NHL Central Division odds: Cup champs favored
NHL training camps are just a stone's throw away from opening league-wide.
While many teams still have housekeeping to do, most of the offseason movement is behind us.
How's the Central Division shaping up following the summer fireworks? Let's investigate.
|St. Louis Blues||+900|
Last season's Stanley Cup champions are heavily favored to lead the way in the Central, and it's not hard to see why. Colorado dealt with a plethora of injuries all season over the previous campaign and still almost grabbed the No. 1 seed. It wasn't until the playoffs when we saw what a complete Avalanche lineup could do, piling up a 16-4 record en route to a Stanley Cup victory.
Colorado lost some important parts of the Cup team - most notably Nazem Kadri and Darcy Kuemper - but the core remains intact. It still has plenty of firepower up front and a defense loaded with dynamic puck movers in Cale Makar, Devon Toews, Samuel Girard, and Bowen Byram.
Minnesota is seen as Colorado's biggest threat. The Wild had a relatively quiet offseason, all things considered. With Zach Parise and Ryan Suter eating nearly $13 million in cap space, the team didn't have the room to make any meaningful additions.
In fact, their financial situation forced them into trading Kevin Fiala following his career-best 85-point campaign. However, Minnesota will be hoping that the continuity from keeping the band mostly together - and the infusion of youngsters like Marco Rossi - helps it close the gap on Colorado.
The Blues finished ninth in the NHL in points last season, but they seem poised to take a small step back. David Perron departed in free agency following a strong season (57 points in 67 games), only to sign a reasonably priced two-year deal with the Detroit Red Wings. Ville Husso also left, cashing in on a strong regular season in which the goaltender finished top 10 in five-on-five save percentage.
St. Louis didn't have the money to adequately replace either, with bargain bin players like Noel Acciari, Josh Leivo, and Thomas Greiss headlining the newcomers. Perhaps the Blues' biggest addition this upcoming campaign will be getting a healthy Torey Krug back into the lineup.
The Predators' best players - Roman Josi, Filip Forsberg, Matt Duchene, and Juuse Saros - all put together spectacular campaigns a season ago. But it was only enough for the club to sneak into the playoffs before being overpowered by the Avalanche. Realizing the team needed to improve the supporting cast around those stars, Nashville stayed active this offseason.
The team added quality veterans at positions of need by signing underrated two-way winger Nino Niederreiter to an affordable two-year contract and prying Ryan McDonagh loose from the cap-strapped Tampa Bay Lightning. The Predators will be more competitive in 2022-23, but how much more competitive is the question?
While the Stars pushed the Calgary Flames to the brink in the opening round of last season's playoffs, the series wasn't as close as it appeared. Jake Oettinger masked a lot of problems, such as depth scoring. Dallas paid a hefty price for Mason Marchment's services to add more pop beyond the top line. The Stars also brought in Pete DeBoer as the team's new head coach. Assuming Jason Robertson and Oettinger get new contracts in due time, Dallas should be a competent side again.
The Jets are coming off a very disappointing campaign. Some of their stars failed to perform up to expectation, and Winnipeg didn't have the depth to compensate. Despite that, the Jets didn't make any changes of note to their roster. Outside of signing David Rittich - following a poor season - to replace backup Eric Comrie, they're essentially running back the same team that won 39 games in 2021-22. New head coach Rick Bowness has his work cut out for him.
The Blackhawks finished 27th last year, and there are reasons to believe things could get worse before they get better. Chicago shipped star winger Alex DeBrincat to the Ottawa Senators and Kirby Dach to the Montreal Canadiens for futures. It seems like it is only a matter of time before Patrick Kane and/or Jonathan Toews meet the same fate.
Chicago also walked away from notable players like Dylan Strome and Dominik Kubalik in free agency. That's a lot of talent to lose, with Max Domi, Andreas Athanasiou, and, most recently, Jack Johnson being the most notable additions. This team is destined to contend for Connor Bedard.
Last and perhaps least, we have the Coyotes. They're going to be bad in 2022-23. Like the Blackhawks, they've focused more on shipping out talent than bringing it in.
Arizona continues to stockpile other teams' bad contracts - like Zack Kassian - in exchange for draft picks and prospects that will better serve the club down the road. The Coyotes lack firepower and depth, and things will only get worse when Jakob Chychrun is moved. It's going to be another long season in the desert.
Todd Cordell is a sports betting writer at theScore. Be sure to follow him on Twitter @ToddCordell.