NHL offseason grades: Central Division

Divisions:
Metropolitan | Central
Pacific (Sept. 11) | Atlantic (Sept. 12)

Five teams from the ultra-competitive Central reached the playoffs in 2018-19, and the division became stronger over the summer.

The St. Louis Blues remain in good form to defend their Stanley Cup championship, and several other teams are in a better position to contend. After an offseason of transactions, we've graded each club's efforts.

Some contract figures are reported. Most players on two-way deals have been omitted. Total contract value does not include bonuses.

Chicago Blackhawks

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Key arrivals

Player Position Contract Length Total Value
Calvin de Haan D 3 years $13.65M (trade with CAR)
Olli Maatta D 3 years $12.25M (trade with PIT)
Andrew Shaw RW 3 years $11.7M (trade with MTL)
Zach Smith C 2 years $6.5M (trade with OTT)
Robin Lehner G 1 year $5M 
Ryan Carpenter C 3 years $3M
Kirby Dach C 3 years $2.775M (drafted No. 3 overall)
Alex Nylander LW 2 years $1.72M (trade with BUF)

Key departures

Player Position Transaction
Chris Kunitz LW Retired
Cam Ward G Retired
Dominik Kahun C Traded to PIT
Gustav Forsling D Traded to CAR
Artem Anisimov C Traded to OTT
Henri Jokiharju D Traded to BUF
Marcus Kruger C Signed with ZSC Lions

Re-signed

Player Position New Contract Length Total Value
David Kampf C 2 years $2M
Dylan Sikura RW 2 years $1.5M
Brendan Perlini RW 1 year $874K

Rookies who could crack the lineup

Player Position Drafted
Kirby Dach C 1st round (2019)
Alex Nylander LW 1st round (2016 - BUF)
Dominik Kubalik LW 7th-round (2013 - LA)
Adam Boqvist D 1st round (2018)

Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman acquired Olli Maatta and Calvin de Haan in an attempt to tackle the team's blue-line weakness. Neither are necessarily stand-out talents, but they'll upgrade a team that allowed the second-most goals last season.

Bringing in 2018-19 Vezina Trophy finalist Robin Lehner was also a smart move considering Corey Crawford's uncertain conditioning heading into his age-34 season. Lehner signed a low-risk one-year deal, but with neither goalie under contract for the 2020-21 campaign, Bowman will need to revisit the club's situation between the pipes sooner rather than later.

Trading Henri Jokiharju, a young and highly touted rearguard, for forward Alex Nylander was perhaps the only real head-scratcher, though some may also ponder the reacquisition of Andrew Shaw for multiple future draft picks.

The Blackhawks didn't make any major splashes, but they improved where necessary and still have some cap space to work with heading into the season.

Grade: B

Colorado Avalanche

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Key arrivals

Player Position Contract Length Total Value
Joonas Donskoi RW 4 years $15.6M
Nazem Kadri C 3 years $13.5M (trade with TOR)
Andre Burakovsky LW 1 year $3.5M (trade with WAS)
Bowen Byram D 3 years $2.775M (drafted No. 4 overall) 
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare LW 2 years $2.6M
Calle Rosen D 2 years $1.5M (trade with TOR)
Kevin Connauton D 1 year $1.375M (trade with ARI)
Valeri Nichushkin RW 1 year $850K

Key departures

Player Position Transaction
Tyson Barrie D Traded to TOR
Alex Kerfoot C Traded to TOR
Carl Soderberg C Traded to ARI
Semyon Varlamov G Signed with NYI
Derick Brassard C Signed with NYI
Patrik Nemeth D Signed with DET
Sven Andrighetto RW Signed in KHL
Gabriel Bourque LW Signed with WIN

Re-signed

Player Position New Contract Length Total Value
Samuel Girard D 7 years $35M
J.T. Compher LW 4 years $14M
Nikita Zadorov D 1 year $3.2M
Colin Wilson C/LW 1 year $2.6M
Vladislav Kamenev C 1 year $750K
Sheldon Dries C 1 year $735K
A.J. Greer LW 1 year $735K

Unsigned RFAs

Player Position
Mikko Rantanen RW

Rookies who could crack the lineup

Player Position Drafted
Bowen Byram D 1st round (2019)
Shane Bowers C 1st round (2017)
Martin Kaut RW 1st round (2018)
Vladislav Kamenev C 2nd round (2014)
A.J. Greer LW 2nd round (2015)
Calle Rosen D Undrafted

The 2019-20 version of the Avalanche will look slightly different, but mostly for the better after Joe Sakic made an assertive effort to improve the club's forward depth.

Acquiring Nazem Kadri in a deal centered around Tyson Barrie was prudent. As productive as Barrie has been, the 28-year-old needs a new contract after this season, and the Avalanche likely won't be able to meet his price. There's also a surplus of highly skilled defensemen on the team. That includes Bowen Byram, who was wisely selected with the fourth overall pick this year.

Sakic also showed the foresight to lock up Samuel Girard, who was scheduled to become a restricted free agent at the end of this season.

It's tough to dock points for not signing RFAs yet considering how that market has operated all summer. Mikko Rantanen still not being under contract with training camp set to begin this week is the only real blemish after Colorado's otherwise successful offseason.

Grade: B+

Dallas Stars

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Key arrivals

Player Position Contract Length Total Value 
Joe Pavelski C 3 years $21M
Corey Perry RW 1 year $1.5M
Andrej Sekera D 1 year $1.5M

Key departures

Player Position Transaction 
Mats Zuccarello RW Signed with MIN
Jason Spezza C Signed with TOR
Marc Methot D Became UFA
Ben Lovejoy D Retired
Valeri Nichushkin RW Bought out
Brett Ritchie RW Didn't receive qualifying offer

Re-signed

Player Position New Contract Length Total Value 
Esa Lindell D 6 years $34.8M
Jason Dickinson C 2 years $3M
Mattias Janmark LW 1 year $2.3M
Roman Polak D 1 year $1.75M

Unsigned RFAs

Player Position
Julius Honka D

Rookies who could crack the lineup

Player Position Drafted
Denis Gurianov LW 1st round (2015)
Joel L'Esperance C Undrafted
Tye Felhaber LW Undrafted
Gavin Bayreuther D Undrafted

The Stars were rock solid in front of Vezina Trophy candidate Ben Bishop in 2018-19, but their 29th-ranked offense cost them in the end.

General manager Jim Nill responded to that deficiency this offseason by signing perennial goal-scorer Joe Pavelski and inking two-time All-Star Corey Perry to a one-year deal with little risk. Though their best hockey is behind them, the two veterans should still serve as offensive upgrades relative to who they're replacing.

Keeping trade deadline addition Mats Zuccarello around would have been a bonus, but the 32-year-old wanted a long-term deal and Nill understandably opted to focus on retaining younger homegrown talents in Esa Lindell, Jason Dickinson, and Mattias Janmark.

Veteran Andrej Sekera is also a nice addition to a young Stars defensive core.

Grade: B+

Minnesota Wild

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Key arrivals

Player Position Contract Length Total Value 
Mats Zuccarello RW 5 years $30M
Ryan Hartman RW 2 years $3.8M

Key departures

Player Position Transaction  
Pontus Aberg LW Signed with TOR
Anthony Bitetto D Signed with WIN
Nate Prosser D Signed with PHI
Eric Fehr C Signed in Switzerland 
Matt Read LW Became UFA

Re-signed

Player Position New Contract Length Total Value 
Ryan Donato C 2 years $3.8M
Joel Eriksson Ek C 2 years $2.975M
 Brad Hunt D 2 years $1.4M

Unsigned RFAs

Player Position
Kevin Fiala LW

Rookies who could crack the lineup

Player Position Drafted
Kirill Kaprizov LW 5th round (2015)
Nico Sturm C Undrafted
Alexander Khovanov C 3rd round (2018)
Louie Belpedio D 3rd round (2014)

Firing the general manager in the middle of the offseason is rather disruptive, but Paul Fenton was running the organization into the ground fast. Bill Guerin seems like a good fit for the position, though it's far too early to tell.

The Wild didn't lose any significant pieces this offseason, but a team trying to stay competitive in a cutthroat Central Division didn't add much, either. Zuccarello is a nice playmaker who should help an offense in need, but Minnesota still lacks scoring ability.

The Wild hold just under $8 million in projected cap space heading into the season, and restricted free agent Kevin Fiala remains unsigned, with the GM shuffle possibly to blame. But Guerin needs to get the young Swiss talent on board, and then focus on re-signing defenseman Jared Spurgeon, who's set to become an unrestricted free agent after this season.

Grade: D

Nashville Predators

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Key arrivals

Player Position Contract Length Total Value 
Matt Duchene C 7 years $56M
Steven Santini D 2 years left $2.83M
Daniel Carr RW 1 year $700K

Key departures

Player Position Transaction
P.K. Subban D Traded to NJD
Wayne Simmonds RW Signed with NJD
Brian Boyle C Became UFA
Zac Rinaldo LW Became UFA

Re-signed

Player Position New Contract Length Total Value
Colton Sissons C 7 years $20M
Rocco Grimaldi RW 1 year $1M

Rookies who could crack the lineup

Player Position Drafted
Eeli Tolvanen RW 1st round (2017)
Dante Fabbro D 1st round (2018)

Could the Predators have fetched more for All-Star defenseman P.K. Subban? Sure, but Subban's $9-million cap hit over each of the next three seasons hindered general manager David Poile's ability to improve the club in other areas.

The Predators used that money to sign Matt Duchene to a long-term deal, and they'll now head into the 2019-20 campaign with their strongest top-six forward group in recent memory. Poile also understands the importance of maintaining cap space with Roman Josi, the team's defensive anchor and captain, slated to become an unrestricted free agent next summer.

Parting with slower, aging players in Brian Boyle and Wayne Simmonds was a no-brainer, and locking up depth forward Colton Sissons long term on a contract with a relatively low average annual value ($3.85 million) was a swift move. Promising rookie Dante Fabbro will likely fill Subban's spot on the blue line, with the Predators deploying a more well-rounded team this season.

Grade: A

St. Louis Blues

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Key arrivals

N/A

Key departures

Player Position Transaction
Pat Maroon LW Signed by TB

Re-signed

Player Position New Contract Length Total Value 
Oskar Sundqvist C 4 years $11M
Jordan Binnington G 2 years $8.8M
Carl Gunnarsson D 2 years $3.5M
Joel Edmundson D 1 year $3.1M
Zach Sanford LW 2 years $3M
Ivan Barbashev C 2 years $2.95M
Robby Fabbri C 1 year $900K
Sammy Blais LW 1 year $850K

Rookies who could crack the lineup

Player Position Drafted
Jordan Kyrou C 2nd round (2016)

General manager Doug Armstrong made his best effort to keep the Blues' Stanley Cup-winning core intact for a title defense in 2019-20. The team didn't make any significant additions, and it parted with only Pat Maroon. If it's not broken, don't fix it.

The Blues locked up Jordan Binnington for two more seasons at a reasonable price ($4.4 million AAV), and they rewarded other pending free agents with new deals. However, Armstrong will face major decisions next summer. Four key players - including captain Alex Pietrangelo - are set to become unrestricted free agents, and three will be RFAs.

St. Louis did a good job of keeping key players for one more run while still managing the future.

Grade: B+

Winnipeg Jets

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Key arrivals

Player Position Contract Length Total Value  
Neal Pionk D 2 years $6M
Gabriel Bourque LW 1 year $700K

Key departures

Player Position Transaction
Jacob Trouba D Traded to NYR
Tyler Myers D Signed by VAN
Brandon Tanev LW Signed by PIT
Ben Chiarot D Signed with MTL

Re-signed

Player Position New Contract Length Total Value 
Andrew Copp C 2 years $4.56M
Laurent Brossoit G 1 year $1.225M
Nathan Beaulieu D 1 year $1M
Player Position
Patrik Laine RW
Kyle Connor LW

Rookies who could crack the lineup

Player Position Drafted 
Kristian Vesalainen LW 1st round (2017)

The summer was a bit of a trainwreck for general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and the Jets. The club lost half of its defensive core, including two valuable right-shooting blue-liners, and replaced them with inferior talents. Feisty winger Brandon Tanev, who figured prominently in one of the league's best checking lines, also departed in free agency.

The departures were somewhat involuntary, however, as Cheveldayoff has to prioritize re-signing restricted free-agent forwards Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor. But those two young stars remain without new deals, and training camp starts this week.

The RFA market has been stagnant league-wide, but with $15.45 million in projected cap space, the Jets failing to sign either top talent could create a nightmare situation.

Even if the Connor and Laine standoffs get resolved, it feels like the Jets took a step back in a division that's only getting stronger.

Grade: D-

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