Offseason Grades, Central Division: Blackhawks recycle while Stars muddle crease

Jasen Vinlove / USA TODAY Sports

Metropolitan | Atlantic | Central | Pacific

Chicago Blackhawks: B
Key Addition: Artem Anisimov, Marko Dano
Notable Subtraction: Brandon Saad

Whether they were spooked by the threat of an offer sheet, or soured by his financial demands, Saad priced himself out of the Blackhawks' future in his pursuit of a $6-million annual salary.

The situation might have been catastrophic for a lesser organization, but for general manager Stan Bowman and his title-winning brass, downsizing and reprocessing talent is an art form.

Now, this is not to say they won't suffer a dip with Anisimov and Dano instead (who will cost less than half of Saad and Brad Richards next season). And to that, another domino must fall. But who are we to question Chicago's self-sustainability?

Colorado Avalanche: C
Key Addition: Francois Beauchemin, Carl Soderberg
Notable Subtraction: Ryan O'Reilly

Out to prove last season was an aberration, not the year prior, the Avalanche threw around (O'Reilly's) money in an effort not to drop further off the side of the Western Conference table.

But herein lies the problem. Beauchemin, the 35-year-old former Duck, has looked lost in his wandering from the pond, and Soderberg at $4.75 million for the next five years, is a terrific over-payment for a third-line center.

The return for O'Reilly was decent, and the team should be a little better on the basis of having more capable bodies, but the maneuvering - with $17 million in play - fell far short of savvy.

Dallas Stars: D
Key Addition: Antti Niemi
Notable Subtraction: -

A big D.

The Stars will pay Niemi and Kari Lehtonen - who ranked 23rd and 39th respectively in save percentage last season - $10.5 million in combined salary to share the crease.


Minnesota Wild: B
Key Addition: Mike Reilly
Notable Subtraction: Matt Cooke

Minnesota's biggest free-agent splash, Reilly, was signed to an entry-level deal, which does well to illustrate the Wild being clamped in a financial vise, but management was able to design a few crafty contracts.

Devan Dubnyk and Mikael Granlund have the ability to play well beyond the money attached to their extensions, and at this point, cutting the decaying Cooke a check to stay away is probably a wise investment.

Nashville Predators: B-
Key Addition: Cody Hodgson
Notable Subtraction: -

The moneypuck innovators go back to the well.

Nashville inked noted flameout Hodgson and gritty defender Barret Jackman for just a shade over $3 million combined, and rewarded one of last season's projects, Mike Ribeiro, with a healthy raise, but still at a number well below the average for top centers.

These moves aren't going to set the Central Division ablaze, but there's really no risk associated with taking a chance on another low-cost reclamation project, and having a proven veteran slot in as a sixth defenseman.

St. Louis Blues: B
Key Addition: Troy Brouwer
Notable Subtraction: T.J. Oshie

There was some concern, or at least questions outside of St. Louis, that the Blues were just a touch cavalier in their handling of Vladimir Tarasenko - a legitimate superstar waiting in the shallow end of the free-agent pool.

But with the Blues being a non-factor in the free-agent market, and Oshie - a perennial postseason disappointment now wearing the stars in Washington - it turns out every decision was made with the $60-million centerpiece in mind.

And we can't find too much fault in that.

Winnipeg Jets: B-
Key Addition: Alex Burmistrov
Notable Subtraction: Michael Frolik

Though they had ample cap space, the Jets stepped away from contract negotiations with Frolik, trusting the organizational depth they were able to pad at the draft.

There will be competition, but Burmistrov figures to slide into that vacated middle-six role, while Drew Stafford returns on a reasonable $4.35 million rate.

Standing pat won't change the fact that the Jets weren't able to hang with the conference's elite last spring, but remaining fastidious with payroll, and protecting it from undermining contracts preserves their ability to make major decisions (such as acquiring a No. 1 defenseman in a mid-season trade) on their terms.

Offseason Grades, Central Division: Blackhawks recycle while Stars muddle crease
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