Offseason splashes: NHL Central stockpiled talent
The NHL’s Central Division was the center of attention during a free-wheeling, big-spending scramble for talent this offseason.
Six of the division’s seven teams kept busy in a bid to dethrone the defending Stanley Cup-champion Los Angeles Kings — or maybe just to keep up with the pack.
The moves were a hot topic of discussion among players including Sidney Crosby and Patrick Kane during a recent hockey camp in Vail, Colorado, recalled Avalanche forward Matt Duchene.
“We talked about how it was an arms race in our division,” Duchene said. “If anything, it’s about how strong our division is, and how much it loaded up.”
And that’s not even counting the Blackhawks, who added free-agent forward Brad Richards and signed Kane and captain Jonathan Toews to matching eight-year, $84 million contract extensions.
Here’s a look at a number of the major signings and trades that occurred this offseason:
BLUES BROTHER: Paul Stastny left Colorado to sign with the St. Louis Blues, where his father, Hall of Famer Peter, and brother Yan once played. The six-time 20-goal-scorer provides even more punch to a lineup that includes T.J. Oshie, David Backes and up-and-coming star Vladimir Tarasenko.
BIG DEAL IN BIG D: The stars keep aligning in Dallas. A year after acquiring high-scoring forward Tyler Seguin in a deal with Boston, GM Jim Nill pulled the trigger on another blockbuster by acquiring Senators captain Jason Spezza in a trade that sent forwards Alex Chiasson and Nicholas Paul to Ottawa. The Stars also signed free agent forward Ales Hemsky, who finished last season playing alongside Spezza.
VETERAN HELP: Youth played a factor in Colorado losing Game 7 of its first-round series at home to Minnesota. The Patrick Roy-coached team is now suddenly brimming with veterans after adding forwards Jarome Iginla, Danny Briere, Jesse Winchester and defenseman Brad Stuart to a roster that already includes Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog and rookie of the year Nathan MacKinnon.
LIGHTNING STRIKES: Tampa Bay was among the few Eastern Conference teams to make noise with GM Steve Yzerman landing several additions to bolster a team already flush with young talent. The Lightning grabbed New York Rangers defenseman Anton Stralman and center Brian Boyle, and also signed left wing Brenden Morrow and goalie Evgeni Nabokov. Don’t forget, Tampa Bay already acquired Ryan Callahan in a late-season trade. And Steven Stamkos is back after missing 45 games last season with a broken leg.
OLYMPIC SETTING: Goalie Ryan Miller was a star once already in Vancouver, where he spent two weeks in 2010 helping the United States to win a silver medal at the Olympic Games. Now he gets to play in the Pacific Northwest full-time after signing with the Canucks. Miller, who played his first nine seasons in Buffalo and had a brief stop in St. Louis, is now closer to his Los Angeles-based actress wife, Noureen DeWulf.
VANEK HOMECOMING: The Austrian-born Thomas Vanek, who helped Minnesota to a Frozen Four championship, returned to his adopted home by signing with the Wild. Vanek is a nine-time 20-goal-scorer who is reunited with former Sabres teammate Jason Pominville.
SECOND CITY: Bought out by the New York Rangers, Brad Richards headed to Chicago, where he is expected to fill the second-line center role alongside Kane and Brandon Saad. “This is a great opportunity,” Richards said. “A lot of players would love to get a chance that I’m getting.”
MUSIC CITY MUSCLE: The Nashville Predators made a series of moves to keep pace in the Central Division. They acquired high-scoring forward James Neal in a trade with Pittsburgh, and added more veteran offense by signing Mike Ribeiro and Olli Jokinen in free agency.
CAPITAL D: Alex Ovechkin has a new coach in Barry Trotz and additional defensive help after the Capitals signed former Penguins blue liners Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik.
SABRE RATTLING: After spending much of last season purging the Sabres’ roster, first-year GM Tim Murray finally got a chance to add veteran leadership. Buffalo signed former Canadiens captain Brian Gionta and forward Matt Moulson in free agency, and acquired Canadiens defenseman Josh Jorges in a trade. Jorges immediately won over Sabres fans by noting he rejected a trade to cross-border and Atlantic Division rival Toronto because he didn’t like the Maple Leafs.
AP Sports Writer Pat Graham in Denver contributed to this report.