I’ll pretend to not know anything about Warhammer, but offseason feels a little like said game of figurine plotting, templating, and fantasy warfare.
On the surface, Dallas looks upgraded. The Stars have added the equivalent of orcs (insert Nill’s forward depth signing here), dreadnoughts (Hanzal), sorcerers (Radulov), and soothsayers (Bishop). But will it be enough against the Central? The power in the central has waned somewhat over the years, but it houses the West’s most powerful clan (Nashville), the fallers should not be underestimated, and the risers could be more dangerous than ever.
Every season the Blackhawks are expected to fall, wither, and decay, as if they’re some sort of puck anachronism, and every year they compete, challenge, and threaten.
Stan Bowman is a GM who managed his cap by getting a veteran to admit to being allergic to hockey. His magic is strong.
True, they lost Panarin, Oduya, and Hjalmarsson. But they got Sharp, Saad, and some warm bodies from Arizona that may prove useful.
But as with any successful team, their strength lies in their drafting powers. To that end, they have a potential ace up their sleeve in Alex Debrincat. Debrincat’s NHL success is not certain. But he just scored 65 goals in 63 games. If I unplugged my best friend’s NHL 17 controller, and hacked his team AI to turn them into victims of Medusa I probably couldn’t score 65 goals. He had a 127 point season for the OHL’s Eerie Otters. Teams skipped on Debrincat in the 2016 draft, and they’re probably gonna regret it.
Chicago has a questionable blueline. Especially with Brent Seabrook’s decline. But as the Penguins showed, a good system and elite forwards can take you to the promised land. The combination of Toews, Kane, Saad, Anisimov, Sharp, and Debrincat could form a top six that can compete with anyone. Especially if Debrincat makes the jump.
Colorado has become a punchline in recent years. Deservedly so.
But they took a flyer on Nail Yakupov. A decent gamble, and prospect Tyson Jost will boost a relatively solid center core to tag with Nathan MacKinnon. Then there’s Matt Duchene. He’s still an elite center, despite Joe Sakic dangling him like a chocolate bunny. He just hasn’t had proper support. However, if Colorado does eventually move him, likely for a defenseman, the Avs could turn their fortunes around quicker than critics might suspect. Especially if they keep Duchene, and he’s paired with Jost for a gamebreaking duo.
Colorado won’t be a good team next season (goaltending and defense will remain an issue even if the Avs can swing Duchene for a king’s ransom, which is unlikely with all the huff and puff over trade rumors). But with the right moves, they have a relatively strong core. Especially if Cale Makar is ready sooner than later.
Minnesota are like the hobo-hawks; you think they’re gonna decline, or get worse, and yet they always find a way to compete. The Wild lost some sauce this offseason; Martin Hanzal came to Dallas, and they downgraded Marco Scandella (a solid blueliner) and Jason Pominville into Tyler Ennis (who has been setback due to injury) and Marcus Foligno.
However, they’re a well coached team. They have two excellent young center prospects in Joel Eriksson Ek and Luke Kunin (Ek has already made the jump and is primed for a breakout season), along with Riley Tufte-sized help at wing in Jordan Greenway, who just had a fantastic season with Boston University. They won’t look like contenders, but they’ll probably do what they’ve always done - quietly succeed with underrated forward depth, and a strong top four holding the blueline.
Nashville may not look like contenders. They just are. If the hockey balance of power has truly shifted toward the Eastern Conference, than Nashville is turning into the loyal opposition.
Sure, fans know about their blueline. But the secret to their blueline success is drafting, and Nashville hasn’t slowed down. It’s no stroke of luck that the team who didn’t overthink the 2013 draft was the team who ended up challenging for the Stanley Cup. Sure Seth Jones turned into a number one center, but that’s how you bolster your lineup in the first place. Defense prospects Dante Fabbro and David Farrance won’t crack the lineup this season, but opponents will know their games in due time. And if they’re good enough to make one of their current blueliners expendable, they’ll simply get better and better.
They took a hit losing James Neal. But winger Vladislav Kamanev, often seen torching the Texas Stars, will probably help offset the Neal loss, along with Kevin Fiala and Pontus Aberg. The Preds have a strong backup in Juuse Saros (who Dallas passed on for Desrosiers), and P.K. isn’t slowing down. And no NBC, Josi is not better.
The Blues look like a bubble team to me. Their once stout defense is only just top heavy now, having moved on from the Kevin Shattenkirk era, and their offense looks average outside of a few bright spots. They got an absolute steal in the 2017 draft; turning Ryan Reaves and a 2nd rounder into Klim Kostin; a very good power forward who is a lot more than your Tyler Biggs, Nick Ritchie types. It’s quite possible he even makes the team.
Outside of that they added Brayden Schenn; a good player, but not gamebreaking. They also have some a few prospects who should see their roles increased in Ivan Barbashev and Tage Thompson. If the Blues miss the playoffs, it won’t be because they’re a bad team but because the Central has gotten stronger.
There’s always a darkhorse, or x-factor. You just wouldn’t expect it to come from Winnipeg, but the hockey gods always make an exception.
Even though they lost their marbles handing out a big contract to Dimitry Kulikov, their blueline is still bolstered by Byfuglien, Trouba, Morrisey, Enstrom, and Myers.
Steve Mason will help them forget the Pavelec era, and then there’s one of the better forward prospect core in the NHL. Led by Patrik Laine, others such as Nikolaj Ehlers, Kyle Connor, and Jack Roslovic will provide them with the kind of forward depth that rivals some of the best in the entire league. If their goaltending can keep its head on its shoulders, a deep blueline and a dangerous forward group (especially if Connor and Roslovic are full time) could take them farther than anyone might suspect.
The crystal ball isn’t doom and gloom. Dallas has a deep forward group of their own (could be deeper if some of the Texas prospects are given a chance and prove their worth), and if Honka and Lindell improve, the blueline is suddenly looking completely respectable. But if fortunes break right for the other teams, you can see how one misstep - a shaky season for Bishop, blueliners having trouble adjusting, the Hudler virus, or just mumps - could be the difference. Just like Sunday’s episode of Game of Thrones, making plans to conquer sounds better in your head when a ship of bloodthirsty pirates aren’t on your blindside.