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Offseason assessment: Central Division

Thursday, 07.28.2011 / 9:00 AM / 2011 Offseason News

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

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Offseason assessment: Central Division
The Red Wings lost a few key pieces but still have Nicklas Lidstrom. The Predators and Blackhawks are intent on making the playoffs again, while the Blues and Blue Jackets attempt to get back.

It'll take until at least Christmas to know how the decisions made by all 30 teams will alter the playing field in the NHL for the 2011-12 season. But with the offseason news in quiet mode, there's no better time to look back at what has transpired and look ahead to what could be in store for next season.

NHL.com is here to take you on a tour of all six divisions, providing a breakdown of every team, including their additions, subtractions and up-and-comers.

Here is a look at the Central Division:

Detroit had to replace some of its history, but not the biggest piece. Nashville decided it can compete with a core that needs to get locked up and younger players who must get better. Chicago spent money to bolster its depth and get tougher while St. Louis got older in the hopes of getting better. Not to be outdone, Columbus finally made the splash its fans have been waiting for.

Here is the entire breakdown of the division:

DETROIT RED WINGSLast season: 47-25-10, 104 points (1st place Central, 3rd place Western Conference)

Additions: Ian White, D; Mike Commodore, D; Ty Conklin, G; Chris Conner, RW

Subtractions: Brian Rafalski, D; Kris Draper, C; Chris Osgood, G, Mike Modano, C; Ruslan Salei, D

Up-and-comers: Brendan Smith, D; Thomas McCollum, G; Cory Emmerton, C; Jan Mursak, LW; Tomas Tatar, C

The Red Wings have bid farewell to three players with a combined 10 Stanley Cup rings as Rafalski, Osgood and Draper all decided to retire. Rafalski's decision was surprising, considering he left with one year and $6 million remaining on his contract. Osgood and Draper were free agents and both accepted jobs within the organization.

The good news is that Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom agreed to return for another season, so the Wings aren't going into complete shock. That said, replacing Rafalski is no easy task, but it likely falls on the shoulders of White, who signed a two-year contract with the Wings on July 1.

Commodore was brought in to replace Salei, but there's a chance that Smith and Jakub Kindl, who played 48 games last season, could compete to crack the Wings' top six, which already includes Lidstrom, White, Niklas Kronwall, Jonathan Ericsson and Brad Stuart.

Despite losing Draper and letting Modano walk to either another team or into retirement (still undecided), the Red Wings remain intact up front. Detroit has 14 forwards under contract, and that doesn't include Conner, who is on a two-way deal. Mursak and Emmerton could push for more time in the NHL this coming season.

NASHVILLE PREDATORSLast season: 44-27-11, 99 points (2nd place Central, 5th place West)

Additions: Niclas Bergfors, RW; Zack Stortini, RW; Brett Lebda, D

Subtractions: Cody Franson, D; Matthew Lombardi, C; Joel Ward, RW; Marcel Goc, C; Steve Sullivan, LW; J-P Dumont, RW; Shane O'Brien, D

Up-and-comers: Blake Geoffrion, LW; Jonathon Blum, D; Ryan Ellis, D; Craig Smith, C

Getting captain Shea Weber to sign a long-term contract prior to his scheduled arbitration hearing on Aug. 2 is general manager David Poile's main priority -- and has been since the Predators were eliminated from the playoffs by Vancouver. Weber will be a Predator this season no matter what happens, but the team and the player would like to avoid the arbitration hearing and get the big deal done.

Beyond Weber, defenseman Ryan Suter and goalie Pekka Rinne are also entering the final year of their contracts. You can bet that as soon as Weber is under contract, Poile will go to work on getting Suter and Rinne to sign long-term extensions. He does not want any of them to get to unrestricted free agency because the Predators' entire philosophy is built around the back end those three represent.

However, in order to build on the best playoff performance in franchise history, Nashville will need a handful of its younger players to take significant steps forward in their development. All eyes are on Geoffrion, Blum, Colin Wilson, Matt Halischuk and Cal O'Reilly. These five all saw significant time in the NHL last season and are now in line to become full-time players.

The Predators could also use more production out of Patric Hornqvist, who had 30 goals in 2009-10 but only 21 last season, and more of the same from Sergei Kostitsyn. The ex-Canadien had a career-best 50 points in his first season in Nashville.

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKSLast season: 44-29-9, 97 points (3rd place Central, 8th place West)

Additions: Rostislav Olesz, LW; Andrew Brunette, LW; Jamal Mayers, RW; Daniel Carcillo, LW; Steve Montador, D; Sami Lepisto, D; Sean O'Donnell, D

Subtractions: Tomas Kopecky, RW; Troy Brouwer, LW; Brian Campbell, D; Fernando Pisani, RW; Chris Campoli, D; Ryan Johnson, C; Jake Dowell, C; Jordan Hendry, D; Marty Turco, G

Up-and-comers: Marcus Kruger, C; Ben Smith, RW; Dylan Olsen, D; Shawn Lalonde, D; Brandon Pirri, C; Jeremy Morin, LW; Kyle Beach, LW

The Blackhawks will not get pushed around this season. General manager Stan Bowman made sure of that by signing Mayers, Carcillo, O'Donnell and Montador to go along with Brunette and Lepisto.

Chicago got significantly tougher, and now coach Joel Quenneville won't have to rely on John Scott to move up into a forward role as he did against Vancouver in the first round last season. The question, though, is did the Blackhawks get significantly better?

Quenneville could slide Brunette right into a first-line role on the left wing of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Brunette, 37, has to prove he can skate with the two superstars -- but if Quenneville likes the fit, Toews and Kane will be playing with a veteran who has more than 1,000 games and 700 points on his resume.

Campbell was viewed as expendable so Bowman traded him to Florida to free up the cap room needed to bolster the Hawks' depth, which was lacking last season. Montador, who signed a four-year, $11 million contract, could move into Campbell's old spot alongside Niklas Hjalmarsson. He doesn't skate or move the puck like Campbell, but he brings toughness to the ice and he has some offensive skill.

ST. LOUIS BLUESLast season: 38-33-11, 87 points (4th place Central, 11th place West)

Additions: Jason Arnott, C; Jamie Langenbrunner, RW; Scott Nichol, C; Kent Huskins, D; Brian Elliott, G

Subtractions: Paul Kariya, LW; Cam Janssen, LW; Ty Conklin, G

Up-and-comers: Ian Cole, D; Philip McRae, C

St. Louis general manager Doug Armstrong clearly felt he had to beef up the Blues' depth and experience up front because they are filled with young, talented and still somewhat raw forwards, including Chris Stewart, T.J. Oshie, Patrik Berglund and David Perron.

He brought in former Cup-winners Arnott and Langenbrunner, both of whom should act as mentors as well as important contributors. However, if the Blues want to contend now and feel good about their future, Oshie, Berglund and Perron (provided he's recovered from his concussion-symptoms) all must step up their production. In the cases of Oshie and Perron, they're playing for new contracts.

If all goes to plan, Arnott and Langenbrunner should be bottom-six players with David Backes, Andy McDonald, Perron, Oshie, Stewart and Berglund making up the Blues' top six. If it doesn't, the Blues could be in line for a long season with some serious changes coming afterward.

St. Louis' defense is a different story. It seems to be more set with Huskins coming in as a sixth or seventh guy behind promising youngsters Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo along with Roman Polak, Barrett Jackman and Carlo Colaiacovo. Nikita Nikitin could earn more time on the blue line as well.

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETSLast season: 34-35-13, 81 points (5th place Central, 13th place West)

Additions: Jeff Carter, C; Vinny Prospal, C/W; James Wisniewski, D; Radek Martinek, D; Mark Dekanich, G

Subtractions: Jakub Voracek, RW; Jan Hejda, D; Chris Clark, RW; Scottie Upshall, RW; Ethan Moreau, LW; Nikita Filatov, LW; Mathieu Garon, G; Craig Rivet, D; Anton Stralman, D

Up-and-comers: Ryan Johansen, C; Maksim Mayorov, LW; John Moore, D

The Blue Jackets made headlines at the draft and on July 1 by acquiring Carter from the Flyers and signing Wisniewski to a long-term contract. Carter should serve as the No. 1 center that captain Rick Nash has never had in Columbus, while Wisniewski appears to be coming into his own as a reliable blueliner and power-play quarterback.

Columbus has never had a good power play, but with Carter, Nash, Wisniewski, R.J. Umberger and the recently signed Prospal, the No. 1 unit should be solid. Prospal was a key addition because the Blue Jackets will be without left wing Kristian Huselius for a while as he recovers from offseason surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle.

Coach Scott Arniel could pencil in a top line of Carter, Nash and Umberger and a second line of Derick Brassard, Prospal and Antoine Vermette. That's a versatile top six as Carter, Prospal, Brassard and Vermette could all play center and take faceoffs.

There is room for some of the Jackets' top prospects to impress in training camp and make the big club. Look for Johansen and Moore to make big pushes. Johansen was the No. 4 pick at the 2010 Entry Draft and Moore was the No. 21 pick in 2009.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

Quote of the Day

They said, 'You're going to love the city. It's smaller than Philadelphia, but you're going to love it. You're going to love the fans. Just watching the playoffs last year, the fans seemed louder there than they did anywhere. I'm really excited about that.

— Forward Scott Hartnell on his upcoming season with the Columbus Blue Jackets