Central Division free-agency preview: Chicago aims to shore up D, Predators hunt for scorers

The Chicago Blackhawks won the Central Division last season, only to be swept in the first round by the Nashville Predators. That propelled the Preds from a 16th-seeded squad to a Stanley Cup finalist. Meanwhile, the St. Louis Blues look to retool on the fly after handing the Minnesota Wild a first-round upset loss. (Free agents are unrestricted unless noted as restricted free agents.)

Chicago Blackhawks

Notable free agents:DJohnny Oduya, DBrian Campbell

Needs: The Blackhawks made big changes following their premature exit from the playoffs. They still need to strengthen their defense, but a challenging salary-cap predicament must be resolved first.

Cap space:$3 million over the cap

Big moves so far: Chicago shipped dynamic winger Artemi Panarin to theColumbus Blue Jacketsin exchange for former Blackhawks left wingerBrandon Saad and Anton Forsberg, a promising goalie prospect. It also dealt rugged rearguard Niklas Hjalmarsson to theArizona Coyotesfor two young players. The Hawks lost another trusted defenseman, Trevor van Riemsdyk, in an expansion-draft deal. WingerMarian Hossa's career is in jeopardy because of a skin disorder, though placing him on long-term injured reserve might alleviate Chicago's cap burden.

Colorado Avalanche

Notable free agents:RWSven Andrighetto (RFA), LWMatt Nieto (RFA)

Needs: Everything. Colorado was abysmal last season. Its 48 points was the lowest total since the NHL implemented the salary cap and eliminated tie games in 2005-06. Other than centerNathan MacKinnon, everyone on the Avs' roster is on the market. The price on attractive commodities such as centerMatt Duchene and left wingerGabriel Landeskog has been prohibitively high, however.

Cap space: $21.6 million

Big moves so far: Colorado bought out defenseman Francois Beauchemin and lost goalie Calvin Pickard in the expansion draft. The Avs drafted defenseman Cale Makar No. 4 overall, but it appears unlikely the 18-year-old Alberta Junior Hockey League product will make his debut this season.

Dallas Stars

Notable free agents: CRadek Faksa (RFA), RWBrett Ritchie (RFA), LWJiri Hudler, RWAles Hemsky, LWPatrick Sharp

Needs: Fans usually reserve chants of "de-fense!" this loud for basketball games. The Stars traded for stay-at-home defenseman Marc Methot. Julius Honka, an offensive-minded blueliner, heads their prospects list. Sharp, Hudler and Hemsky all dealt with serious injuries last season, so the Stars might try to get younger behind their core forwards.

Cap space: $18.4 million

Big moves so far: Dallas landed goalie Ben Bishop and signed him to a six-year deal. The Stars had been overinvested in two underperforming netminders, the since-bought-out Antti Niemi and the pricy Kari Lehtonen. Dallas also brought back Ken Hitchcock, who coached Dallas to its only Stanley Cup, in 1999.

Minnesota Wild

Notable free agents:CMartin Hanzal, CMikael Granlund (RFA), RWNino Niederreiter (RFA)

Needs: Trade-deadline acquisition Hanzal appears headed elsewhere, but Granlund and Niederreiter will likely stay on with a deep Minnesota club. Barring a bold trade, the Wild will use their cap space to retain players and reshape their supporting cast.

Cap space: $13.4 million

Big moves so far: Minnesota parted ways with a solid prospect in forwardAlex Tuch and restricted free agent forward Erik Haula in order to keep Vegas away from its unprotected standouts in the expansion draft.

Nashville Predators

Notable free agents:CRyan Johansen (RFA), RWViktor Arvidsson (RFA), LWAustin Watson (RFA), LWPontus Aberg (RFA), CMike Fisher

Needs: This team needs scoring, both keeping it and adding more of it. Long-term deals for their top point producer, Johansen, and leading goal scorer, Arvidsson, are musts. A replacement for wingerJames Neal-- who was lost in the expansion draft -- and an additional offensive threat would be compelling additions to the Western Conference champions.

Cap space: $22.7 million

Big moves so far: The Preds lost Neal in the expansion draft but had a subtle but shrewd entry draft.

St. Louis Blues

Notable free agents:DColton Parayko (RFA), RWScottie Upshall

Needs: The Blues have sustained the losses of T.J. Oshie, David Backes and Kevin Shattenkirk recently without losing much ground in the standings. St. Louis has no glaring positional need, enabling it to pursue a free agent or two based on quality rather than necessity.

Cap space: $10.9 million

Big moves so far: The Blues acquired Brayden Schenn via trade from the Philadelphia Flyers. Schenn can play center or wing, and he scored 51 goals over the past two seasons. St. Louis traded away centerJori Lehtera and right wingerRyan Reaves on draft day when it added multiple intriguing prospects.

Winnipeg Jets

Notable free agents:GConnor Hellebuyck (RFA), DPaul Postma, CAndrew Copp (RFA)

Needs: With few free agents, the Jets can make strides toward improving defensively. Winnipeg surrendered more than three goals a game last season as its banged-up defense and subpar trio of goalies struggled. The Jets might look for a mobile, two-way defender and a concrete No. 1 netminder, though they might not quite spend up to the cap ceiling.

Cap space: $18.5 million

Big moves so far: The Jets have been quiet thus far, but they have the ability to pursue even the biggest names on the market given their cap situation.
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