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Influx of High-End Talent Will Make Central Division One of The Toughest In League

 
Posted July 2nd, 2014 @ 11:32am


Photos - Getty Images

By: Aj Mansour | KFAN.com
@AjKFAN

St. Paul, MN - Day one of the free agency in the National Hockey League is officially in the bag. Now that the dust is settling, it's time to assess some of the damage and unfortunately for the Wild, most of the strength was added to the Western Conference and more specifically, the Central Division.

That trend was noticed by the powers that be at Xcel Energy Center.

"It's pretty daunting seeing the TSN scroll this morning and seeing every single player went to the West," MN Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher said. "And it seemed like everybody came to our division. It's only going to get more difficult to make the playoffs. We're going to have our hands full to make the playoffs next year."

The top five teams in the Central Division were all active on Tuesday bolstering a division that was already one of the toughest. Well aware that the Wild are included in that assessment with the addition of left winger Thomas Vanek, let's take a peek around the rest of the division to see what the Wild will have to face on a regular basis this season.

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS - (3rd place divisional finish last season)
The Blackhawks strengthened their middle on Tuesday by signing center Brad Richards, formerly of the New York Rangers, to a one-year deal. Richards brings leadership and offensive skills (20 goals, 31 assists) to an already deep Chicago Blackhawks team that will undoubtedly be a force to reckon with this upcoming year.

COLORADO AVALANCHE - (1st place divisional finish last season)
An amazing regular season finish was thwarted for the Avalanche who were sent home after the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season by the Minnesota Wild. After losing Paul Stastny to free agency, the Avalanche jumped into the market and brought in 37-year old forward Jarome Iginla. After spending 16 seasons with the Calgary Flames, Iginla has bounced around the past three seasons but continues to be productive. 30 goals and 31 assists last year for the Boston Bruins landed Jarome a three-year deal with the Avs.

DALLAS STARS - (5th place divisional finish last season)
The Dallas Stars didn't worry about outbidding their opponents on the free agency market yesterday, instead they took matters into their own hands and pulled the trigger on a trade with the Ottawa Senators. The trade landed Dallas center Jason Spezza and right wing Ludwig Karlsson, sending Alex Chiasson, Nick Paul and Alex Guptill along with a 2nd round pick in 2014 to Ottawa. Spezza appeared in 75 games last season tacking on 23 goals and 43 assists for the Senators. An elite play maker, Spezza will fit in nicely with the Stars tough, offensive attack.

ST. LOUIS BLUES - (2nd place divisional finish last season)
The Blues attempted to get better by taking an offensive weapon away from a divisional opponent when they signed Paul Stastny to a four-year contract. Stastny played in 70 games for the Avalanche last season scoring 25 goals and 35 assists. One of the top targets on this year's free agent market, Paul will be paired up with fellow center David Backes and a solid corps of puck moving defensemen making his attack a dangerous one.

*The Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets were largely inactive on day one.

Throw into the mix the Wild's addition of Thomas Vanek and the Central Division got a boost of talent on day one.

"Certainly the teams in our division are stronger today than what they were yesterday and we like to think we're stronger today as well," Fletcher said.

"I think that they're throwing us in that category too," Head Coach Mike Yeo added. "I have a lot of respect for the league and I believe that we do play in the toughest division in the league."

Yeo and the Wild open the season with a home-and-home series against Jarome Iginla and the Colorado Avalanche beginning Thursday, October 9th.

Aj Mansour covers Minnesota Sports for KFAN.com. Feel free to leave comments and questions regarding this post in the space provided below. For Wild updates and breaking Wild news, follow Aj on Twitter. @AjKFAN

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