup is costly enough, as he played a significant role in the team’s three Stanley Cup championships since 2010 and is a great two-way forward. But when you throw in the fact that the Hawks could be on the hook for his $5.275 million cap hit, things get really dicey. In all likelihood, the Blackhawks will be able to place Hossa on LTIR (long-term injured reserve) on the first day of the season. This will clear up the $5.275 million, but that cap space will not be available until the start of the season, meaning Chicago will be unable to go out and spend that money in the offseason.

The Defensive Gamble

Central Division

Photo credits: Brian Cassella – Chicago Tribune (Hjalmarsson); Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports (Murphy)

Bowman traded one of the most reliable defensemen in the league in Niklas Hjalmarsson and acquired a young, somewhat unproven defenseman in Connor Murphy. That is a mighty gamble, especially since Hjalmarsson has played such a crucial role in the team’s Cup runs. That being said, Bowman has long admired Murphy and is investing in the future. The 24-year-old blueliner checks in at 6 feet 4 inches and 212 pounds yet maintains an impressive skating ability. It’s hard to fully evaluate his body of work given the fact that he has been playing on an inconsistent team in Arizona. However, like Saad, Murphy provides long-term cost certainty. His $3.85 million cap hit is comparable to Hjalmarsson’s $4.1 million, but the extra three years on Murphy’s deal are the key here.

There’s no doubt the Blackhawks lost an excellent defenseman. Hjalmarsson has developed into one of the few true shutdown defensemen in the NHL, and he has been crucially instrumental in making this club the perennial Cup contender it has become. That being said, it’s not as though the Blackhawks’ defense was impenetrable to begin with. Sure, Michal Kempny, Ville Pokka and Gustav Forsling will have a shot in training camp, but losing Hjalmarsson and Trevor van Riemsdyk (taken in the expansion draft) could leave this team in defensive limbo. Bowman clearly has confidence in Murphy, and hiring Ulf Samuelsson as an assistant coach will help all of the young defensemen. Overall, it’s a gamble by Bowman, but it’s a cap-related move that could go either way in the end given its long-term benefits.

Sharpie’s Return

Central Division

Photo credit: Erin Hooley-Chicago Tribune

The Blackhawks also brought back former Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp on a team-friendly one-year, $1 million deal. Sharp will slot in to the team’s top-six (possibly on the top line unless Richard Panik retains his position) but can play anywhere in the top-nine. He provides great depth and obviously knows this team well after winning three Stanley Cup championships in Chicago. He is coming off a rough season in which he produced just eight goals and 18 points in 48 games. However, Sharp scored 55 points the year before and racked up 46 points in his last 65 playoff games in Chicago. This is a very smart move by Bowman that carries virtually zero risk given the contract.
 

Main Offseason Transactions

  • Trade (April 28): G Scott Darling to Hurricanes for 2017 3rd-round pick
  • Re-Sign (May 11): F Richard Panik to 2-year deal with AAV of $2.8 million
  • Re-Sign (May 27): D Michal Kempny to 1-year contract at $900,000
  • FA Signing (June 7): D Jan Rutta to 1-year ELC at $925,000
  • Trade (June 23): F Artemi Panarin, F Tyler Motte and 2017 6th-round pick to Blue Jackets for F Brandon Saad, G Anton Forsberg and 2018 5th-round pick
  • Trade (June 23): D Niklas Hjalmarsson to Coyotes for D Connor Murphy and F Laurent Dauphin
  • Re-Sign (June 26): G Anton Forsberg to 2-year deal with AAV of $750,000
  • Re-Sign (June 26): F Tomas Jurco to 1-year contract at $800,000
  • FA Signing (July 1): F Patrick Sharp to 1-year contract at $800,000
  • Trade (July 2): F Marcus Kruger to Golden Knights for future considerations

Key Player Movement

OUT

F Artemi Panarin
F Marian Hossa
D Niklas Hjalmarsson
D Trevor van Riemsdyk (expansion)
F Marcus Kruger
G Scott Darling
D Brian Campbell

IN

F Brandon Saad
F Patrick Sharp
D Connor Murphy
D Jan Rutta
F Tommy Wingels
F Lance Bouma
G Anton Forsberg
 

Final Thoughts

Bowman promised changes would be made after back-to-back first-round playoff exits, and he has delivered on that promise with gutsy moves. However, until a decision is made on Hossa’s contract status, Bowman’s hands are somewhat tied. But with Toews, Kane, Saad, Artem Anisimov, Sharp, Panik, Ryan Hartman and Nick Schmaltz all vying for top-six spots, there should be plenty of talent up front. The depth signings of Lance Bouma and Tommy Wingels will help round out the bottom-six, and if John Hayden plays the way he did at the end of last year, Chicago should have plenty of firepower.

Most will have their eyes on the play of Saad in his second stint with the Blackhawks, especially in comparison to the more offensively-lethal Panarin. However, the biggest question marks surround the Blackhawks’ committed belief in the ability of Murphy. Though he is not meant to be a true replacement for Hjalmarsson, Murphy will have to take on a heavy load for this Hawks team that won the Cup in 2015 on the backs of Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Hjalmarsson.

Considering Chicago has lost Panarin, Hossa, Hjalmarsson, van Riemsdyk and Scott Darling in the span of a few months, the roster is in relatively good shape. Is it better than last year’s team? A fair assessment might be that it’s not as good as last year’s regular-season team but that it could fare better in the postseason with Saad back on Toews’ wing, a little more speed and the return of Sharp. Chicago will face greater threats in the Western Conference as other teams stepped up this offseason, but the core of this team knows what it takes to win; it’s just a matter of whether they’re able to execute.
 
 

Colorado Avalanche

Central Division

Photo credit: Doug Pensinger-Getty Images

2016-2017 By the Numbers

Overall Record: 22-56-4-48
Playoff Result: Did not make playoffs
Standings: Central Division: 7, Western Conference: 14, League: 30
Goals For: 165 (NHL rank: 30)
Goals Against: 276 (NHL rank: 1)
Power Play Percentage: 12.6 percent (NHL rank: 30)
Penalty Kill Percentage: 76.6 percent (NHL rank: 29)
Leading Scorer: Nathan MacKinnon (16-37-53)

Summary of 2016-2017 Season Results

The Colorado Avalanche had a memorable season, but not at all in a good way. The team’s 48 points was the worst finish in the franchise’s 21 seasons in Colorado, and it was the worst regular-season NHL campaign since the Thrashers earned 39 points in the 1999-2000 season. Unfortunately for Colorado, things have gone from bad to worse.

Despite having the highest odds to earn the first-overall pick in this summer’s NHL Entry Draft, Colorado fell to the fourth pick as three other teams jumped ahead in the lottery. The team remains in the spotlight because of general manager Joe Sakic’s unwillingness to move Matt Duchene despite multiple offers. Sakic’s sky-high demands have been one of the most talked-about storylines going back to the trade deadline.

More recently, the 2017 recipient of the Hobey Baker Award (collegiate hockey MVP), Will Butcher, has decided to test the open market rather than sign an entry-level contract with the Avalanche. This is another sign that things in Colorado must turn around sooner rather than later. The Avs cannot continue to lose assets and remain an unattractive destination for current and future players.

The team’s limited offseason action is outlined below.
 

Most Significant Offseason Moves

Though Colorado has made some changes this offseason, the collective effect of these moves has been minimal.

Main Moves

Central Division

Photo credits: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports (Yakupov); Chris Williams-Icon Sportswire (Bernier); Frederick Breedon-Getty Images (Wilson)

1. The team bought out the final year of aging blueliner Francois Beauchemin’s contract in order to free up a protection slot for restricted free-agent defenseman Nikita Zadorov; however, Beauchemin’s 35+ contract yielded no cap relief.

2. Colorado acquired forward Colin Wilson from Nashville in exchange for a fourth-round pick. The deal was a salary dump for Nashville ($3.9375 million cap hit), but the former first-round pick could bring some offensive upside to Colorado. Wilson tallied 35 points in 70 games last season but has scored 15-plus goals three times and 30-plus points five times in his career. Considering it’s likely he’ll earn a top-six role for the Avs, those numbers could go up.

3. Colorado made an interesting signing on July 1 by bringing in Ducks backup netminder Jonathan Bernier on a one-year, $2.75 million deal. He makes up for losing promising goaltender Calvin Pickard in the expansion draft and also gives the Avs a lot more stability in the crease. Bernier played very well for the Ducks down the stretch last year and could make a big difference in Denver.

4. The Avalanche signed forward Nail Yakupov to a one-year contract. This is a very underrated move and is one many clubs could have and probably should have made. Yakupov will have a real chance to prove himself on a team desperate for offense and excitement after suiting up in just 40 games for St. Louis last year. Yakupov’s performance at the NHL level has been a major disappointment after he went first overall in 2012. This is a no-risk, high-reward move by the Avs and it could pay off in a big way.

Duchene Deal

Central Division

Photo credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

The best offseason move the Avalanche have made so far this offseason has, unfortunately for Colorado, not taken place yet. It’s rare to discuss a move that hasn’t happened, but in this case, it’s worth mentioning. Trading Matt Duchene is a must for the Avalanche at this point. Duchene is a prized commodity in today’s NHL as a top-six center with top-line ability. Though his numbers have been inconsistent over the years, stepping onto a more developed and complete team could give him the necessary skill and assistance to reach his potential. He has tremendous skill and could be a big producer for various teams around the league.

Sakic has dangled him for a long time now and has (reportedly) turned down solid offers. He has not wavered from his initial (somewhat unrealistic) trade demands of a top-four defenseman, a very solid prospect and a first-round pick. At this point, though, he might be forced to keep Duchene or settle for a lesser deal now that he has toyed with so many general managers around the league. Duchene is the kind of player Colorado needs, but the team is in total rebuild mode; it’s no secret that he and Gabriel Landeskog have been on the block for quite some time. At this point, Duchene and his agent are frustrated and ready to move on. It will continue to be a huge distraction if it stretches into training camp and the regular season.
 

Main Offseason Transactions

  • Draft pick signing (May 12): D Andrei Mironov to 2-year ELC with AAV of $925,000
  • Buyout (June 15): D Francois Beauchemin – $0 cap savings in 2017-2018 (35+ contract)
  • Re-Sign (June 28): F Sven Andrighetto to 2-year deal with AAV of $1.4 million
  • Trade (July 1): 2019 4th-round pick to Nashville for F Colin Wilson
  • FA Signing (July 1): G Jonathan Bernier to 1-year contract at $2.75 million
  • FA Signing (July 4): F Nail Yakupov to 1-year contract at $875,000
  • Re-Sign (July 25): F Matt Nieto to 1-year contract at $1 million
  • Re-Sign (July 26): F Rocco Grimaldi to 1-year contract at $650,000

Key Player Movement

OUT

D Francois Beauchemin
G Calvin Pickard (expansion)
F Jarome Iginla
F Rene Bourque
D Eric Gelinas
F John Mitchell

IN

G Jonathan Bernier
F Nail Yakupov
F Colin Wilson
 

Final Thoughts

One of the biggest weaknesses of this Avalanche team is defense, and that’s not something the team has addressed or improved thus far. There are three signed NHL defensemen on the roster, including Erik Johnson and Tyson Barrie, as well as Mark Barberio, a borderline third-pairing guy. The team bought out the final year of Beauchemin’s contract, but that was done mainly for protection reasons. Management finally negotiated an entry-level deal with Russian defenseman Andrei Mironov, who will compete for a spot in training camp. That still leaves a lot to be desired, especially in front of inconsistent goaltending.

In fact, goaltending could make or break Colorado’s success this season. The Avs decided to protect starter Semyon Varlamov over Pickard in the expansion draft. Varlamov’s play has been shaky at best, and he is coming off a very rough season filled with poor play and nagging injuries. The team did bring in Bernier, who should provide Varlamov with much more support and could create a great 1a, 1b kind of situation.

But the Duchene mess takes center stage in Colorado. The fact that Sakic has turned down reported deals involving players like Travis Hamonic is concerning. Even if he wasn’t offered Hamonic and a first-round pick, the fact that Sakic failed to negotiate a deal and walked away from a guy like Hamonic, who really could have helped this team, is puzzling.

Though it’s clear that Colorado is in rebuild mode, Sakic needs to right the ship. The last-minute coaching change last summer didn’t do the team any favors, and prolonging the Duchene controversy will not improve matters. This is a team that could use a few breaks, but Sakic is the one who needs to get the ball puck rolling.
 
 

Dallas Stars

Central Division

Photo via nhl.com

2016-2017 By the Numbers

Overall Record: 34-37-11-79
Playoff Result: Did not make playoffs
Standings: Central Division: 6, Western Conference: 11, League: 24
Goals For: 222 (NHL rank: 16)
Goals Against: 260 (NHL rank: 2)
Power Play Percentage: 17.9 percent (NHL rank: 20)
Penalty Kill Percentage: 73.9 percent (NHL rank: 30)
Leading Scorer: Tyler Seguin (26-46-72)

Summary of 2016-2017 Season Results

The Dallas Stars had a disappointing season filled with frustration. Injuries ravaged the lineup, the goaltenders struggled tremendously and the penalty kill was the worst NHL PK in the last 20 years.

Just one year removed from having the second-best regular-season point total in the entire NHL (109 pts), Dallas found itself on the outside looking in, finishing sixth in the division (79 pts) ahead of only the league-worst Colorado Avalanche (48 pts).

The coaching staff became stale and ineffective, players were not used efficiently or effectively and the window of opportunity seemed to be narrowing on a team that had so much promise the year before.

Enter general manager Jim Nill. He has used this offseason to throw that window wide open and bring this club from painful underachievement to true Cup contention on the rise. Here’s an overview of what he has done.
 

Most Significant Offseason Moves

Big Ben

Central Division

Photo credit: Dirk Shadd-Tampa Bay Times

Until recently, goaltender Ben Bishop had been the subject of constant speculation for more than a year. It was decided he would not be the goalie of the future for Tampa Bay because of the significant raise he was due, and it was unclear which team in desperate need of a starter would land his services. He was traded to Los Angeles at the trade deadline, a move that puzzled many. But Nill wasted no time, acquiring his rights from the Kings in early May and quickly signing him to an incredibly team-friendly six-year, $29.5 million extension. It was believed Bishop would fetch $7-8 million in the free-agency market, but Dallas signed him for just $4.916 million per year .

That $4.916 million cap hit ranks 17th in the NHL among goalies. Some of the goalies ahead of him on the list include Dallas teammate Kari Lehtonen as well as Mike Smith, Jimmy Howard and Frederik Andersen, to name a few.

The value of the contract is shocking, even if Bishop’s 2016-2017 numbers were not as impressive as previous years. But he is an elite goalie who led the Lightning to a Cup appearance and back-to-back Conference Finals appearances in 2014-2015 and 2015-2016.

Bishop deserves a lot of credit for this deal, too. Term was extremely important to him, especially since he’ll be 31 in November. He wanted to play for a team with a win-now mentality that was ready to contend now. Plus, he has ties to the Dallas area, making it a strong personal fit as well.

This was an outstanding move for the Dallas Stars, but Nill was just getting started.

Bold FA Signings

Central Division

Photo credits: Francois Lacasse-NHLI via Getty Images (Radulov); Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports (Hanzal)

The Stars have two of the most talented forwards in the league in Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, as well as a third star forward in Jason Spezza. That’s what makes Nill’s aggressive summer activity that much more surprising considering he went out and brought in two more big-name top-six weapons.

The first player added to the mix was center Martin Hanzal. Hanzal’s stats don’t live up to his billing, but that’s partly because he has missed time over the years with various injuries and hasn’t always had the best linemates. He is coming off a 20-goal season split between Arizona and Minnesota, though. Hanzal brings incredible size to the table with a 6-foot-6, 226-pound frame, and he gives Dallas plenty of flexibility throughout the lineup. Dallas could become one of the more formidable Western Conference teams up the middle with Seguin, Spezza and Hanzal, not to mention 23-year-old Radek Faksa.

Dallas further improved its already-deep pool of talent up front by bringing in Alexander Radulov, who is coming off a tryout season of sorts after playing in the KHL since 2012. Montreal took a chance on him last year and was rewarded, as Radulov put up 18 goals and 54 points in 76 games while adding two goals and seven points in six postseason contests. The Habs weren’t prepared to offer him the money he was seeking, and that’s when Nill stepped in.

Dallas signed Radulov to a six-year deal that carries a $6.25 million cap hit. While that’s a substantial contract for a 31-year-old player after only one season of success in recent years, it shows how serious the Dallas organization is about winning, and about doing so now.

Marc It

Central Division

Photo credit: Jean Levac-Postmedia Network

The Stars were able to send a 2020 second-round pick and the team’s seventh-round selection in this year’s NHL Entry Draft (G Dylan Ferguson) to Vegas in exchange for veteran defenseman Marc Methot. This move provided an instant upgrade to Dallas’ defense and left many general managers wondering why they didn’t make the same deal.

Methot’s experience playing alongside an elite offensive defenseman in Erik Karlsson makes him a perfect fit to play with right-handed offensive defenseman John Klingberg, who has put up 49, 58 and 40 points in the past three years, respectively. Having Methot in the mix also gives Dallas the option of using Dan Hamhuis and Esa Lindell on the other two pairings, which will give the team some defensive ability on every pairing. Dallas has Stephen Johns, Patrik Nemeth and Greg Pateryn under contract as well, though prospect Julias Honka could make the team out of training camp. The team also signed John Nyberg to a three-year deal.

This was an easy-yet-significant transaction by Nill and should pay dividends for the Stars this season and next, as Methot is signed for the next two years at a $4.9 million cap hit.
 

Behind the Bench

Central Division

Photo credit: Ryan Remiorz-AP Photo

One move that cannot be overlooked is the coaching change, which saw the departure of Lindy Ruff and the hiring of former Stars head coach Ken Hitchcock. This is significant for many reasons.

For one thing, Ruff was not getting the job done, and this past season was a prime example of his ineffectiveness. But more importantly, Dallas has struggled mightily on defense and in net for the past several years. Though the combined goals scored by the team’s top three offensive players (Benn, Seguin and Spezza) decreased by 40 goals between 2015-2016 and 2016-2017, this club’s problem is not on offense.

Adding Methot to the fold was a very smart play, but while Nill presumably solved the problem in net by bringing in Bishop, there are still issues on the back end.

That’s where hiring Hitchcock, a defense-first coach, becomes so relevant. He might not have enough pieces with which to work, but he will make the forwards more accountable and will improve the team’s overall defensive ability, starting in net. Plus, Hitchcock’s experience working with goalie tandems in St. Louis could help Kari Lehtonen’s confidence and play.

Another significant aspect of the coaching change is the fate of Valeri Nichushkin, who left Dallas in part because of Ruff. Though the former first-round pick will play in the KHL this season, he could return to the Stars lineup as early as next year. The Stars still believe in Nichushkin and in his role on this team, as demonstrated by the team’s decision to protect him in the expansion draft. Now that Ruff is gone, this situation could develop positively for the Stars moving forward.
 

Main Offseason Transactions

  • Trade (May 9): 2017 4th-round pick to LAK for rights to G Ben Bishop
  • Re-Sign (May 12): G Ben Bishop to 6-year deal with AAV of $4.916 million
  • Re-Sign (June 26): D Esa Lindell to 2-year deal with AAV of $2.2 million
  • Trade (June 26): 2018 2nd-round pick, G Dylan Ferguson to Vegas for D Marc Methot
  • Buyout (June 27): G Antti Niemi – $3 million cap savings in 2017-2018
  • FA Signing (July 1): F Martin Hanzal to 3-year deal with AAV of $4.75 million
  • FA Signing (July 3): F Alexander Radulov to 5-year deal with AAV of $6.25 million
  • Re-Sign (July 6): F Brett Ritchie to 2-year deal with AAV of $1.75 million
  • Re-Sign (July 10): F Radek Faksa to 3-year deal with AAV of $2.2 million

Key Player Movement

OUT

G Antti Niemi
F Cody Eakin (expansion)
F Patrick Eaves
F Patrick Sharp
F Ales Hemsky
F Jiri Hudler
D Jordie Benn
D Johnny Oduya

IN

G Ben Bishop
F Martin Hanzal
F Alexander Radulov
D Marc Methot
F Tyler Pitlick
 

Final Thoughts

The Dallas Stars have had the most effective offseason of any team in the National Hockey League. Nill has brought in four significant upgrades via free agency and trade and has put this team in an excellent position to be Cup contenders once again. Though Dallas still has a lot of work to do, hiring the defensive-minded Hitchcock and adding the talents of Bishop, Hanzal, Radulov and Methot will help this team make considerable progress. Nill will be nominated for general manager of the year for his masterful offseason, and the rest of the West better watch out: the Stars mean business.
 
 

Minnesota Wild

Central Division

Photo credit: Jim Mone-AP Photo

2016-2017 By the Numbers

Overall Record: 49-25-8-106
Playoff Result: Eliminated in Conference Quarter-Finals by St. Louis (4-1 STL)
Standings: Central Division: 2, Western Conference: 2, League: 5
Goals For: 263 (NHL rank: 2)
Goals Against: 206 (NHL rank: 24)
Power Play Percentage: 21.0 percent (NHL rank: 9)
Penalty Kill Percentage: 82.9 percent (NHL rank: 8)
Leading Scorer: Mikael Granlund (26-43-69)

Summary of 2016-2017 Season Results

The Minnesota Wild had an impressive and memorable regular season. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the team’s postseason. That doesn’t mean the team choked or failed to show up, since that’s certainly not true. However, despite how hard and how well the team played in the first-round series against the Blues, no one could solve the problem that was Jake Allen. In the end, the Wild threw away a spectacular season during which the team had multiple dominant stretches, including a 12-game winning streak. New bench boss Bruce Boudreau seemingly transformed this team during the regular season, but his playoff nightmares from years past seemed to catch up to him. He ran a tight ship during the regular-season campaign, however. The Wild ran four lines all year, and three of them were legitimate scoring lines. Between the offense firing on all cylinders, the talented defense keeping things together and the secure and consistent play of starting netminder Devan Dubnyk, it was hard to beat the Wild. That’s something the Wild will look to take into next season, but it’s hard to tell how much last year’s playoff sting will affect this team moving forward.
 

Most Significant Offseason Moves

Expansion Draft Deal

Central Division

Photo credit: Hannah Foslien-AP Photo

The Wild faced a frightening situation given the number of players left unprotected ahead of the Vegas Expansion Draft. That being said, Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher was able to work out a deal with Vegas general manager George McPhee to ensure the safety of the team’s best assets. The protection list was occupied by forwards Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, Jason Pominville, Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter and Jason Zucker, defensemen Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin and goaltender Devan Dubnyk. This left defensemen Matt Dumba and Marco Scandella exposed. Both players are top-four defensemen and therefore extremely valuable.

Fletcher was able to arrange for forward Erik Haula to be the player chosen in the expansion draft. In order to make that happen, the Wild had to part with top prospect Alex Tuch but landed a third-round pick in return. It was a pricey but completely necessary deal to protect Dumba and Scandella, as well as forward Eric Staal.

Buffalo Trade

Central Division

Photo credits: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports (Scandella); Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports (Ennis); Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports (Pominville); Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports (Foligno)

The Wild then shipped Marco Scandella, Jason Pominville and a fourth-round pick to Buffalo for forwards Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno and a third-round pick. This was done primarily to clear cap space, though Fletcher believes it also makes the team better up front. Pominville is coming off a solid season (13-34-47) in which he played an important role in the team’s top-nine. The former Sabres captain carries a $5.6 million average annual value through 2018-2019, which is $1 million more than Ennis’ $4.6 million AAV. Scandella has three years left at a $4 million cap hit, which is outstanding value for a top-four defenseman, even if he wasn’t as solid as Minnesota’s other rearguards last year. Though Foligno has yet to be resigned, the deal cut $5 million of cap space from Minnesota’s books, which will turn out to be several million dollars more than whatever Foligno makes.

That being said, this is a questionable move. Acquiring Foligno makes sense and is a move that can’t really be criticized, but the same cannot be said about Ennis. Ennis has a lot of skill but has struggled to produce in recent years. He’s coming off a five-goal, 13-point campaign in 51 games and has a combined 24 points in 74 games over the past two seasons. Those numbers are more than concerning for a player who is now the fifth-highest paid forward on the Wild roster. He could rediscover his game, especially since his childhood best friend, Jared Spurgeon, will now be his teammate. But aside from reaching 20 goals three times, Ennis has never reached the 50-point mark in his career.

RFA Status

Central Division

Photo credit: Marlin Levison-Star Tribune

As restricted free agents, both Nino Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund filed for salary arbitration earlier this offseason. However, Fletcher was able to reach deals with both players before the arbitration hearings. Specifically, Niederreiter was locked up for five more years at $5.25 million per, and Granlund signed a three-year extension with a $5.75 million cap hit.

Both deals are reasonable for both sides and make a lot of sense. Niederreiter set career-highs in goals (25), assists (32), points (57), plus/minus (+17), power-play goals (8), power-play points (14) and shots (186). Also, he has missed just three regular-season contests in the past four seasons. Granlund led the team in scoring with 69 points while also setting career-highs across the board, including goals (26), assists (43), points (69), plus/minus (+23), power-play goals (7), power-play points (20), shorthanded goals (3), game-winning goals (4) and shots (177). He finally played like the star forward he was supposed to be, which is a very encouraging sign for the Wild moving forward.

Niederreiter and Granlund are key cogs in this Wild offense and were both great signings for the club. This is especially true since both players reportedly sought AAV’s of at least $6 million. Recent contract settlements for comparable RFA forwards likely worked in Minnesota’s favor, as players like the Rangers’ Mika Zibanejad and Tampa’s Ondrej Palat signed for $5.35 and $5.3 million, respectively.

The only unsigned player remaining on the team is Foligno, though he did not file for arbitration. The team has a little over $3 million in cap space, according to CapFriendly. This will be more than enough to get a deal done.

Other Dealings

Replenishing the D
Central Division

Photo credit: Gregg Forwerck-Getty Images

The Wild signed former Hurricanes defenseman Ryan Murphy after he was traded and then bought out by Calgary. Murphy could prove to be a very smart signing, especially on a team with plenty of depth on the back end. Murphy, a former first-round pick (12) in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, could find his game in Minny. The team signed unrestricted free agent Kyle Quincey to a one-year deal as well, so there shouldn’t be much pressure on Murphy.

Backup Plan
Central Division

Photo credits: Barry Chin-Boston Globe (Svedberg); Bruce Kluckhohn-Getty Images (Stalock)

One area of great concert for the Wild entering the offseason was the backup goalie position. Though Darcy Kuemper has had his moments over the years, he was often terrible last season and forced Dubnyk to play way too frequently. The team has Niklas Svedberg and Alex Stalock as backups, but it’s unclear if either will get the job done. That’s something that will be reevaluated after training camp, but neither is a true solution at this point.
 

Main Offseason Transactions

  • Trade (June 14): F Tyler Graovac to Washington for 2018 5th-round pick
  • Trade (June 21): F Alex Tuch to Vegas for Vegas to select F Erik Haula in expansion draft instead of Marco Scandella/Matt Dumba, as well as a 3rd-round pick in either 2017 or 2018
  • Trade (June 23): F Jordan Schroeder to Columbus for F Dante Salituro
  • Trade (June 30): D Marco Scandella, F Jason Pominville and 4th-round pick to Buffalo for F Tyler Ennis, F Marcus Foligno and 3rd-round pick
  • FA Signing (July 1): D Ryan Murphy to 1-year contract at $700,000
  • FA Signing (July 1): F Kyle Rau to 1-year contract at $700,000
  • FA Signing (July 1): D Kyle Quincey to 1-year contract at $1.25 million
  • Re-Sign (July 2): D Mike Reilly to 2-year deal with AAV of $725,000

Key Player Movement

OUT

D Marco Scandella
F Jason Pominville
F Martin Hanzal
F Erik Haula (expansion)
F Alex Tuch
F Tyler Graovac
G Darcy Kuemper
D Nate Prosser
D Christian Folin

IN

F Tyler Ennis
F Marcus Foligno
D Ryan Murphy
D Kyle Quincey
G Niklas Svedberg
 

Final Thoughts

Minnesota hasn’t made too many bold moves this offseason. The team let Martin Hanzal walk after giving up a first-round pick to get him at the trade deadline. Unfortunately, that gamble did not pay off, as Hanzal failed to make a difference in the playoffs. The team also says goodbye to Kuemper, Haula, Scandella, Pominville and others.

Fortunately, the team still has more than enough skill to be a true threat next season.

Regardless, Fletcher has not done enough at this point to prepare this team for a long playoff run. Yes, the Wild completely outplayed St. Louis in the team’s first-round playoff exit, but it was still a first-round playoff exit. That is an unacceptable result for a team that had such a phenomenal regular season.

Players like Mikko Koivu (18-40-58) and Eric Staal (28-37-65) are likely to see a drop in production this season, which means the younger forwards in the team’s core will have to step up. Niederreiter and Granlund are two such players, and both players have made a commitment to this Wild team. One player that needs to step up is Zach Parise, who was not worthy of his 13-year, $98 million contract last season.

Minnesota has some star individuals, but it’s truly a team effort for the Wild club. The Wild found success because of Boudreau’s overhaul of the attitude and mentality of this team. Players built chemistry that was never there before and everyone contributed to the team’s success on a consistent basis. The Wild should be able to reproduce that effort this year, it’s just a matter of whether the team can keep it up long enough to save enough energy and drive for a deep playoff run. The Wild will make the playoffs, but beyond that, anything could happen.
 
 

Nashville Predators

Central Division

Photo credit: Jeanine Leech-Icon Sportswire (Bonino); Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports (Hartnell)

2016-2017 By the Numbers

Overall Record: 41-29-12-94
Playoff Result: Defeated in Stanley Cup Final by Pittsburgh (4-2 PIT)
Standings: Central Division: 4, Western Conference: 8, League: 16
Goals For: 238 (NHL rank: 11)
Goals Against: 220 (NHL rank: 16)
Power Play Percentage: 18.9 percent (NHL rank: 16)
Penalty Kill Percentage: 80.9 percent (NHL rank: 15)
Leading Scorer: Viktor Arvidsson (31-30-61), Ryan Johansen (14-47-61)

Summary of 2016-2017 Season Results

The Nashville Predators have made two blockbuster trades in the past two years and are now one of the most exciting clubs in the National Hockey League. Smashville surprised the hockey world by sweeping Chicago and knocking out St. Louis and Anaheim to make the team’s first Stanley Cup appearance in franchise history. Under the leadership of head coach Peter Laviolette, this Preds team has a little of everything. As with many teams that make such a deep playoff run, the roster has changed a fair amount in the offseason, and several of the players involved are relevant. Here is an overview of how Nashville has approached its offseason after falling just two wins short of winning Lord Stanley’s prize.
 

Most Significant Offseason Moves

Expansion Draft

Central Division

Photo credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Nashville Predators have one of the best defenses in the National Hockey League and therefore had to protect four defensemen in the Vegas Expansion Draft. Doing so meant that only four forwards could be protected. With Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson as locks, the choice essentially came down to Calle Jarnkrok and James Neal. Though Neal is a top-six sniper who has scored at least 20 goals in all nine full NHL seasons of his career, Jarnkrok is an important piece up the middle for a team without much depth at center. Jarnkrok is coming off his most impressive season with 15 goals and 31 points in 81 games and stepped up when Johansen went down in the playoffs. He is an important player on the team’s power-play and penalty-kill as well, and the versatile Swede’s $2 million cap hit for the next five years is hard to beat. In the end, Jarnkrok got the spot, and the Predators were unable to work out a deal with Vegas to keep Neal in Nashville. Losing Neal will be difficult, but he only managed nine points in 22 postseason games. General manager David Poile is relying on the rest of the team to step up and for his offseason acquisitions to make up for Neal’s regular-season production.

New Additions

Poile made two main offseason additions via free agency, bringing in center Nick Bonino and former Predator Scott Hartnell.

Central Division

Photo credit: Justin K. Aller-Getty Images

Bonino generated considerable interest on the open market after playing a key role as the Penguins’ third-line center in back-to-back Cup seasons, especially in 2015-2016 as a member of the HBK line with Carl Hagelin and Phil Kessel. Though Bonino is not a true second-line center given his point production, he is a solid middle-six guy and brings a strong two-way game, which should make him a solid fit behind Johansen. The Preds still have the option of using Jarnkrok in the 2C position and keeping Bonino at 3C. That makes him an overpaid third-liner, but his role in back-to-back Cup wins in Pittsburgh is the reason for the overpayment. It must have been an especially important signing for Poile given the uncertainty surrounding Mike Fisher, who eventually announced his retirement from the NHL on Aug. 3.

Central Division

Photo via thescore.com

Hartnell, who was bought out by Columbus June 29, will return to the team that drafted him sixth overall in 2000 on a very reasonable one-year, $1 million contract. He played six seasons with Nashville before playing seven in Philadelphia and three in Columbus. Laviolette knows Hartnell very well from their time in Philly, and Hartnell brings an edge to his game that can benefit the Predators’ top-six. He had a down year with just 13 goals and 37 points in 78 games last year but has scored 20 goals nine times in his career, including 23 and 28 in his two previous seasons with Columbus, respectively.

New Contracts

Central Division

Photo via thescore.com

Poile traded winger Colin Wilson to Colorado, which cleared nearly $4 million in cap space and also made room for one of the younger players up front, such as Pontus Aberg, Kevin Fiala, Vladislav Kamenev, Frederick Gaudreau or Miikka Salomaki. It also left more than enough cap space to re-sign restricted free-agent forwards Viktor Arvidsson and Ryan Johansen, both of whom play on the first line.

Arvidsson filed for salary arbitration after a breakout campaign that saw him score 31 goals and 61 points in 80 games, good enough for first on the team in goals (tied with Filip Forsberg) and points (tied with Johansen). Avoiding arbitration, the two sides settled on a seven-year, $29.75 million extension, which carries just a $4.25 million cap hit. This is an absolute steal for Poile and the Predators. Granted, Arvidsson has not shown he can put up 30-plus goals on a consistent basis, but that level of production and the fact that he is a first-line player on this team are two factors that normally would have led to a much higher cap hit.

Johansen, who did not file for arbitration, signed an eight-year, $64 million extension. Though the $8 million cap hit is a bit steep, first-line centers with Johansen’s ability are rare commodities in the NHL. Johansen’s numbers haven’t been elite with the Predators, but he has accrued 60-plus points four seasons in a row, as well as 20-plus power-play points in each of the last four years. Considering there was plenty of controversy surrounding Johansen’s last deal (signed with Columbus), it’s a good sign to see both sides take care of the contract without arbitration; a happy Johansen is very good for Nashville.
 

Main Offseason Transactions

  • Re-Sign (June 13): D Yannick Weber to 1-year contract at $650,000
  • Trade (July 1): F Colin Wilson to Colorado for 2019 4th-round pick
  • FA Signing (July 1): F Nick Bonino to 4-year deal with AAV of $4.1 million
  • FA Signing (July 1): G Anders Lindback to 1-year contract at $650,000
  • FA Signing (July 1): F Scott Hartnell to 1-year contract at $1 million
  • Trade (July 1): 2019 3rd-round pick to Vegas for D Alexei Emelin (~$1.2 million retained salary)
  • Re-Sign (July 18): F Pontus Aberg to 2-year deal with AAV of $650,000
  • Re-Sign (July 22): F Viktor Arvidsson to 7-year deal with AAV of $4.25 million
  • Re-Sign (July 24): F Austin Watson to 3-year deal with AAV of $1.1 million
  • Re-Sign (July 28): F Ryan Johansen to 8-year deal with AAV of $8 million

Key Player Movement

OUT

James Neal (expansion)
Mike Fisher
Colin Wilson
Vernon Fiddler
Mike Ribeiro

IN

Nick Bonino
Scott Hartnell
Alexei Emelin
 

Final Thoughts

It can’t be overlooked that Poile also acquired another solid defenseman in Alexei Emelin, who will be a third-pairing guy on this defense. Emelin is a physical defenseman who brings even more stability and strength to an already-frightening back end. All in all, with the acquisitions of Hartnell, Bonino and Emelin, as well as the contracts handed out to Arvidsson and Johansen, Poile has done a remarkable job improving a team coming off a Stanley Cup loss. Yes, it was the most successful season in franchise history, but Poile did not just sit back. He went out and made adjustments to make the team better. Was the Bonino contract too much? Maybe. But at the end of the day, a general manager that goes out and signs an effective player that many teams have interest in is a general manager looking to stay relevant, get better and take this team all the way. The Predators will not be underdogs like last year. While the team could experience a strong Stanley Cup hangover, Nashville certainly will be legitimate contenders once again.
 
 

St. Louis Blues

Central Division

Photo credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

2016-2017 By the Numbers

Overall Record: 46-29-7-99
Playoff Result: Eliminated in Conference Semi-Finals by Nashville (4-2 NSH)
Standings: Central Division: 3, Western Conference: 5, League: 10
Goals For: 233 (NHL rank: 12)
Goals Against: 216 (NHL rank: 18)
Power Play Percentage: 21.3 percent (NHL rank: 8)
Penalty Kill Percentage: 84.8 percent (NHL rank: 3)
Leading Scorer: Vladimir Tarasenko (39-36-75)

Summary of 2016-2017 Season Results

The Blues came into the 2016-2017 campaign believing that Jake Allen was ready to take over as the team’s No. 1 goaltender and that David Backes’ production and presence up the middle could be replaced by Paul Stastny and Jori Lehtera. Neither proved to be quite true, although Allen had his moments. For example, he basically single-handedly stole the first-round series from the Wild with his incredible play, giving up just eight goals in five games. However, he had a disastrous stretch during the season during which Carter Hutton took over the starter’s gig, and it eventually played a significant part in the firing of head coach Ken Hitchcock. But by the end of the year, Allen gained confidence and looked like a true starter.

After more than a year of endless speculation regarding the fate of defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, the Blues traded him to Washington at the deadline for picks and prospects, essentially throwing in the towel on the year. But the Blues came together and surprised many by taking out the favored Wild in five first-round games and then losing in the second round to the eventual Conference Champion Nashville Predators.

A great deal still rides on the shoulders of Allen and whether he is able to play consistently for an entire season, but the Blues’ glaring issue is at center. General manager Doug Armstrong made at least one trade to address that problem. Here’s an overview of his offseason activity.
 

Most Significant Offseason Moves

Bundle of Schennergy

Central Division

Photo credit: Jen Fuller-Getty Images

Asset Acquired

Part of the return in the Kevin Shattenkirk trade was Washington’s 2017 first-round pick (27). It didn’t take long for St. Louis to use that asset, as the Blues sent it, along with another first-round pick, to Philadelphia in exchange for Brayden Schenn. One must assume that Jori Lehtera was included in this deal in order to even things out since Schenn is not worth two first-round picks. In the end, it’s a gamble Armstrong felt compelled to make, and it’s not hard to understand why. The Blues need centers. Stastny has not lived up to expectations, and he missed 20-plus games last season. Lehtera has failed to replicate his rookie-season results, scoring just 22 points in 66 games last year. Patrik Berglund played very well, scoring 23 goals, but is better suited on the wing. With the departure of Backes last year, the Blues simply cannot fill the middle of the ice with solid pivots.

Schenn is a natural center but played primarily on the wing in Philadelphia because of Philadelphia’s abundance of centers. He never found a permanent home in the Flyers’ offense, which is partly why he hasn’t been able to reach his potential. He definitely is on his way, however, coming off back-to-back 55-plus point and 25-plus goal campaigns. Significantly, Schenn finished in a three-way tie with Alex Ovechkin and Nikita Kucherov last season for most power-play goals in the league with 17. Having a chance to play center on a team with talented wings could make this season a breakout year for the soon-to-be 26-year-old. Schenn also brings a nasty edge to his game, which will be welcomed in St. Louis after the departure of Ryan Reaves.

Liability Lost
Central Division

Photo credit: Bill Greenblatt-UPI

Trading two first-round picks for a top-six center who hasn’t fully proven himself is a risk. However, the move shows Armstrong is willing to be aggressive when necessary. Plus, the fact that the Blues already had another first-round pick in this year’s draft and because Armstrong made a second trade shortly thereafter that brought yet another 2017 first-round pick to the table took the edge off.

Perhaps more importantly, however, the team was able to dump the dead weight known as Jori Lehtera. The following excerpt is from HFL’s Vegas Expansion Draft preview for the Central Division:

[Lehtera] had a great season in 2014-2015 as a 27-year-old rookie, scoring 14 goals and 44 points. On July 1 after that season, he signed a three-year, $14.1 million extension. His production dipped in 2015-2016, as he scored nine goals and 34 points. However, his performance this season was the icing on the cake. Not only did his production decrease by more than 10 points, but he was not effective and was outplayed by most of his teammates on a nightly basis. With his decline in production and effectiveness, and with the emergence of Ivan Barbashev (and Tage Thompson in the system), Lehtera has become expendable, especially at a $4.7 million cap hit.

This aspect of the trade cannot be underestimated. Lehtera’s massive $4.7 million cap hit provides major cap relief to the Blues, and it allowed the team to sign star defenseman Colton to a five-year extension later in the offseason.

Reaves Leaves

Central Division

Photo credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Shortly after the Schenn trade, Armstrong then sent forward Ryan Reaves and a second-round pick to the Penguins in exchange for forward Oskar Sundqvist and Pittsburgh’s 2017 first-round pick (31).

The best part of the deal is that St. Louis used the draft pick to select Klim Kostin, who many believe to be the most intriguing prospect in a first round filled with question marks. Further, it’s difficult to rationalize turning down a trade that involves getting a first-round pick for a fourth-line player. Perhaps St. Louis protected Reaves in the expansion draft to preserve the possibility of a trade; it’s even possible Armstrong had a deal in place with the Pens all along. But if you can get a first-round pick and a prospect for a fourth-line player, it’s difficult not to pull the trigger.

The negative aspect of the deal, however, is that St. Louis loses the character, effort and grit of Ryan Reaves. Reaves is a heart-and-soul guy; he may skate on the fourth line, but he has been a valuable member of this team and its success over the years. This is why Blues fans are split on this deal. At the end of the day, it’s difficult to grade the trade before Kostin can be evaluated at the NHL level, which could take years. But on the surface, the move makes sense from a practical standpoint considering the value in the return. After all, Sundqvist could prove to be a serviceable bottom-six forward in due time. No matter how important Reaves has been to this team, though, this is the type of deal that’s nearly impossible to turn down.

Paying Parayko

Central Division

Photo credit: Danny Murphy-Icon Sportswire

Defenseman Colton Parayko already has two solid NHL seasons under his belt. That’s why many were concerned when the 24-year-old filed for salary arbitration earlier this offseason. In the end, however, the two sides worked out a deal to avoid arbitration, and it’s a solid one for the Blues at five years with a $5.5 million cap hit. Could they have gotten a sixth year at that price? Maybe, though that’s probably unrealistic. But there are a few reasons why it’s a great deal nonetheless.

For one thing, the Blues were able to avoid the dreaded “bridge deal,” which often leads to more costly deals down the line.

For another, considering the value a guy like Parayko brings to the table, a $5.5 million cap hit is perfectly reasonable. Comparable contracts were handed out to Rasmus Ristolainen and Seth Jones (six years, $5.4 million), Dougie Hamilton (six years, $5.75 million), Tyson Barrie (four years, $5.5 million), Oliver Ekman-Larsson (six years, $5.5 million), etc. With the exception of Barrie, these other deals were handed out when the players were 21 or 22 years old. Parayko easily could have demanded more.

Though a sixth or seventh year would have been better for St. Louis, the current length makes sense for both sides since it allows Parayko to reach free agency while he’s still in his prime. Plus, a longer term would have meant a higher cap hit, assuming Parayko was even open to it.

In the end, it’s a good deal for both sides. Parayko is a huge part of this team and is one of the best developing defensemen in the game. He will only get better, which will make this deal look better and better as time goes on.
 

Main Offseason Transactions

  • Trade (June 23): F Jori Lehtera, 2017 1st-round pick (27), 2018 conditional* 1st-round pick to Philadelphia for F Brayden Schenn
  • Trade (June 23): F Ryan Reaves, 2017 2nd-round pick (51) to Pittsburgh for F Oskar Sundqvist, 2017 1st-round pick (31)
  • Re-Sign (June 29): F Magnus Paajarvi to 1-year contract at $800,000
  • FA Signing (July 1): F Chris Thorburn to 2-year deal with AAV of $900,000
  • FA Signing (July 1): F Beau Bennett to 1-year contract at $650,000
  • Re-Sign (July 1): F Oskar Sundqvist to 1-year contract at $650,000
  • Draft Pick Signing (July 5): F Klim Kostin to 3-year ELC with AAV of $925,000
  • Re-Sign (July 20): D Colton Parayko to 5-year deal with AAV of $5.5 million
  • FA Signing (Aug. 3): D Nate Prosser to 2-year deal with AAV of $650,000

*If St. Louis’ 2018 1st-round pick is a top-10 pick, St. Louis has the option to defer the pick to 2019, in which case Philadelphia also would receive St. Louis’ 2020 3rd-round selection.

Key Player Movement

OUT

D Kevin Shattenkirk
F David Perron (expansion)
F Ryan Reaves
F Jori Lehtera
F Scottie Upshall
F Nail Yakupov

IN

F Brayden Schenn
F Oskar Sundqvist
D Nate Prosser
F Chris Thorburn
F Beau Bennett
 

Final Thoughts

St. Louis changed the team’s playoff fortunes two seasons ago by making it to the Conference Finals after many years of disappointing early exits. Last year’s team wasn’t given much of a chance but took the opportunity it was given and ran with it, ultimately losing in the second round to the rolling Nashville Predators. The Blues remain a strong team. Vladimir Tarasenko has become one of the best scorers in the NHL, Jaden Schwartz has proven to be a reliable scoring threat and there’s a lot to like about Robby Fabbri’s game. With Alex Pietrangelo, Parayko and Joel Edmundson on the back end and Allen in net, this team has a solid core with a lot of talent surrounding it. When all is said and done, though, Allen still hasn’t shown he has what it takes to be the guy, and it’s hard to be competitive without excellent depth at center. Even with Schenn in the mix, Armstrong still has a number of unknowns up the middle. Can Ivan Barbashev solidify his place and contribute offensively after playing on the top line with Tarasenko but managing just 12 points in 30 games? Can Stastny find his game and break the 50-point mark for the first time as a Blue? Plus, can the Blues make up for losing David Perron in the expansion draft after he contributed 18 goals and 46 points last year? Will having Vladimir Sobotka for the whole year make a difference, and will Patrik Berglund be able to match last year’s 23-goal performance? The Blues should remain a playoff team, but all the “what if’s” make it tough to predict how they will get there and what they will do once they arrive.
 
 

Winnipeg Jets

Central Division

Photo credit: Len Redkoles-NHLI via Getty Images

2016-2017 By the Numbers

Overall Record: 40-35-7-87
Playoff Result: Did not make playoffs
Standings: Central Division: 5, Western Conference: 9, League: 20
Goals For: 246 (NHL rank: 7)
Goals Against: 255 (NHL rank: 4)
Power Play Percentage: 18.2 percent (NHL rank: 18)
Penalty Kill Percentage: 77.5 percent (NHL rank: 26)
Leading Scorer: Mark Scheifele (32-50-82)

Summary of 2016-2017 Season Results

The Winnipeg Jets’ season contained a lot of bright spots. One such bright spot was the performance of Patrik Laine, who scored 36 goals and was even more impressive than Auston Matthews for much of the season even though Matthews took home the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year. Center Mark Scheifele established himself as one of the best young centers in the game, setting career-highs in goals (32), assists (50), points (82), plus/minus (+18), power-play points (15) and game-winning goals (5). His 20 percent shooting percentage is unsustainable, but it was a remarkable year for the former first-round pick. As always, Blake Wheeler was excellent, recording 25-plus goals for the fourth season in a row and 70-plus points for the second consecutive year. Bryan Little missed more than 20 games due to injury but still put up solid numbers (47 points in 59 games played). Nikolaj Ehlers followed up his rookie campaign with 25 goals and 64 points, and most of the offense played well throughout the year. With even more depth in the organization, Winnipeg is in great shape up front.

However, it was the team’s defense and goaltending that caused the Jets to stall and never quite make a true run at the playoffs. On the back end, the only two constants were Dustin Byfuglien and Josh Morrissey. Tyler Myers (71), Toby Enstrom (22), Mark Stuart (40) and Jacob Trouba (22) missed a combined 155 man-games due to injuries and, in the case of Trouba, a contract holdout. The goaltending was the real issue, however. Both Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson were disastrous at times, each succumbing to plateaus and plummets throughout the year.

The team needed to address defense and goaltending this offseason. Let’s see what general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has done.
 

Most Significant Offseason Moves

Defense

Central Divis for the 2017-2018 seasonion

Photo credit: Bill Wippert-Getty Images

The Jets bought out the final year of defenseman Mark Stuart’s contract, which provides the team with $1.16 million in cap relief in the 2017-2018 season. The Jets did this for a few reasons. For one, Stuart played in just 42 games last season. For another, the 33-year-old’s play has dipped in recent seasons. But his contract was bought out also to make room for a new defenseman, one the Jets picked up on day one of free agency: Dmitry Kulikov.

Cheveldayoff signed Kulikov to a lucrative three-year deal with a $4.33 million cap hit. Many believe this contract is way too rich for what Kulikov, who picked up five points in 47 games last year with Buffalo, brings to the table. Kulikov was borderline terrible last season; Buffalo was outscored 34-16 with him on the ice at 5-on-5.

It makes sense that Cheveldayoff wanted more depth on defense. Plus, it was just a few years ago that Kulikov was highly-regarded around the league. However, the Jets signed him now, after last season. If anything, the fact that he played in just 47 games should have been a deterrent considering the plethora of injuries Winnipeg’s defense suffered last season. In the end, Cheveldayoff felt it was worth the gamble given Kulikov’s previous play. Kulikov wasn’t the only defenseman available, and there was no need to hand him such a big contract. It’s the same money he was given on his last contract, signed with Florida in 2014. But Kulikov’s stock has dropped, so Winnipeg would have been better served targeting someone else or giving him more realistic money. All things considered, the move feels a bit forced and could easily backfire.

Goaltending

Central Division

Photo credit: Keith Gillett-Icon Sportswire

Regardless of whether the goaltending issue in Winnipeg has been solved, it has, at least, been addressed. The Jets let Ondrej Pavelec walk after playing just eight games for Winnipeg last year (he went 4-4 with a 3.55 goals-against average and .888 save percentage). Michael Hutchinson, who went 9-12-3 with a 2.92 GAA and .903 SV% in 20 starts last year, had one year remaining on the two-year extension he signed in June of last year; his cap hit for this season is $1.15 million. Connor Hellebuyck, who is the presumed “goalie of the future” in Winnipeg despite not taking the job and running with it last year, finished the season 26-19-4 with a 2.89 GAA and .907 SV%. He was re-signed after filing for arbitration, with the two sides agreeing on a one-year extension worth $2.25 million.

Even though Hellebuyck will be given another chance, the goalie stats from last season are grisly across the board, and something else had to be done.

Stone Cold
Central Division

Photo credit: Trevor Hagan-Canadian Press

So Cheveldayoff went out and signed free agent Steve Mason to a two-year, $8.2 million contract, a deal that carries a $4.1 million cap hit. This is the exact same cap hit Mason has had since 2014, much like Kulikov’s deal. Like Kulikov, though, this signing could go either way.

Mason won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year in 2009 but has experienced a series of up-and-down stretches ever since. He has never won a playoff series and has a 2-9 career playoff record. He has been great, he has been terrible and he has been everything in between. He went 26-21-8 last year with Philadelphia, finishing with a 2.66 GAA and .908 SV%, both career-lows in his time with the Flyers. To be fair, he never had much help on defense in Philadelphia. The Jets have similar issues, however, so a change in scenery may or may not be enough for Mason to turn things around.

Mason is excellent at even strength, finishing with even-strength save percentages of .923, .940, .934 and .920 in the last four years, respectively. When shorthanded, however, the numbers are not so pretty: .894, .845, .822 and .840, respectively.

Bottom Line
Central Division

Photo via nhl.com

The main issue with Mason’s play is his inability to consistently make big saves at big moments, as well as his tendency to let in an inexcusable goal, often completely deflating his team and its efforts. Many consider the goal he surrendered against Washington two years ago (below) to be the worst goal in NHL history. This is a perfect example of what Mason can do to a game. The Flyers came out and played an excellent first period, as noted in the clip by Capitals color commentator Craig Laughlin. The second period of Game 2 of the first-round playoff series had just started, and Mason let in a dump-in from 200 feet away. This is an unacceptable play, and the fact that it happened in the playoffs makes it even worse.

The Jets are not back in the playoffs yet, but if Winnipeg hopes to see more consistent play from Mason, he will have to clean up this area of his game. It’s certainly possible Mason could provide this team with enough stability in net to let the young guns take over and do what needs to be done. After all, he has the ability, as evidenced by this beautiful overtime save. Unfortunately for Winnipeg, it’s hard to know which Steve Mason will show up on any given night.
 

Main Offseason Transactions

  • Re-Sign (June 13): F Marko Dano to 1-year contract at $850,000
  • Trade (June 21): 5th-round pick to Vegas to not select D Toby Enstrom in expansion draft
  • Trade (June 21): 2017 1st-round pick (13) and 2019 3rd-round pick to Vegas for 2017 1st-round pick (24) and to select F Chris Thorburn in expansion draft
  • Re-Sign (June 23): D Ben Chiarot to 2-year deal with AAV of $1.4 million
  • Buyout (June 30): D Mark Stuart – $1.16 million cap savings in 2017-2018
  • FA Signing (July 1): G Steve Mason to 2-year deal with AAV of $4.1 million
  • FA Signing (July 1): D Dmitry Kulikov to 3-year deal with AAV of $4.33 million
  • FA Signing (July 1): F Michael Sgarbossa to 1-year contract at $650,000
  • Re-Sign (July 12): F Andrew Copp to 2-year deal with AAV of $1 million
  • Re-Sign (July 24): G Connor Hellebuyck to 1-year contract at $2.25 million

Key Player Movement

OUT

G Ondrej Pavelec
F Drew Stafford
D Mark Stuart
F Chris Thorburn (expansion)
D Paul Postma

IN

G Steve Mason
D Dmitry Kulikov
F Michael Sgarbossa
 

Final Thoughts

The Winnipeg Jets took steps to address the team’s deficiencies on defense and in net. Whether or not enough was done remains to be seen. There’s a lot of talent in this organization, with plenty of depth waiting in the wings. The future is bright, but this team should be better. There seems to be something missing. Perhaps the issue is the coaching.

Head coach Paul Maurice has failed to get his team into the postseason two years in a row, this year doing so despite having a top-10 scoring team. The team was undisciplined, finishing sixth in penalty minutes (835) and sixth in penalty minutes per game (10.18). This became a significant problem since the team finished with a penalty-kill rate of just 77.5 percent, good for 18th in the league. Despite having a top-10 offense, the Jets finished 18th in power-play scoring with an 18.2 percent success rate. An undisciplined team with very little structure on the back end is not a recipe for success, and there is clearly a disconnect on special teams.

After the regular-season contributions of guys like Laine, Scheifele, Ehlers, etc., one would assume this team would make the playoffs. Instead, the Jets were kept at arm’s length and never posed a true threat. The level of talent on this roster is too great to miss the playoffs year after year. The team overachieved in 2014-2015 and made the playoffs, getting swept by the Ducks in the first round. But the results should be better in Winnipeg. It’s not all on the coach, just like it’s not all on the defense or goaltending. But at the end of the day, if the Jets struggle out of the gate, Maurice could and should be on his way out.
 
 

Featured Image credits: Jonathan Daniel-Getty Images (Sharp/Saad); Bruce Bennett-Getty Images (Bishop); Jeanine Leech-Icon Sportswire (Bonino); Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports (Hartnell); Doug Pensinger-Getty Images (Duchene); Jen Fuller-Getty Images (Schenn); Marlin Levison-Star Tribune (Granlund/Niederreiter); Len Redkoles-NHLI via Getty Images (Mason)
 

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