Central Division Preview: Avalanche will be challenged by Blues and Wild

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The Central Division was a cake walk last season for one team, but that isn’t likely going to be the case in 2022-23.

Winning a Stanley Cup title often comes with a price and the Colorado Avalanche are feeling the pinch.

The Avalanche lost No.1 goalie Darcy Kuemper and two of their top five point scorers from last season to free agency, leaving sizable voids in the roster.

Fortunately for Colorado, there’s no shortage of talent still on the books.

Central Division Preview 2022-23

1. Colorado Avalanche

The Avalanche locked up one of their most productive offensive players just before the start of training camp, inking Nathan MacKinnon to an eight-year, $100.8 million extension.

MacKinnon, who turned 27 on Sept. 1, is a five-time All Star and four-time 30-goal scorer.

“Nathan is obviously one of the premier players in the NHL so a long-term extension was something we wanted to get done before the season started,” said Avalanche General Manager Chris MacFarland.

MacKinnon will likely need to boost his offensive production even more after forwards Nazem Kadri and Andre Burakovsky signed with other teams.

They combined for 50 goals and 98 assists last regular season and another 10 goals and 13 assists in the playoffs, even though Burakovsky was scratched for eight postseason games and Kadri missed four with an injury.

Among the players the Avalanche added was Evan Rodrigues, who had 19 goals and 24 assists with the Pittsburgh Penguins last season.

Kuemper started 16 of the 20 playoff games last season, going 10-4 with a .902 save percentage and 2.57 goals-against average.

Colorado is hoping to replace Kuemper with Alexandar Georgiev, who came over via a trade with the New York Rangers in July and immediately signed a three-year contract.

Georgiev started 28 games with the Rangers last season and posted a .898 save percentage and 2.92 save percentage, both of which ranked outside of the top 25 in the NHL.

Goaltending concerns aside, the Avs are too stacked and talented which should lead to another division title.

2. St. Louis Blues

central division preview vladimir tarasenko
Apr 12, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; St. Louis Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko (91) celebrates his goal with left wing Pavel Buchnevich (89) during the second period against the Boston Bruins at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

The St. Louis Blues lost popular forward David Perron and goalie Ville Husso to the Detroit Red Wings, leaving Jordan Binnington as the clear-cut No. 1 goalie.

The Blues showed their commitment to young forwards Jordan Kyrou and Robert Thomas, signing them to eight-year extensions, and gave a four-year extension to veteran defenseman Nick Leddy.

Last season, Craig Berube’s team showed why they’re built for postseason play posing the most significant threat to the Avalanche. Colorado was able to beat them in six but it wasn’t easy.

Captain Ryan O’Reilly is in a contract year and should post some good numbers. Scoring wingers Pavel Buchnevich and Vladimir Tarasenko will also help keep the Blues in contention for first place this season.

3. Minnesota Wild

The Minnesota Wild are facing salary cap constraints still related to their decision to offer buyouts to Ryan Suter and Zach Parise in the summer of 2021.

Those cap hits led to the second-leading points scorer from last season, Kevin Fiala, being traded and signing with the Los Angeles Kings.

Minnesota will also need to find a replacement for goalie Cam Talbot, who went 32-12-4 in goal for the Wild last season but has departed for Ottawa, leaving 37-year-old Marc-Andre Fleury likely to handle a lion’s share of the minutes. That shouldn’t be an issue because he’s only one full season removed from winning a Vezina Trophy.

Minnesota’s defense is also one of the league’s best with Jared Spurgeon, Matt Dumba, and Jonas Brodin to eat big minutes.

Kirill Kaprizov leads the offensive charge for the forward group after a 108 points season 81 games. He’ll have help from Joel Eriksson Ek, Mats Zuccarella, and rookie Marco Rossi.

4. Nashville Predators

juuse saros contract
May 23, 2021; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Nashville Predators goaltender Juuse Saros (74) watches as the puck hits off the side of the net in the first overtime against the Carolina Hurricanes in game four of the first round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bridgestone Arena. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

No team from the Central Division was busier than the Nashville Predators, who lured veteran defenseman Ryan McDonagh from the Tampa Bay Lightning and Nino Niederreiter from the Carolina Hurricanes.

McDonagh’s value to a team was clearly evident by the disappointment shown by his former teammates after he left Tampa Bay, while Niederreiter is coming off back-to-back 20-goal seasons with the Hurricanes.

Nashville also brought in forwards Zach Sanford and Mark Jankowski, who have shown they can score in double digits in the past.

Juuse Saros is also back and healthy. The Vezina Trophy finalist should be the difference maker to get them back into the playoffs.

5. Dallas Stars

The biggest concern for the Dallas Stars has been structuring a deal with forward Jason Robertson, who exploded for 41 goals and 38 assists last season but was unsigned when training camp began after his three-year entry-level contract expired after last season.

The Stars liked what they saw from Mason Marchment when he played for the Florida Panthers last season and rewarded him with a hefty contract.

After watching John Klingberg walk, the Stars traded for young prospect defenseman Nils Lundkvist from the New York Rangers. They were interested in drafting him back in 2018 and hope he can quarterback their power play.

New head coach Peter DeBoer, who isn’t accustomed to losing, will do his best to get this team in the playoff mix.

6. Winnipeg Jets

It’s hard to put your finger on what the Winnipeg Jets will do this season. Rick Bowness, who left the Dallas Stars is now behind the helm. Many thought Barry Trotz would take the job, but he’s sitting it out this season.

The Jets have talented players like Pierre-Luc Dubois, Mark Scheifele, and Blake Wheeler. Of course, all three may be traded by the trade deadline so who knows what you’re going to get out of them. Wheeler was also stripped of the captaincy by Bowness during the offseason in a desire to go with a leadership by committee approach.

Connor Hellebuyck remains a star in goal for the Jets. The 29 year-old had a 29-27-10 record with a 2.97 GAA and a .910 SV% in 2021-22. You can expect more of the same from him this season.

Unfortunately, there’s just too many good teams in the Central for the Jets to be considered a serious playoff threat.

7. Chicago Blackhawks

The Chicago Blackhawks may have experienced the second-most attrition in the Central during the offseason.

They traded Alex DeBrincat to the Ottawa Senators for draft picks and also lost Kirby Dach, Dominik Kubalik, and Dylan Strome.

Next up will be shipping off Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews at the trade deadline to continue their rebuild.

8. Arizona Coyotes

There’s not much that can be said about the Coyotes, who seem to be content being the bottom feeders of the NHL.

Aside from looking like a favorite for the Connor Bedard Draft Lottery, they’ll likely be trading defenseman Jakob Chychrun at some point to ensure the most ping pong balls possible by the end of the year.

–Field Level Media and The Daily Goal Horn