Post-deadline analysis: Central Division

While the lead up to the trade deadline is full of intrigue, as NHL GMs try to fix their teams before the final bells goes, the truth is that those same GMs were able to make trades all year long. Many are held back due to tricky salary cap considerations, but some were able to swing NHL trades even before Ryan Miller moved to St. Louis. The aim of this series is to examine the dealings of each team this season (including the odd waiver wire move), looking at how each has changed its complexion on the fly and how those changes have affected the organizational outlook, for good or bad.

Chicago Blackhawks

NHL Players acquired since opening day:  G Jason LaBarbera, C Peter Regin, D David Rundblad, LW, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, RW Kris Versteeg

NHL Players lost since opening day: D Mike Kostka, C Brandon Pirri, RW Jimmy Hayes

With the exception of Versteeg, all of the players picked up by GM Stan Bowman since the start of the season qualify as depth players. In fact, LaBarbera and Bouchard were sent directly to the AHL upon their acquisition and Rundblad has been a healthy scratch since arriving last week.  On the other hand, the players who have left the Windy City were also seen as spare parts at best on a team that still has designs on a repeat Stanley Cup run. With the possible exception of Pirri, none were expected to play a large role with the club this year, and even Pirri was farmed out after an uneven stint with the club in October and November. Unless Rundblad lives up to his hype as an amateur, the Blackhawks have essentially shifted future resources for marginal depth upgrades today. The NHL team was already strong enough to start with that only the role of second line center was and remains an outstanding question mark. With the increasing likelihood of super prospect Teuvo Teravainen joining the team in the next few weeks, that role may yet be filled.

Stronger or weaker – Stronger

Colorado Avalanche

NHL Players acquired since opening day:  G Reto Berra, LW Maxime Talbot.

NHL Players lost since opening day:  RW Steve Downie

Not expected to figure into the playoff race this year – by Vukota or anyone else – the Avalanche nevertheless have not only stayed in the race past the trade deadline, but they are far closer to having the best record in the NHL than to slipping into a Wild Card slot. In our defense, Vukota did not account for Calder Cup frontrunner Nathan MacKinnon, as he did not debut in the NHL until this season. On the other hand, his current 10.4 GVT translates to roughly 3.5 points in the standings, in which case they would still be closer to the league-leading Blues than to the Wild Card Wild. In spite of a suspect defense including journeymen Andre Benoit, Nick Holden and Nate Guenin in their regular rotation, the Avalanche stuck firm and have not made any changes to the blueline crew all year. The early season straight-up hockey trade of Steve Downie for Maxime Talbot was a small victory for the Avs with the in-season value difference between the two worth about one more point in the standings. Their surprising success notwithstanding, it is still somewhat odd that the team did not seek a blueline upgrade at the deadline, or even a replacement right winger for Alex Tanguay, who had hip surgery in late February and is expected to miss the remainder of the regular season. More recent injuries to top six forwards Paul Stastny and PA Parenteau will further stretch the already thin depth of the roster.

Stronger or weaker – Weaker

Dallas Stars

NHL Players acquired since opening day:  G Tim Thomas, C Dustin Jeffrey

NHL Players lost since opening day:  D Stephane Robidas, LW Lane MacDermid, G Dan Ellis

Another contender who kept quiet, sticking with the roster that earned 68 points in its first 62 games through the trade deadline and currently sits precariously in the final Wild Card spot, a single point separating them from another ‘just-miss’, although the Stars have a game in hand in the ninth place Phoenix Coyotes. On name recognition alone, the Stars seem to have parted with more in Robidas, shipped to Anaheim, than they could have gained in return from Tim Thomas, who came over from Florida in a direct swap for backup netminder Dan Ellis. After all, Robidas was a consistent veteran rearguard, while Thomas’ effect would be muted as a backup to workhorse starter Kari Lehtonen. The narrative of the season forces us to reconsider. Robidas, for as steady and healthy as he had been for most of the last decade, has been out since late November with a broken leg. Dallas is in the position it is in largely without Robidas’ assistance. The growth in the games of previously unheralded young defensemen like Jordie Benn and Brenden Dillon have made Robidas practically redundant. On the other hand, Tim Thomas is a clear upgrade in net over Dan Ellis with the former’s .915 even strength save percentage far surpassing the .900 mark of the latter. As a backup netminder, that may have been the difference of a goal or two over the remaining 20 odd games of the season since the trade. Although GM Jim Nill could not have known it at the time, Lehtonen would shortly be rammed in his own crease, suffering a concussion. That 15 point differential in save percentage will be magnified tremendously for as long as the Finish Olympian is out.

Stronger or weaker – Stronger

Minnesota Wild

NHL Players acquired since opening day:  G Ilya Bryzgalov, LW Matt Moulson, C Cody McCormick

NHL Players lost since opening day:  C Zenon Konopka, RW Torrey Mitchell

At a cost of speedy depth winger Torrey Mitchell and two future second round draft picks, the Wild came away with one of the biggest catches of the trade deadline market in three time 30 goal scorer Matt Moulson. For a team that lacked depth in scoring, a player with such a fine-tuned nose for the net is an absolute God-send. Moulson’s modest numbers this season stem largely from playing with the Buffalo tire fire. Getting what should be second line minutes for Minnesota, Moulson should be pushing Dany Heatley, firmly on the downslope of his career, to a more suitable role on the third line. While Minnesota is still a very bi-polar team with a strong top half inadequately supported by the bottom, improvements are often incremental and this one is bigger than most. The other move of note, the arrival of backup Ilya Bryzgalov, was a move made by necessity. The duo entering the season, Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding, are both out with injury. The former is done for the season and the latter’s potential return is still up in the air, as he has only recently returned to skating. Young Darcy Kuemper has impressed in his brief run as the number one, but there was literally no number two until the colorful Bryzgalov came aboard. Expect Kuemper to hold onto the starting role for the remainder of the season, even as his .937 even strength save percentage regresses more than a little.

Stronger or weaker – Stronger

Nashville Predators

NHL Players acquired since opening day:  G Devan Dubnyk, D Michael Del Zotto, RW Patrick Eaves

NHL Players lost since opening day:  RW Matt Hendricks, C David Legwand, D Kevin Klein, G Devan Dubnyk

Devan Dubnyk being a common denominator, and the Del Zotto-Klein swap already analysed we are left with a team that exchanged franchise icon David Legwand for a fourth line winger in Patrick Eaves, who essentially takes the roster spot that was formally occupied by Matt Hendricks, a draft pick and the highly touted young forward Calle Jarnkrok, who has yet to suit up for an NHL game. Only six points out of the Wild Card picture, GM David Poile might have been excused for adding pieces for a run at a playoff berth, but he was wise to realize that his roster needed more than a small injection of talent to truly compete. If anything, he likely would have tried to trade away more veteran rental types, but Legwand was the only pending UFA on the roster who had any trade value at all. In other words, barring offseason swaps, this roster will be expected to compete in 2014-15. There is some irony in that shortly before the trade deadline, star goaltender Pekka Rinne, was finally reinstated from the injured reserve, where he had been languishing due to the effects of a hip infection since late October. With Rinne in the crease instead of Dubnyk, Carter Hutton or Marek Mazanec, the Predators are suddenly a far more threatening team, if not quite threatening enough to make a late playoff push.

Stronger or weaker – Push, once Rinne is factored in. Weaker based only on acquisitions.

St. Louis Blues

NHL Players acquired since opening day:  G Ryan Miller, LW Steve Ott

NHL Players lost since opening day:  RW Chris Stewart, G Jaroslav Halak

Until the Ryan Miller blockbuster a few days before the trade deadline, the Blues had been running with the same roster that they had begun the season with. In fact, even when we account for players called up as injury replacements (of which there were only few), the Blues added less than 0.5 GVT total. Much like the Stanley Cup winning Blackhawks of last season, the Blues have been remarkably stable this year. As the Miller trade has very recently been analyzed here, there is little to add, other than the nine points in five games the Blues have earned with Miller between the pipes. Barring late season injuries, the St. Louis Blues are this analyst’s choice to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup this June.

Stronger or Weaker – Stronger

Winnipeg Jets

NHL Players acquired since opening day:  D Keaton Ellerby

NHL Players lost since opening day:  None

Keaton Ellerby. That is all. He was not even a trade acquisition, as he came to Winnipeg as a waiver claim from the Los Angeles Kings in early November. In 41 games in a Jets uniform, Ellerby has been worth 0.9 GVT – around one third of a point in the standings. As they currently sit four points back of the last Wild Card spot, the Jets could have either used 11 more like Ellerby, or rather, considering that rostering 12 players worth under 1 GVT would leave precious little room for true impact talent, they should have done something – anything – to beef up their milquetoast roster at some point during this season. If not to strengthen, they could have at least sold off one or more of their five pending UFAs. With the 2013-14 season rapidly coming to a finish, the Jets are floundering at the NHL level. For as much credit as they deserve for the development of Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba as rookies, they deserve as much, if not more, scorn for continuing to roll with Ondrej Pavelec as their starting netminder. In spite of his relative improvements since Paul Maurice took over behind the bench, Pavelec’s -8.3 GVT is the worst among all regular starters. Al Montoya, with 7 GVT as the backup, even expecting hefty regression, may have been enough to have pushed Winnipeg into a Wild Card berth had he taken over for the disappointing incumbent months ago.

Stronger or weaker – Even though they did not lose a single roster player all season, by virtue of their competition for a playoff spot growing stronger, the Jets are relatively weaker.

Ryan Wagman is a long-time author of Hockey Prospectus including his Zamboni Tracks transactions column, a contributor to several HP annuals, contributor to ESPN Insider, and long-suffering Toronto Maple Leafs supporter.

Wagman

Follow Ryan on Twitter at @RAWagman.

Photo via Flickr, artist Dean Michaud

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