Blackhawks

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.

Corey Crawford expects to make season debut for Blackhawks on Thursday vs. Arizona

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USA TODAY

Corey Crawford expects to make season debut for Blackhawks on Thursday vs. Arizona

The wait is almost over.

After missing nearly 10 months with a concussion, Corey Crawford said he expects to start on Thursday when the Blackhawks take on the Arizona Coyotes at the United Center. An official decision will come following the team's morning skate.

"It feels good to be back to myself," Crawford said. "I'm feeling good, I'm feeling clear. ... It was a pretty long process. But I think the most important thing was not to rush anything. When I finally was out, it got to a point where I wasn’t in shape to play and it was time to rest and it’s unfortunate it took a lot longer than I would’ve liked. 

"It’s been long, but finally, just to get back and be practicing with the team has meant a lot. It’s good to get to this point now when you’re really close to playing. Practices have been great, been getting timing a little bit more and getting up to speed and reading shots and all that, so it'll be nice to finally get in one."

Crawford's last appearance in an NHL game was Dec. 23, 2017 against the New Jersey Devils when he allowed three goals on seven shots in 13:22 of action before getting pulled. So of course, emotions will naturally be running high, especially in front of the hometown crowd.

"I'm sure I'll be a little anxious getting into it," Crawford said. "Some nerves. But we'll see. We'll wait until the morning, but I'm definitely excited I can tell you that."

It's obviously terrific news for the Blackhawks, who have picked up eight out of a possible 10 points to start the season and are getting their two-time Stanley Cup winning goalie back between the pipes. It's been a long time coming, and Crawford is coming back into a healthy situation where the Blackhawks are in a good spot in the standings.

"It's great news, I'm sure it'll be exciting for him exciting for our team, exciting for our fans and the organization as well," Patrick Kane said. "It’s probably a good situation all around. Cam [Ward] has done a great job of playing in the net so far. Crow is really good in practice right now, so I’m sure he’s itching to get back, too. We’ve had a good start here. It’s something we want to keep going, and I’m sure him coming back on home ice, in front of our crowd, will be a fun one for him and for our team."

There's no doubting how important Crawford is the team and organization. While there may be a little bit of rust early on, the Blackhawks are expecting him to look like his old self.

"He means a lot to the team," Quenneville said. "We felt last year was a good example of how important he was and how well he was playing for us, as well. We’ve gotten off to a decent start and he was a big factor in it. We know that goaltending is such a big part of the team and your success a lot of nights depends on him and his consistency’s always been in place.

"But he looks good in the net. He’s been off for a long, long time. Is there rust? Do we expect rust? I think the way he’s competing and practicing and finding pucks, he looks like he hasn’t missed a beat. So we’re looking forward to him getting in there and getting comfortable and how he’s feeling going forward will dictate a lot of the decisions about him going back in."

Hawks Talk Podcast: Crawford's return, Saad's demotion and power play concerns

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USA TODAY

Hawks Talk Podcast: Crawford's return, Saad's demotion and power play concerns

In the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle, Charlie Roumeliotis and Slavko Bekovic provide their thoughts on the Blackhawks’ 3-0-2 start.

They also discuss Brandon Saad’s demotion and whether it could serve as a wake-up call, Corey Crawford’s potential return on Thursday vs. Arizona and what could happen with Anton Forsberg because of it, and address the power play concerns.

The guys wrap up the podcast by making a few bold predictions going forward.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below, and be sure to subscribe, rate us and write a review!