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Division Primer: The Central

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Our final division primer takes a look at the Central, home of the reigning Western Conference champs.

Minnesota Wild v St Louis Blues - Game Three Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

We previously previewed the Metro, Atlantic and Pacific divisions, but saved the best in hockey for last – home of the reigning Western Conference champs!

That still feels so good to say.

Best Offseason Acquisition:

Brayden Schenn, St. Louis Blues

Only four players tallied more power play goals than Sidney Crosby a season ago. One was Alex Ovechkin, of course. Another was Nikita Kucherov. Both had 17.

The third player to tie for the league lead? Brayden Schenn.

St. Louis acquired Schenn from the Flyers in exchange for Jori Lehtera’s horrid contract ($4.7 million cap hit), the 27th overall pick in the 2017 draft (Morgan Frost) and a 2018 conditional first-round pick. Worth the investment? I believe so.

Critics are still waiting for Schenn to become a true all-around center in the league after his face-off percentage went down last year to a mere 47 percent. But he’s only 26 years old entering the fifth full season of his career, and the move to the Lou should open up greater opportunities. His lethal offense on the man advantage is what the Blues traded for.

Over his last two seasons in Philly, Schenn ranked fourth in the NHL with 28 power play goals (more than Crosby, Kucherov) and tied for 10th in power play points (50). He also hasn’t been too shabby at even strength in that span with 51 goals and 114 points.

The Blues were already eighth in the league on power plays in 2016-17 (21.3 percent), and that number is sure to increase with the addition of Schenn. The former Flyer should be eager to play with a more threatening line, potentially with Vladimir Tarasenko, but at the very least on his power play unit. Last season with the Flyers, a quarter of Schenn’s even strength ice time came alongside Sean Couturier and Dale Weise, so even tag teaming with the likes of Alex Steen will be an upgrade.

If Schenn earns a spot on the Vlady-Paul Stastny top line, a career year is in order. Look for him to eclipse the 60-point mark for the first time.

Worst Offseason Acquisition:

Dmitry Kulikov, Winnipeg Jets

The Jets signed a defenseman who missed 35 games due to injury and has never topped 30 points in his career.

The 14th overall pick in the 2009 draft managed just 17 points in 74 games two seasons ago, then was dealt to the Buffalo Sabres in 2016 where he suffered a back injury in the preseason. Kulikov managed to play in only 47 games and had two goals and three assists.

Even with that said, Winnipeg felt so compelled to grab Kulikov in free agency that they paid him $13 million over three years. Defensemen with an equal or lesser cap hit: John Klingberg ($4.2 million), Shayne Gostisbehere ($4.5 million) and to use a non-defenseman example, our very own Viktor Arvidsson ($4.2 million).

Kulikov isn’t an offensive-minded player on the blue line, as evidenced by his 51.1 offensive zone start percentage, making this acquisition pretty bland on paper.

Other Notable Additions:

Brandon Saad, Chicago Blackhawks

The Chicago-Columbus offseason trade should favor both teams in the long run – the Blue Jackets added another dynamic playmaker in Artemi Panarin to fit their system, while the Hawks welcome Saad back to the Windy City. Saad should slot back on the top line with Jonathan Toews like old times, with the pair owning a 56.1 Corsi For% and a 61.7 Goals For% when playing together in 2014-15. Chicago was also gifted Anton Forsberg in the trade which will provide an above-average backup goalie for years to come.

Alexander Radulov, Dallas Stars

Radulov was featured on many sports highlight shows (if people still watch those) for his silky stick skills in his first NHL season since 2007-08, but still left Montreal fans wanting more. He was more of a distributor rather than shooter with 12.61 shots per 60 minutes, and at 31-years-old, giving a player of his age a 5-year, $31.25 million deal seems excessive. You can argue he did earn the contract, though, with 54 points in 76 games last season. There’s a chance he’ll join Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin on the Stars’ top line. My how things have changed.

Martin Hanzal, Dallas Stars

Hanzal becomes the second newest Dallas skater who will play in the top six after scoring a career-high 20 goals in 2016-17. There are always injury concerns for the 30-year-old, having 70-plus games just once since 2009-10, but he’s another reason people love Dallas this year.

Ben Bishop, Dallas Stars

The Stars finally have a capable netminder! Dallas owned the worst team save percentage in the league last season (.894), while Bishop has posted a .920 save percentage since his 2012-13 season in Tampa.

Nick Bonino, Nashville Predators

With Mike Fisher’s retirement (sad face), Bonino should see 17-18 minutes of ice time with the Preds and center the second power play unit. I see 45 points coming for Bonino with greater opportunity in Smashville.

Steve Mason, Winnipeg Jets

Steve Mason will continue to be timeshare goalie, this time in Winnipeg after splitting time with Michal Neuvirth in Philadelphia. The Jets gave him two years, $8.2 million to be the veteran presence while Connor Hellebuyck will earn more starts.

“The Boys are Back in Town”

In other notable acquisitions, Patrick Sharp (Chicago Blackhawks) and Scott Hartnell (Nashville Predators) return to their roots on one-year, $1 million deals.

Player to Watch:

Charlie Coyle

The Minnesota Wild are loaded with young forwards, with the likes of Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter and Jason Zucker all 25 years or under. But the forgotten player in the group is Charlie Coyle.

Coyle is only 24 years old old and has increased his point totals year by year, including a career-best 56 last season. If he continue to progress, he’ll become a 60-point player who comes at a very team-friendly $3.2 million per year. That’s one of the top bargains in the league.

There’s reason to believe he will in fact reach the 60-point pedestal with the roster construction in Minnesota. Zach Parise is never going to have another relevant offensive season, they shipped Jason Pominville to Buffalo and Erik Haula was drafted by Vegas. That’s 28 goals lost from the two departures, and will give Coyle more ice time and scoring routes to register 20-plus goals again like he did in 2015-16.

Coach or GM On The Hot Seat:

The Colorado Avalanche

Enough said.

Too harsh?

Editor’s note: No, not too harsh.