Over the next few agonizing, hockey-free weeks, we’ll be going over moves made division by division, mostly highlighting winners and losers thus far in free agency. Though there is still time for many changes to be made (mostly the signing of restricted free agents, cough cough Glen Sather), several moves have happened around the league that we might not be familiar with. Much like my musings, these will be in random order, so let’s open with the Central Division.
Above shows a screenshot of how the division played out last year. Comparatively, the Central was the strongest of the four divisions, with five teams making it to see late April hockey as opposed to the Pacific’s three – despite the Pacific Division eventually hoisting the Cup. The favorites out of the west up until the last week of regular season hockey were the St. Louis Blues, up until their skid and first round exit courtesy of the Chicago Blackhawks. That being said, I believe the Blues are the winners as of July 20 of the 2014 offseason, and here’s why.
St Louis Blues have lost a man or two, with Ryan Miller going to free agency and Vladimir Sobotka going to Russia despite promising talks of staying with the NHL. This was also a mess since Sobotka was a restricted free agent, but instead of spinning his wheels, GM Doug Armstrong carried on with signing Steve Ott as a stopgap and then focused on the fact that he got the prime signing of the offseason: Paul Stastny. Stastny, who grew up St. Louis, took a bit of a hometown discount (at 4 years/$28M, that’s a scary “discount,” but then again….), but his desire to be a blue note will make the team stronger without a doubt.
Speaking of “how is $7M a discount,” we move on to the Chicago Blackhawks, who didn’t seem to think they had to make many changes at all other than to lock down their captain and an alternate in Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. The pair received identical 8 year/$84M contracts. I’m not going to break this down with a year-by-year cap hit since, holy crap. For those math wizards out there, that’s $10.5M a year. Both are incredibly talented and proven winners, but contracts like that pose questions: what happens when it comes time to re-sign Patrick Sharp or Brent Seabrook? Why does everyone on that team have a NMC? Where the heck are they finding this money? Other than those contracts, the Hawks signed our good friend Brad Richards for a year, which I believe will be a great fit; a great team, sure, but I wouldn’t want to be a fan in a couple of years in the case of an injury…
A team that’s been making several moves is the Minnesota Wild, but of these numerous moves have many had an impact? For example, they signed former Sabre/Islander/Canadien forward Thomas Vanek, who made a name for himself by being useless during the playoffs, but they also signed defenseman Stu Bickel who famously played 3:24 in the triple overtime game against the Washington Capitals. The team has a chance to get better, but they lost forwards Matt Moulson and Dany Heatley, so I would say they’re staying about the same.