Top NHL teams introduced damage control again this summer.
Facing an almost flat salary range, most of the contenders could not make amends. Instead, they tried to minimize the impact of personnel losses incurred through free agency and pay-cut trades.
The Blues lost power-play triggerman David Perron and goaltender Ville Husso, but several Central Division rivals also took big hits.
The Colorado Avalanche lost goalkeeper Darcy Kumper, 61-point scorer Andre Burakowski and, possibly, 87-point scorer Nazem Qadri. The Minnesota Wild lost 33-goal scorer Kevin Fiala, and the Dallas Stars could lose defenseman John Klingberg—a free agent who, like Qadri, remains unsigned.
Here’s the bottom line on this side of the league: The Avalanche looms as Stanley Cup favorites, the Blues maintain a clear playoff path, the Nashville Predators displace the Wilds as their immediate rival and the Pacific Division emerges with greater balance. .
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Colorado hockey czar Joe Sakic is betting that current Pavel Françoise and newly acquired Alexander Georgiev can move into the goal behind the team’s firepower.
Sakic re-signed power forward Valery Nichushkin as well as excellent late-season acquisitions Arturi Lehkonen, an all-purpose winger, and Josh Manson, a rugged defender.
When the bazaar music stopped, Qadri stood still, so he must ease his demands while hoping a team will cap space for him.
Blues general manager Doug Armstrong could not afford to keep Huso after his successful season, and had to choose between re-signing defenseman Nick Lady or Peron.
He chose Lady, believing her return would settle the defensive corps after last season’s blue-line reshuffle. That commitment (four years, $16 million) cost Armstrong cap flexibility, which may have helped him acquire Matthew Tkachuk from the Calgary Flames.
A logical Blues offer would have featured forward Jordan Kyrou, whose next contract should rival Robert Thomas’ deal ($8.125 million a year) and move closer to Takachuk potential earnings in St.
Kyrou is 24, like Tkachuk, and he’s coming off an all-star campaign. He may have been interested in Calgary as part of a larger package, but his modest $2.8 million cap hit created a contract-swapping equation the Blues couldn’t solve.
The Flames landed 115-point scorer Jonathan Huberdeau and rising defenseman Mackenzie Weiger in a blockbuster deal with the Florida Panthers. It was a decent recovery after losing Johnny Goudreau to free agency and buying Takachuk under pressure.
Huberdeau and Weiger’s contracts are expiring, but unlike Takachuk, they will consider new deals in Calgary. Takachuk signed for eight years at South Florida ($9.5 million) and pursued a rivalry with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“I hate Edmonton,” Takachuk told his new fans, “but I hate Tampa more now.”
Expect him to have some up-close and personal conversations with fellow St. Louison Pat Maroon about extended car warranties and the like.
The Blues advance with ample offense and a skilled defensive corps. If goaltender Jordan Binnington regains his pre-injury playoff form, the Blues could eclipse last season’s 109-point total in their top-heavy division.
The Chicago Blackhawks shamelessly joined the Arizona Coyotes, who were deliberately defeated by forwards Alex Debrincat, Dylan Strom and Dominic Kubalik. Patrick Kane should solicit business as soon as possible.
The Wild should return after sending Fiala to Los Angeles and goaltender Cam Talbot to Ottawa, breaking his strong pairing with Marc-Andre Fleury.
This creates opportunities for hunters. He retained top gun Philip Forsberg and added strong heavyweights Nino Niedreiter and Ryan McDonagh. The good times are returning to Smashville, with Jus Saros scoring goals and linebacker-on-skates Tanner Jeannot crushing enemies.
The stars want to stay relevant, so they hired coach Peter DeBoer. But they have Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn as they age at 19 million cap dollars — and the standout Joe Pawelski will soon turn 38.
The Winnipeg Jets entice Barry Trotz to restore defensive order. But Trotz took a break from coaching, so the challenge lies in front of recycled coach Rick Bones.
In the Pacific Division, the withdrawn flames should remain viable. Jack Campbell should upgrade the Edmonton Oilers to goal, and Bruce Boudreau’s coaching should lift the Vancouver Canucks.
Fiala makes the rising Kings more dangerous, and newcomers Ryan Strom and Frank Vatrano will support the young Anaheim Ducks forward.
The Vegas Golden Knights could return with a full Jack Eichel season, even after losing Max Pacioretti in the Cap Crunch. While the San Jose Sharks eventually began to rebuild, the Seattle Kraken added offense with rookie centers Matty Beniers and Shane Wright and veteran wingers Andre Burakovsky and Oliver Björkstrand.
This resulting parity could allow the Central Division to earn five playoff berths and an easier path to the Blues. But then again, the note must face an avalanche before it reaches the top.
A lot changed this summer, but nothing really changed.