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NHL Offseason Grades: Central Division

NHL Offseason Grades

The Predators changed their makeup by moving on from Ryan Johansen and Matt Duchene, who will both play for a different Central Division team in 2023-24. (Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports)

NHL Offseason Grades
The Predators changed their makeup by moving on from Ryan Johansen and Matt Duchene, who will both play for a different Central Division team in 2023-24. (Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports)

NHL Offseason Grades: Central Division

The busiest days of hockey’s offseason are officially in the rearview mirror, which means it’s time for NHL offseason grades. There is still plenty of work to be done before training camp opens, of course. Plenty of RFAs still need to be signed, a couple of big UFAs linger and there is a lot of talent on the trade block, especially in Winnipeg and Calgary — not to mention the reigning Norris Trophy winner. Some teams still aren’t even cap-compliant.

But the draft and the opening days of free agency have already come to pass. And with those deadlines behind us, we have a pretty good idea of what every team’s roster will look like. Hundreds of millions of dollars were handed out on Canada Day. There were a couple of stunners on the draft floor. And a handful of noteworthy trades as teams desperately try to navigate the final year of a flat cap environment.

For the most part, though, the dust has settled. Teams have answered their biggest questions, or at least attempted though. Their success in doing, of course, varies. The dog days of summer aren’t good for a lot of things hockey-wise, but analyzing those moves is one of them. We’ll go division by division — the Atlantic and Metro have already been taken care of, so we move west and head to the Central.

Arizona Coyotes (28-40-14, Missed Playoffs)

Additions: LW Jason Zucker, C Alex Kerfoot, D Sean Durzi, C Nick Bjugstad, D Troy Stecher

Subtractions: RW Christian Fischer

Cap Space: $8.76M (Up to $30.16M with LTIR)

RFAs: C Jack McBain

Every rebuild has to transition into a build-up at some point, and Arizona seems to be ramping up toward that point. No, most of the players they signed this summer aren’t likely to be a part of the next great Coyotes team. But there need to be quality players to give the talented prospects the Coyotes have someone to play with at the NHL level. That’s part of the reason why Arizona’s last several rebuilds failed to turn the team into a contender.

One year for a resurgent Zucker who can be flipped at the deadline? Sure. Taking a shot to see if Kerfoot can rediscover the offensive promise from his early seasons before stagnating a bit in Toronto? Why not. Trading one of their hoard of draft picks for an underrated young defender in Durzi? Excellent. Bjugstad and Stecher, who spent most of last season with the team, are respectable stopgaps too. This offseason doesn’t change who the Coyotes are. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good one.

Grade: B+

Chicago Blackhawks (26-49-7, Missed Playoffs)

Additions: LW Taylor Hall, C Ryan Donato, LW Nick Foligno, RW Corey Perry

Subtractions: C Jonathan Toews, D Caleb Jones

Cap Space: $12.86M

Like with Arizona, an essential part of a rebuild is knowing when to build up. Chicago went all-in on chasing Connor Bedard last year and ultimately achieved their goal. The first step in achieving their ultimate goal of returning to glory with him is making his transition to NHL stardom as easy as possible. Trading nothing to acquire a former Hart winner to play alongside him is as good a place to start as any. Hall should flourish in top-line minutes and could turn into an attractive trade chip at some point between now and the 2025 deadline. Hard to argue with that.

Foligno and Perry aren’t $4 million dollar players anymore. But overpaying on one-year contracts to make two “culture adds” is perfectly fine. So is taking a low-risk bet on Donato after some good work in Seattle. He too could benefit from more playing time on a rebuilding team. Chicago will still be bad next year, but once again, at least they’ll be so with a purpose.

Grade: B+

Colorado Avalanche (51-24-7, Lost in Round 1)

Additions: C Ryan Johansen, C Ross Colton, LW Miles Wood, LW Jonathan Drouin, RW Fredrik Olausson

Subtractions: C J.T. Compher, C Alex Newhook, D Erik Johnson, C Darren Helm

Cap Space: $2.8M

Once again, the Avalanche did a deft job of navigating very tricky circumstances. With Gabriel Landeskog out for another season and Compher heading out the door in free agency, Chris MacFarland found a way to stock up the Avs’ forward depth and replenish their top six. It’s not guaranteed to work, of course. Johansen isn’t the same player he was in his prime, Drouin isn’t a lock to replicate his junior magic with Nathan MacKinnon, Colton may not be cut out for everyday top-six minutes.

But they’re all intelligent bets to make, quality players with plenty of skill who should make the Avalanche a better, deeper team. Colton’s flexibility is a big plus to because if one of Johansen or Drouin struggles, he’s a prime candidate to trade spots with them to try and get them going. Colorado also brought back Andrew Cogliano who is still a valuable fourth-line speedy penalty killer. The Wood contract is a bit risky at six years, but the Avalanche have earned the benefit of the doubt.

Grade: A-

Dallas Stars (47-21-14, Lost in Round 3)

Additions: C Matt Duchene, RW Craig Smith

Subtractions: C Max Domi, D Colin Miller

Cap Space: -$0.32M

The Stars made arguably the best signing of July 1 when they inked Duchene to a one-year, $3 million contract shortly after he was bought out by Nashville. That’s an absolute steal for someone who can play center or the wing and scored 56 points last season and 86(!) the year before. Dallas has one of the league’s most stacked forward cores as a result. While they weren’t able to improve their top-four on defense (yes, Ryan Suter) is still around, signing Duchene automatically makes this a good summer for the Stars.

Grade: A-

Minnesota Wild (46-25-11, Lost in Round 1)

Additions: LW Patrick Maroon

Subtractions: D John Klingberg, D Matt Dumba

Cap Space: $7.18M

RFAs: G Filip Gustavsson, D Calen Addison

The Wild are pretty cap-strapped thanks to the Suter and Zach Parise buyouts, so no surprise to see them lay low. The Maroon trade came out of left field but he adds an extra body to their forward group. Losing Klingberg and Dumba isn’t the end of the world, although it’s disappointing they never traded the latter over the years given his value was once pretty high. Ultimately, Minnesota’s success this offseason will come down to their RFAs. They have enough space to fit both, but can they sign the high-surplus value contracts they desperately need to contend with so much dead cap?

Grade: C

Nashville Predators (42-32-8, Missed Playoffs)

Additions: C Ryan O’Reilly, D Luke Schenn, LW Gustav Nyquist

Subtractions: C Matt Duchene, C Ryan Johansen

Cap Space: $7.93M

The Predators felt they needed to improve their culture, which is fair after several seasons of mediocrity. But while Chicago and (mostly) Arizona were able to do that with short-term deals, Nashville splurged a bit more. Signing O’Reilly and Schenn until they’re 36 doesn’t seem wise for a team that lacks the offensive firepower to contend. Yes, they’ll help the kids and contribute on the ice next season, but the bad may outweigh the good by the time the Predators are truly ready to contend again.

St. Louis Blues (37-38-7, Missed Playoffs)

Additions: C Kevin Hayes

Subtractions: C Logan Brown

Cap Space: $290K

The Blues buy low on Hayes, coming off the second-highest scoring season of his career but deemed to not be a viable fit in Philadelphia by head coach John Tortorella. The defensive concerns are real (although completely moving him from center may have been an exaggeration). However, Hayes is a good player, although there’s always risk in trading for a 31-year-old with an injury history with three years left on their deal. The bigger disappointment for the Blues is not finding a way to upgrade their defense. GM Doug Armstrong wants this to be a quick turnaround, and it definitely can be, but that’s (still) the biggest thing holding the Blues back.

Grade: B-

Winnipeg Jets (46-33-3, Lost in Round 1)

Additions: LW Alex Iafallo, C Gabe Vilardi, C Rasmus Kupari

Subtractions: C Pierre-Luc Dubois, RW Blake Wheeler

Cap Space: $3.78M

RFAs: C Rasmus Kupari

While there’s a lot of debate about how most team’s offseasons have gone, everyone mostly seems to have the same things to say about the Jets. They did pretty well for themselves in the Dubois trade, especially given their lack of leverage and desire not to tear everything to the ground. Getting two quality forwards in Iafallo and Vilardi in return, plus a depth option in Kupari and a 2nd round pick is tidy work by Kevin Cheveldayoff.

But it can’t be the only work done by the Jets this summer. The Dubois trade and Wheeler buyout are long-awaited acknowledgments that things are wrong here. However, Mark Scheifele and Connor Hellebuyck are still here and seem certain to bolt when they hit free agency in 2024. This isn’t a 2019 Columbus situation where you can justify keeping them. The Jets need a total makeover, and the longer they delay it, the farther away their return to contention becomes.

Grade: C+

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All Advanced Stats are 5v5 and via Natural Stat Trick unless otherwise stated

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