Less than a month into the off-season and already the landscape has changed in the NHL. The draft, free agency and a couple of franchise-altering trades have shifted the balance of power, setting up some teams to take the next step in 2016-17... and others to drop into the abyss.
CENTRAL DIVISION SUMMER OUTLOOK
1. Dallas Stars
There's still some pressure to make a change between the pipes—Tampa's Ben Bishop beckons—but for now Nill is playing it cool, betting that a more effective defense will elevate the play of Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi ... and that the price for goaltending help will drop as the expansion draft draws closer. A risky play, but it could pay off.
2. St. Louis Blues
4. Nashville Predators
There are questions to be answered up front (like, are Kevin Fiala and Colton Sissons ready to step up?), but pace is clearly a priority across the roster for 2016-17. This team will be fun to watch. Full marks for the Filip Forsberg extension as well. He's worth every penny of that $6 million AAV.
5. Minnesota Wild
Fletcher also signed RFA goalie Darcy Kuemper to a one-year deal, which doesn't make much sense after doing the same with UFA Stalock. The issue isn't the logjam. It's contract length. Neither goalie is signed into the 2017-18 season, which would have allowed them to be exposed in next summer's expansion draft instead of starter Devan Dubnyk. That's something that could be addressed later in the season, but why not handle it now?
6. Colorado Avalanche
Speaking of those young players, Sakic still hasn't handled the heavy-lifting portion of his off-season. Tyson Barrie is headed for a bruising arbitration session. RFAs Nathan MacKinnon and Mikhail Grigorenko both need new deals as well. Things are just getting started in Denver.
7. Winnipeg Jets
There was less excitement in free agency—not surprising, considering the team's commitment to keeping jobs open to competition for young players like Josh Morrissey and Kyle Connor—but GM Kevin Cheveldayoff added some pieces who'll improve the team's depth. All in all, an off-season fully in keeping with his steady-as-she-goes approach.