32 NHL clubs will report for training camp later this month after a busy summer that saw over 100 free agent signings and 60 trades. A number of teams will look dramatically different because of moves to improve, rebuild or made out of necessity to adjust to the league’s flat salary cap.
Here is how teams in the Central Division will look to start the 2021-22 regular season next month.
If you’ve ever seen the movie “Con Air” and remember the scene at an airfield with a bunch of old, broken down airplanes……that is representative of what the 2021-22 Arizona Coyotes will be. GM Bill Armstrong orchestrated a systematic dismantling of the club, focusing on shedding long-term deals with big salaries (Ekman-Larsson, Dvorak) and replenishing draft capital by becoming a depository of expiring bad contracts from other clubs.
New coach Andre Tourigny will be piloting a club with players (Ladd, Beagle, Eriksson, Stralman) on the downslope of their career and others looking to get their careers on track (Gostisbehere, Dzingel). Arizona’s borderline NHL goaltending (Hutton, Korenar) will give them a good chance at 32nd place.
Even in a summer when GM Stan Bowman adds an All-Star defenseman, a two-time Cup winning center and a future Hall-of-Fame goalie, the biggest addition may be the return of team captain Jonathan Toews. Toews missed all of last season due to illness and if healthy, gives the Hawks solid strength up the middle with youngster Kirby Dach and Johnson.
Jones is a dominant top-pairing blueliner that Chicago has not had since Keith’s heyday and McCabe is a legitimate top-four defenseman coming back from an ACL injury. The tandem of Fleury and Kevin Lankinen is a significant upgrade and could be the difference between making or missing the playoffs.
GM Joe Sakic had to make some tough choices with Vezina nominee Grubauer, winger Gabriel Landeskog and star defenseman Cale Makar looking for new contracts. The team captain signed an eight-year, $56 million contract and Makar was locked up for six years at an AAV of $9 million, but Grubauer chose to go to Seattle, forcing the Av’s to trade prospect Timmins to Arizona for Kuemper.
Colorado lost a solid depth forward in Donskoi in the expansion draft and had to dispatch Graves to New Jersey for cap relief, but did get a solid depth defenseman in Murray. They are the best in the division and the favorite to come out of the West.
The Stars struggled offensively due to injuries to key players (Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov, Roope Hintz) and just missed the playoffs. GM Jim Nill did not make any major moves, losing big blueliner Oleksiak to Seattle and replacing him with free agents Suter (bought out by Minnesota) and Hakanpaa.
The curious move was the signing of Holtby to a one-year, $2 million contract to join the tandem of Jake Oettinger and veteran Anton Khudobin, which eventually could result in Nill trading one to a club in need of a goalie at the deadline.