The NHL’s Central Division May Be On The Way Down
The Central Division was featured very prominently in the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season. Four teams from the division, including the Chicago Blackhawks, made the playoffs. The St. Louis Blues advanced the farthest, making it to the Western Conference finals. With the Stanley Cup Final not featuring any teams from the Central Division, we can look at the future/offseason of each team.
Here are the teams:
Dallas Stars: The Stars advanced the Western Conference semifinals against the Blues. The Stars’ downfall was their below-average goaltending. Antti Niemi had a .905 save percentage and Kari Lehtonen had a .906 save percentage during the regular season. In the playoffs, the duo was very bad. Lehtonen had a .899 save percentage during the playoffs, and Niemi had a save percentage of .865.
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The Dallas Stars need to upgrade their goaltending next season, but it won’t be easy. Niemi is due $4.5 million a year for the next three years and Lehtonen is due $5.9 million for each of the next three seasons.
St. Louis Blues: The Blues advanced to the Western Conference finals but fell to the San Jose Sharks. The Blues have two huge free-agent decisions on David Backes and Troy Brouwer. Backes is a two-way forward and top-line center for the Blues, while Brouwer is a power forward who excelled in the playoffs.
Both players are expected to be overpaid by other teams. If that is the case, how do the Blues replace both of these players? Paul Stastny figures to replace Backes on the top line.
Chicago Blackhawks: The Blackhawks were eliminated by St. Louis in the quarterfinal round. The Blackhawks are under another a salary cap crunch with many defensive holes to fill. The Blackhawks are trying to fill holes cheaply with the likes of Michal Kempny of the KHL.
The team will also lose a lot of their depth. The Blackhawks more than likely will lose Andrew Ladd, Tomas Fleischmann and Dale Weise. They will let go of Brandon Mashinter and Christian Ehrhoff. The crunch will force the Blackhawks to fill many holes with many cheap players.
Nashville Predators: The Predators surprised the hard-charging Anaheim Ducks in the quarterfinals before falling to the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference semifinals. Their roster probably won’t undergo much change for next season, with only Paul Gaustad, Filip Forsberg, Calle Jarnkrok, Petter Granberg and Carter Hutton needing a new deal. Gaustad is probably the only one at risk of not returning.
Minnesota Wild: The Wild were eliminated in the first round by the Dallas Stars. The Wild will be relatively the same team on the ice as they were this season, but they will be different off the ice with the addition of Bruce Boudreau as head coach. He brings a veteran coaching style to a veteran team. They will make minor roster moves on their team this offseason.
Winnipeg Jets: The Jets did not make the playoffs. The Jets made their big moves during the season, re-signing Dustin Byfuglien and trading away Ladd for a first-round draft pick, a conditional third-round pick and Marko Dano. Dano was the jewel in the deal. Dano was a former first-round pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Dano could be the player to watch on the Jets next season.
The overall direction arrow for the Central Division is pointed down. The upper echelon of the Central Division is starting to fall down in the league’s rankings. I could be wrong, but at this point I think the division is headed downward.