With the NHL getting their main business done for the offseason, all eyes begin to look ahead to the new season with training camp in September.
Being in the ultra-competitive Central Division, the Minnesota Wild tried to bolster their stagnant offense by bringing Mats Zuccarello and Ryan Hartman into the fold. But were those moves enough to bring the Wild back into the thick of things in the Central Division? Here is a rundown of where all the teams stand in the Central currently.
Cream of the crop
General manager David Poille is never afraid of the big move, and he did so on multiple occasions this offseason. The first of which came on day two of the NHL Draft when he sent P.K. Subban to New Jersey essentially for spare parts. Why? So the Preds could get cap space to sign coveted free agent center Matt Duchene, who inked a seven-year deal on July 1. With Duchene in the fold, the Preds are stacked down the middle at center. Even without Subban they still have a formidable defense led by Roman Josi ending with Pekka Rinne in goal. Nashville should be regarded as the favorite in the division headed into the season.
St. Louis Blues
It is still very hard to believe, but the Blues are Stanley Cup Champions. With essentially the same team returning in 2019-20, the Blues should be a lock for the playoffs as long as Jordan Binnington can stand his ground over a full season of play. This was the best team in the league from January on, so expect the Blues to put up another strong performance again next season over a full year with that returning cast.
The Jets were previously in the top tier of this division, but this offseason has them down a ring on the ladder. Jacob Trouba was traded to New York for Neal Pionk. Kevin Hayes — an impending free agent — was not retained and traded to Philadelphia where he was later signed. Tyler Myers and Brandon Tanev left via free agency. The core of the Jets remains, but they will need Connor Hellebuyck to step up his game to 2017-18 levels if they want to compete for a Central Division crown again. Still a good team and should be in the playoffs, but there are some questions now about depth after their losses.
Adding aged veterans Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry to the fold is bold, but with the Stars in need of secondary scoring, these were some good options for them. Adding those scorers to Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Alex Radulov should help balance out the Stars offense, and with Ben Bishop in goal, this is a team that should most definitely be in for the playoffs next year. If their signings pan out really well, the Stars could contend with Nashville for the title.
Almost certain playoff lock
The future is bright in Colorado. They have ample cap space. They just drafted the number one defenseman in the 2019 draft, Bowen Byram. They have one of if not the best line in hockey. And they are coming off a second-round playoff appearance. After a few years of being laughed at, the Avs have certainly righted the ship and are poised to be big players in the Central for the next decade. Heading into next season their question will be on if Philipp Grubauer can handle a full season as the number one goaltender after the departure of Semyon Varlamov. With the Avs defense looking sharp led by Cale Makar, a great year from Grubauer can vault them up into the top of the division.
Hoping For Some Favorable Bounces
The Blackhawks did themselves a huge solid this offseason by signing Robin Lehner to a one-year deal to share the net with Corey Crawford. With either in goal, the Blackhawks stand a chance in this division, but they need a lot of other things to go right. Sure, there is Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Alex DeBrincat, but there will have to be more from the Hawks offensively. Dylan Strome‘s addition last season was a good start. Defensively, it is not pretty for Chicago as Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook age horribly. If Chicago can overcome their defensive woes, they can be a bubble playoff team.
From December on, the Wild were the worst offensive team in the league last season. They brought in Zuccarello to add some spark on the right side, but their hope will be in kids Ryan Donato, Kevin Fiala, Luke Kunin, Joel Eriksson Ek and Jordan Greenway to pick up the slack offensively as they will be in elevated positions next season. Devan Dubnyk was also a roller coaster last season and will need to put up incredible numbers for the Wild in 2019-20 if they want to be in contention. A lot has to go right for Minnesota to get back into the playoffs next year.