Reviewing the Avalanche and the Central Division’s offseason acquisitions

Apr 5, 2021; Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA; Colorado Avalanche center Nazem Kadri (91) passes the puck against Minnesota Wild defenseman Ryan Suter (20) during the first period at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

When we enter the dog days of August — traditionally the slowest month of the NHL calendar — it’s often a good time to look back at the offseason and where teams currently stand. Albeit the rest of August and September could still see numerous big names such as Jack Eichel, Vladimir Taransenko and perhaps Evgeny Kuznetsov likely on the move.

With the expansion draft and a flat salary cap resulting in a busier than usual offseason, the Avalanche will look a little different than the team that was eliminated in the second round in June.

The Avs return to the Central Division in 2021-22 and will battle seven other teams for the division crown as the Arizona Coyotes join the fray after a slight realignment as a result of the Seattle expansion.

Colorado lost a number of depth pieces in Matt Calvert, Brandon Saad, Joonas Donskoi, Ryan Graves, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Patrik Nemeth and Conor Timmins. They also lost starting goalie Philipp Grubauer.

Darcy Kuemper slots in as the new starter while pieces like defenseman Ryan Murray and Darren Helm were brought in to solidify the depth. Despite the losses, expect the Avs to still be one of the better teams in the Central Division.

Here’s what the rest of the Central will look like heading into the new season:

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Arizona Coyotes

IN: Shayne Gostisbehere, Conor Timmins, Loui Eriksson, Antoine Roussel, Jay Beagle, Anton Stralman, Ryan Dzingel

OUT: Darcy Kuemper, Adin Hill, Antti Raanta, Conor Garland, Michael Bunting, Alex Goligoski, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Jordan Oesterle, John Hayden

They may have had the most successful offseason for a team that likely isn’t going to sniff the playoffs anytime soon.

New general manager Bill Armstrong was handcuffed when he took over. The Coyotes had a bare cupboard of draft picks and prospects and an underwhelming core. Armstrong has gutted the team almost entirely and accumulated five second-round picks in 2022 and a first-rounder from the Avalanche in the Kuemper deal. He also did a great job of offloading Ekman-Larsson’s long-term deal.

All things considered, it was a great offseason for a team that desperately needed to rebuild.

Offseason Grade: A
2021-22 Prediction: Lottery team

Chicago Blackhawks

IN: Marc-Andre Fleury, Seth Jones, Jake McCabe, Caleb Jones, Tyler Johnson, Jujhar Khaira

OUT: Duncan Keith, Nikita Zadorov, Adam Boqvist, Pius Suter, David Kampf

The only other team that gives Chicago a run for its money in terms of swinging for the fences is probably the Philadelphia Flyers.

Amid a cloud of controversy hovering over the organization, general manager Stan Bowman did everything in his power to really change the team’s direction. The Blackhawks offloaded Keith, Seabrook’s contract and a number of depth guys and brought in a Vezina Trophy winner, both Jones brothers, a shutdown defenseman in McCabe and a solid forward in Johnson.

They’re also hoping to welcome back a healthy Jonathan Toews and Kirby Dach for a full season. It’s hard to say if Chicago is going to battle for the division crown once again, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility to consider them a wildcard hopeful.

Offseason Grade: A-
2021-22 Prediction: Challenging for a Wildcard position

Dallas Stars

IN: Braden Holtby, Ryan Suter, Jani Hakanpaa, Luke Glendening, Michael Raffl

OUT: Jamie Oleksiak, Mark Pysyk, Andrew Cogliano, Jason Dickinson, Justin Dowling

The Stars’ backend changes considerably with Suter but the biggest additions are a fully healthy Tyler Seguin and Alex Radulov. The duo combined for just 14 games and had six goals and 14 points.

Dallas relies on veterans to steer the ship but it’s a solid group for at least another season. As long as Anton Khudobin and Holtby can hold the fort down in goal, expect the Stars to challenge the Avs atop the division.

Offseason Grade: B+
2021-22 Prediction: Challenging for a top-3 Central Division spot

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Minnesota Wild

IN: Alex Goligoski, Jon Merrill, Dmitry Kulikov, Frederick Gaudreau

OUT: Ryan Suter, Carson Soucy, Ian Cole, Brad Hunt, Zach Parise, Nick Bonino

What a strange offseason it’s been for Minnesota. It started with the shocking buyouts of not just Parise but his long-time friend Suter. And even though they’ve found some sort of relief on the blueline with Goligoski, Kulikov and Merrill, the biggest questions of the offseason have yet to be answered.

The team has filed for salary arbitration with forward Kevin Fiala, a move you rarely see made by an organization. But the more notable restricted free agent Kirill Kaprizov is making headlines with his leverage to return to the KHL in Russia if the Wild don’t pay him what he feels he deserves.

Minnesota could very well be as good as the team we saw in 2021 if both players return. But if one goes sour — and specifically if it’s Kaprizov — then this team is going to take a gigantic step backward. But for now, I’ll make a prediction based on both players returning.

Offseason Grade: C+
2021-22 Prediction: Challenging for a top-3 Central Division spot

Nashville Predators

IN: David Rittich, Philippe Myers, Cody Glass, Matt Luff

OUT: Pekka Rinne, Ryan Ellis, Viktor Arvidsson, Calle Jarnkrok, Erik Haula

You look at the roster this team had last season, the players they lost and how they were replaced and it becomes very clear that Nashville likely won’t be returning to the playoffs next year.

They ended the season strong to make the postseason and even took Carolina to six games in the first round. But there were a lot of underperforming players on that team that David Poile was hoping to offload and neither of Ellis, Arvidsson or Jarnkrok were the culprits.

As usual, never say never. But Nashville has its work cut out for it in 2022. The Central Division is strong and this team is barely holding on.

Offseason Grade: C-

2021-22 Prediction: Miss the playoffs

St. Louis Blues

IN: Pavel Buchnevich, Brandon Saad

OUT: Vince Dunn, Jaden Schwartz, Mike Hoffman, Sammy Blais

The acquisition of Buchnevich was a solid piece of work for Doug Armstrong. He and Saad will likely replace the offensive production lost in Schwartz and Hoffman.

The Blues will likely be as good as they have been for the last few years and could challenge the Avs and Stars atop the Central Division. But they still have a lingering question mark with Vladimir Tarasenko, who hopes to be traded before opening night.

With or without Tarasenko, who was a nonfactor in 2021 because of injuries, St. Louis is hoping for a bounceback season from Torey Krug.

Offseason Grade: B
2021-22 Prediction: Challenging for a Wildcard position

Winnipeg Jets

IN: Brenden Dillon, Nate Schmidt, Riley Nash

OUT: Laurent Brossoit, Derek Forbort, Tucker Poolman, Mason Appleton, Mathieu Perreault, Trever Lewis, Nate Thompson

Winnipeg entered the offseason needing to address its blueline and it did exactly that. Schmidt and Dillon will bolster their back end and provide Vezina-caliber goalie Connor Hellebuyck with the support he needs.

The Jets also have one of the better top-six forward groups in the NHL especially if Pierre-Luc Dubois bounces back.

The Jets may be the most improved team in the Central Division despite making minimal moves.

Offseason Grade: A-
2021-22 Prediction: Challenging for a top-3 Central Division spot

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Aarif Deen
 is our Colorado Avalanche beat reporter. He covers Avs games live from Ball Arena and attends practices, media availabilities and other events pertaining to the Avs on the daily beat. He is also a co-host of Hockey Mountain High: Your go-to Avalanche podcast. Deen joined Mile High Sports upon completion of his bachelor’s degree in journalism and master’s in business administration from the University of Michigan – Dearborn. Before Mile High Sports, Deen worked for the Michigan Wolverines Athletics Department as the assistant sports information director.

Follow him on Twitter @runwriteAarif

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