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Western trade implications

Joe Colborne has three goals in three games with the Toronto Marlies. (Photo by Matthew Ingram, courtesy the Toronto Marlies)

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Joe Colborne has three goals in three games with the Toronto Marlies. (Photo by Matthew Ingram, courtesy the Toronto Marlies)

The NHL trade deadline is just four days away and the American League’s Clear Day that sets AHL rosters follows just a week later on March 7 at 3 p.m.

The moves made over the next week or so will go a long way toward shaping the AHL playoff picture as the season heads into the stretch drive.

The race for a berth in the Calder Cup playoffs is remarkably tight, particularly in the Western Conference, where just nine points separate first-place Milwaukee and 11th-place Toronto.

The Marlies already have received a boost for their playoff push, courtesy of the parent Maple Leafs. Joe Colborne landed at Ricoh Coliseum in the Tomas Kaberle deal, giving the Marlies a top-end center.

Here is a look at some of the AHL’s Western Conference clubs that might need to shake up their rosters in the near future:

CHICAGO WOLVES

The Wolves have been perhaps the AHL’s biggest disappointment this season. Currently on the fringe of the playoff picture, Chicago has managed to overcome a subpar start to position itself as a playoff contender. A team that boasts the league’s third-ranked power play (21.8 percent) and features three of the top 12 scorers should not be in the Wolves’ predicament, but a poor penalty kill and loose team defense has tormented Chicago so far this season. At one point it looked like Drew MacIntyre had been squeezed out of the club’s goaltending picture, but he and Peter Mannino have taken control of the crease in the second half. The Wolves have already lost Boris Valabik from the blueline, so a shutdown defenseman and a forward with a penalty-killing pedigree would help tremendously.

HAMILTON BULLDOGS

In Curtis Sanford, the Bulldogs have one of the AHL’s top goaltenders and the veteran’s work has sparkled this season. But the Bulldogs would be in trouble if Sanford sustained an injury, so an established backup would be a nice addition. Dustin Boyd’s hot scoring hand has leveled off considerably over the past six weeks (goalless in his past 11 games) and it does not appear David Desharnais will be returning from Montreal any time soon. The team’s attack will receive a shot in the arm with the acquisition of Nigel Dawes and the 27 goals he has scored in 47 games for the Wolves this year, though the Bulldogs lost leading point-getter Ben Maxwell in the transaction.

HOUSTON AEROS

Coach Mike Yeo’s Houston Aeros have charged northward in the Western Conference standings and the former Pittsburgh assistant coach is a prime candidate for coach-of-the-year honors. Anton Khudobin and rookie Matt Hackett have formed a solid pairing in net and the Aeros’ blueline can compete with almost any in the AHL. Still, the Aeros lack scoring and, given that they could be up against the defensively stout Admirals or Rivermen as early as the first round of the post-season, additional scoring help is a necessity for a deep playoff run.

MANITOBA MOOSE

If the Moose could ever have a semi-full roster on hand they would easily be a top contender for the Calder Cup. As it stands now, they still lead the North Division, despite a lineup that changes constantly because of injuries in both Winnipeg and Vancouver. If forward Jason Jaffray’s expected March return from a knee injury goes well, that addition would help tremendously. Another top-line scorer would help even more.

LAKE ERIE MONSTERS

The Monsters are well positioned to make their first-ever foray into the Calder Cup playoffs. Solid in net and on the blueline, the Monsters also possess a fairly balanced corps of scoring forwards. Another scorer would help, but right now the parent Avalanche have enough to worry about at the NHL level.

OKLAHOMA CITY BARONS

First-year coach Todd Nelson’s club does not have any significant roster holes. Mainly, the Barons’ chances will come down to how much the parent Edmonton Oilers dip into the AHL roster as their season winds down. If the Oilers keep the roster moves to a minimum, the Barons could be a major contender for the Calder Cup, even if they do sit outside of the playoff picture at the moment.

THIS AND THAT

• A six-goal week earned Bridgeport’s David Ullstrom player of the week honors.

• Oklahoma City’s Bryan Helmer played his 1,000th career AHL game Feb. 25 with the Barons at Calgary against Abbotsford.

• Springfield sits four points out of a playoff spot in the Falcons’ bid to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2003.

From THN.com American League correspondent Patrick Williams, Around The AHL keeps tabs on the world's second best circuit, details all the news and notes and profiles prospects destined for the next level. It appears every Thursday only on TheHockeyNews.com.

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