The NHL will be returning to the original divisional setups before COVID, meaning the Minnesota Wild will be back in the Central Division. They’ll be facing teams like the Arizona Coyotes, to just over the northern border and their Canadian rival, the Winnipeg Jets. They’ll also be back to hopefully a full 82 game schedule and not playing just divisional opponents. They’ll have a heavier division schedule like usual, but they’ll be playing everyone in the league if all goes as planned.
There are eight teams in the Central, including the Wild. Those teams are the Coyotes, Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Nashville Predators, St. Louis Blues, and the Jets. Out of these teams, several may become a hindrance to the Wild throughout the seasIt’sIt’s time to do a quick breakdown of each team and see who will be the biggest threat to the Wild this season. To keep this from getting too long, we’ll do just a quick look at the roster moves and continue.
The Central Division
The Coyotes are a team that hasn’t been taken seriously in quite a while; however, they may surprise us either this season or seasons to come. They’ve made some moves that may not make a lot of sense now but may help them greatly in the future. So far, this past summer, they’ve gone in two different directions.
Early on, they made moves for older players and prospects who won’t be playing for a while. They received veterans Shayne Gostisbehere, Andrew Ladd, Loui Eriksson, Jay Beagle, Antoine Roussel, and Anton Strålman. These names may seem like they’re veterans near the end of their careers, but being traded to a new team means a new beginning and restarting their careers. They also let go of veteran Alex Goligoski who signed a one-year deal with the Wild.
On the opposite side, the Coyotes have made consistent moves to load up on prospects and young players. This offseason alone, they made trades to acquire Bokondji Imama, Cole Hults, and Josef Korenar. These players don’t have NHL stats yet, but with some playing time under the veterans, they’ll be ready to lead when the prospects debut.
As far as this season is concerned, it isn’t difficult to tell what direction this team is headed. The veterans that have been traded to the Coyotes could have chips on their shoulders to prove their worth. The team also has a few veterans who have stuck with the team through some hardships and can’t be overlooked either, like Phil Kessel, Nick Schmaltz, and Jakob Chychrun. This team may give the Wild a little difficulty but not the worst of the bunch.
The next team in the Central Division is the Blackhawks. The tricky part is where to start with this team. They’ve been a steady rival of the Wild over the seasons, excluding last season when they were in two different divisions. This past summer, they made some big moves that shocked all of the NHL.
The first big move was acquiring Seth Jones from the Columbus Blue Jackets. Seth wasn’t the only Jones the Blackhawks would go for, however. About two weeks before Seth joined them; they went after his younger brother, Caleb. Now two out of the three Jones boys are with the Blackhawks, and that means their defense has gained valuable leadership in Seth that can help lead the many young players already on this team.
The next player they snatched up was Marc-Andre Fleury from the Vegas Golden Knights. The move was quite a shock given how well Fleury’s done for the Golden Knights, but they decided to go in a different direction, and the Blackhawks jumped on the opportunity.
This team does have powerful forwards like Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. With the new additions to the defense and goaltending, they’ll have leadership in all positions and will be a force to be reckoned with this next season. They may take a little bit to get off the ground, but once they gain their traction, they’ll start winning. As far as their competition against the Wild, there will be hard-fought battles like always.
This team had always given the Wild headaches when they were in the Northwest Division together to now and the Central. This team has been stacked for a while, but will they continue to be a threat? They were able to keep their big names that everyone knows; Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen, and Cale Makar.
They didn’t make any big moves, just some slightly smaller ones. They traded for Kurtis MacDermid, Mikhail Maltsev, and former Wild goaltender Darcy Kuemper. The more shattering news regarding Avalanche players is who they lost. Once free agency opened, it wasn’t long before the Avalanche starting goaltender, Philipp Grubauer, signed with another team, the brand-new Seattle Kraken.
With that being said, the Avalanche are a great goal-scoring team with a strong defense, but now they don’t have a solid goaltender to rely on. They have two capable back-ups who have little experience but have done well in the games they’ve played. Kuemper is the most experienced and capable starting goalie and will have quite the pressure on when he’s put in the net, but they could decide on one of their other goaltenders as well.
The Avalanche will always be a thorn in Wild’s side as long as they have MacKinnon, Landeskog, and Rantanen. They will be one of the most formidable opponents the Wild have to face in the Central Division this season and beyond.
The Dallas Stars are another team that has been making a lot of moves in the Central Division. They signed 11 players this offseason, a mix of older veterans and younger. They signed players in every position, even a goaltender. The Stars have been a team on the rise for the last few seasons and they made it clear they intend to keep it that way.
With the signing of former Wild defenseman Ryan Suter, they’ll get an added boost of leadership and defensive skills that will only add to their already strong defensive core. They’ve added several players, but they also have a set of skilled players already.
Someone who has been making a splash over the last few seasons and against the Wild is forward Miro Heiskanen. He’s only 22 years old and has scored 95 points in 205 games. In eight games against the Wild, he had six points, all assists. This past season the Wild didn’t face the Stars due to the divisional realignment, but now they’ll be facing an old teammate in Suter.
The Stars will be another team that could be a problem to the Wild, depending on how their new players fit in. They are one team that is always a mystery season to season.
The Predators are another team in the Central Division that has had a lot of offseason moves. Some of these involved losing valuable assets to the team while also gaining, so we’ll talk about their losses first and then move on to who they brought on.
They lost several core players, including a couple of big names that have been with the team for numerous seasons. The first being one of the faces of their franchise, former starting goaltender Pekka Rinne. He made the tough decision to retire after 15 seasons in the NHL and all with the Predators. They also lost Call Jarnkrok to the Expansion Draft and Viktor Arvidsson and Ryan Ellis in trades.
Now those are all the faces they lost; what about the ones they gained? They managed to snag a potential new backup goalie in David Rittich, an up and coming forward in Cody Glass, and a sizable young defenseman Philippe Myers. They aren’t huge names but slight changes that can help fill the holes from the players who left.
With the losses and the new additions, it would seem the Predators are looking to take a path similar to the Wild and gravitate towards younger players. They still have Mikael Granlund, Juuse Saros, and Roman Josi, so they still have some of their core. They’ll be a strong team once again, but how strong, it’s too soon to tell and how hard the impact of Rinne leaving will hit them.
St. Louis Blues
The St. Louis Blues are a team that is expected to do well in the Central Division. They won the Stanley Cup back in the 2018-19 season. They’ve made some changes like every other team, but nothing huge. They still have their primary goaltender and their leading scorers are still intact.
They did lose veteran Jaden Schwartz to the Expansion Draft, but they were able to re-sign Tyler Bozak and Ivan Barbashev. They also still have David Perron, Ryan O’Reilly, Brayden Schenn, Justin Faulk, Vladimir Tarasenko, and Jordan Binnington.
Along with their current core, they added Pavel Buchnevich and Brandon Saad in trades and free agency during the summer. Adding Buchnevich ensures the Blues have some youthful talent coming up the ranks, and with Saad, they get another veteran leader who can help in Schwartz’s absence.
The Blues will be a challenge for the Wild, like the Avalanche, they will always be a problem. This season will be no different and the Wild will have to be ready and not underestimate the Blues. They were able to score many goals on the Wild, and they need to figure out how to stop that.
The last opponent left in the Central Division is the Jets. The Wild haven’t seen them in over a year, with the Jets staying in Canada all of last season. Similar to the Blues, they kept the core of their players during the offseason.
They did acquire a couple of defensemen to replace the two they lost, Derek Forbort and Tucker Poolman. They snatched Nate Schmidt and Brenden Dillon in trades plus a few more, including re-signing some of their more prominent names like Neal Pionk.
They lost several forwards on their offensive end, but like the defense, they were quick to sign players to replace them. Of those forwards, they signed it included re-signing Andrew Copp, one of their more veteran players whose been with them for seven seasons and has had consistent 20 or more-point seasons for the last four of them.
The Jets are always a strong, capable team. They may have gotten knocked out of the playoffs early last season, but they’ll be pushing hard to forget that. The last time the Wild played them, it was a similar outcome to their Blues games; the Jets could find out how to score against the Wild. Despite that issue, they aren’t as big of a test as the two other teams.
The Central Division: Hardest Team
The Central Division is one of the strongest in the NHL and the competition is tough. As far as the team that will be the hardest for the Wild to compete against, it could be a tossIt’sIt’s hard to know what the competition will be like with how last season was and the divisions being split and realigned. Now that they’re back, there are two teams without a doubt that will be difficult for the Wild.
Last season it was the Avalanche and the Golden Knights, the Wild no longer have to be divisional opponents with the Golden Knights, but that still leaves the Avalanche as one of the teams. The other will be the tried-and-true St. Louis Blues.
Both of these teams are always a problem when it comes to the Minnesota Wild. For some reason, the Wild struggle when playing against them, it could be the goaltending or the defense, but something is always in the way. The Wild will have to figure out ways around that if they want to do well in the division.
Mariah Stark (Holland) is a contributing Minnesota Wild writer for THW. She’s been covering the Wild at THW since October of 2020 and specializes in game takeaways and weekly check-ins. She is always looking for different angles to cover the Wild and dig deeper into the stories surrounding the team to help fans connect on a more personal level and to keep an eye on the latest follow her on Twitter @MariahEStark.