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February 25, 2011
Deadline Deals
Central Division

by Robert Vollman

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Hockey Prospectus is taking a look at the NHL division by division and suggesting ways each team should tackle the forthcoming trade deadline. On Thursday, we continue with the Central Division.

Feb. 28 marks the NHL's trade deadline and every team in the league -- both playoff-bound and those likely for the draft lottery -- has needs to address. To prepare for the final flurry of transactions, we're going team by team to see which players can help fill some holes on contenders or provide some foundational stability for teams building for next season and beyond.

One statistic you'll come across in the analysis below is GVT, the main player valuation metric used by Hockey Prospectus. For a detailed explanation of GVT, click here.

Detroit Red Wings

The Problem: When Joey MacDonald is leading your team in save percentage, you know you have a problem. According to GVT, Detroit is ranked 20th in net, almost dead last among playoff-bound teams, a weakness that is further aggravated by being merely average defensively. Chris Osgood is 38, out with a sports hernia and not a great option even if he did return at 100 percent. That leaves the Red Wings' fortunes in the hands of struggling sophomore Jimmy Howard.

The Fix: Unfortunately, Detroit doesn't have the cap space for any major moves, and has over $44 million already committed for next year. Any acquisition has to be an inexpensive one, without long-term carrying costs, which is why the Red Wings tried to bring in Evgeni Nabokov with a cheap one-year deal.

Therefore, a trade for 28-year-old Mike Smith -- the odd man out in Tampa after the acquisition of the Islanders' Dwayne Roloson -- might make sense. Smith has had some bad luck with injuries of late, which certainly makes a bounceback to previous levels possible -- the former Star had an elite .931 even-strength save percentage through 41 games played in 2008-09 before missing the end of the season with a concussion. In five AHL games with Norfolk since clearing waivers, Smith has a .924 save percentage with one shutout, suggesting that he's certainly fighting to prove his worth to NHL teams. On Thursday the Lightning put him on re-entry waivers, which should make him an even more tempting target.

Smith: -6.2 GVT

Nashville Predators

The Problem: Their power play is currently 25th, just as it has been for about four seasons now. This is a chronic problem that needs a permanent solution rather than a quick fix.

The Fix: In acquiring Mike Fisher, Nashville has already declared its comfort in mortgaging a bit of its future to the Ottawa Senators for the chance of winning its first playoff series in franchise history, and it's time for the Preds to pick up the phone again. Former Stanley Cup champion Sergei Gonchar is signed at a $5.5 million cap hit for two more seasons after this, and could be invaluable working the man advantage alongside Shea Weber. Since the lockout he's been the league's most productive power-play defenseman, based on both assists and more advanced statistical metrics.

There will no doubt be other bidders for Gonchar's services, so the Predators may need to part with some solid young talent, like power forward Taylor Beck. They have the cap space, and if they're serious about competing, they should use it on an elite player that can help them on the power play.

Gonchar: 2.7 GVT

Chicago Blackhawks

The Problem: Last year's Stanley Cup champions are this year's playoff bubble team -- in 1,000 simulations they missed the postseason as often as they made it. In reality, they're far better than either their record or these forecasts indicate, being a top-five team at both ends of the ice and blessed with the league's second-best power play. The Blackhawks could stand to improve both their goaltending and their penalty-killing, but they're classic victims of the salary-cap era, forced to shed their admirably collected arsenal of young talent in the offseason without the cap space to significantly improve their roster.

The Fix: The Hawks need to kill two birds with one stone by clearing cap space and getting the talent they need for the postseason by moving Brian Campbell and his $7.1 million cap hit (for five more seasons after this). In the short term, Chicago may prefer keeping Campbell and making only minor cosmetic changes, but moving his hefty contract could give it more flexibility in the offseason to work toward the club's long-term health.

Though a divisional rival, Columbus makes a natural trading partner because it has both the need and the cap space for someone like Campbell. In return, the Hawks could pick up a cost-effective penalty-killing defenseman like Jan Hejda, a UFA who carries just a $2 million cap hit. Though he's struggling this year, the more advanced statistical metrics have quietly and consistently ranked Hejda as one of the league's best defensive blueliners for years.

Moving Campbell also gives Chicago the cap room to end the deal in a number of suitable ways. For instance, they could include Mathieu Garon if they plan to dump backup goalie Marty Turco on someone else, or perhaps include reliable UFA veterans like Ethan Moreau or Chris Clark to help them win now; maybe even a prospect that has fallen out of favor to help replenish the Hawks long-term, like Nikita Filatov, who can help them win later. Any which way you slice it, the only way to improve this team significantly would be to find a taker for Campbell.

Hejda: 2.6 GVT

Columbus Blue Jackets

The Problem: Last year Anton Stralman scored 34 points, which is the most by a Blue Jackets defenseman since the lockout. The absence of quality blueliners, especially those who can produce offensively, has been a problem so serious that Columbus actually signed Mike Commodore to a five-year deal worth $3.75 million per season in 2008-09.

The Fix: With Columbus a dark horse to make the playoffs, the Blue Jackets can look to the future and put some talented building blocks in place on defense. One team that has a wealth of fresh-faced blueliners is the New York Islanders, who boast promising youngsters such as 24-year-old Andrew MacDonald, rookies Travis Hamonic and Ty Wishart and prospect Calvin de Haan. Perhaps the most intriguing of these is the 20-year-old Hamonic, who has steadily filled in alongside MacDonald on the Islanders' first pairing as if he were a seasoned pro. But what to give up to a team likewise looking to build for the future? How about highly skilled 2008 sixth overall pick Nikita Filatov, who's once again buried in the depths of the Blue Jackets' doghouse? While Filatov seems to have no future in Columbus, the organization that revitalized the career of "attitude problem" Rob Schremp seems the ideal destination.

Hamonic: 2.8 GVT

St. Louis Blues

The Problem: While the Blues are a below-average 17.1 percent on the power play, they hope to have solved a significant portion of that deficiency through the recent acquisition of power forward Chris Stewart from the Colorado Avalanche. Issues that remain to be fixed, if St. Louis is to harbor reasonable hopes of a postseason berth, are a below-average 81.0 percent penalty kill and a well-below-average 48.3 percent team faceoff rate.

The Fix: For a guy mainly thought of as a pugilist -- he's currently tops in the NHL with 219 penalty minutes after a league-leading 265 minutes in 2009-10 -- folks who don't follow Zenon Konopka closely might be surprised to learn of his outstanding 57.3 percent faceoff percentage, which is actually down from an otherworldly 62.3 percent last season. While it's true that the former Bolt can't score a lick, Konopka fits the role of a solid checking line center, defensive faceoff specialist, exceptional locker-room presence and, yes, enforcer.

Konopka: -0.3 GVT

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Robert Vollman is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Robert by clicking here or click here to see Robert's other articles.

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