Often called the toughest division in hockey, the Central Division boasts the league leading Predators, skillful Blues and recent champion Blackhawks. Add to that the Wild and Jets, both currently in wild-card spots, and you’ve got a division that could see a lot of action on deadline day.
As of Wednesday night, there is no division in the league that boasts more teams on the brink of the playoffs Central Division and that could have a major impact on the trade deadline action throughout the division. The Minnesota Wild made a major move in landing Devan Dubnyk in December and made another splash when they landed Sean Bergenheim from the Florida Panthers, so it will be interesting to see if the Winnipeg Jets – currently holding on for dear life to one of the West’s wild-card spots – answers back.
St. Louis, Chicago and Nashville are all probably done aside from minor deals and Colorado and Dallas are right in the middle – they could be buyers and they could be sellers. Don’t be shocked if the Central is the quietest of the four divisions at the deadline.
The most surprising team this season has been the Nashville Predators and they’re absolutely going for it. Less than two weeks ago, the Predators landed Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli from the Toronto Maple Leafs.
GM David Poile’s architecture of this roster has been masterful and the team looks primed to compete for the Stanley Cup. With Pekka Rinne between the pipes, a top line that has been contributing offensively and the best defense in the league, there's not many holes in Nashville. Scarier yet is they might add more pieces if they feel there’s still room to improve.
Likely to move: If anyone is going to be sent out, it could be lesser players or late picks that the Predators can flip to maybe land another top-six forward.
Needs: Top-six forward
Hot rumor: Fisher has been talking contract extension. If the two sides can’t come to a deal, would Poile see what he could get for the UFA?
Salary Cap room: $10.28 million
St. Louis Blues
Last season, St. Louis made possibly the biggest splash of any team in the league landing Ryan Miller and Steve Ott from the Buffalo Sabres days before the deadline. This season isn’t going to be quite as active for the Blues, though. Nor should it be, truthfully.
As of Wednesday they sit three points ahead of the Blackhawks and firmly in second place in the division. They were eliminated in the first round by Chicago last season, but they’re hoping it won’t be more of the same if – or when – the two teams meet again in the postseason this year.
Key RFAs: Vladimir Tarasenko, Ian Cole
Likely to move: Jackman isn’t going anywhere, nor are any of the Blues other UFAs. Picks and prospects will be heading out, unless the Blues stand pat.
Needs: Kevin Shattenkirk is out following abdominal surgery, but that he’s back skating on his own means he could be ready for the playoffs. Having insurance on defense wouldn’t be the worst thing.
Possibilities: If they land anyone, it’s going to be a depth blueliner that has offensive upside.
Salary Cap room: $1.04 million
After a Stanley Cup championship in 2012-13 and a Western Conference final appearance last season, the Blackhawks have slipped a bit this season. Patrick Kane's injury is really going to hurt when Chicago gets into the playoffs.
The most obvious and glaring issue is the team’s defense, and the recent injury Johnny Oduya isn’t going to help matters. David Rundblad, Tim Erixon and Kyle Cumiskey have been helping to fill out the Blackhawks’ defense rotation, but they’re going to need to shore things up on the back end if they want to go on another deep run.
Likely to move: With a couple of defensemen not in the regular rotation, the Blackhawks could pair one with a pick to land something to shore up their blueline.
Needs: Depth defenseman
Hot rumor: The Blackhawks are looking at Glencross.
Salary Cap room: $1.365 million
What a year it has been for the Jets. Most picked Winnipeg to finish well outside the playoffs, but the team has put themselves in position for a spot in the postseason. They’ve been sliding since the all-star break and the Minnesota Wild are hot on their tail.
GM Kevin Chevldayoff made the biggest trade of the season when he sent Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian to the Buffalo Sabres for Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford, a pair of prospects and a first-round pick. He also helped the team get better on Wednesday when he dealt a pair of picks to Carolina for Jiri Tlusty. He still has cap room to work with, though, so could there be more deals in Winnipeg?
Needs: Top-six forward, depth center
Possibilities: Antoine Vermette (ARI), Michael Ryder (NJD), Curtis Glencross (CGY)
Hot rumor: Coach Paul Maurice doesn’t exactly see the need for a rental player that will take key minutes from a young player.
Salary Cap room: $7.325 million
Devan Dubnyk doesn’t have any chance of winning the Vezina Trophy or Ted Lindsay Award, but he’s certainly been the MVP of the Wild’s season and he’s only been part of the team since December. Since joining the Wild, Dubnyk is 13-3-1 with a .935 save percentage and 1.66 GAA. Those are gaudy numbers.
The Wild also bolstered the middle of their lineup by scooping up disgruntled winger Sean Bergenheim who felt he was being misused on the Florida Panthers. They’ve been a strong possession team all season and could surprise someone in the West if they manage to hang on to a wild-card spot.
Likely to move: If the Wild move anything else, it will be picks or prospects that they’re low on
Needs: Could use a physical defenseman.
Possibilities: Zybnek Michalek (ARI), Jan Hejda (COL)
Hot rumor: The Wild inquired about Antoine Vermette and he would be a good fit in Minnesota for the right price.
Salary Cap room: $6.23 million
Landing Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky made for a big off-season in the Lone Star State, but the Stars stumbled out of the gate and haven’t fully recovered. Even though they’re six points back of Minnesota, a good run paired with a slide by the Sharks, Flames and Wild could allow them to sneak in.
That said, it seems unlikely the Stars go out on a limb and try to buy any huge pieces. If anything, they’ll look at getting pieces they can use next season, like some added help on defense.
Likely to move: Hemsky hasn’t fit in Dallas and he’s locked up for another two seasons at $4 million per year. That’s the biggest piece Dallas has that could be dealt.
Needs: Top-pairing defenseman
Salary Cap room: $3.46 million
After a dream season in 2013-14, the Avalanche have come back down to earth this year and it hasn’t been pretty. Colorado has been one of the worst defensive teams in the league this season and has the third worst goal differential in the entire Western Conference at -14.
GM Joe Sakic will need to improve the club defensively if he has any designs on making the Avalanche a playoff club again soon. With young stars like Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon, the pieces are in place for the team to be an elite offensive club in the future, but that will be all for naught if the Avalanche can’t defend their own net.
Likely to move: Ryan O’Reilly ($6 million), Daniel Briere, Jan Hejda are all players Colorado could offload at the deadline.
Needs: Top-pairing defenseman, depth defenseman
Possibilities: Jeff Petry (EDM), Keith Yandle (ARI), Zybnek Michalek (ARI), Roman Polak (TOR), Dion Phaneuf (TOR)
Hot rumor: If O’Reilly gets moved by the Avalanche, it’ll be one of the deals of the day.
Salary Cap room: $1.575 million