Someone on twitter asked me to do a future outlook of the central division. I decided to examine the teams salary cap, plus what I already know about the players/teams to decide which clubs are trending up and which ones are trending down. I then provide a short overview on how I came to my conclusion.
First, we look at the salary cap outlook of each team over the next three season found below.
All salary cap data is from Cap Friendly.
Chicago and St Louis don’t have much cap space to work with. Luckily for the Blackhawks, they already have their main restricted free agent signed to an extension in Artemi Panarin. The Blues, on the other hand, still need to get Colton Parayko inked before next season.
Minnesota appears to have ample cap space, but they will have large contracts to hand out to the likes of Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter among other forwards.
Nashville will have to shell out some money for Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson, but they still have plenty of cap space.
Winnipeg, Dallas, and Colorado all have plenty of flexibility in terms of cap space over the next three season.
Chicago Blackhawks – Trending Down
We all knew is wasn’t going to last forever. When a GM invests in a core group of players, no matter how good those players are, the championship ride can’t last forever. Players age, decline in talent, and get more expensive.
A players peak years are normally somewhere around the 22-27 age range. Chicago’s only peak players at the moment are probably Panarin, Kruger, and TVR. When Chicago won cups, they did it with guys like Toews, Kane, Hjalmarsson, Keith, and Seabrook at their peak. Like I said, those players are now more expensive and worsening in skill year-by-year. They are all signed with some sort of no trade clause for multiple years into the future. Seabrook alone is signed at damn near $7M per season for 7 more season. We are one year into his contract and no NHL team would dare sign him to a 7×7 deal if he were a free agent today.
Chicago is trending down. They will likely be a mediocre, league average team for a couple more season and eventually start missing the playoffs here and there unless a retooling on the fly occurs soon.
Colorado Avalanche – Trending Up
I know what you’re thinking. How in the world are the 48-point Avalanche trending up? That’s just it, this past season has to have been rock bottom. Can a team get worst than 48-points in the standings? They have to be trending up.
They still have, for now, MacKinnon and Duchene down the middle which is good. Tyson Barrie is a good young defensemen. The key is young help is on the way. Mikko Rantanen was excellent this past season and Tyson Jost and JT Compher are good young forward prospect.
It doesn’t look great, but all Colorado has to do is record more than 48-points each of the next three seasons to be technically trending up. They have a high draft pick this season, some young talent, and plenty of cap flexibility to get it done.
Dallas Stars – Trending Down
This was a tough one. I wanted to put even, as in not trending up or down but staying the same. In the end, I decided I had to pick one of the other, and I could see this team getting worse before it gets better.
On one hand they have great talents like Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and John Klingberg. That’s three really good players to build around.
On the other hand, they have no defensive depth. Klingberg is a top pairing D-man. Hamhuis is a 2nd pairing D-man. The rest of the defensemen on the Stars are most likely 3rd pairing level defensemen for now. The goalies are Niemi and Lehtonen. Enough said.
Dallas has some nice young forwards, but they need to totally rework their backend from defensemen to goalie. I feel like defensemen is actually a bigger flaw currently for them than goalie. That’s how much I think they need to improve the D core over the next three seasons.
In the end, I see this team missing the playoffs for the next two seasons and then returning to playoffs in 2019-20. They need to fix their d-men plus goalie and that doesn’t happen overnight.
Minnesota Wild – Trending Up
This one was a tough decision.
The Minnesota Wild have some older 30+ aged players with big cap hits for the next two to three seasons. Parise and Suter are signed for eight more season. EIGHT!
The team will have to hand out big contracts to Granlund and Niederreiter this offseason and also re-sign Matt Dumba.
Still I think this team has enough talent currently in their peak and skilled young forwards coming up through the system to contend in the playoffs for the next 2-3 seasons.
Bruce Boudreau is also Bruce Boudreau. To the reader, that statement might indicate game-7 choker. I believe Bruce is one of the better coaches in the league and should keep this team contending for years to come.
Nashville Predators – Trending Up
Do I really have to write anything here?
- They are young
- They have great, great, great defensemen
- They have plenty of cap space to work with
- Marc-Édouard Vlasic, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Mattias Ekholm are all the same type of player. Ekholm doesn’t get the same love as the other two.
- Rinne is old and declining (he isn’t showing it this playoffs, but he’s declining) but they have Juuse Saros who is 22 and looks like the next elite NHL goalie.
- Did I mention their defensemen?
St Louis Blues – Trending Up
If the Blues re-signed David Backes and Troy Brouwer, they would be trending down.
Quick side note on how awful Troy Brouwer has been this season: Troy Brouwer has been awful and is signed for three more seasons. He performs equivalent to a league average 4th liner and makes $4.5M per season.
Luckily, St Louis didn’t ink those players to long-term damaging deals. What they do have is great players in Tarasenko, Pietrangelo, Parayko, and Schwartz. They also have some young players coming up including players already in the NHL like Robby Fabbri.
The Blues are tight against the cap next season, but things loosen up after that. My main concern is the amount of $3-$5M contracts they have out to 3rd line talent. That could come back to bite them, but St Louis should have good depth because of it.
Jake Allen is a really good young goalie signed for a team friendly cap hit. He should be an above average goalie for the years to come.
At 33-years-young, Alex Steen could quickly turn into a bad contract. Bouwmeester isn’t as good as he used to be, but at least that contract is over soon.
While things don’t look amazing, they don’t look bad either. I imagine St Louis will stay in the 2nd round playoff range over the next couple seasons. The question is do they have enough top end talent to win a Cup. Probably not.
Winnipeg Jets – Trending Up
The Winnipeg Jets are a frustrating team. They should be good. They have elite young forwards, two elite defensemen, a young goalie of the future, but can’t win games.
They aren’t that bad of a 5v5 team, but are awful at special teams. One has to start looking at Paul Maurice, because on paper, this team should be better.
Their forward depth should be improving as Kyle Connor, Marko Dano, and Nikolaj Ehlers are really good young forwards. Copp, Petan, Armia, and Lowry look like solid bottom-6 type forwards. Perreault is a possession god. Blake Wheeler is underrated. Patrick Laine is Patrik freakin’ Laine. Mark Scheifele is a great young center. Trouba and Byfuglien are both top pairing defensemen. Enstrom and Meyers are overpaid, but they aren’t bad defensemen.
This team shouldn’t suck and shouldn’t continue to suck. Somethings gotta give.
The twitter poll must prove that NHL fans are pessimistic people. The people have voted 5-out-of-7 central division teams are trending down.
We agree on Chicago, Dallas, Nashville, and Winnipeg.
We disagree on Colorado, Minnesota, and St Louis. Although I would say that if “even” or “idle” were an option, I would put the Wild and Blues at even instead of trending up or trending down.