By: Nick Lanciani
The Trade Deadline is fast approaching, is your team ready for this year’s fire sale? I take a look at some reasonable ideas for deals, as well as the overall consideration of buying or selling for each team in the league in this month long series. Buyer beware, all sales are final on March 2nd, 2015.
Current Central Division Standings
- NSH 78 pts. (36-12-6) 54 GP
- STL 74 pts. (35-15-4) 54 GP
- CHI 69 pts. (33-18-3) 54 GP
- WPG 66 pts. (28-18-10) 56 GP
- MIN 59 pts. (26-20-7) 53 GP
- DAL 58 pts. (25-21-8) 54 GP
- COL 55 pts. (22-21-11) 54 GP
Nashville Predators (1st in the Central Division, 54 GP 36-12-6 record, 78 points)
The Nashville Predators are having themselves a remarkable season with a healthy goaltender, Pekka Rinne, in their lineup and everyone else playing their position fluidly. Filip Forsberg has been a tremendous surprise as a rookie with 18-30-48 totals in 54 games played. What might be more impressive is that their young defense has been able to step up to the task on most nights.
The Predators are holding up on the injury front, with only Ryan Ellis currently on the injured reserve, and lead the Central Division standings. While last season proved to be a bit shaky, their consistency this year should come as no surprise given their elite goaltending in Rinne and their head coach, Peter Laviolette’s, brilliance.
Nashville, surprisingly, has yet to see a long playoff run, though. This year is no exception to their hunger for more and they could be active in trying to acquire that one last key piece or two in order to perfect their roster and bolster up for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Then again, the age-old adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” could work well for the Predators when it comes to deadline day.
However, going into the stretch run of the season, it might be smart for the Nashville to pick up a depth defenseman or two, as well as a possible depth forward. Especially with the moves their division rival, Winnipeg Jets, have made acquiring Tyler Myers and Drew Stafford- both of which will likely be regular components to their lineup, but in both cases, the Jets added to their plethora of options. That is just about the only thing advisable to the Nashville Predators organization heading into the trade deadline and I’m sure they are already well aware.
St. Louis Blues (2nd in the Central Division, 54 GP 35-15-4 record, 74 points)
Despite some recent struggles, the St. Louis Blues are rolling along this season. Brian Elliott and Jake Allen have held up strong in goal, Vladimir Tarasenko emerged as one of the league’s most prolific scorers, and their defense has been solidifying their presence on the ice on a nightly basis.
Much like the Nashville Predators, though, the St. Louis Blues could use some depth. We are reaching the point in the season where any injury could make or break your chances of a deep run in the playoffs. With only Kevin Shattenkirk and Chris Porter on the injured reserve, the Blues have found a way to remain healthy at this point in the season.
There really are no holes in their roster that contains an excellent mixture of youth and experience, so there’s nothing that immediately needs filling or getting rid of. Sure, Saint Louis could go with this roster moving forward, but I think their best bet would be to try to add without subtracting in order to avoid yet another early playoff exit.
As it is right now, the Blues would be playing the Chicago Blackhawks and I’m pretty certain history would show that Saint Louis wouldn’t fare too well against Chicago. That is why the Blues must focus on depth skaters to combat injury and give them options heading into the playoffs.
Chicago Blackhawks (3rd in the Central Division, 54 GP 33-18-3 record, 69 points)
The Chicago Blackhawks, in recent years, are annual contenders for the Cup. Their legitimacy is what keeps the rest of the Western Conference teams trembling and stockpiling as much bang for their buck on their rosters.
Currently the Blackhawks are just trucking along in 3rd place in Central Division standings. With a roster that includes superstars, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, and (when it really counts) Corey Crawford, how could Chicago A) have any more room for talent and B) be able to keep them all with the uncertainty of next year’s salary cap figure?
Regardless, nothing is plaguing the Blackhawks in the current state of the league. So it comes as no surprise that I don’t expect Chicago to be wheeling and dealing at the deadline. Could they bring in a depth skater or two? Certainly. I think most successful teams looking to make a deep playoff run operate on a basis of trying to get a depth rental player if they can- in order to have a dependable player to fall back on if an injury were to occur.
To summarize, it’s a keep on keeping on mentality in Chicago at this point of the year. As long as they have home ice in the playoffs, it doesn’t really matter where they end up in the standings, although I’m sure they’d prefer to be at the top anyway.
Winnipeg Jets (4th in the Central Division, 56 GP 28-18-10 record, 66 points 1st Wild Card in the Western Conference)
The Winnipeg Jets have made the biggest splash in both the terms of being a delightful surprise this season, as well as on the trade market so far with the acquisition of Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford, Joel Armia, and Branden Lemieux from the Buffalo Sabres.
The Jets are currently the first wild card representative from the Western Conference and are situated in a tight battle for the Central Division. With the Buffalo deal, Winnipeg stockpiled on talent and could even still make further moves come March 2nd.
There are no guarantees, but then again, there also doesn’t seem to be that much needed within Winnipeg’s roster (at least on paper). Michael Hutchinson has played some stellar goaltending and the league’s smallest market has certainly been heard all season as one of the loudest voices talking serious about playoff hockey hopes, chances, and a potential run for the Cup.
But cool your jets before you get too far ahead of yourself. While the entire Central Division may be the NHL’s strongest division in the league, only a couple of teams from the division may even advance far enough into the playoffs.
Based on recent playoff experience and success alone, the Jets have a mountain to climb to overcome the playoff dominant Chicago Blackhawks and the annual playoff contending St. Louis Blues, in their division alone. If either team stays quiet on the trade front, then I’d expect Winnipeg to make at least one more move to get them over the hump- and trust me, they’re already getting plenty of calls.
Minnesota Wild (5th in the Central Division, 53 GP 26-20-7 record, 59 points)
The Minnesota Wild are one of those teams you just got to feel bad for this season. Despite their recent growth in depth and playoff experience, the injury bug continues to plague the Wild organization.
No one is certain what the future in goal holds for Minnesota. How much older can Niklas Backstrom get and still be considered their starting goaltender? Has Devan Dubnyk finally found a stable place to play? And then there’s always Darcy Kuemper and whatever the future brings for his goalie career.
While the Wild might not be able to pull off a deal at the deadline, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them shopping around Backstrom, given his age and the uncertainty of how he’ll hold up, injury wise (one can’t forget his recent injury struggles).
But the problem for Minnesota may not reside in their goaltending. Perhaps their roster could get younger, at least among the forwards. A player like Stephane Veilleux might be expendable enough to bring in something fresh. The Wild have a young, largely unexperienced defensive core and it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to take away from it. I tend not to think that Minnesota is in dire need of anything really (much like the rest of the Central Division), however if they could acquire some healthy players, that would be a good thing.
The strength of the Central Division is so strong currently, that if your roster even has one or two players on the injured reserve, you could be in for a dismal season. Minnesota has four players on the injured reserve, meaning that hope is likely gone for this season (by no means, technically, is their season a complete lost cause), but their future may be brighter. I’d expect the Wild to continue doing what they’ve been doing recently- building from free agency.
Dallas Stars (6th in the Central Division, 54 GP 25-21-8 record, 58 points)
Fans of the Dallas Stars are riding a rollercoaster of emotion for the last couple of seasons. After finally getting back to the playoffs last season for the first time since the Detroit Red Wings knocked the Stars out of the 2008 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Dallas finds themselves on the outside looking in.
While none of the Central Division teams are mathematically out of contention for a playoff run, the jury remains on recess in the spiritual and realistic manners. Dallas only has two players on the injured reserve currently (Patrik Nemeth and Valeri Nichushkin) and they just acquired some much needed backup goaltending in their trade with Buffalo this week for Jhonas Enroth- finally ridding themselves of the overhyped Anders Lindback.
Yet with stars on the Stars, such as Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Jason Spezza, Alex Goligoski, and Kari Lehtonen, how is it possible for Dallas to be situated 6th in the division? The answer may reside in their forwards, who surprisingly can provide enough of a spark some nights, but other nights lack consistency.
A player like Vernon Fiddler may be very attractive to a team looking to make a playoff run and would probably fit well with a team like the Washington Capitals or the Pittsburgh Penguins with the way he currently is playing, especially as a valuable second or third liner (something that at least the Penguins could use). Come to think of it, perhaps the Boston Bruins could find a way to fit in a guy like Vernon Fiddler into their roster. Either way, if Dallas is forced to sell at all on the deadline, the phone lines should remain open on Fiddler.
Another forward worth dangling on the fishing line for a potential trade is Erik Cole. The veteran has found a way to find the net again with the Stars and at the very least would bring in a veteran presence to any playoff inexperienced team looking for some locker room stability in the long run.
Last but not least- well, maybe least- Shawn Horcoff is 36 and definitely has got to be on the move from the Stars. The center has proven to be inconsistent and an injury waiting to happen in recent years. If the Stars seek to improve, they’d at least move Horcoff and either Fiddler or Cole for a younger player to compliment the likes of Spezza, Patrick Eaves, and Ales Hemsky in their currently over thirty-years-old lineup.
If the magic works out and the Stars start to go on a tear with their veterans leading the charge up in the Central Division standings, then go ahead and prove me wrong and don’t trade anyone. But if inconsistencies continue to plague the organization, then it might make sense to move on in the right way.
Colorado Avalanche (7th in the Central Division, 54 GP 22-21-11 record, 55 points)
The Colorado Avalanche have taken a page from the book of the Boston Red Sox apparently, as they have gone from one of the worst teams in their division to first in the Central Division last year- back to their current status of last in the division so far this season. Their rise and fall in divisional standings has been one of the most perplexing situations this season.
While injury has troubled last season’s Vezina Trophy finalist, Semyon Varlamov, in goal, surely an offense with the likes of Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, and Jarome Iginla (a thirty goal scorer last season with the Boston Bruins) would’ve be able to compensate for the carousel of goalies earlier in the year and the young defensemen.
Yet, here they are with six players on the injured reserve (Patrick Bordeleau, Jamie McGinn, Borna Rendulic, Jesse Winchester, Erik Johnson, and Ryan Wilson) at the bottom of the Central Division. Johnson’s absence certainly would send shockwaves through the Avalanche’s defensive unit, as it would to any team that loses their number one defenseman for any extended period of time.
Given that Daniel Briere clearly isn’t working out in Colorado, wouldn’t it make sense to try to move him by the deadline in (if not a desperate attempt to save the season) an attempt to bring in some talent youth that could build on whatever success is left in this season for next season? With the Colorado’s plethora of prospects coming up in the rankings, would it be crazy to think that they could work out a deal with Toronto for Dion Phaneuf, Phil Kessel, Daniel Winnik (a former Av), or Cody Franson?
Any one of those players would be an attractive option for the Avalanche organization, as well as an attractive destination for Toronto to send some or all of those players. Colorado meets several aspects of the Maple Leaf’s trading partner’s checklist. The Avalanche are a non factor this year, they’re in the Western Conference, and if the Avalanche turn things around at all, while the Maple Leafs continue to fall- the odds are that Toronto would end up with a higher draft pick than the Avalanche.
Among Cody McLeod, John Mitchell, Maxime Talbot, Alex Tanguay, and Jesse Winchester, the Avalanche should only commit to two or three of them. Given that Winchester is currently on the IR, a trade involving an injured player won’t happen. With Talbot having mild success in Colorado, he’s one to keep. Tanguay, on the right line, fits the Avalanche style of play (especially since they are the team that drafted him, after all).
But what kind of offers could the Avalanche get in return for the 30 year old Mitchell, who plays center, but could also probably play wing for a playoff contending team? This has to be something that Colorado is at least willing to listen to. And as great as McLeod has been for the Avalanche as an enforcer, perhaps it’s time for someone younger to step into his role and carry the team’s energetic side.
Jan Hejda, Brad Stuart, or Nate Guenin could be valuable older defensemen for any contending team in search of a depth defenseman or someone to get them to the Cup Finals. But the consequences of trading any of their veteran defenseman could be dire, unless Colorado is able to acquire a veteran defenseman or guarantee a veteran defenseman in free agency.
While the Avalanche aren’t quite in the same position as say the Minnesota Wild when it comes to young inexperienced defensemen, Colorado should continue to tread the waters carefully as Johnson and Wilson get back from injury and the rest of the defensemen develop.
Ultimately, Colorado is faced with the choice to buy or sell. Right now, it looks like they’ll be doing some clearance rack shopping, and used merchandise sales.