The Chicago Blackhawks are in a bit of a bind at the moment, with limited salary cap space and with a serious need at second line center. If they are going to address it, they will need to move some pieces to do so, and while the team is debating internally on what exactly they need to do, other teams in the division are getting stronger.
At the NHL Entry Draft over the weekend, both the Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues added some intriguing pieces to their rosters. The Predators acquired James Neal from the Pittsburgh Penguins to bolster their offense, and they came very close to adding center Jason Spezza as well. According to reports, Spezza exercised his no-trade clause to prevent the move to the Music City, but both deals show the team’s eagerness to improve on the offensive side of things.
As for the Blues, they dealt overpriced defenseman Roman Polak to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Carl Gunnarsson and a fourth round draft pick on Saturday. While Polak is a stay-at-home blue liner, Gunnarsson has a great deal of mobility and offensive touch on the back end, and he is going to give the Blues an added offensive dimension on a team already loaded with talented defensemen.
When free agency kicked off on Tuesday, they made another big splash as they signed center Paul Stastny to a four-year contract. The move really solidifies the team up the middle, adding to a core that already includes David Backes and TJ Oshie.
Finally, the Dallas Stars landed the big blow, acquiring Spezza from the Senators in exchange for Alex Chiasson, Nick Paul, Alex Guptill, and a second round draft pick in the 2015 draft. The move gives Dallas two top-line centers, as Tyler Seguin was acquired by the Stars last season, and when you add Jamie Benn into the mix, their top six forwards are one of the more formidable groups in the league.
Those teams aren’t exactly done yet either as free agency begins on Tuesday. The Stars are still rumored to be chasing forward Ales Hemsky, who would further solidify their forward corps, and they could potentially add back-up goaltender Anders Lindback to the mix too. The Minnesota Wild are also expected to be active in free agency, with Thomas Vanek being their biggest target as they look to upgrade their scoring attack.
As for the Blackhawks, their free agency wish list is going to be extremely small considering the cap challenges they are facing. A new center would be nice, but players like Stastny and Mikhail Grabovski are likely going to be too expensive unless contracts like Johnny Oduya and Michal Rozsival’s deals are taken off the books. Even then, the Hawks still will have to keep enough space clear to bring Teuvo Teravainen and a young defenseman or two up from Rockford to fill the voids, so even in that scenario they still may not be able to do much.
Needless to say, the Central Division is getting tougher, and the Blackhawks are going to have to be creative in order to remain one of the top Stanley Cup contenders. They still have an excellent roster that is capable of winning another championship, but with their opponents raising the stakes, the Hawks could be looking at a situation where they need to improve somewhat in order to retain their lofty status.