It's the best time of year!
Posted by Ryan Porth Labels: 2011 Off-season, Central Division, Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Detroit Red Wings, Nashville Predators, St. Louis Blues
Here in the last week of July, we’re handing out report cards for all 30 teams, division-by-division. Today we continue with the Central Division…
GM Stan Bowman has done a fine job maneuvering around the salary cap (last summer) and surrounding the core with respectable talent (this summer). Though losing Campbell and Brouwer will hurt, Brunette and Montador are valuable veterans that come at a cheaper price. I also like the additions of O’Donnell and Lepisto as last year’s defense lacked depth at times.
The Blackhawks look pretty strong for the upcoming season. If sophomores Corey Crawford and Nick Leddy can build off solid rookie campaigns, they’ll challenge Detroit for the division again.
Columbus Blue Jackets
One of the more surprising teams this off-season has the Columbus Blue Jackets. They gave up a good package to acquire Carter, who could be that top-line center Rick Nash has been missing all along. GM Scott Howson also brought in James Wisniewski, who may not live up to the contract (6 years, $33 million) but will help the power play. With Kristian Huselius injured, the Jackets signed Prospal over the weekend.
On the surface, this team looks better and more equipped to make a run for a playoff spot – until you look between the pipes. Steve Mason is an enigma, while the newly-signed Dekanich has 50 minutes of NHL experience.
Despite the additions, goaltending will be the difference-maker for Columbus in their attempt in making the postseason for the second time in franchise history.
Detroit Red Wings
With the retirement of Rafalski, a lot of pundits expected GM Ken Holland to make a splash on defense this summer. It never happened. Most of the attractive defensemen were actually re-signed before the free agent frenzy, leaving Holland without much to work with. White is a nice pickup, but he’s not the top-pair defenseman, which means others will have to step up this season.
The Wings also saw Osgood retire from the NHL, only to be replaced by an upgrade in Conklin. Joey MacDonald was also brought back for depth in net, while the signing of Commodore was low-risk, medium-reward.
Nashville bit the bullet on July 1st and saw some key contributors – Ward, Sullivan and Goc – leave for greener pastures. Days later, GM David Poile dealt Franson, a popular D-man, and the concussed Lombardi to Toronto for a couple players that may not ever see ice-time in Music City. Combine that with the RFA qualifying offer fiasco, and the Preds’ summer got off to a shaky start.
Poile made the whole issue surrounding the qualifying offers irrelevant on the eve and day of the grievance hearing, as he re-signed Sergei Kostitsyn and Nick Spaling, among others. Bergfors, who could be an ample replacement for Sullivan, was also brought on board.
The biggest task of the summer, re-signing RFA Shea Weber, has yet to be done. His arbitration hearing is set for Aug. 2 and it’s questionable whether a long-term contract will get done before then.
St. Louis Blues
You have to like the job that GM Doug Armstong has done over the last five months. First, he remarkably pried Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk out of Colorado to add to an already-youthful team. Then he re-signed Matt D’Agostini. Armstrong surrounded the youngsters with savvy veterans, Arnott and Langenbrunner, this summer. Also, Elliott replaces Conklin as Jaroslav Halak’s backup.
Photo credit: Columbus Blue Jackets
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