Central Division Deadline Primer: The Contenders

With all teams in the division in play for playoff spots, and several teams in the league destined to sink to the bottom, there are many moves that could be made... if you have the cap room.

The Central Division contains three best teams in the league, whether you belong to the Church of Fancy Stats or not. Chicago, St. Louis, and Nashville have shown to be among the league's elite by the measure of possession, goal difference, eye test, and actually winning games. But in reality, none are perfect. Chicago has had trouble organizing their lines all year. St. Louis and Nashville are dealing with injuries. Winnipeg isn't near as deep as their competition, but did just trade to address their issue. Colorado and Dallas are depending on shaky defenses to hold together, and Minnesota hasn't been able to bore their competition to death this year as in previous seasons.

JAWWWWWNNNNN did a masterful job on his view of the Preds deadline options, and we're in accord. If Poile can turn someone into Phil Kessel without giving up Kevin Fiala, Filip Forsberg, Seth Jones, James Neal... cool. But I don't see it happening. And the last thing this team needs to do is ship off one of the their top end prospects for a rental, so that can take a rest as well.

So with that in mind, we take a look around the division for their hopes and dreams.

St. Louis Blues

Firstly, getting Jori Lehtera back does wonders for this team. Some would say he's outperformed Paul Stastny to this point. And while I could play alongside Vladimir Tarasenko and look like a competent player, Tarasenko and Lehtera have been a very good combination thusfar which has caused plenty of matchup problems due to the balance their line contains. Jaden Schwartz has also been a welcome addition.

So what do the Blues need? They do have cap space for a rental this year and GM Doug Armstrong has not been scared of pulling the trigger on bold moves. But not all have panned out. Remember the Ryan Miller deal? So on that note Pierre LeBrun had this to say:

Don't expect that same level of trade this time around. One has learned never to say never in this business because you never know whether potential injuries over the next three weeks change the script or if a team calls out of left field with an offer that can't be refused, but the sense right now is that Blues aren't going to be in the headline-making business this time around. They're pretty happy with a deep, deep roster, and they should be. Yes, they could add a depth piece or two, but I don't think they're going to steal the spotlight at the deadline this season.

From the way I see it, The Blues could become a very scary team with one move. Just one. Ken Hitchcock has gone back to the SOB line of Alexander Steen, T.J. Oshie, and David Backes in spite of Paul Stastny's arrival. And with Lehtera healthy, it makes very little sense to break up his line which has produced at a very healthy rate. The trouble is finding someone to play with Stastny. Patrik Berglund is a decent player, but he hasn't had his best season to date, and he might be playing out of his normal position going forward. Moving him for a piece that can play alongside Stastny might be the annual Armstrong move, but the Blues should not feel too much pressure to tinker with their lineup yet.

The addition of Marcel Goc is a wise one, and he adds to a their center depth which was already one of the best in the league.

Chicago Blackhawks

It's very rare when you see a lineup with this much depth on a roster. Their forwards 1-9 are the best in the league on paper this year, which is excellent news going into the deadline because they have very little cap space to speak of. So far Patrick Kane has played primarily with Brad Richards and Kris Versteeg. Jonathan Toews has spent most of his time with Brandon Saad and Marian Hossa this year. Patrick Sharp, Bryan Bickell, and Andrew Shaw have been shuffled up and down their lines.

Then you add in Teuvo Teravainen, who might embolden Stan Bowman to make a player for player swap. Not only do the Hawks lack space for this season, they are depending on the cap rising to be able to keep some key elements of this team together. Saad is due a new deal after this season, and his production has all but guaranteed him a hefty raise from his sub-$1 million contract. Chicago has over $65 million committed next year without working out the contracts for Saad, Kruger, or Johnny Oduya or even Michael Rozsival for next year.

This upcoming offseason might look like the 2009-2010 one for Chicago when it's all said and done- but in the meantime, Stan Bowman does have some serious decisions to make. Their main flaw is bottom 2 defensive pairings. Oduya and Niklas Hjalmarsson have been a better pairing in previous years, especially with Oduya. Chicago depends on him 20 minutes a night, he hasn't thusfar been a worthy partner of Hjalmarsson for this season.

So with that in mind, Oduya's cap hit is a healthy $3.38 million. Just by comparison, Cody Franson's is less this year. If Bowman wanted to add someone that could turn the tide in the division, Franson would be an ideal fit. The problem is that Toronto is not going to want Oduya. The Leafs are going to a high pick, which Chicago will be counting on to restock their cupboard. So with Franson off the table, there aren't many upgrades worth pursuing for Chicago. Expect them to stand at the deadline, barring injuries. But if I were to make a bold prediction, this could be Patrick Sharp's last year in Chicago.

Winnipeg Jets

Since they're currently in the playoffs and pushing for that #3 spot, it makes sense to include them in this post. Deal with it.

Winnipeg jettisoned Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian to Buffalo for Drew Stafford and Tyler Myers, and the fancy stats would suggest this could be a downgrade. The reality for Winnipeg is that Kane is going to be out for a while, and Stafford can play tomorrow. Winnipeg is anxious to make the playoffs this year, and while people like me mocked them for hiring Paul Maurice, he's done a fine job with that team.

As far as this year's team goes, they're getting good goaltending from Michael Hutchinson. With a save percentage that's in the top 10, goaltending hasn't been the problem for the Jets. Their issue is depth. Looking at their roster, they remind you a lot of the old Predators teams with 7-8 serviceable forwards, and some journeymen on the last two lines. Their top lines have more skill than Nashville had during the "Grit Era", but we all would agree that the Preds had better defensemen.

It's doubtful Winnipeg will make another move this season after adding Stafford and Myers. But if they had Buffalo on the phone, I'm a bit surprised Chris Stewart wasn't part of this deal. Stewart would be a good fit for a team that's trying to ice more than two lines that can score. Winnipeg could've used his size. But truth be told, Winnipeg needs to stand pat after this move. Their best days are likely ahead of them.