The NHL trade deadline arrives on Feb. 26, and the Central Division remains the most potent group in the league this season. It's not just that the division features five teams currently in playoff spots; four of the NHL's top 10 teams are from the Central. Whoever makes the cut here will have earned it.
The Stanley Cup will, of course, be a possibility for any team that reaches the postseason -- but it's a more likely goal for some than others. This week we take a snapshot of the NHL trade deadline, focusing on the game plans for all 31 teams. After breaking down the Metro on Monday, we turn our attention to the Central, where it's hard to locate a seller. Salary-cap information is from Cap Friendly, while personnel information is from media reports and our own reporting.
Deadline cap space: $4,133,153
Biggest needs: Scoring winger, veteran defenseman insurance
Assets in play: Oh, this is tricky. The Stars have all of their draft picks this season as well as the Chicago Blackhawks' fourth-rounder. But given that the draft is being held in Dallas this summer, will the Stars want to hang onto that first-round pick, as is tradition for draft hosts? As far as unrestricted free agents go, they have the exasperating forward Antoine Roussel (28, $2M), defenseman Dan Hamhuis (35, $3.75M, modified no-trade clause), defenseman Greg Pateryn (27, $800,000) and goalie Kari Lehtonen (34, $5.9M, modified no-trade). Dallas could also dangle young, talented (and cheap) players like forward Devin Shore (23) and defenseman Julius Honka (22).
Deadline game plan: The first part of the deadline plan involves a player returning to the Dallas lineup. Defenseman Marc Methot has played one game since leaving the lineup on Nov. 6 because of a knee injury. If the Stars believe the 32-year-old isn't sharp enough for a playoff run, they'll have to address that via trade.
The other part of the deadline plan: secondary scoring. The Stars have one of the most explosive top lines in hockey but could use some goals imported to bolster the rest of the lineup. One obvious fit: Rick Nash of the New York Rangers (33, UFA, $7.8M), a versatile winger who has a mutual respect society going with Dallas coach Ken Hitchcock spanning back to their days together in Columbus. But Michael Grabner of the Rangers (30, UFA, $1.65M) could be just as intriguing and more cost-effective, as he leads New York with 23 goals.
The asking price for Nash is believed to be a first-rounder, a roster player and a prospect.
Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News doesn't dismiss the chances that the Stars will opt for scoring wingers with term like Max Pacioretty of the Montreal Canadiens (29, 2019 UFA, $4.5M) and Mike Hoffman of the Ottawa Senators (27, 2020 UFA, $5,187,500).
Deadline cap space: $601,087
Biggest needs: Scoring winger
Assets in play: Wild GM Chuck Fletcher fired his shot last spring when he traded away a first- and a second-round pick in a package that netted 25 underwhelming games from Martin Hanzal. As a result, the Wild have their first-round pick, three third-round picks (including ones owned by Buffalo and Vegas), no fourth-rounder but two fifth-rounders. The Wild have all but a fourth-rounder in 2019. As far as expiring contracts, they have forward Chris Stewart (30, $1.15M), forward Daniel Winnik (32, $660,000), defenseman Kyle Quincey (32, $1.25M) languishing in the AHL, and 41-year-old center Matt Cullen, who would be on the next plane to Pittsburgh if the Penguins decided they wanted Dad back for the playoffs.
Deadline game plan: There's been a lot of "the magic has been inside of you the whole time!" talk from Fletcher, who seems to believe this Wild team is good enough without any major deadline acquisitions. "We believe we have the answers here, and we are playing better. We need to continue to work on our consistency on the road, but I believe we are trending in the right direction and there's another level we can and need to get to," he told the Star Tribune.
Is there a chance the Wild add a scoring winger to their first or second line? Sure. But keep this in mind: There's every chance that the Wild will add Team USA Olympian Jordan Greenway after his Boston University season is over. And that's as good as a trade.
Deadline cap space: $14,869,063
Biggest needs: Scoring winger
Assets in play: The Predators have all of their 2018 draft picks save for their second-rounder, all of their 2019 picks save for their third-rounder and also own the Colorado Avalanche's 2019 fourth-rounder. Nashville doesn't have many tradable assets on expiring contracts. Forward Pontus Aberg (24, 2019 RFA, $650,000) could be a cheap pot sweetener who might need a change in scenery.
Deadline game plan: The Predators made their biggest splash back in November when they acquired center Kyle Turris (22 points in 39 games) from the Ottawa Senators as part of the Matt Duchene trade three-way dance, with Nashville GM David Poile refusing to wait to address a pressing need at center. Now that the unretirement of Mike Fisher has seemingly addressed the rest of the Predators' center depth, they can focus on their other glaring area of need: scoring on the wing, and specifically the goals that left when James Neal was plucked away in the expansion draft by the Vegas Golden Knights.
The Rangers' forwards with expiring contracts -- Nash and Grabner -- would seem like obvious fits here. Evander Kane would be an interesting fit, as 13 of his 18 goals have come at even strength, where the Predators are currently 18th in scoring (103 goals). Plus, Poile has never shied away from players with some tarnish on their off-ice reputations. Patrick Maroon from the Edmonton Oilers, also a pending UFA, could come a little cheaper and has 19 points in his last 29 playoff games.
But Nashville, we've been told, is all-in on winning a Cup this season. It's entirely possible that Poile adds a player with some contract term if he feels that player is the right fit for the Preds.
Deadline cap space: $2,500,000
Biggest needs: Scoring winger
Assets in play: As long as the Blues are a playoff team, they're not going to have a first-round pick in 2018 thanks to the Brayden Schenn trade, which could be significant in the trade derbies for several pending unrestricted free agents. But St. Louis has the rest of its picks in 2018 and all of them in 2019. The Blues are also sitting on a pile of prospects like Tage Thompson, Klim Kostin and Jordan Kyrou.
Deadline game plan: The Blues have been linked with pretty much every goal-scoring winger who has been rumored to be available at the deadline: Nash, Grabner, Kane, Hoffman and Pacioretty. But it's Edmonton Oilers winger Patrick Maroon (29, UFA, $1.9M) who might be the best fit. The Blues reportedly already made at a run at him earlier this season, and he's a St. Louis native.
Based on how he's worked previous deadlines, Blues GM Doug Armstrong isn't likely to take on term here. But that lack of a first-rounder complicates things as far as acquiring a rental.
Deadline cap space: $25,108,796
Biggest needs: Scoring winger, left-side defenseman
Assets in play: The Jets have all of their picks in 2018 and the Boston Bruins' pick in the fifth round. They also have all but their third-round pick in 2019.
Deadline game plan: Winnipeg has a .652 points percentage and legitimate designs on the Stanley Cup for perhaps the first time in franchise history. (Thanks, Connor Hellebuyck!) So after years of dillying and dallying at the deadline, GM Kevin Cheveldayoff looks poised to make a splash.
Specifically, a splash that nets the Jets a top-six forward with an expiring contract. The focus would appear to be on the buffet of options from the Rangers -- Nash, if his no-trade clause would allow it; Grabner, whose speed would fit well in the Jets' lineup; and if Winnipeg doesn't mind a second year at $4.5 million, 30-year-old winger Mats Zuccarello, whom coach Paul Maurice coached in the KHL.
Expect the Jets to add something at the deadline without mortgaging much of what is a promising future for the franchise. But I think we can safely assume that something won't be Evander Kane. Just a hunch.
Deadline cap space: $3,100,001
Likely available: LW/RW Brandon Saad (25, 2021 UFA, $6M); LW/RW Tommy Wingels (29, UFA, $750,000); F Lance Bouma (27, UFA, $1M); LW/RW Tomas Jurco (25, RFA, $800,000); D Cody Franson (30, UFA, $1M); D Jan Rutta (27, UFA, $925,000); D Michal Kempny (27, USA, $900,000)
Would they actually deal? Defenseman Connor Murphy, the 24-year-old snagged from the Arizona Coyotes in the Niklas Hjalmarsson trade? He has been underwhelming but far from a major part of the problem. He's locked in until 2022 at $3.85 million.
Deadline game plan: The Blackhawks lost their sixth straight game, a 6-1 defeat to the Coyotes, on Monday night -- which is a long-winded way of saying you can read this season its last rites, as Chicago sits 10 points out of the wild card through Monday.
So what will Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman do? Well, as per usual, his options are limited by the six no-move clauses on the roster, including a really regrettable one handed to 32-year-old defenseman Brent Seabrook, who is signed through 2024. (Artem Anisimov's becomes a modified no-trade on July 1, so expect a summer move there.) The Blackhawks will instead try to deal pending UFAs and perhaps dip into their RFAs if the deals are right.
Saad is, of course, the most intriguing option. His reunion with the Blackhawks has been a huge disappointment, as he's headed for the worst point-production season of his career. Which is a long-winded way of saying that the Blackhawks would be selling low, if they indeed decide to sell him. (And what a disaster that would be, especially when you glance at what Artemi Panarin has done with the Jackets.)
Look, no one in their right mind would trade three Stanley Cups in exchange for not feeling this aftermath of pain in 2018. But it's pretty clear that the check has arrived for Bowman to settle up.
Best-case scenario: Seabrook decides he hates deep dish and Chicago-style dogs and waives his no-move to go anywhere else.
Deadline cap space: $39,737,598
Would they actually deal? Defenseman Tyson Barrie. Once again, the 26-year-old offensive defenseman's name is circulated around the trading block, as he's signed through 2020 at $5.5 million annually. Honestly? Most of the chatter seems to emanate from teams calling the Avalanche about him, rather than the Avs shopping him.
Deadline game plan: The Avalanche barely qualify here as a seller, especially when you consider the two players listed above are banged up at the moment. Unless GM Joe Sakic sees a piece he can add at a low cost who can bolster Colorado's playoff chances, one assumes he'll be content to sit on the treasure trove of prospects and picks he has until the draft, when he can really start to parlay them into goal-scoring help. Besides, the Duchene trade already handed Sakic a big win.
Best-case scenario: Someone offers an actual NHL asset for Nail Yakupov, which would be like someone offering twice the price of materials for your reclamation project "Flea Market Flip."