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Looking At Competitive Central After Deadline

03/07/2009 12:38 PM

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OK, first off we have to assume that by now you've caught your breath after a wild Wednesday.

That being said, outside of Columbus and Chicago, the rest of the Central Division stayed relatively quiet on trade deadline day, choosing to stay the course rather than make some upgrades or sell off some pieces.

If you're like us, that tells you only one thing:

This is a division that, while seemingly dominated by Detroit, is one of the best and most competitive in the NHL. Heck, it's possible that all five teams make the playoffs, which means it would be the best division in the League.

Now that we have a clearer picture of who will be on the rosters of the five Central Division teams for the balance of the season, let's take a look at what you'll be watching:


Where they stand: 1st in the Division, 2nd in the conference, 2nd in the NHL
What they did at the deadline: Stayed status quo on deadline day
Expectations: Win the Stanley Cup

Although GM Ken Holland admits he was kicking a few tires on trade deadline day, the Wings looked exactly the same at 3:01 p.m. ET as they did two minutes earlier.

Safe to say, they look pretty darn good.

Wings' roster breakdown: When healthy, you probably won't be able to find a better top six in the NHL than Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Marian Hossa, Tomas Holmstrom and Dan Cleary. Scoring, passing, defense, grit, size - they have it all.

The bottom six, if you dare call it that, is also strong. It's actually eight-deep when you factor in Jiri Hudler, Valtteri Filppula, Mikael Samuelsson, Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby, Tomas Kopecky and rookies Ville Leino and Darren Helm.

With Nicklas Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski, Niklas Kronwall, Brad Stuart, Andreas Lilja and Brett Lebda, the Wings' top six D-men are also ... do we really need to explain how good that is? Hockey fans already know that, right? Chris Chelios, Derek Meech and Jonathan Ericsson give coach Mike Babcock enough depth to work with.

If there is one area of concern, it's between the pipes with Chris Osgood having some problems this season. Ty Conklin is also an option, but he has played in all of one playoff game in his seven-year career.

Than again, if Osgood gets hot, we already know what he can do. The guy has won the Stanley Cup three times, including twice as a starter.


Where they stand: 2nd in the Division, 4th in the conference
What they did at deadline: Added depth forward Sami Pahlsson
Expectations: Make playoffs and go on a good run

Chicago GM Dale Tallon opted not to deal from his strength, which is goaltending depth with Cristobal Huet and Nikolai Khabibulin, and instead grabbed one of the top shutdown centers in the NHL in Pahlsson, sending defenseman James Wisniewski to Anaheim.

Losing Wisniewski doesn't hurt the Hawks defense too much as it still is fairly deep with some size and puck movers. Once Pahlsson, who won the Cup with Anaheim in 2007, recovers from a bout with mononucleosis, he figures to be a huge addition.

The Hawks were already stacked with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Martin Havlat and rookies Kris Versteeg and Dave Bolland. Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien, Troy Brouwer, Colin Fraser, Ben Eager and Adam Burish provide the necessary depth.

With these 13 guys up front, the Hawks have all the necessary ingredients, including pizzazz (Kane, Havlat, Sharp), jam (Toews, Versteeg, Bolland), experience (Pahlsson), size (Byflugien, Eager, Ladd, Brouwer) and energy (Fraser, Burish).

Brian Campbell and Duncan Keith provide speed on the back end. Brent Seabrook and Cam Barker dish out the punishment, and Matt Walker, Aaron Johnson and Brent Sopel add depth.

There isn't a team in the Western Conference, or probably the entire League, that has a better goalie tandem than Huet and Khabibulin.


Where they stand: 3rd in the Division, 6th in the conference
What they did at deadline: Quiet
Expectations: Sneak into the playoffs again despite a poor first half

Nashville GM David Poile had a host of soon-to-be unrestricted free agents he could have moved, but instead he opted to keep them because the Predators have played well of late and have positioned themselves for another improbable playoff berth.

The Predators probably could have used a top-line forward to aid their playoff push, but Poile didn't feel there was one out there on the market at a price he was willing to pay. With Steve Sullivan rounding into form, he could be the medicine the offense needed.

Predators' roster breakdown: Jason Arnott and J.P. Dumont have been, for the most part, steady contributors to one of the League's lowest-scoring offenses. David Legwand is starting to produce at a better clip. Sullivan, who was out for 23 months with a career-threatening back injury, seems to be getting his hands back. Martin Erat is also back to give the offense a bit more punch.

Poile didn't make a move because he likes his team's chemistry, and that means forwards Joel Ward, Radek Bonk, Vernon Fiddler, Jerred Smithson, Jordin Tootoo and Wade Belak are on his list of favorites. The rest is up in the air, but Antti Pihlstrom, Scott Nichol and rookies Patric Hornqvist and Ryan Jones could be factors down the stretch.

Shea Weber is the king of the Preds' defense, but it's a strong overall group when you factor in Ryan Suter, Dan Hamhuis, Greg DeVries and Greg Zanon. Will it be Ville Koistenen or Kevin Klein as the sixth defensemen? That's a good question.


Where they stand: 4th in the Division, 7th in the conference
What they did at deadline: Added possible first-line center in Antoine Vermette
Expectations: Make the playoffs for first time in franchise history

Columbus GM Scott Howson made the first splash on deadline day and it was one of the biggest as he traded from strength to add to an area in need.

Howson dealt goalie Pascal Leclaire and a second-round pick to Ottawa for Antoine Vermette, who was having a disappointing year production-wise for the Senators but has the ability to be a front line player at either wing or center. He's also a good faceoff guy.

Jackets' roster breakdown: It all starts with Rick Nash, who has been the centerpiece of this franchise since 2002. He has developed chemistry with Kristian Huselius, and recently Manny Malhotra has been slotted between the two wings and has played well. He could stay there, or coach Ken Hitchcock could opt to use Vermette in that spot.

Either way, Hitchcock has more options now with Vermette, a two-way player who had only 28 points in Ottawa this season but a career-high 53 last season. Vermette could play left wing in place of Jason Chimera, who is on injured reserve for another five weeks.

The Jackets have a strong defensive presence in the rest of their forward group, led by Raffi Torres, R.J. Umberger, Jake Voracek, Michael Peca and Fredrik Modin, when he's healthy. Jason Williams is still finding his way in Columbus, but could prove fruitful down the stretch. Chris Gratton, Jared Boll, Derek Dorsett and Andrew Murray offer size and toughness. Jiri Novotny is also in the mix.

The defense doesn't have any big names, but its been a strong point all season, led by Mike Commodore, Fedor Tyutin and Jan Hejda. Rostislav Klesla is still a key performer when healthy. Kris Russell and Aaron Rome are coming on and Marc Methot provides size. Factor Christian Backman into the mix somewhere, too.

Steve Mason is primed to win the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year, so the Jackets are set in net despite his obvious lack of experience.

Where they stand: 5th in the Division, 12th in the conference
What they did at deadline: Small swap of defensemen with Pittsburgh
Expectations: Finish strong and potentially steal the 8th seed

St. Louis President John Davidson and GM Larry Pleau could have easily been movers and shakers at the deadline. They chose to stay relatively quiet despite great interest in soon-to-be unrestricted free agent Keith Tkachuk.

Had St. Louis beaten the Red Wings on Tuesday night, perhaps they would have been buyers on Wednesday. Instead, Detroit throttled the Blues, 5-0, but that didn't drop Davidson and Pleau into sellers' mode either. They could still be a playoff team.

Blues' roster breakdown: "The Kid Line" of rookies Patrik Berglund and T.J. Oshie and second-year winger David Perron has ignited great interest in the Gateway fanbase. All three bring a different intangible, which makes them intriguing.

Tkachuk is the old man of the group, but he wasn't traded because Davidson and Pleau feel he'll play a big part in their playoff push this month. He along with Brad Boyes and Andy McDonald, who won a Stanley Cup with Anaheim two years ago, form an experienced and productive top line when coach Andy Murray has them together.

Third-year center David Backes and second-year wing B.J. Crombeen are having their most productive seasons and their size is a big factor in the Blues' push up the standings. Alex Steen, Jay McClement and Brad Winchester give the Blues decent depth and Cam Janssen serves his role as the team's tough guy well.

The Blues are surviving without defensemen Eric Brewer and Erik Johnson. Carlo Colaiacovo has fit in nicely since being acquired from Toronto. Barret Jackman is steady, but would probably like to pull up his minus-14 rating. Roman Polak is eating up his opportunity for more ice time. Jay McKee, Jeff Woywitka, Mike Weaver and Tyson Strachen fill it out.

Chris Mason has given the Blues solid goaltending since assuming the No. 1 job when they demoted Manny Legace. Mason lost his No. 1 job in Nashville last season, but he's making good on his second chance and is giving the Blues some hope.