2016 NHL Free Agency: Central Division roundup

2016 NHL Free Agency: Central Division roundup

Before NHL free agency even opened up on July 1, the Central Division saw a major shakeup when the Nashville Predators acquired P.K. Subban from the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for captain Shea Weber. It served as the perfect appetizer to what turned out to be a busy weekend.

Here's a recap of how each team in the Central fared:

Chicago Blackhawks

The Blackhawks made perhaps the most team-friendly signing by inking defenseman Brian Campbell to a one-year deal that carries a $1.5 million cap hit. It's an incredible bargain for a team that needs every penny to stay below the salary cap ceiling, and his willingness to take a hometown discount gives general manager Stan Bowman some extra flexibility when filling out the remainder of the roster.

Campbell reportedly left roughly $3 million on the table to return to Chicago for a chance to win another Stanley Cup at the age of 37. But make no mistake, Campbell believes he still has a lot left in the tank and the numbers back it up.

He registered 31 points in 82 regular-season games with the Florida Panthers last season, his highest point total since the 2012-13 season, and also led all defensemen with a plus-31 rating.

Campbell isn't just here for the ride. He's a guy that immediately slots into a top-four role and boosts a blue line group that was asked to rely fairly heavily upon young defensemen a year ago.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

Colorado Avalanche

The Avalanche were supposed to be an interesting team to watch throughout the NHL Draft and heading into free agency, but have remained very quiet. There's still uncertainty regarding restricted free agent defenseman Tyson Barrie.

General manager Joe Sakic said Barrie won't be traded, but the longer this drags on, the more trade chatter it will generate.

While there's isn't much concern on this front, Nathan MacKinnon, also an unrestricted free agent, remains unsigned, as does Mikhail Grigorenko. 

Colorado added 26-year-old center Joe Colborne on a two-year, $5 million contract after setting career-highs in goals (19), assists (25) and points (44) last season with the Calgary Flames.

In an effort to shore up the back end, the Avalanche signed defensemen Fedor Tyutin (one-year, $2 million deal), who was recently bought out by the Columbus Blue Jackets, and Patrick Wiercioch (one-year, $800,000).

Dallas Stars

The Stars' No. 1 priority entering the offseason was to address their leaky defense, and they may have actually taken a step back in that department — at least as it currently stands.

After failing to reach an agreement with Alex Goligoski, the Stars shipped his rights to the Arizona Coyotes, who signed him to a long-term contract. Jason Demers also moved on, signing a five-year deal with the Panthers, while Kris Russell, who was acquired at the trade deadline, has yet to find a home but isn't expected to return to Dallas.

That's three of the Stars' top-four defensemen who logged the most minutes in the postseason out the door.

To help ease those losses, the Stars brought in veteran defenseman Dan Hamhuis on a two-year deal, but it's hard to see how their blue line got better unless they receive major contributions from players like Stephen Johns, who will surely take on a larger role next year.

Ideally, the Stars would like to upgrade their goaltending, such as a trade for Ben Bishop or Marc-Andre Fleury. The problem is, the Stars have $10.4 million tied up to Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi, who are both under contract for the next two years, which means they'd have to find a taker for one (preferably both) to clear space.

Minnesota Wild

The Wild are quietly putting together a solid offseason, and it started with the hiring of Bruce Boudreau, who rounded out his coaching staff with assistants John Anderson and Scott Stevens.

After buying out the final year of Thomas Vanek's contract that carried a $6.5 million cap hit, the Wild took advantage of that extra money by signing center Eric Staal to a three-year, $10.5 million deal, which plugs a big hole they've been looking to patch up for a while now.

They also took a flier on bringing back power forward Chris Stewart on a reasonable two-year, $2.3 million prove-it deal.

The Wild may not be done, either. With a crowded blue line and the restricted free agency of up-and-coming defenseman Matthew Dumba, who remains unsigned, the Wild could look to move him for another top-six forward.

[MORE TEAM TALK: 2016 NHL Draft: Report Cards for Central Division]

Nashville Predators

After making a huge splash in the Subban-for-Weber swap, the Predators flew under the radar over the weekend. The only move they made was signing Yannick Weber, a bottom pairing depth defenseman, to a one-year deal worth $575,000.

They did, however, take care of important business in-house by locking up Filip Forsberg to a six-year, $36 million extension. It's great value for a player who's scored a total of 59 goals in his first two seasons in the NHL, and he's only going to get better at 21 years of age.

St. Louis Blues

The Blues lost a ton of leadership in their locker room with David Backes signing a six-year deal in Boston and Troy Brouwer cashing in on a four-year, $18 million deal with the Flames, who also acquired goaltender Brian Elliott from St. Louis. Those are three key pieces to St. Louis' postseason run last year.

It's also entirely possible the Blues trade Kevin Shattenkirk, who has one year left on his contract worth $4.25 million, with the emergence of rookie defenseman Colton Parayko. The return for Shattenkirk would likely fetch a top-six forward, which would certainly fill a need.

David Perron returning to the Blues on a two-year, $7 million isn't a bad consolation, either. He suits the Blues' style of hockey, and his 20 points in 28 games with the Anaheim Ducks last season was a sign that his two-year stint in Pittsburgh was simply a bad fit. But he's no Backes or Brouwer, and it'd be asking a lot out of Perron to match what they brought to the table.

The Blues solidied their crease by extending Jake Allen four years worth $17.4 million and inking Carter Hutton to a two-year, $2.25 million deal.

Winnipeg Jets

The Jets are in rebuild mode, but they're quickly becoming a team that will be exciting to watch in the next few years as Kyle Connor and Patrik Laine prepare to make their transition to the NHL.

Because of that, it didn't make sense for the Jets to spend big in free agency, so they instead added a few role players in forwards Quinton Howden (one-year, $650,000 deal) and Shawn Matthias (two-year, $4.25 million), and defenseman Brian Strait (one-year, $600,000).

The big question is what happens with Jacob Trouba, who's a restricted free agent. He'd be a valuable trade piece, but he's also viewed as a player who can become a top-pairing defenseman in the near future. The decision should be made soon.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. One big reunion.

The Blackhawks will square off with the Blue Jackets for the first time since Oct. 7, which was the second game of the season. In that game, they won 5-1 led by Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad, each of whom scored a goal and added an assist.

Of course, that was the first game since the offseason trade that sent Artemi Panarin to Columbus and Saad back to Chicago, along with Anton Forsberg. Artem Anisimov, of course, was part of the original deal that sent Saad to Columbus in 2015, so there are a lot of emotional ties between the two teams.

Forsberg didn't get a chance to face the Blue Jackets in the first meeting, but there's a chance he will this time with it being the second of a back-to-back and Jean-Francois Berube getting the start in Friday's 3-1 win over San Jose.

2. Panarin and Kane bromance.

The emotions of a difficult break-up have probably died down by now, but Panarin and Kane gave us this moment at center ice during pregame warmups in their first game against each other and it hit Chicago right in the feels:

Panarin has spent enough time apart from Kane for people to realize how big of a star he is in his own right, leading the Blue Jackets in all three scoring categories: goals (17), assists (32) and points (49).

He hasn't gone more than three games this season without recording a point, and is looking to extend his point streak to four games, which would tie a season high.

3. Struggling Blue Jackets special teams.

The Blue Jackets got off to a great start but are barely clinging onto a wild card spot going into Saturday's game, and a big reason for that slide is their lack of success on special teams. Usually one can pick up the slack for the other, but they've been brutal in both departments.

The Blue Jackets are 0-for-9 on the power play in their past five games and are ranked 31st overall, converting on only 14.1 percent of their opportunities. They also have own the 27th-ranked penalty kill with a 76.3 percent success rate.

So if there's an area the Blackhawks can exploit, it's that. But, you know, still be mindful of that Russian winger's one-timer from the faceoff circle.

Jean-Francois Berube impressed in his first Blackhawks start


Jean-Francois Berube impressed in his first Blackhawks start

Jean-Francois Berube got his first start of the season on Friday night, and it couldn't have gone any better.

The 26-year-old goaltender stopped 42 of 43 shots, a career-high for him in saves, in the Blackhawks' 3-1 win over the San Jose Sharks at the United Center.

Since Corey Crawford went down with a head injury last December, the Blackhawks have been searching for consistency in the crease. 

The pair of Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass — who was assigned to Rockford on Feb. 15 and replaced with Berube — have had their ups and downs since then. With the Blackhawks out of the playoff picture, Berube had an opportunity showcase his skills, and he didn't disappoint.

"We were very happy with him," said coach Joel Quenneville. "I thought he did a great job. He was comfortable. I thought he was very patient in his net. Absorbing a lot of pucks with people in front of him was good. Closed some gaps and got … of the top of the paint. Rebound control was effective. Nice response from a long absence."

Berube's last — and only — appearance with the Blackhawks prior to Friday's game came on Dec. 6, relieving Forsberg in a game against the Washington Capitals. He recorded 12 saves of 14 shots. 

When Crawford got injured, Berube was the primary candidate to become the team's backup goaltender. The only problem? He was injured too, so the Blackhawks promoted Glass.

"I didn't want to sit and think about it," Berube said of his injury. "At the same time, it was great for Glasser. He was one of those guys that probably deserved it earlier in his career and he finally got his chance. Sometimes you need a guy to go down to have your chance. So I was mostly happy for him.

On Friday night, he got his chance.

"You always want to have a good impression for your first game," Berube said. "I know what I can do at this level, so it was just a matter of getting the opportunity to play and showing people what I can do."

Celebrating his 22nd birthday, Nick Schmaltz also had a goal and an assist. Artem Anisimov scored an empty-netter.

"It's a lot more fun coming to the rink when you're winning, enjoying each other, playing well as a team," Schmaltz said of the Blackhawks' win, which have now won three of their last four games. "Hopefully we can keep that good energy and bring it to the rink every day, and build off of that.

"You never know where this team can go, a lot of great players, lots of guys that have had a lot of success. Hopefully we can continue to put together solid efforts."