Last time I looked at the supposed new West division, and judged which teams were finished roster tinkering, and which weren’t. Today, I’m moving a little east to the Central (using Greg Wyshynski’s proposed divisions):
Tankity, tankity, tank, tank, tank, goes the Chicago team. They still haven’t signed Dylan Strome, and if they do, they will maybe just have room for 22 guys until they LTIR Brent Seabrook. That would give them space for real players, but they don’t want that. I think they have the worst defence corps since the Leafs tanked, no, wait, second worst. They also have a tandem of AHL backups. Okay, maybe AHL starters if I’m being kind.
Columbus Blue Jackets
All is quiet on the Pierre-Luc Dubois front. I’d like to hate him, but I can’t, and no matter how long the Booo Jackets wait, he’s still their star forward, and he proved it in the playoffs. They gotta pay him. They have cap space, the potential to move out a goalie for an actual return if they want more, and otherwise they seem set in their ways. As much as I like Mikhail Grigorenko, he’s not going to add a lot of scoring, and they really should consider trying to score goals some of the time.
Detroit Red Wings
Will they still be bad? You betcha. They signed all their players and/or traded them and/or bought them out except Dmytro Timashov. He went home to Sweden, was supposed to sign with a Swedish team, and then never played (maybe because he’s concerned about not having insurance), and there has been some talk he’d re-sign with Detroit. The most interesting Red Wings move of offseason was signing Bobby Ryan. Their D corps is really funny, go look: https://www.capfriendly.com/teams/redwings
The Panthers have, understandably, paused their activities while they brought in a whole new front office. They all seem competent, is the scary part, so what they’ll do before the season starts with a handful of unsigned RFAs of no real importance and enough cap space to do something a little interesting is anyone’s guess. If Sergei Bobrovsky has one of his good years, they might not need to score all that much, and they’ll surprise some people. If he doesn’t... they’re doomed.
Nashville has Luke Kunin to sign, a former Wild player they acquired in their quest to be as boring as the Minnesota team. I maintain they should merge, and then I won’t get confused trying to tell them apart. The Nashville Wild wouldn’t even need to change their logo.
They have almost as much cap space as the Kings on a short roster and ... I don’t know. Maybe they want to call-up the juniors, or maybe they will try to add forwards (they have a full defence corps). They look like a team that has no money to spend and is hoping this season gets cancelled.
Pittsburgh has everyone signed except Pontus Aberg, who they picked up from the Leafs. He’s playing in the KHL all year, so that’s moot. They have some cap space, 23 men on the roster, and Cody Ceci instead of Jack Johnson. Kasperi Kapanen is a good addition for them, and Mike Matheson likely isn’t. What’s that add up to? Maybe a little better than last year, and it all depends on the tandem of goalies they chose over Matt Murray.
St. Louis Blues
The Blues are in an interesting place. As in a cap quandary, not really a crunch. They need to re-sign Vince Dunn, who is an important part of their defence, but they only have cap space if someone is on LTIR. So far, Vladimir Tarasenko is a candidate, as he is recovering from surgery. Alexander Steen also finished the year injured. If they both can come back, though, then it’s a crunch. If they can’t, then the Blues could use a forward since Tarasenko is a high a % of their offence. They have time to wait, and they seem to be using it to the max. No matter what they do, I think they’re worse than they were, and they didn’t take the opportunity to rotate out some of their aging forwards.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa got their hot young defender locked up to a decent bridge deal, so all is good right? Well, no, no it isn’t. This is what happens when you pay your starter $9.5 million. Okay, fine, you got a Cup, big deal. But now the crunch comes, and that’s what really matters.
If the Lightning were to trade Tyler Johnson and his full $5 million in cap hit to a team that needs a forward, and there are many (just not many who have the space), they would have $2 million in space to either sign Erik Cernak and Anthony Cirelli or replace them with cheaper options, and then they’d have a 21-man roster. They’d be squeezed as tight as the Leafs are. And, even if they did that, they’re one injury away from Luke Witkowski back in the NHL. Cal Foote had better be ready for the bigs.
The Tampa problem is one of an overpaid middleclass and some just slightly too generous deals to the depth. But this isn’t an insurmountable problem, and it can absolutely be solved with one phone call to Steve Yzerman. I’m sure it won’t hurt too much to pay his price. (Or just call the Kings instead.)
Winning the Central
I’m not sure I actually 100% buy this alignment. I’d put Philly and Pittsburgh in the same division and kick Columbus, and I’d keep Florida together with Carolina, but this is plausible, so I’ll accept it.
Tampa will somewhat drunkenly stagger through the first part of the short season and then pull up their blue and white socks and lay down as good a season as their goalie lets them. Detroit and Chicago will duke it out hard for last, and the rest is a bit of a mystery. Florida or Nashville could come on, but likely won’t. Pittsburgh might flame out or soar to the top — they were much better last year than they appeared in the playoffs. I think the Blues made all the wrong moves this offseason, and are about to find out if that one good possession year was the fluke or not.
They should name this division Planet Goalie, though. Because it’s all about them.