Top NHL teams launched into damage control again this summer.
Facing a nearly flat salary cap, most contenders couldn’t improve. Instead, they tried to mitigate the impact of personnel losses suffered through free agency and salary-cutting trades.
The Blues lost power-play triggerman David Perron and goaltender Ville Husso, but many Central Division rivals took big hits, too.
The Colorado Avalanche lost goaltender Darcy Kuemper, 61-point scorer Andre Burakovsky and, quite possibly, 87-point scorer Nazem Kadri. The Minnesota Wild lost 33-goal scorer Kevin Fiala, and the Dallas Stars could lose defenseman John Klingberg — a free agent who, like Kadri, remains unsigned.
Here’s the bottom line on this side of the league: The Avalanche loom as Stanley Cup favorites, the Blues retain a clear playoff path, the Nashville Predators displace the Wild as their immediate rival and the Pacific Division emerges with more balance.
Colorado hockey czar Joe Sakic is betting that incumbent Pavel Francouz and newly acquired Alexandar Georgiev can flourish in goal behind the team’s firepower.
Sakic re-signed power forward Valeri Nichushkin as well as excellent late-season acquisitions Artturi Lehkonen, an all-purpose winger, and Josh Manson, a rugged defender.
When the marketplace music stopped, Kadri still was standing, so he must lessen his demands while hoping a team creates cap space for him.
Blues general manager Doug Armstrong couldn’t afford to keep Husso after his breakthrough season, and he had to pick between re-signing defenseman Nick Leddy or Perron.
He chose Leddy, believing his return would settle the defensive corps after last season’s blue-line shuffle. That commitment (four years, $16 million) cost Armstrong cap flexibility that might have helped him acquire Matthew Tkachuk from the Calgary Flames.