Central Division Roundup: Week Fifteen

Trades! Trades! Trades!

We have a lot of trades for you this week, if you’re interested in—mostly—shuffling pieces around.


Who’s Hot:

The Winnipeg Jets, on a four-game winning streak, have been doing pretty well for themselves lately. You might have noticed.

Who’s Not:

The Dallas Stars have lost their last four in regulation, and the Chicago Blackhawks have lost their last five but squeezed a few points out of the losses. I’m not actually sure which is worse, since the Stars have playoff hopes while Stan Bowman is probably already watching Hughes highlights (or Kakko highlights).

A Closer Look:

Chicago Blackhawks (16-24-9)

For a change, the Blackhawks haven’t made any trades since I last wrote one of these.

Patrick Kane (27-38–65) had seven points this week. Dominik Kahun, Erik Gustafsson (8-22–30), and Alex DeBrincat (24-15–39) each had three. Jonathan Toews (18-24–42) is still second on the team in points and added two more, but the gap between Kane and everyone else widens every week. A team that lays out less of a welcome mat in its own end might find that an obvious problem if they were to try to tank.

Fortunately for the Blackhawks’ hopes for Hughes, their defense and goaltending are still abominable. Cam Ward did Cam Ward things and allowed six goals to his old team—on 25 shots. It wasn’t pretty, unless you’re a Hurricanes fan, in which case it was probably nice to see it happening to someone else, or unless you like seeing the Blackhawks lose, in which case you probably enjoyed it. More concerningly was Collin Delia’s week. The Hawks’ future hope in goal had a very mortal .901 sv% in two losses and a relief appearance.

Conclusion: The Hawks really need to do better for Delia; it’s unfortunate for the rookie to be in this position.

Colorado Avalanche (21-18-8)

The Avalanche got Colin Wilson, Mark Barbiero, and Nikita Zadorov back from injury this week. Wilson joins a second line that’s been producing, with Carl Söderberg as a surprisingly useful player this season.

Semyon Varlamov played all three games for the Avalanche this week, putting up a sv% of .888. The team that had taken on Brooks Orpik’s contract as the price for Philipp Grubauer has not gotten what they’d hoped for from the Capitals’ former backup and Team Germany backstop.

Even the Avalanche’s lethal top line seems to have slowed, with Mikko Rantanen (21-50–71) putting up just three points this week, tied with Söderberg, and Nathan MacKinnon (27-41–68) managing two, tied with Tyson Barrie (5-29–34). Gabriel Landeskog (28-24–52) had just one point. The Avalanche’s one win of the week, a 6-3 triumph over the Maple Leafs, was dependent on two empty-net goals, including the final piece of a Söderberg hat trick. They were shut out by the Canadiens and scored only two against the Ottawa Senators.

[checks notes]

No, that definitely says 2-5 loss to the Ottawa Senators. Matt Duchene had two goals and an assist. You go, Ottawa; devalue that draft pick.

Conclusion: The Avalanche are slipping back away from their good puck-managing habits as the slump continues, and the middle of the Central is starting to tighten up. Things are less rosy than they were earlier in the season.

Dallas Stars (23-21-4)

The Dallas Stars scored two goals this week. Not a player on the Stars—the whole team, combined. The goalscorers were Erik Condra and Esa Lindell. John Klingberg (6-17–23 in 30 games) assisted on both goals; Alexander Radulov (14-26–40) and Mattias Janmark had one assist each.

The Stars did trade Devin Shore to the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for Andrew Cogliano. Cogliano has been not as awful as his teammates—given that the entire current Ducks roster was put on this earth to be carried around by John Gibson and weigh him down too much for the awards voters to even notice him—and I might even say he’s having a better season than Shore, but he still hasn’t been good, and I don’t know how much of that will be improved by a change of scenery. Also, he’s still under contract for $3.25M against cap until 2021, and whether he’ll still be worth it then...meh.

Ben Bishop did not have his finest week in goal, with a .894 sv% over two games, and Anton Khudobin’s .905 wasn’t much better. That said, neither of them faced that many shots; the Stars allowed the fewest shots on goal against per minute in the NHL this week. That’s not going to help you if you’re scoring less than one goal per game on average, though.

Tyler Seguin (17-26–43) had a ridiculous sixteen shots on goal / zero goal combination this week. He took 24 shots total, but five were blocked and three missed the net. He had fourteen scoring chances, including six high-danger chances, so he was getting to the right places. He didn’t score on any of them. Seguin has been wrecked by his poor shooting percentage this year, and this week was especially noteworthy.

Conclusion: The Stars need Seguin and Jamie Benn (18-15–33) to get back to producing if they don’t want to freefall back out of the playoff picture..

Minnesota Wild (23-21-3)

Paul Fenton had a busy week. The Wild traded Justin Kloos to Anaheim for Pontus Åberg and then traded Nino Niederreiter to the Carolina Hurricanes for Victor Rask. Just when I’d finally learned to spell Niederreiter’s name on the first try, too.

The Niederreiter-for-Rask trade seems, uh, bad. Rask is a bottom-six center who is poor defensively, poor offensively, and doesn’t score. He is literally the only player on the 2018-19 Carolina Hurricanes who’s below even in Micah Blake McCurdy’s Threat measurement, and he’s a lot below even.

You could make an argument that he’s been the worst non-goalie player on the team this season.

Niederreiter played in three of the Wild’s four games this week before being traded; he had three points. Eric Staal (14-16–30) and Ryan Suter (5-25–30) also added three points to their totals, while several players had two.

It was a bad week for the Wild. Alex Stalock had the lone win of the week, a 3-2 shootout victory over the Kings, but wasn’t great in a relief appearance and struggled badly in his next start, finishing the week with a .872 sv%. That’s still better than Devan Dubnyk’s week, though; he allowed five goals in each of his two starts and even a relief appearance against the Ducks was only enough to bring him up to a .862 on the week.

Yes, “relief appearance against the Ducks”. As if the losses and the baffling decision to trade Niederreiter for Rask weren’t bad enough, the Wild graciously stopped the Ducks’ twelve-game skid by giving them a 3-0 victory at the Xcel Energy Center.

Conclusion: Like I said, it was a bad week for the Wild.

Nashville Predators (28-17-4)

The Predators had an up-and-down week, winning one blowout and losing another—or two others, depending on where 6-3 falls in your definition of “blowout”. With Kyle Turris still on IR and Ryan Johansen suspended for the next two games, the Predators are going to have to keep digging for center depth. It’s 1C Calle Järnkrok time again, oh boy!

Viktor Arvidsson (18-7–25 in 25 games) led the team with five points this week, four of them goals. Filip Forsberg (18-10-28 in 32 games) had four points, and Ryan Johansen (8-34–42) and Nick Bonino each had three. Mattias Ekholm (6-30–36)’s 1980s-esque scoring streak came to an end, but the Predators did get at least one point from each of their top four defenders.

Pekka Rinne had another bad week, allowing ten goals in two starts for a sv% of .815. It’s urgent that the Predators let Rinne rest more, and at least as urgent that they stop asking so much of him. Fortunately, Juuse Saros is doing well—he was flawless in relief of Rinne against the Carolina Hurricanes, and allowed two goals in his start this week, for a sv% on the week of .951. With Saros playing well, it’s easier for Rinne to take time if he needs it, as long as the coaching staff will let him.

Conclusion: The top line continued to tilt the ice for the Predators this week and got production to match, but the Preds have looked alarmingly close to a one-line team. With Johansen out, that might spell trouble.

St. Louis Blues (20-21-5)

Zach Sanford has joined the injured list for the Blues, but other than that there’s a lot of bright side for their fans this week. Vince Dunn returned from his absence last week and picked up right where he’d left off, scoring two points and helping the Blues control play.

Goalie Jordan Binnington has also continued to play well, with a sv% of .936 in two games this week. Jake Allen was adequate in his two games, as well, with a much more pedestrian .909.

Vladimir Tarasenko scored three goals this week and added an assist; he’s now at 15-14–29 on the season. It’s not everything the fans wanted from him for the season, but it’s a good trend—last week he was making appearances on the scoreboard, and this week he’s getting the puck in the net. Progress. Ryan O’Reilly (17-29–46) and David Perron (17-18–35) kept pace ahead of Tarasenko by also adding four points each.

Conclusion: Things might actually be looking up in St. Louis, though they have lost their last two games.

Winnipeg Jets (31-14-2)

Ah, the Jets.

One interesting thing to note is the murmurings at Arctic Ice Hockey. People have been talking about the Jets being the team to beat in the West, especially after the Preds lost to them on Thursday, but Jets fans have been picking apart the defense, the even-strength play, the roster choices... You wouldn’t know they had a problem with either defense or ES play if you just watched the Predators play them this week, which is its own issue, but it’s always interesting to see different perspectives.

Bryan Little led the team with four points this week, while Blake Wheeler (9-51–60), Mark Scheifele (25-33–58), and Kyle Connor (18-19–37) each had three. Scheifele finally tied Patrik Laine (25-9–34) for the team lead in goals.

The Jets are still struggling to control the overall flow of play with Dustin Byfuglien and Nikolaj Ehlers out, but they’ve been doing better with shot quality than shot quantity. Connor Hellebuyck’s job has been reasonably easy, and this week he rewarded his defense with some great play behind them, finishing the week with a .942 sv% in two games. Laurent Brossoit did even better, with a .977 in his start.

Conclusion: Imagine being frustrated that a 20-year-old has only scored 25 goals by mid-January. That sounds like a fantastic problem to have.

Statistics courtesy of naturalstattrick.com. Big-picture analysis assisted by the dataviz work of Micah Blake McCurdy and Sean Tierney.