NHL Offseason Analysis: Central Division

offseason

NHL Offseason Analysis

Central Division

The Central Division is considered by many to be the toughest division in the National Hockey League. This past season, five teams from this competitive division represented the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup playoffs. With perennial contenders like Chicago and St. Louis, steady playoff participants like Minnesota and Nashville and new playoff favorites like Dallas all competing for the same three playoff spots, life in the Central Division is not easy. But all teams must fight to improve over the offseason regardless of the prior season’s outcome.

Here is an overview of the offseasons of the seven teams that make up the Central Division: the Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, St. Louis Blues and Winnipeg Jets.

2015-2016 Central Division Standings

  1. Dallas — 109 pts (1st in Western Conference)
  2. St. Louis — 107 pts
  3. Chicago — 103 pts
  4. Nashville — 96 pts
  5. Minnesota — 87 pts
  6. Colorado — 82 pts (missed playoffs)
  7. Winnipeg — 78 pts (missed playoffs)

 

Chicago Blackhawks

2015-2016 By the Numbers

Overall Record: 47-26-9-103
Playoff Result: Eliminated by St. Louis in Western Conference Quarterfinal (series: 4-3 STL)
Standings: Central Division: 3, Western Conference: 3, League: 5
Goals For: 234 (NHL rank: 6)
Goals Against: 207 (NHL rank: 21)
Power Play Percentage: 22.6 percent (NHL rank: 2)
Penalty Kill Percentage: 80.3 percent (NHL rank: 22)
Leading Scorer: Patrick Kane (46-6-106)

offseason

via NHL.com

Summary of 2015-2016 Season Results

The main storylines out of Chicago in last year’s regular season were the record-setting season by Patrick Kane and the emergence of rookie Artemi Panarin, who took home the Calder Memorial Trophy as rookie of the year. Kane had the best season of his career and broke multiple records along the way. He set a franchise record for longest point streak with 22 games, and he set an American point-streak record once he reached 19 games, surpassing Phil Kessel and Eddie Olczyk, who were tied for the record with 18-game streaks. Kane also now holds the longest point streak of any active player in the NHL with 26 games, eclipsing Sidney Crosby’s 25-game point streak from the 2010-2011 season. Kane’s 26-game streak is the longest streak since Mats Sundin hit 30 games in the 1992-1993 campaign. Wayne Gretzky holds the all-time record with a 51-game point streak.

Kane finished the season with 106 points, scoring 46 goals and 60 assists. He finished first in the NHL in points, second in goals behind Alex Ovechkin (50), third in assists behind Erik Karlsson (66) and Joe Thornton (63) and first in power-play points with 37. Panarin, on the other hand, finished ninth in points (77), including 24 power-play points, good enough for a top-28 finish in the league. Panarin reached the 30-goal mark in his first season in the NHL and added an impressive 47 helpers. Kane and Panarin played on the Hawks’ second line with Artem Anisimov; that line was easily one of the hottest in the NHL, and it stayed that way for the duration of the entire season.

The Blackhawks were eliminated by the St. Louis Blues in the first round of the playoffs. It was a hard-fought series featuring some of the most exciting playoff hockey in recent years. In the end, St. Louis had enough overall depth to take the series, winning Game 7 by a final score of 3-2 and upsetting the defending Stanley Cup champions.
 

Most Significant Offseason Moves

The Blackhawks have made several offseason moves since the team was eliminated from the playoffs. Most of the moves have been made for salary cap reasons, which is the norm in Chicago considering all of the superstar talent on the roster. Kane and Jonathan Toews eat up a combined $21 million of cap space on their own. General manager Stan Bowman had been looking to unload the contract of Bryan Bickell; ultimately, he was forced to give up a quality asset in the deal just to get Bickell’s contract off the books, sending Bickell and Teuvo Teravainen to the Carolina Hurricanes for draft picks. Teravainen is a very talented player to lose, especially in a deal involving a salary dump. Perhaps that’s the price to pay in today’s cap-straddled NHL.

The other cap-related offseason move made by the Blackhawks was to send forward Andrew Shaw to Montreal in exchange for two second-round draft picks. Shaw has been a great bottom-six forward for the club, especially in the postseason. He was seeking a pay raise Bowman clearly couldn’t manage, so Bowman got as much value for him as possible. The Canadiens ended up reaching a deal with Shaw for five years with an average annual value of $3.9 million.
 

Main Offseason Transactions

  • Trade: F Teuvo Teravainen and F Bryan Bickell to Carolina for 2016 2nd-round pick and 2017 3rd-round pick
  • Trade: F Andrew Shaw to Montreal for two 2016 2nd-round draft picks (39, 45)
  • Re-Sign: F Richard Panik, 1-year contract at $875,000
  • Re-Sign: F Dennis Rasmussen, 1-year contract at $575,000
  • Re-Sign: F Brandon Mashinter, 1-year contract at $575,000
  • Re-Sign: D Michal Rozsival, 1-year contract at $600,000
  • FA Signing: D Brian Campbell, 1-year contract at $1.5 million
  • FA Signing: F Jordin Tootoo, 1-year contract at $750,000

As far as free-agent signings, the main offseason addition to the roster is defenseman Brian Campbell. Campbell won a Stanley Cup with Chicago in 2010 and has been on the Florida Panthers ever since. Campbell will return to the Blackhawks this season on a very reasonable one-year deal with a cap hit of only $1.5 million. He will fill out the team’s top four without breaking the bank, making this an excellent move by Bowman.

The Blackhawks also re-signed forward Richard Panik to an inexpensive one-year deal and added a few other players on one-year deals at under $1 million, such as Jordin Tootoo ($750,000).
 

Final Thoughts

The Blackhawks have around $2.4 million in projected cap space with 12 forwards, eight defensemen and two goalies signed, according to General Fanager. Moving forward, the Blackhawks could use some more depth in the bottom-six, with players like Tootoo, Vincent Hinostroza, Dennis Rasmussen and Brandon Mashinter making up the 12 forwards currently listed on Chicago’s roster on General Fanager. The team hasn’t yet replaced the likes of Shaw and Teravainen. The Blackhawks could bring in a player or two on a professional tryout or could sign another reasonably-priced forward to bolster the team’s depth. There are some decent free-agent forwards still available on the market. Though players like Radim Vrbata, Antoine Vermette and Jiri Hudler recently signed with other teams, the Blackhawks potentially could consider a veteran like Alex Tanguay, who could give the Blackhawks a little more depth at forward, a little offense and some added leadership, even if he’s just an insurance policy.
 
 

Colorado Avalanche

2015-2016 By the Numbers

Overall Record: 39-39-4-82
Playoff Result: Did not make the playoffs
Standings: Central Division: 6, Western Conference: 9, League: 21
Goals For: 212 (NHL rank: 20)
Goals Against: 240 (NHL rank: 6)
Power Play Percentage: 18 percent (NHL rank: 19)
Penalty Kill Percentage: 80.2 percent (NHL rank: 23)
Leading Scorer: Matt Duchene (30-29-59)

offseason

Bill Smith-NHLI via Getty Images

Summary of 2015-2016 Season Results

The Colorado Avalanche failed to make the playoffs for the second consecutive season. It was a largely inconsistent year for the Avs, void of impressive winning streaks or evident leadership. Many of the top players failed to step up at big moments, leaving the Avalanche on the outside of the playoff bubble. The core, in general, was inconsistent all year, never able to build momentum and maintain it. The organization still has faith in the team’s core, however, which includes Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog (captain), Erik Johnson, Tyson Barrie and Semyon Varlamov. The Avs are still somewhat recovering from the loss of Ryan O’Reilly last summer; however, last season’s additions, such as Carl Soderberg and Blake Comeau, served the team well and will continue to be important factors moving forward.

It’s unclear exactly what will happen next month at training camp, especially with the recent departure of head coach Patrick Roy and the subsequent hiring of former AHL coach Jared Bednar. But it’s likely that 2015 first-round draft pick (10) Mikko Rantanen will have a good chance to make the team. The same can be said of former first-round pick (16) Nikita Zadorov, acquired from Buffalo in the O’Reilly deal.

Currently, the Avalanche have under $1 million in cap space, according to General Fanager. Rene Bourque will attend training camp on a professional tryout.
 

Most Significant Offseason Moves

The Avalanche signed several massive contract extensions this offseason, including a seven-year deal with an average annual value of $6.3 million for Nathan MacKinnon and a four-year deal with an average annual value of $5.5 million for defenseman Tyson Barrie. Colorado re-signed restricted free agent Mikhail Grigorenko to a one-year contract at $1.3 million. The club also re-signed Andreas Martinsen and goaltender Calvin Pickard.

Colorado made two crucial moves this offseason: re-signing MacKinnon and re-signing Barrie. Losing either would have been a colossal mistake.

The MacKinnon contract is one that makes a lot of sense considering how important he is to this team. Though his performance last season was better than the year before, he has been unable to match his production from his rookie season in which he scored 24 goals and 63 points and shined in the postseason. MacKinnon has a lot of talent and potential and is a former first-overall draft pick. He is now the highest-paid player on the team, but he has the foundation and the skill to be a great star in this league for many years. It’s a large investment for someone who hasn’t shown much in the past few seasons, but it will likely be a steal in the near future.

Barrie was involved in widespread trade speculation for most of the early part of the offseason. Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic came out and publicly insisted that Barrie was not available, but the rumors persisted, especially given former coach Patrick Roy’s voiced distaste for Barrie (or, at the very least, his lack of belief in his ability to be a top-four defenseman). However, the Avs re-signed Barrie and, barring a future trade, will have him on the back end for the next four years with a cap hit of $5.5 million. Interestingly, Barrie was the only restricted free agent in the NHL who actually reached arbitration this year. In the end, the Avalanche and Barrie came away with a strong deal that works for both sides. Barrie is a premier offensive defenseman and is coming off his third straight impressive season with 13 goals and 49 points in 78 games. He scored 53 points in 2014-2015 and 38 points in 64 games in 2013-2014, and he has 40 goals and 153 points in 264 career regular-season games. He is a key fixture on this Avalanche team and could very well be an “x factor” down the line.

New offseason additions to the club include defensemen Patrick Wiercioch and Fedor Tyutin. Tyutin’s contract is a one-year deal with a cap hit of $2 million, which is a bit high considering his recent decline, especially considering the team already has a lot of money tied up in its defense. The team also added forward Joe Colborne, who signed a two-year deal with an average annual value of $2.5 million. This is a strong under-the-radar offseason move for the Avs. Colborne has played very well for the Flames over the past few seasons, setting career highs in goals (19), assists (25) and points (44) last season. The $2.5 million seems a bit hefty, especially for a bottom-six forward, but this is still a smart signing by the Avalanche. Colborne can move around the lineup, which will only give the team more options on the ice.
 

Main Offseason Transactions

  • Trade: G Reto Berra to Florida for F Rocco Grimaldi
  • Trade: D Nick Holden to New York Rangers for 2017 4th-round pick
  • Re-Sign: F Andreas Martinsen to 1-year contract at $640,000
  • FA Signing: D Patrick Wiercioch to 1-year contract at $800,000
  • FA Signing: F Joe Colborne to 2-year deal with AAV of $2.5 million
  • FA Signing: D Fedor Tyutin to 1-year contract at $2 million
  • Re-Sign: G Calvin Pickard to 2-year deal with AAV of $1 million
  • Re-Sign: F Nathan MacKinnon to 7-year deal with AAV of $6.3 million
  • Re-Sign: F Mikhail Grigorenko to 1-year contract at $1.3 million
  • Re-Sign: D Tyson Barrie to 4-year deal with AAV of $5.5 million
  • FA Signing: F Ben Smith to 1-year contract at $675,000

Despite the predominantly in-house transactions, the biggest news out of Colorado this offseason was head coach Patrick Roy’s decision to resign from his duties as coach and vice president of hockey operations. Roy made the announcement in mid-August, leaving general manager Joe Sakic with very little time to find a suitable replacement in time for training camp (Sakic hired AHL coach Jared Bednar as a replacement last week). Roy was not pleased with his lack of involvement in shaping the team in the offseason. Though the Avalanche missed the playoffs in two out of Roy’s three seasons behind the Colorado bench, it was expected that the Roy-Sakic tandem would find a way to turn things around. After all, the Avalanche roster has plenty of young talent and ability. However, the Avs will have to move on with a new voice in the locker room and with a new system in place.
 

Final Thoughts

Colorado is not sitting pretty at the moment. The team has missed the playoffs two years in a row and is coming off a season in which the core of the team was unable to play consistent hockey. Sakic and the organization were put in a difficult position of having to find a replacement coach late in the offseason, but the team seems pleased with Bednar. At this point, six members of the team will compete in the World Cup, including Matt Duchene, MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, Carl Soderberg, Erik Johnson and Semyon Varlamov. The regular season does not start until late October, which does leave a little breathing room for the Avs, especially Bednar, to get situated. The Colorado organization has now made big commitments to the core of this team. It will be up to the players whether they want to come out strong and compete in a complete 60-minute effort every night.
 
 

Dallas Stars

2015-2016 By the Numbers

Overall Record: 50-23-9-109
Playoff Result: Eliminated by St. Louis in Western Conference Semifinal (series: 4-3 STL)
Standings: Central Division: 1, Western Conference: 1, League: 2
Goals For: 265 (NHL rank: 1)
Goals Against: 228 (NHL rank: 11)
Power Play Percentage: 22.1 percent (NHL rank: 4)
Penalty Kill Percentage: 82.3 percent (NHL rank: 10)
Leading Scorer: Jamie Benn (41-48-89)

offseason

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Summary of 2015-2016 Season Results

The Dallas Stars had a spectacular season last year. The team exited the playoffs sooner than expected, but the fact remains that the Stars were one of the most dominant teams in the NHL for most of the season. With the powerhouse duo of Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, along with contributions from players like Jason Spezza and Patrick Sharp, the Stars have an excellent foundation for an explosive offensive effort. Six members of the team scored 15 goals or more this past season, and despite frequent adjustments to line combinations, the lineup maintained enough depth to present tough match-ups game in and game out.

One of the bright spots of the regular season was defenseman John Klingberg’s 58-point campaign. He jumped out to an excellent start and faded down the stretch, but Klingberg proved his 40-point rookie performance was no fluke.

Heading into last season, the Stars acquired goaltender Antti Niemi’s negotiating rights and signed him to a three-year, $13.5 million deal. The plan was to have Niemi and Kari Lehtonen backstop the high-octane offense. The two were expected to share the load, especially given Lehtonen’s injury history. Unfortunately, things did not go too smoothly. Neither goalie had a particularly impressive season, and neither goalie was able to maintain the starter’s job because of inconsistent play. The duo proved to be largely ineffective in the postseason, which is the main reason the team fizzled out in the second round (though the absence of Seguin should not be ignored).

Niemi finished the regular season with a 2.67 goals-against average and a .905 save percentage, while Lehtonen finished with a 2.76 goals-against average and a .906 save percentage; both goalies won 25 games.

But the playoff numbers were worse.

Lehtonen, who played in 11 postseason games, finished with a 2.81 goals-against average and a .899 save percentage. Niemi played in five games and finished with a 3.29 goals-against average and a save percentage of .865.

Dallas now finds itself on the hook for $10.4 million in cap hits for the two goalies for the next two seasons. There have been plenty of offseason rumors regarding the team acquiring another goaltender, such as Marc-Andre Fleury from Pittsburgh or Ben Bishop from Tampa Bay. In order to do this, however, the other team would be forced to take on the contract of either Lehtonen or Niemi (most likely Niemi), which is a lot to ask for in today’s cap-controlled NHL. It appears as though the Stars will enter the season with the same two netminders in the crease, hopeful that one will step up and claim the starter’s job. The Stars can always trade for another goalie during the season or at the trade deadline, though, and with the expansion draft coming up after the end of the season, teams will be much more willing than ever before to move top-notch goalies.
 

Most Significant Offseason Moves

Technically, the most significant move the Stars have made so far this offseason is re-signing captain Jamie Benn to an eight-year deal with an annual cap hit of $9.5 million. The deal doesn’t kick in until next season, but it is a massive contract. The $9.5 million cap hit is the fifth-highest cap hit in the NHL, tied with Evgeni Malkin. The only players with higher cap hits are Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane ($10.5 million), Anze Kopitar ($10 million) and Alex Ovechkin ($9.538 million).

The 27-year-old has evolved into one of the most effective players in the entire league. No one has scored more points than Benn over the past two seasons (176); Benn won the Art Ross Trophy in 2014-2015 as the league-leader in points with 87. Though Benn has emerged as a true all-around star (no pun intended), he has quietly been one of the most consistent scorers in the league over the past several seasons. In fact, he ranks eighth overall in scoring since the 2010-2011 season with 407 points, trailing Claude Giroux (443), Alex Ovechkin (437), Patrick Kane (433), Sidney Crosby (432), Steven Stamkos (421), John Tavares (417) and Joe Thornton (410). He has put together six seasons in which he has topped 50 points (including his 33-point performance in 41 games in the lockout-shortened season in which he was on pace for 60 points in 75 games). He has become even more dominant in recent years, essentially putting together three consecutive 80-point campaigns (he scored 79 in 2013-2014). Some of his success can be attributed to Seguin’s arrival, but Benn has proven himself throughout his career as a complete hockey player with tremendous offensive ability.

But extending Benn was certainly not a surprising move for the Stars. Significant, yes, but not surprising. The amount may have surprised some, but it’s hard to argue with Benn’s numbers, his 200-foot game and his leadership.

What could be considered the most significant move of the offseason, however, is the free-agent acquisition of defenseman Dan Hamhuis. With the departure of defenseman Alex Goligoski, who signed with Arizona after Dallas traded his rights, as well as Jason Demers and Kris Russell, who hit free agency, signing another defenseman to replace some of that veteran experience in a top-four role was critical. Hamhuis understands his role as a steady presence on the back end who can help mentor some of the young defensemen Dallas is trying to incorporate into the team’s plan. That doesn’t mean that he is capable of filling Goligoski’s shoes necessarily, or that he is better suited to the Stars’ lineup. However, it was critical that the Stars find someone to bolster the team’s defense. Re-signing Jordie Benn and Jamie Oleksiak helps shore up the back end, but bringing in a trusted veteran to help bridge the gap between veterans like journeyman Johnny Oduya and up-and-comers like Klingberg, Stephen Johns, Patrick Nemeth, Oleksiak and Esa Lindell makes sense for this club. Those five young defensemen have a combined 305 games of NHL experience. Stars general manager Jim Nill has made it clear this offseason that he wants the team to be bigger and stronger and to have more energy next season. That explains why he let forwards such as Vernon Fiddler and Travis Moen walk. Guys like Brett Ritchie and Curtis McKenzie will fill their roles in the lineup, making the team bigger and stronger but not necessarily as experienced. Again, Hamhuis will be a steadying force to keep the team balanced and loose.

But it’s not just the forwards that will be bigger.

Goligoski is listed at 5-11 and 185 pounds, Russell at 5-10 and 170 pounds and Demers at 6-1 and 200 pounds. Hamhuis’ 6-1, 209-pound frame will be a slight upgrade, but players like Johns (6-4, 225), Nemeth (6-3, 230) and Oleksiak (6-7, 260) present brand new options for this Dallas club. Not only does Hamhuis bring a little size and a lot of experience, but he still has some hockey left in the tank. He has battled injuries in the past few seasons, lacing up in only 59 and 58 games and scoring only 23 and 13 points in the past two seasons, respectively. However, a fresh start should do Hamhuis just as much good as his arrival will do for the young defense corps. He will most likely play alongside Klingberg on the top pairing, but head coach Lindy Ruff will have plenty of options.
 

Main Offseason Transactions

  • Trade: Rights of D Alex Goligoski to Arizona for 2016 5th-round pick
  • Re-Sign: D Jordie Benn to 3-year deal with AAV of $1.1 million
  • Trade: G Jack Campbell to Los Angeles for D Nick Ebert
  • FA Signing: D Dan Hamhuis to 2-year deal with AAV of $3.75 million
  • Re-Sign: F Patrick Eaves to 1-year contract at $1 million
  • FA Signing: F Adam Cracknell to 1-year contract at $600,000
  • Re-Sign: D Jamie Oleksiak to 1-year contract at $918,750
  • Re-Sign: F Jamie Benn to 8-year deal with AAV of $9.5 million

Interestingly, the Stars gave up on goaltender prospect Jack Campbell, who was extremely highly-regarded but has struggled since being drafted in 2010. Campbell played 20 games for Dallas’ ECHL affiliate, the Idaho Steelheads, this past season, an indication that the organization was losing faith in the young netminder. For his sake, hopefully a change of scenery will help him get back on track.

Forward Patrick Eaves was given a one-year extension. Though Eaves has struggled with injuries, he played stretches of the season on the top line with Benn and Seguin and was effective for the Stars. Though he tends to be a bit streaky, this was a smart and necessary offseason signing by Nill.
 

Final Thoughts

The Dallas Stars are poised for another strong season and playoff run. Despite some pretty steady issues in net, the team has enough offensive firepower to be one of the top teams in the Western Conference once again. The team will be bigger and stronger this year, although less experienced. This could mean Ruff and Nill will shuffle the rotation of young defensemen on a frequent basis, but it also means more of the young players could have legitimate chances with the big club. Hamhuis should play an important role in the locker room and on the back end for Dallas. He took a reasonable two-year contract with an average cap hit of $3.75 million, which is an outstanding signing by Nill. With Seguin coming back from injuries that forced him to miss all but one playoff game, the team looks to be in good shape for the regular season. Seguin brings a lot to the table, including three consecutive 70-point seasons in his three years with the Stars. He was sorely missed in the playoffs.

One issue yet to be resolved is the contract status of forward Valeri Nichushkin, who has largely been a disappointment in his two full seasons with the Stars, registering 34 points in 2013-2014 and 29 points last season. Nichushkin was originally thought of as a top-six or even a top-line winger but has fallen short of those expectations. He is a restricted free agent and is the only remaining free agent on the roster. It’s unclear what both sides are looking for in this situation, but it is likely to be resolved before training camp, even though Nichushkin’s name continues to get thrown around in trade rumors.

Overall, the biggest question headed into the new season is definitely in net. Ideally, Lehtonen and/or Niemi will put together a more consistent and, perhaps more importantly, confident effort. If not, Nill should have options, especially closer to the trade deadline.
 
 

Minnesota Wild

2015-2016 By the Numbers

Overall Record: 38-33-11-87
Playoff Result: Eliminated by Dallas in Western Conference Quarterfinal (series: 4-2 DAL)
Standings: Central Division: 5, Western Conference: 8, League: 17
Goals For: 213 (NHL rank: 18)
Goals Against: 204 (NHL rank: 22)
Power Play Percentage: 18.5 percent (NHL rank: 15)
Penalty Kill Percentage: 77.9 percent (NHL rank: 27)
Leading Scorer: Mikko Koivu (17-39-56)

offseason

via @mnwild on Twitter

Summary of 2015-2016 Season Results

The Minnesota Wild had an interesting roller-coaster type of season last year, ultimately losing to the Stars in six games in the first round of the playoffs.

The Wild started out as one of the hottest teams in the league and put together the best first half of a season in franchise history. The team went 20-10-6 through the end of December. Things were looking up.

But after an ugly stretch that included eight consecutive losses (0-6-2), the last of which marked the 13th loss in 14 games (1-11-2) and the 16th in 19 games (3-12-4), the team found itself 23-22-10 and in sixth place in the Central Division. Something had to give.

So, following that mid-February game, a 4-2 loss to the Bruins, general manager Chuck Fletcher fired head coach Mike Yeo and promoted AHL head coach John Torchetti.

Though the coach is generally the first to go, the players certainly didn’t do Yeo any favors. For example, after the Boston game alternate captain Zach Parise was asked if the team was no longer responding to Yeo; in response, Parise said, “I’m not going to get into that. That’s not up to the players.”

Whether or not Yeo was fully to blame, it’s clear that a change was necessary. The team won the next four games and was eventually able to right the ship, despite going 0-5 to finish the season. That’s not necessarily a reflection on Torchetti’s ability as a coach, as he has since been replaced. But the team was able to rebound.

Despite losing the final five games of the regular season, the Wild managed to squeak into the playoffs. The team put up a strong fight against the Stars in the first round despite being without Parise and Thomas Vanek. The losing streak was stretched to seven games as Dallas got off to an early 2-0 series lead. However, the Wild fought back and came just short of forcing Game 7. Game 5 of that series was absolutely wild (pun intended). The game was filled with lead changes and plenty of dramatics as the Stars scored two goals in 28 seconds in the third period to take the lead. But the Wild did not falter. In fact, captain Mikko Koivu tied it with 3:09 remaining in the third period. Koivu eventually scored 4:55 into overtime to win the game and keep the Wild alive. But as exciting as Game 5 was, Game 6 was in a league of its own.

Game 6 was truly a testament to the resilience of this Wild club.

The Wild found themselves down 4-0 in an elimination game at home, unable to beat Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen until the third period. However, the team was able to give Dallas a little taste of its own medicine from Game 5, scoring two goals in the span of just 16 seconds. The Wild brought the game within one goal when Jared Spurgeon scored on a power-play. From there, the Stars extended the lead to two when the puck took a terrible bounce and ended up behind Wild netminder Devan Dubnyk. It was a totally deflating goal, and it seemed as though all hope was lost.

But once again, the Wild kept fighting.

The team battled back to bring the game within one with a little under five minutes left in the game. Amazingly, the team that was down 4-0 earlier in the game was truly in it until the end. Unfortunately for the Wild, a controversial call was the difference between living to fight another day and going home for the year. With around 35 seconds left in the third, the puck partially crossed the goal line and hit Lehtonen’s pad. It was a very, very close call, but it went against the Wild and put an end to their playoff run. Though it was a heartbreaking loss that came down to a disputed call, the Wild never gave up and virtually came within 1-2 centimeters of forcing Game 7. That says a lot considering the up-and-down nature of the season. It also means there are good things to come in the immediate future.
 

Most Significant Offseason Moves

The Wild’s biggest move in the offseason was signing unrestricted free-agent center Eric Staal. Staal scored six points in 20 regular-season games and zero points in five playoff games with the Rangers after being traded by Carolina at the trade deadline. Before that, Staal was a member of the Hurricanes for his entire career ever since getting drafted by Carolina second overall in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. Staal, who served as captain of the Canes, has had an impressive career, including a Stanley Cup championship in 2006. Though his overall production has decreased in the past few years, Staal has always been a gifted offensive force in the NHL and is a great center who will bring a lot to the table for the Wild. While Staal tallied 39 points in 83 games last season with the Hurricanes and Rangers, his lowest point total since his first season in the NHL, he has scored 70+ points seven times in his career and has scored at least 50 points in 10 out of his 12 NHL seasons, including the lockout-shortened season in which he scored 53 points in 48 games.

The Wild signed Staal to a three-year deal with an average annual cap hit of $3.5 million. This is a drastic reduction in salary compared to what Staal has made in the past, but he is at a different point in his career. Again, his point totals have dropped a bit in recent years, but he was looking to be in a position to play an important role on a contending team rather than just earn a big paycheck. It’s unclear where he will play in the lineup considering Koivu and Mikael Granlund have served as the top two centers in recent years. Based on his coaching style from last season, however, newly-hired head coach Bruce Boudreau could use Staal on the third line to give the team a more balanced attack. However, it’s likely Granlund will move over to the wing, clearing one of the top-six center slots for Staal. Though he is not the same player he once was, Staal is a strong signing for a Minnesota team looking to become more consistent and accountable.

Another important move this offseason is the bridge deal reached with defenseman Matt Dumba. Dumba’s name had been thrown around a lot in trade rumors. The gifted offensive defenseman was due for a pay raise after setting career highs in goals (10), assists (16) and points (26) in his first full season in the NHL. Dumba accepted a reasonable bridge deal that will allow him to showcase his skills and maintain arbitration rights until his next contract, and it will also give the team time (two years) to evaluate him and to try to make a run for a Cup with a more reasonable cap hit ($2.55 million) on the budget. This is a smart move for both sides as Dumba is likely to have another great year in 2016-2017.

But perhaps the most significant move of the offseason is the hiring of Bruce Boudreau as bench boss. Boudreau was most recently the head coach of the Anaheim Ducks and was previously the head coach of the Washington Capitals. He boasts an impressive 409-192-80 career record as an NHL coach, and he went 208-104-40 in five seasons with Anaheim.

offseason

Jim Gehrz-Star Tribune

That being said, his resume also reveals some alarming statistics. For one thing, the Ducks reached the Conference Finals only once in his five seasons there even though the team was a legitimate contender every year. For another thing, the Ducks were eliminated in the playoffs in similar fashion year after year in a particularly disheartening way: in a game 7, at home and after holding a 3-2 series lead. The Ducks were eliminated by the Nashville Predators in Game 7 in the first round of the playoffs this past year. That marked the fourth consecutive season in which the Ducks were eliminated in a game 7. It marked the fourth consecutive season in which the Ducks were eliminated in a game 7 at home, and it also marked the fourth consecutive year in which the Ducks blew a 3-2 series lead.

Unfortunately for Boudreau, those are some brutal statistics. Plus, this is not just a problem he had with the Anaheim Ducks: it appears to be a problem with Boudreau himself. In fact, he has a whopping 1-7 career record in Game 7’s with the Ducks and Capitals. It’s hard to blame coincidence or other factors with a record as lopsided as that. For whatever reason, Boudreau has not found a way to get it done. Now, that could certainly change in Minnesota. However, despite his regular-season success, those numbers and that trend make Boudreau a risky pick. The Wild wasted no time in hiring him after Anaheim let him go, though, so it’s clear the organization is confident in his ability to coach.

It will be interesting to see if Boudreau will be able to help the Wild and overcome that hump that has plagued him so far in his career. As a short-term coach, Boudreau makes sense. He brings tremendous success in the regular season and should be able to get the Wild into a solid playoff spot. Whether or not the Wild advance to the later rounds in the playoffs is another issue, but Boudreau should make it a little easier for the Wild to reach the postseason compared to recent seasons.

But in the long run, in order for the Wild to win Stanley Cup’s, Boudreau is not a good fit. He has coached two excellent teams with incredibly talented players (some of the best in the NHL) but has been unable to figure out not only how to reach the Cup or win the Cup but more simply how to overcome his past trouble in Game 7’s. His inability to adjust does not bode well for a Minnesota squad that is looking for direction. Minnesota better hope to take care of things in the first five-six games of a series.
 

Main Offseason Transactions

  • Buyout: F Thomas Vanek — 2016-2017 cap savings: $5 million
  • Re-Sign: F Jason Zucker to 2-year deal with AAV of $2 million
  • FA Signing: F Eric Staal to 3-year deal with AAV of $3.5 million
  • FA Signing: F Chris Stewart to 2-year deal with AAV of $1.15 million
  • FA Signing: G Alex Stalock to 1-year contract at $650,000
  • Re-Sign: G Darcy Kuemper to 1-year contract at $1.55 million
  • Re-Sign: F Jordan Schroeder to 1-year contract at $650,000
  • Re-Sign: D Matt Dumba to 2-year deal with AAV of $2.55 million

There are a few things of note.

For one thing, the buyout of Thomas Vanek was a great and necessary move for the Wild. Vanek has always been a streaky scorer, but his numbers in Minnesota have been lacking. In two seasons with the team, Vanek has averaged 0.6 points per game, which is the lowest points-per-game rate in his career since his first season with the Sabres in 2005-2006. More significantly, his performance last season was especially patchy with 41 points in 74 games. For a player meant to be a strong top-six scorer, those numbers are unacceptable. When you consider his cap hit of $6.5 million a year, it’s not surprising to see the Wild buy out the remainder of his contract. Getting rid of Vanek clears up $5 million of cap space for this upcoming season. The buyout, which comes with a $1.5 million cap charge next year and a $2.5 million cap charge the following year, makes sense on a financial level and also makes sense for the betterment of the team. The Wild have plenty of other forwards more worthy of a shot to crack the top six.

Also, the Jason Zucker extension is an interesting bridge deal coming off a very disappointing season. Zucker managed only 23 points (13 goals, 10 assists) in 71 games, good enough for 12th overall on the roster. Granted, Zucker battled injury, slumps and some time in the press box. But after a great start that saw him register at least one point in 12 of the first 18 games of the season, including a seven-game point streak, he scored only nine points for the rest of the season. Nine. That being said, Zucker is an important part of this team and should rebound with a more cemented role on the team’s offense.

One offseason move that will be underestimated is the re-signing of Jordan Schroeder. Though it’s merely a one-year deal for $650,000, Schroeder could play a larger role for this Minnesota team. His speed was greatly underutilized last season but he could earn a more steady roster spot after training camp, especially under Boudreau.
 

Final Thoughts

Unfortunately, forward Jason Pominville had the worst season of his career last year. He set career lows in goals (11), assists (25) and points (36), not including his first full season in the NHL in which he only played 57 games. That makes his $5.6 million price tag a little tough to swallow. The Wild will need him to step up and get back to the 25-, 30-goal scorer he can be. This shouldn’t be too much of an issue given his career tendencies and the players around him.

But there are some very positive things to take away from the Wild’s season and offseason. For one thing, the progress of Charlie Coyle is something to be very excited about in Minnesota. He finished the year with career highs in goals (21) and points (42), but more importantly, he finally emerged as the big, strong and skilled power forward he was supposed to be. He has exhibited signs of his size, strength and raw talent in previous seasons, but it wasn’t until last season that he was able to fully put them all together. He is still a streaky scorer but took major strides last season towards becoming the all-around player he is expected to be.

Also, players like Nino Niederreiter and especially Erik Haula had very strong seasons. Mid-way through the season, something inside Haula clicked, leading to a breakout year with 14 goals and 34 points. Once he was put on a line with Niederreiter, his offense really took off. He set career highs in goals (14), assists (20), points (34) and plus/minus (+21) and was one of the hottest players in the league late in the season when he had a 10-game point streak in late March. Niederreiter hit the 20-goal mark for the second consecutive season, also setting career highs in assists (23) and points (43).

Finally, Devan Dubnyk proved that he is more than just a one-hit wonder. He had an improbable and incredible 40-game run in 2014-2015, going on an unbelievable stretch to save the Wild’s season and get the team into the playoffs. Specifically, in a stretch of 39 games played with the Wild last season, Dubnyk went 27-9-2 with a 1.78 goals-against average and a .936 save percentage; he recorded five shutouts. No one could have or should have expected him to repeat that performance, but there was concern he might revert back to the mediocre play that defined the earlier part of his career. At the end of the day, Dubnyk had a solid season and was able to quiet the doubters. He certainly didn’t replicate his 40-game stretch from the previous year, but he had a respectable season with 32 wins, a 2.33 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage.

Minnesota is in a position to have a strong bounceback season. The team will most likely improve its regular-season play with the help of Boudreau behind the bench, and the team’s 2016 postseason run should serve as an example of what the team can strive to achieve.
 
 

Nashville Predators

2015-2016 By the Numbers

Overall Record: 41-27-14-96
Playoff Result: Eliminated by San Jose in Western Conference Semifinal (series: 4-3 SJS)
Standings: Central Division: 4, Western Conference: 7, League: 14
Goals For: 224 (NHL rank: 13)
Goals Against: 213 (NHL rank: 17)
Power Play Percentage: 19.7 percent (NHL rank: 10)
Penalty Kill Percentage: 81.2 percent (NHL rank: 16)
Leading Scorer: Filip Forsberg (33-31-64)

offseason

via predators.nhl.com

Summary of 2015-2016 Season Results

The Nashville Predators had what some would consider a surprisingly-successful postseason. The effort ended in a seven-game defeat at the hands of the San Jose Sharks in the second round of the playoffs, but the run surprised many.

The Predators overcame a 3-2 deficit in round one to eliminate the Anaheim Ducks and advance. Though the Predators fought for this victory, at least part of it must be attributed to Ducks’ coach Bruce Boudreau’s incredible 1-7 career record in Game 7’s, and also to the fact that Anaheim has now lost four consecutive series after blowing a 3-2 lead. Despite that, however, the Predators put forth a valiant effort and deservedly moved on in the playoffs.

The seven-game series against San Jose in round two was a hard-fought battle. The Sharks got up two games to none, sending the series back to Nashville for Game 3. The Predators came away with Game 3, and Game 4 saw the Preds win in thrilling fashion in triple overtime to tie the series at 2-2. This was the longest game in franchise history and was the first time in franchise history the team had won a playoff game in overtime at home. The Sharks took Game 5 and the Preds took Game 6, sending the series to a critical Game 7. In the end, the Preds fell flat after forcing Game 7, losing 5-0 in the final contest.

But the Predators made an impressive rebound as an organization last year in the regular season and especially in the playoffs. The team challenged some of the top teams in the league and lost in seven games to the team that ultimately made it to the Stanley Cup. The Predators have positioned themselves to be considered a top contender for years to come. Head coach Peter Laviolette has done wonders for the Nashville offense, and the Predators have always had a solid defense corps and one of the best goalies in the league in Pekka Rinne. That is a winning combination, and the team has arguably gotten even better this offseason.
 

Most Significant Offseason Moves

Perhaps the biggest splash of the entire offseason was the shocking swap of Nashville’s franchise defenseman and captain Shea Weber for franchise defenseman P.K. Subban of the Montreal Canadiens. This move effectively came out of nowhere from Nashville’s perspective, though there had been rumors involving Subban in the days leading up to the trade. Weber has been one of the best defensemen in the game for many years. He is a hard-nosed player, an excellent two-way defenseman and a tremendous leader. But general manager David Poile saw an opportunity to land a younger player on a more straightforward contract with more potential and upside and better numbers across the board, not including goals scored. The Predators got younger and more dynamic on the back end, and though Weber has been phenomenal for the Predators organization, some of his numbers suggest he is on the decline. The move was a terrific one for the Preds, and though losing Weber is hard to come back from, Subban will be more determined than ever and in an excellent environment to succeed. This was a move for the future, and it was a bold statement by Poile.

The Predators also signed a few substantial extensions this offseason, including star forward Filip Forsberg’s six-year, $36 million deal. After being acquired from the Washington Capitals in 2013 in what has turned out to be a devastating trade for the Capitals, Forsberg has been lights out as an offensive weapon for the Nashville Predators. He led the team in scoring last year, his second full season with the Predators, scoring a career-high 33 goals and 64 points. His numbers over the past two seasons rank him 26th in the league in points with 127. He has led the Predators in points two years in a row and has shown no signs of slowing down. Locking up the 22-year-old Swede was a key move for Poile and the Preds.

Forward Calle Jarnkrok was also given a six-year extension. His deal comes with an average annual value of $2 million. The $2 million cap hit is the lowest cap hit out of 146 active contracts of at least six years, according to General Fanager. Even if it’s not a common deal, it’s clear the Predators wanted to lock him up long-term, and it’s a sound investment. Jarnkrok proved himself last season, setting career highs in goals (16), assists (14) and points (30), and he spent a good chunk of the season on the top line with James Neal and Ryan Johansen. This type of deal shows an interest on Jarnkrok’s part for security, and it demonstrates that Poile, Laviolette and the rest of the organization have faith in what Jarnkrok brings to the table. Though he didn’t have a strong postseason, Jarnkrok is a versatile player that will give Laviolette plenty of options with his ability to play up and down the lineup. It’s possible Jarnkrok will go back to a bottom-six role this season to spark more offensive production from that part of the lineup. At the very least, he provides flexibility.

The Predators also made headlines this offseason under less ideal circumstances given the team’s involvement with highly-touted prospect Jimmy Vesey. Vesey was originally drafted by the Predators with the 66th overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. After finishing his four-year career at Harvard, Vesey declined a contract offer from Nashville as the team was headed into the playoffs. Vesey wanted to hit free agency, so the Predators were forced to trade his negotiating rights to avoid being left with nothing. Poile made a strong deal and acquired a third-round draft pick (76) from Buffalo in exchange for Vesey’s rights; the Predators used the pick to draft center Rem Pitlick. In the end, Vesey did not sign with Buffalo. After waiting until he hit free agency, he ultimately signed with the New York Rangers.
 

Main Offseason Transactions

  • Trade: Rights of unsigned F Jimmy Vesey to Buffalo for 2016 3rd-round pick (76)
  • Trade: D Shea Weber to Montreal Canadiens for D P.K. Subban
  • Buyout: D Barret Jackman — 2016-2017 cap savings: $1.33 million
  • Re-Sign: F Filip Forsberg to 6-year deal with AAV of $6 million
  • FA Signing: D Yannick Weber to 1-year contract at $575,000
  • FA Signing: D Matt Irwin to 1-year contract at $575,000
  • Re-Sign: D Petter Granberg to 2-year deal with AAV of $612,500
  • FA Signing: D Matthew Carle to 1-year contract at $700,000
  • Re-Sign: F Calle Jarnkrok to 6-year deal with AAV of $2 million

The most under-the-radar offseason move here is the signing of defenseman Matt Carle to a low-risk, high-reward contract. The deal is only for one year at a very reasonable $700,000 cap hit. Nashville has had one of the strongest defense corps in the league in recent years, but with the departure of Weber and Seth Jones, who was traded during the season for forward Ryan Johansen, the makeup of the team’s defense has changed. Signing players like Yannick Weber, Matt Irwin and Carle helps strengthen the depth of the back end.

Carle was bought out by the Lightning this offseason but has a history with Laviolette from their days in Philadelphia. Though his play has declined in recent years, Carle was once considered a stable top-four defenseman. Playing with Chris Pronger during his time in Philly probably made him look better than he really was, but there were positive aspects to Carle’s game. He is certainly a serviceable defenseman, and given a new chance and a new environment, Carle could flourish in his new role in Nashville. It’s unclear if he’ll even crack the roster after training camp, but this is an excellent move by Nashville. At the very least, he is familiar to Laviolette and can be a reliable option as a number seven or eight dman for the Predators this season.

The buyout of Barret Jackman shows that his time in Nashville was unsuccessful. The Predators had a stacked defense, so it’s possible Jackman’s aging play was not a strong fit with Nashville’s new-found offensive tempo. After all, he was a healthy scratch for a stretch last season. The Predators signed him to a two-year contract last July to add a grittier presence to the back end. However, the team decided this summer to move on and will be left with only a $666,666 cap charge for him for the next two seasons.

As it stands now, the Predators have eight defenseman listed on the club’s roster on General Fanager, with Irwin listed as a non-roster player. The eight defensemen include Subban, Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm, Ryan Ellis, Anthony Bitetto, Petter Granberg, Carle and Yannick Weber. It should be a good battle at training camp to see who fills out the bottom pair.
 

Final Thoughts

The Nashville Predators have taken substantial steps in the past few seasons towards becoming a more offensive-capable and offensive-minded team. With Laviolette at the helm, as well as adding key dynamic pieces such as James Neal, Ryan Johansen and P.K. Subban over the past few seasons, the club finds itself in a good position to win. Though the makeup of the team will change with Subban in and Weber out, the team as a whole stands to fare very well this season and beyond. Several players had either “down” seasons or mediocre seasons, such as Craig Smith, Colin Wilson, Mike Ribeiro and Mike Fisher; they each stand to rebound this season, and it will help Nashville to have Johansen for a full 82 games. Wilson is coming off a very strong playoff performance with 13 points in 14 games, so there’s a good chance he’ll be able to match or top his 2014-2015 career highs in goals (20), assists (22) and points (42). Also, Kevin Fiala, a promising offensive prospect, may be given a better chance to earn a roster spot this year.

All in all, the Predators have had a pretty strong offseason. Poile’s bold moves in acquiring Johansen and Subban in the last year have changed the face of this franchise, and Nashville should be an even fiercer competitor in the 2016-2017 campaign.
 
 

St. Louis Blues

2015-2016 By the Numbers

Overall Record: 49-24-9-107
Playoff Result: Eliminated by San Jose in Western Conference Final (series: 4-2 SJS)
Standings: Central Division: 2, Western Conference: 2, League: 3
Goals For: 219 (NHL rank: 15)
Goals Against: 197 (NHL rank: 27)
Power Play Percentage: 21.5 percent (NHL rank: 6)
Penalty Kill Percentage: 85.1 percent (NHL rank: 3)
Leading Scorer: Vladimir Tarasenko (40-34-74)

offseason

via blues.nhl.com

Summary of 2015-2016 Season Results

The St. Louis Blues are coming off the most successful season the franchise has seen in 15 years. The Blues have had trouble advancing in the playoffs in recent years despite spectacular regular-season performances. In fact, the team had been eliminated in the first or second round in four consecutive seasons and had been eliminated in the first round for three years straight. But St. Louis finally was able to break free this past year, making it to the Western Conference Finals before being eliminated by the San Jose Sharks in six games. Though the end result was not a Stanley Cup victory, there is a lot this Blues team can take away from last season.

For starters, the Blues did not have an easy road. Despite eventually advancing to the Conference Finals, to say the team had its work cut out for it would be an understatement.

First, the Blues were set to take on the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. Though the Blues held home-ice advantage, the stakes were high and the stage was set for yet another disappointing finish and yet another early playoff exit. But the Blues team that took the ice starting in Game 1 was a different group than in years past, even though much of the roster might have looked the same. That first-round series was, in a word, phenomenal. It featured some of the best playoff hockey in recent years, and it was a true battle between well-matched teams. It was a thrilling, back-and-forth, edge-of-your-seat kind of series, and in the end, the Blues did enough to take the series 4-3. The team had enough depth and enough talent to match up against Chicago and to best them in the end.

Next, the Blues were set to face the Dallas Stars, a high-flying offense that finished first in the Western Conference in the regular season and that was coming off a seven-game series victory of its own. It was not easy. It was another seven-game series, but the Blues came out on top. St. Louis had superior goaltending, and it was clear that Dallas was not the same without star forward Tyler Seguin. That being said, the Blues won a tight contest and earned the right to advance to the third round of the playoffs, the final round before the Stanley Cup.

Unfortunately, that is as far as the team got. The San Jose Sharks, led by Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns and Logan Couture, proved too much to handle, and the Blues’ season came to an end after a six-game series loss. But on the whole, the Blues had a tremendously effective postseason for the first time in over a decade. It was clear that St. Louis had new depth the team had not had in many years, and it was clear that things finally had started to click. Though several players have since been removed from the roster, it appears as though this Blues team will be ready to take another crack at the Cup come April.
 

Most Significant Offseason Moves

The St. Louis Blues have made several major adjustments this offseason, some of which are not directly reflected on the team’s list of transactions. For one thing, the team shipped out goalie Brian Elliott for draft picks, thus officially putting the reins in the hands of Jake Allen. The team decided not to re-sign its captain, instead allowing him to hit free agency where he signed with the Boston Bruins; the team has since named a new captain. Plus, there were rumors for the first several months of the offseason involving one of the best players on the team in Kevin Shattenkirk, who is essentially a franchise defenseman.

After using two goalies in a 1A, 1B situation for the past several seasons, the Blues will enter the new season with one starting netminder: Jake Allen. Elliott has been outstanding for the team, finishing this past year with a 23-8-6 record and posting a .930 save percentage and 2.07 goals-against average. Allen finished the season with a 26-15-3 record with a .920 save percentage and a 2.35 goals-against average. Elliott is coming off his best postseason performance ever, despite the final result. Elliott finished the postseason with a .921 save percentage and a 2.44 goals-against average as he helped his team reach the Western Conference Finals. He defeated both the Chicago Blackhawks and the Dallas Stars, and he was able to come up big when each series went to a Game 7.

Elliott had one year remaining on his contract, which carried a cap hit of $2.5 million. Many could speculate Elliott was traded in anticipation of the Vegas expansion draft, which allows teams to protect only one goalie. It could also be assumed that the Blues had finally decided to go with Allen moving forward and therefore wanted to move Elliott in the offseason to eliminate any further competition. Also, Allen is five years younger than Elliott and did make an appearance late in the playoffs last year. However, according to Blues general manager Doug Armstrong, Elliott actually requested a trade. It makes sense that he wouldn’t want to be part of a 1A/1B duo anymore, especially since his play earned him the starter’s role and because he has done more than enough to earn the starter’s gig on just about any other team in the league. This clears things up, as St. Louis definitely had something good going with the Elliott/Allen combo. As a result, the Blues signed Allen to a four-year extension with an average annual value of $4.35 million, a deal that will kick in starting in the 2017-2018 season.

The Blues also will be without the services of former captain David Backes, who was not re-signed by the Blues but who instead hit free agency. Backes ended up signing a lucrative five-year deal with the Boston Bruins. The deal comes with a $6 million cap hit and a no-movement clause through the first three years, as well as a no-trade clause in years four and five. Though Backes’ regular-season offensive production will be accounted for elsewhere in the lineup, he was a heart-and-soul kind of player and captain, and he will be missed. Backes is a tough, hard-nosed gritty player who makes match-ups difficult on other teams. He was moved around in the lineup last season but was primarily a top-line center before that. The Blues are confident the team has enough offensive firepower to continue to contend even without Backes, but his persona and the depth he provided will be missed.

Perhaps the most talked-about issue coming out of St. Louis this offseason has been the status of defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who was supposedly on the trading block. Shattenkirk will be a free agent at the end of this season. He will command a significant pay raise, one St. Louis may not be able to afford. Though his name was linked with many trade rumors, Armstrong recently announced that he plans to start the season with Shattenkirk. Considering Shattenkirk’s value, it makes sense for the Blues to re-address the matter at the trade deadline, though if the right offer were to come along before then, it seems as though Armstrong would be willing to pull the trigger. Many teams have interest in Shattenkirk, who is an elite defenseman. Shattenkirk was recently named an alternate captain, a further sign that he will be with the team for at least the foreseeable future. Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo will be the team’s new captain, with Alex Steen, Paul Stastny, Vladimir Tarasenko and Shattenkirk all wearing an A.

Lastly, a standard but significant offseason move was the extension awarded to forward Jaden Schwartz, who was a restricted free agent. Schwartz earned himself a five-year deal with an average annual value of $5.35 million. The timing of the extension is a tad ironic considering Schwartz missed the majority of the season last year. However, despite only playing 33 games, Schwartz still was able to put together a 22-point campaign. He is a legitimate scorer and is only starting to reach his potential. The 24-year-old put up 63 points in 2014-2015 and 56 points in 2013-2014. He also has built excellent chemistry with superstar Vladimir Tarasenko, which only improves his value to this team. Re-signing Schwartz was a top priority for the team, and $5.3 million a year is actually pretty reasonable considering what Schwartz is capable of accomplishing in the next few years. He put up 14 points in 20 postseason games, so one can only imagine how strong a season he would have had if not for the injury. The deal also affords him a modified no-trade clause that kicks in at the start of the 2019-2020 season.
 

Main Offseason Transactions

  • Re-Sign: F Dmitrij Jaskin to 2-year deal with AAV of $1 million
  • Re-Sign: F Scottie Upshall to 1-year contract at $900,000
  • Trade: G Brian Elliott to Calgary for 2016 2nd-round pick (35) and conditional 2018 3rd-round pick (if Calgary can re-sign Elliott)
  • Re-Sign: F Kyle Brodziak to 2-year deal with AAV of $950,000
  • Re-Sign: F Jordan Caron to 1-year contract at $575,000
  • FA Signing: F David Perron to 2-year deal with AAV of $3.75 million
  • FA Signing: G Carter Hutton to 2-year deal with AAV of $1.125 million
  • Re-Sign: G Jake Allen to 4-year deal with AAV of $4.35 million
  • Trade: G Anders Nilsson to Buffalo for 2017 5th-round pick
  • Re-Sign: F Magnus Paajrvi to 1-year contract at $700,000
  • FA Signing: F Landon Ferraro to 1-year contract at $700,000
  • Re-Sign: F Ty Rattie to 1-year contract at $650,000
  • Re-Sign: F Jaden Schwartz to 5-year deal with AAV of $5.35 million

One name on this list that is familiar to Blues fans is David Perron, who will serve his second stint with the team after signing a two-year deal July 1. The deal, which carries an annual average value of $3.75 million, brings Perron back to the team that selected him in the first round (27th) of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. Perron played parts of six seasons with the Blues before being traded to the Edmonton Oilers for Magnus Paajarvi and a 2nd-round pick. From there, Perron put together a great year with Edmonton, registering 57 points in 78 games, but was traded half-way through his second season with the Oilers to the Pittsburgh Penguins for a first-round draft pick and Rob Klinkhammer. He finished that year with Pittsburgh, scoring 22 points in 43 games. This past year, Perron split his time between Pittsburgh and Anaheim after being traded to the Ducks for forward Carl Hagelin in January. Ironically, Perron has ended up back where he started.

There have been rumblings that the Blues are in the process of getting Vladimir Sobotka to return to the NHL. Sobotka signed with a team in the KHL in 2014 but still “owes” the Blues a year of service, which he could have fulfilled this past year but elected not to. According to Armstrong, Sobotka will join the team following the World Cup. It still remains to be seen if this will, indeed, happen, but all signs are pointing to Sobotka’s return to the NHL and to St. Louis. Sobotka played four seasons with the Blues, scoring 29 goals and 72 assists for 101 points in 247 games. He has 35 goals and 123 points in 381 games with the Bruins and Blues. Sobotka’s agent has repeatedly insisted to Armstrong that Sobotka will return to the NHL this year, though there is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding the matter. If he does return, his cap hit will be $2.725 million, according to General Fanager.
 

Final Thoughts

Though several key members of the 2015-2016 Blues team will be donning other sweaters this year, three of the team’s top four scorers in the playoffs will return to St. Louis: Tarasenko (15), Robby Fabbri (15) and Schwartz (14). Those are the three offensive superstars of this team, and they will be the ones leading the charge from now on. The San Jose Sharks proved this year that handing the torch to other players can sometimes be a difference-maker, and the Blues are banking on that strategy moving forward. There’s really no reason to doubt the abilities of these players, though the team may be underestimating what Backes brought to this team. Tarasenko is one of the best goal-scorers in the entire league, Fabbri is one of the brightest young stars and Schwartz will enter this season healthy after playing only 33 games last year.

Another player the Blues will be without is forward Troy Brouwer, who was acquired in a trade for T.J. Oshie last offseason. Brouwer had a decent year (18-21-39) with the Blues and added veteran playoff experience and scoring depth. He tallied 13 points in 20 playoff games and scored in several clutch situations. Given that players like Brouwer have moved on, it’s likely someone like Dmitrij Jaskin will play a larger role on the team’s offense this season, especially since Jaskin recently signed a two-year extension. With Perron’s return, the team still has a very strong group of forwards, especially if Sobotka does return to the NHL this year.

This is a vital season for the Blues. Not only is the team coming off its most successful postseason in 15 years, but it will be the last hurrah for head coach Ken Hitchcock, one of the best coaches in NHL history. Hitchcock announced early in the offseason that the 2016-2017 season will be his last as an NHL coach. This season will be Hitchcock’s 20th as an NHL head coach; he won the Cup with Dallas in 1999 and holds a career record of 757-453-194. He is very optimistic about this team’s chances, especially after the recent playoff run.

“There’s a lot of potential for growth left in our team,” Hitchcock said in a press conference when he made the announcement. “When you break through the ceiling, the potential is unlimited.”

It may be difficult to replace the character of the players lost, but this team is well-situated for another long playoff run.
 
 

Winnipeg Jets

2015-2016 By the Numbers

Overall Record: 35-39-8-78
Playoff Result: Did not make the playoffs
Standings: Central Division: 7, Western Conference: 11, League: 25
Goals For: 212 (NHL rank: 21)
Goals Against: 236 (NHL rank: 9)
Power Play Percentage: 14.8 percent (NHL rank: 30)
Penalty Kill Percentage: 78.4 percent (NHL rank: 25)
Leading Scorer: Blake Wheeler (26-52-78)

offseason

Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

Summary of 2015-2016 Season Results

After making the playoffs in the 2014-2015 season, the Winnipeg Jets found themselves on the outside looking in by the time the postseason came around this past April. After getting off to a strong start (8-4-1), the Jets put together an inconsistent season, which led to a last-place finish in the division and an extended summer vacation. There were some key injuries down the stretch that contributed to the inconsistencies, but the Jets did not find the late spark the team took advantage of the year before when making a late push to reach the playoffs. By December, Winnipeg had gone through a six-game losing streak and lost nine out of 12 games. The team was never able to get things back on track.

The Jets had to make important decisions for the future of the franchise with both captain Andrew Ladd and top defenseman Dustin Byfuglien due for new contracts with substantial raises. The impending restricted free agency of defenseman Jacob Trouba and the monster contract he requested was also a looming factor. In the end, the team re-signed Byguflien to a five-year deal with an average annual value of $7.6 million and sent Ladd to Chicago at the trade deadline in exchange for prospect Marco Dano and draft picks, including a 2016 1st-rounder. Though the Jets moved up in the draft via a trade with Philadelphia, the team ultimately used this pick to draft defenseman Logan Stanley. Ladd signed a seven-year deal with the New York Islanders this summer. Trouba, who has been the subject of trade speculation all summer, remains a restricted free agent.

The Jets will need more consistency in net this season after getting spotty netminding from a carousel of goaltenders last season. Ondrej Pavelec, Michael Hutchinson and Connor Hellebuyck are all under contract for this season, though many believe Hellebuyck will compete for a good chunk of starts.

The Jets announced yesterday that Blake Wheeler will be the new captain of the team following Ladd’s departure. This is an excellent move by the Jets, as Wheeler has been a consistent scorer in his five seasons with Winnipeg. He is well-deserving of this honor and should be an excellent leader for the Jets. Byfuglien and center Mark Scheifele will both be alternate captains.

offseason

Jonathan Kozub-Winnipeg Jets Hockey Club


 

Most Significant Offseason Moves

The most significant move of the offseason was re-signing star center Mark Scheifele to a massive eight-year deal with an average annual value of $6.125 million. Scheifele had a breakout season last year, showing the hockey world he really is capable of being the first-line center everyone thought he could be. His third full season with the Jets proved to be the charm, as Scheifele finished the year with 29 goals and 62 points, both career highs. The only player that one could argue had a stronger season is Wheeler, who was essentially a point-per-game player with 78 points on the year. Wheeler led the team in assists (52) and points (78), whereas Scheifele led the team in goals (29) and plus/minus (+16). Both players had strong seasons and both players will continue to lead this Winnipeg offense moving forward.

The Jets also extended forward Mathieu Perreault to a four-year deal with an average annual value of $4.125 million. Perreault looked phenomenal for stretches of the season and really made his mark on this team. He finished the season with 41 points in 71 games, tallying nine goals and 32 assists and finishing in the top five on the team in points. His playmaking ability will be a key asset to this team down the road.

Another significant “move” this offseason was securing the second overall pick in the draft, thus drafting Patrik Laine. Laine, in his mind, was worthy of being selected first overall despite the overwhelming consensus that Auston Matthews was the best player available. Laine is considered one of the most talented and creative prospects in the game and is ready to make a name for himself. He will compete for a top-six role in training camp and could very well come away with one. However, the Jets have other talented prospects in the system, such as Nikolaj Ehlers, who had a somewhat disappointing rookie campaign despite finishing tied for sixth on the team in points with 38.

Another situation of significance so far this offseason is the team’s inability to reach a deal with restricted free-agent defenseman Jacob Trouba. According to a Winnipeg Free Press report released in December, Trouba is seeking an eight-year, $56 million contract extension. Currently, the Jets have just under $7 million in available cap space, according to General Fanager, though the site has 18 forwards listed on the big club’s roster.

However, it’s unclear if Trouba deserves this type of money at this point in his career. He is very highly-regarded and has a lot of talent and potential but hasn’t fully proven himself as a number one defenseman worthy of that type of money so far in his short NHL career. It seems more reasonable that he and Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff will reach an agreement on a short-term bridge deal. At this point, both sides seem to be apart on both money and term, but if someone like Seth Jones signed a long-term deal with an average annual value of $5.4 million, it’s no wonder Cheveldayoff is balking at Trouba’s demands. Trouba has been linked to Boston, Edmonton and several other teams in trade speculation throughout the offseason. However, it would be foolish for Winnipeg to trade such an esteemed young defenseman unless a deal truly cannot be reached. If the team decides to go in that direction, one would have to believe the return would need to blow Cheveldayoff away.
 

Main Offseason Transactions

  • Re-Sign: G Michael Hutchinson to 2-year deal with AAV of $1.15 million
  • FA Signing: F Shawn Matthias to 2-year deal with AAV of $2.125 million
  • FA Signing: F Quinton Howden to 1-year contract at $650,000
  • Draft Pick Signing: F Patrik Laine to 3-year ELC with AAV of $925,000
  • Re-Sign: F Mathieu Perreault to 4-year deal with AAV of $4.125 million
  • Re-Sign: F Mark Scheifele to 8-year deal with AAV of $6.125 million
  • Re-Sign: F Adam Lowry to 2-year deal with AAV of $1.125 million
  • Re-Sign: F Joel Armia to 2-year deal with AAV of $925,000
  • FA Signing: F Brandon Tanev to 1-year contract at $874,125
  • Re-Sign: F JC Lipon to 1-year contract at $650,000

The team’s main offseason free-agent acquisition was forward Shawn Matthias, who signed a two-year deal on day one of free agency; the deal carries a $2.125 million cap hit. While Matthias is a serviceable player who can fill many roles on a team and further add to the team’s depth, many expected the Jets to target a bigger name via free agency. However, with the influx of young talent on the horizon, perhaps Cheveldayoff wanted to avoid an overpayment so often associated with July 1 signings. At the end of the day, this could prove to be one of the more prudent signings of the offseason.

It’s also interesting to see Michael Hutchinson earn a reasonable two-year deal. Hutchinson had some very ugly stretches last season, but with Ondrej Pavelec’s injury and Hellebuyck’s emergence, things in the crease were a little up in the air most of the year. As of now, Hellebuyck is listed as a non-roster player, at least according to General Fanager; however, as mentioned earlier, he is expected to compete for a legitimate chunk of starts this year. He very well could be the goalie of the future.

The Jets have a talented group of forwards, featuring Bryan Little, Scheifele, Wheeler, Laine, Ehlers, Perreault and Drew Stafford, among others. The team could have used an upgrade on defense, as the team’s defense was shaky at times last year, especially with offensive production. However, with the combination of Byfuglien, Tyler Myers and Trouba, assuming he signs an extension, the team should be able to address the matter internally before the season starts. If prospect Josh Morrissey makes the big club out of camp, that will only improve things that much more.
 

Final Thoughts

The Jets are in a tough spot in the Central Division with teams like Chicago, Dallas, St. Louis and Nashville all being top contenders. However, this Jets team has been stockpiling players in the prospect pool and is overflowing with young talent. Ehlers and Laine seem to be locks to make the roster, but players such as Dano and Morrissey are unknowns as of now. The team seems to have a great combination of veterans and young talent. If things in the crease could be somewhat stabilized, one could have a much better picture of what this team is capable of. Assuming the team can stay relatively healthy, which is always an unknown for any club, the Jets have a good chance of being one of the best comeback teams of the season, even if a playoff berth is unattainable. With even more talent waiting in the wings, it will be very interesting to see what kind of lineup emerges after training camp. Whatever the case may be, the Jets have a lot of potential to make up a lot of ground this season after a largely disappointing 2015-2016 campaign. With consistent contributors like Little, Wheeler and Byfuglien, along with an emerging superstar in Scheifele and trusted veterans like Stafford and Perreault, things seem wide open for the Jets. If the defense and netminding can get it together, this could be a very dangerous team down the line.
 



 
Stay tuned for offseason analysis of all four divisions and all 30 NHL teams.
NHL Offseason Analysis: Pacific Division
NHL Offseason Analysis: Atlantic Division
 
Featured Image Credits: Benn: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports; Scheifele: Darren Calabrese-The Canadian Free Press; Johansen: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports; Toews: Bill Smith-Getty Images; Tarasenko: Jeff Roberson-AP; Parise: Carlos Gonzalez-Star Tribune; Duchene: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports