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NHL Free Agency Feature: 2020 Division Review – Central

How did the Central Division stack up in NHL Free Agency 2020? Who made the biggest splash?

Anton Khudobin Dallas Stars

Turning the lens now toward the Western Conference and the seven-team Central Division for a review of the free agency activity thus far, we notice several of the Central Division teams have key decisions to make. With limited available cap space or the need to make additional room entering a flat cap year, each team is facing its own set of challenges.

Chicago Blackhawks

The Chicago Blackhawks recently extended Malcolm Subban to a two-year $1.7 million contract ($850k AAV). With Corey Crawford’s departure (New Jersey Devils), the goaltending option is 26-year-old Collin Delia who has factored into a total of 18 NHL games. Chicago has slightly more than $5 million in cap space to spend on a legitimate starting goaltender, but the free agent options at this stage of the game are now quite limited (Corey Schneider, Craig Anderson, Jimmy Howard, Mike Condon, Ryan Miller, etc.).

Will the Blackhawks roll with this unlikely tandem, sign an older UFA, or look to make a trade?

The Hawks have reached an agreement with an important RFA in Calder Trophy nominee Dominik Kubalik (2 years – $3.7M AAV). Chicago also signed forward Matthias Janmark (1 year – $2.25M) who spent last season with the Stanley Cup finalist Dallas Stars.

Colorado Avalanche

With a contending team in place, the Colorado Avalanche have been busy tying up several key internal RFA’s. To be precise, the Avs have signed four players from the 19/20 roster that recently hit RFA status:

  • Andre Burakovsky (F) – 2 years, $4.9M AAV
  • Ryan Graves (D) – 3 years, $3.16M AAV
  • Tyson Jost (F) – 1 year, $874,125 AAV
  • Valeri Nichuskin – 2 years, $2.5M AAV

The Avalanche also added Brandon Saad from the Chicago Blackhawks who retain $1 million of his contract, and the Avs will carry the remaining $5 million on his contract through 20/21. These alterations leave Colorado with just shy of $6 million in cap space, but they also need to sign newly acquired RFA Devon Toews from the New York Islanders.

As suggested by Dmitri Filipovic in the tweet above, some solid maneuvering by the Avalanche thus far!

Dallas Stars

The 2020 Stanley Cup finalist and Western Conference Champion Dallas Stars have also made several key internal signings a priority. The Cinderella playoff run by beloved goaltender Anton Khudobin earned him a three-year, $10 million contract ($3.33 AAV). The Stars also provided a lengthy deal for RFA Radek Faksa (5 years, $3.25M AAV). Lastly, Dallas came to terms with veteran defenseman Andrej Sekera on a two-year deal at an AAV of $1.5M.

Anton Khudobin Dallas Stars
Anton Khudobin Dallas Stars

The most interesting thing with Dallas might be the players they have not signed. Specifically, two 23-year-old forwards in Roope Hintz and Denis Gurianov – both of whom are RFA’s. Dallas currently has slightly over $6.5 million in cap space to use on those contracts. However, the Stars must also be anticipating what kind of pay raise they will need to sign one of the best young defensemen in the game, Miro Heiskanen (20/21 is the last season on Heiskanen’s ELC).

All that said, can the Stars afford to pay both Khudobin and Bishop over $8 million for the next two seasons? Could Bishop be on the move?  How about Chicago?

Minnesota Wild

The Minnesota Wild made an early splash prior to the free agency period by inking defenseman Jonas Brodin to a big, long-term deal (7 years – $6M) in mid-September. Immediately thereafter, the speculation began to swirl about Matt Dumba being shopped for trade purposes. The Dumba chatter only intensified last week after the Wild struck a deal with 26-year-old defenseman Carson Soucy for three years at an AAV of $2.75 million. The Wild now owe $30 million to seven defensemen heading into the next NHL season.

The Wild also swapped out goaltender Devan Dubnyk (San Jose Sharks) and replaced him by signing Cam Talbot to a hefty three-year deal ($3.67M AAV). Talbot will flank the crease with fellow 33-year-old journeyman Alex Stalock. Lastly, Minnesota recently locked up power forward Jordan Greenway for two years – AAV of $2.1 million.

Without accounting for any future movement, the Wild have $2.7 million in cap space.

Nashville Predators

One might expect the Nashville Predators to get busier as this off-season extends into the Winter(?). With nearly $13 million in cap space they can still make some noise with a few of the remaining free agents – especially up front. So far, the Predators have only made smaller, short-term deals including three two-year deals for depth defensemen Matt Benning – ($1M AAV), Mark Borowiecki ($2M AAV) and forward Nick Cousins ($1.5M AAV).

The Predators will be on prowl for one or two more forwards and have been reported to have interest in the biggest remaining forward free-agent, Mike Hoffman.

One last watch item for Nashville in the coming months is the situation between the pipes. Both Juuse Saros (25) and Pekka Rinne (37) will be free agents’ next season.

St. Louis Blues

Knowing that they were likely losing Alex Pietrangelo (Vegas Golden Knights), the St. Louis Blues went with the 2nd biggest name in the free-agent market and signed defenseman Torey Krug for seven years at an AAV $6.5 million.

The Blues also recently signed rugged forward Kyle Clifford for two years at $2 million AAV. St. Louis still needs to decide on RFA Vince Dunn (D), but at this point they are tapped out. As in, zero cap space.

This salary restriction may prevent further Blues activity especially considering they still have $13M on the long-term injury reserve with Alexander Steen and Vladimir Tarasenko.

Winnipeg Jets

As it stands, the Winnipeg Jets have made several small deals the most significant of which was a four-year contract for defender Dylan DeMelo ($3M AAV). The Jets also made deals with (D) Nathan Beaulieu for 2 years (1.25M), and 1 year contracts for (D) Lucas Sbisa ($800K), (G) Laurent Broissoit, as well as (F) Nate Thompson.

Additionally, the Jets also reacquired forward Paul Stastny and his remaining $6.5M annual salary from the Vegas Golden Knights. That leaves the Jets with a mere $24,000 in cap space. That means they are done – right? Enter Patrik Laine and the now endless speculation on his locale for the next NHL season. Should they decide to move Laine that would free up $6.75M of room depending on what came back.

Stay tuned for the Pacific Division recap coming soon!

NEXT: NHL Free Agency Feature: 2020 Division Review – Metropolitan

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