NHL Final Analysis Central and Pacific Divisions

Central Division

Team: St. Louis Blues

Current Position: 1st
Probable Finish: 1st
Possible Finish: 1st-2nd
Current Status: Fighting for Presidents Trophy, playoff bound

Possible First Round Opponents: Dallas, Los Angeles, San Jose, Phoenix
Probable Playoff Finish: Stanley Cup Finals

Draft Ranking: Late first round pick
Position Targeted: Best available

Free Agency and Off-Season Moves: This is an exciting team to watch. They combine stellar team defense with a blue-collar work ethic. They fore check hard, play the body, and have completely bought into Ken Hitchcock’s defensive style. And for their efforts they have home ice advantage in the playoffs, a possible Presidents Trophy, and boast the best goaltending tandem in the league. Oh, and believe it or not they are 10 Million dollars under the cap! The St. Louis organization has done a great job of scouting, and cultivating that homegrown talent over the years, which has resulted in success and moderate contracts. This off-season will be much the same as they have their goaltending tandem locked up, as well as their defensive core, minus Jackman, who will undoubtedly sign. Upfront they do have some raises to give and some decisions to make, but it will be a similar looking team next year. With this being their first real playoff run in recent years, my guess will be that they will fall just short of the ultimate prize. So with a similar team locked up for next year, why not splurge with all that extra cash and really make a statement heading into next season.
Status Next Season: Playoff team

Team: Detroit Red Wings

Current Position: 4th
Probable Finish: 4th
Possible Finish: 4th-6th
Current Status: Playoff bound

Possible First Round Opponents: Nashville, Chicago
Probable Playoff Finish: 1st round

Draft Ranking: Late first round pick
Position Targeted: Best available

Free Agency and Off-Season Moves: Those late-season injuries really hurt Detroit down the stretch, but I don’t think it would have mattered much as they are still looking at finishing 4th or 5th. Which unfortunately means a tough series against a division rival. Home ice is essential for them, as I think they are outmatched by both possible opponents (Nashville, Chicago). I also think a first round exit might spark the retirements of cornerstone players Holmstrom, and Lidstrom. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, Lidstrom will go into hockey lore as one of the greats, and it will free up about 8 million dollars in cap space. It will mean that management has some work to do though. They still have an unbelievable core of talent, that is to old and to good to waste via a rebuild. Which isn’t Detroit’s style anyway. I don’t think they have ever uttered the words re-build, unless it was when they drafted Yzerman, or maybe Howe. And that also means they will not mortgage their future trading picks or prospects. No I think if retirement does come knocking, they will hit free agency with their newfound cash. And with the allure of one of the greatest franchises in hockey, I don’t think they will have a problem enticing possible candidates.
Status Next Season: Playoff team

Team: Chicago Blackhawks

Current Position: 6th
Probable Finish: 6th
Possible Finish: 4th-6th
Current Status: Playoff bound

Possible First Round Opponents: Los Angeles, San Jose, Dallas, Phoenix
Probable Playoff Finish: 1st round

Draft Ranking: Late first round pick
Position Targeted: Best available

Free Agency and Off-Season Moves: Last season the Hawks had a really slow start due to what’s referred to as a “Stanley Cup hangover”. Then late in the season they picked up their game, qualified for the playoffs, and were 1 goal away from beating the Vancouver Canucks who went on to win the Western Conference, and fall one game short of the Stanley Cup. That led me to believe they were a serious threat coming into this 2011-2012 season. And I think they were, but inconsistent goaltending really put the kibosh on that. And that’s really been Chicago’s Achilles heel lately, which is a bit ironic considering their rich history of Hall of Fame goaltenders. And that’s also why I don’t see them beating L.A. who is their likely first round opponent. But with their core locked up for years to come, time is really on Chicago’s side; with the only thing really stopping them from returning to greatness is a goaltender. Obviously easier said than done though. I think there is still some belief that Crawford will round into shape, which is one of three options, although he is already 27. If that’s the case I would drop Emery and grab a notable veteran as there should be a few available as teams look for youthful upgrades. Option two would be to trade or pay for a top goalie, but that move might put them in cap trouble as they only have about 4 mill to play with. The third option would be to trade or acquire goalie prospects and obviously hope one of them pans out. Also, Crawford is only making 2.7 million and is under contract for the next two years. Which like I said before, means there’s no immediate rush, but obviously sooner is better than later.
Status Next Season: Playoff team

Team: Nashville Predators

Current Position: 5th
Probable Finish: 5th
Possible Finish: 4th-6th
Current Status: Playoff bound

Possible First Round Opponents: Chicago, Detroit
Probable Playoff Finish: 2nd round

Draft Ranking: Late first round pick
Position Targeted: Forward

Free Agency and Off-Season Moves: Nashville, who is sitting comfortably in a playoff spot, made some big moves down the stretch this year to try and insure some additional playoff success. They managed to acquired Hal Gill, Paul Gaustad, and Andrei Kostitsyn before the deadline. And obviously the biggest acquisition was Alexander Radulov, who was coaxed back from Russia to join the team. Well either coaxed or came willingly due to the fact his entry-level contract is up, and he will most likely be getting a big raise this off-season. Nevertheless he is a big addition due to the fact that their top point-getter will finish around the 60-point mark. But Nashville sticks to the idiom “Defense wins championships” and in that regard they do have a shot. This off-season though is going to be a hectic one. Their offense will most likely have a new identity, with the majority of their players needing contracts, including the aforementioned Radulov. It will be a similar situation on D unless they can come to terms with Weber, Suter and newly acquired Gill, although Suter is rumoured to walk. And in goal they have the arduous task of signing future superstar Anders Lindback without really knowing if he will pan out or not. Oh, and Pekka Rinne’s new contract will take effect doubling his salary to 7 million. Good thing they have about 12 million to work with because they’re going to need it! My quick advice would be; sign Weber and Lindback (good future trade bait), offer Suter a modest contract, if he holds out for big bucks let him walk and promote Ellis, same thing with Radulov with a signing bonus for games played, let everybody else go, hit free agency, and trade Legwand and Erat for prospects or picks and recoup their 9 million.
Status Next Season: Playoff team

Team: Columbus Blue Jackets

Current Position: 15th
Probable Finish: 15th
Possible Finish: 15th
Current Status: Eagerly awaiting the draft

Possible First Round Opponents: N/A
Probable Playoff Finish: N/A

Draft Ranking: 1st overall pick
Position Targeted: Forward

Free Agency and Off-Season Moves: Where to start… This has to be the most disappointing franchise to date. They have done literally nothing in any of their 12 seasons in the league, except qualify for the playoffs once, which resulted in getting swept in four games. This is the perfect year for a fresh start. The Nash trade is imminent, and they have the first overall pick (depending on the lottery of course). That means tangible assets, hopefully. They need to rebuild (again), and for the first time I have some faith that they have the foresight to do it properly.
Status Next Season: Long shot to make the playoffs

Pacific Division

Team: Los Angeles Kings

Current Position: 9th
Probable Finish: 3rd
Possible Finish: 3rd,7th-10th
Current Status: Fighting for a spot, fighting for division lead

Possible First Round Opponents: Chicago, St. Louis, Vancouver
Probable Playoff Finish: Semi Finals

Draft Ranking: Mid-Late first round pick
Position Targeted: Best available

Free Agency and Off-Season Moves: On paper this team should be dominating, but instead they are struggling to score goals. They are currently sitting second last in the league for total goals scored by a team. Remarkably they are still sitting in 3rd place in the West. That lack of production is not going to fly in the playoffs, and management was smart enough to address the situation by bringing in Jeff Carter. He was a late addition to the team at trade deadline, and I’m not sure if it’s just his presence in the dressing room, but he has brought about a recent resurgence to the teams offense. If they can keep that momentum going they do have the talent to be a threat this postseason. Beyond July 1st, when free agency opens up, there isn’t really anything they can or need to do. They are at the cap, and basically have their whole team inked through next season. Which isn’t a bad thing because they do have all the components that make up a Stanley Cup team. They do need to work on their chemistry though to get those goals rolling in, and I think that will be their main focus this summer. A trade is a possibility, if they feel like their superstars just aren’t gelling, but it would be a lateral move.
Status Next Season: Playoff team

Team: Dallas Stars

Current Position: 7th
Probable Finish: 8th
Possible Finish: 3rd, 7th-10th
Current Status: Fighting for a spot, fighting for division lead

Possible First Round Opponents: St. Louis, Vancouver, Chicago
Probable Playoff Finish: 1st round

Draft Ranking: Mid-late first round pick
Position Targeted: Forward, best available

Free Agency and Off-Season Moves: Dallas was a bit of a surprise this year as everybody counted them out after they lost their top player last year in Brad Richards. So I think this season has been a success so far as they find themselves in that four-team battle for the last three spots. They have also seen their young talent Jamie Benn mature into a legitimate superstar. Unfortunately if they are lucky enough to sneak into a spot, I do see a quick exit for the Stars, as their opponents will be in different weight class. This offseason they do have some decisions to make, but the good thing is they are currently about 15 million below the cap. The only obvious move is giving Benn what he deserves. He is coming off of entry-level and deserves his raise. The tough decision is whether to bulk up and get back into the postseason, or rebuild around Benn and Eriksson. They are four years removed from the playoffs and have only one pick in the top ten to show for it. They can’t keep hanging out in purgatory, and need to go one way or the other. They have some aging talent that could be traded for picks if they wanted to rebuild. And they have enough cash and a few prospects that could be turned into the needed pieces to be a playoff team, but getting a top goalie might pose a problem. I don’t care either way, but for the sake of the fans in Dallas I hope they pick one!
Status Next Season: Will be fighting for a playoff spot

Team: San Jose Sharks

Current Position: 3rd
Probable Finish: 7th
Possible Finish: 3rd, 7th-10th
Current Status: Fighting for a spot, fighting for division lead

Possible First Round Opponents: Vancouver, St. Louis, Chicago
Probable Playoff Finish: 1st round

Draft Ranking: Mid-late first round pick
Position Targeted: Best Available

Free Agency and Off-Season Moves: Watching the Sharks over the past five seasons was almost as painful as watching the Buffalo Bills in the early 90’s. Every year I found myself saying “Is this finally the year?” Well, I said it again at the beginning of this season after being impressed with their off-season moves, but it looks like it will end (again) in disappointment, this year perhaps the worst of the bunch. And guess what, they will have the same team again next year. Besides a few younger guys to sign, their big guys are all locked up, and they are again at the cap. Give it one more year before stripping the team? Or will we see that big blockbuster trade this summer?
Status Next Season: Will be fighting for a playoff spot

Team: Phoenix Coyotes

Current Position: 8th
Probable Finish: 9th
Possible Finish: 3rd, 7th-10th
Current Status: Fighting for a spot, fighting for division lead

Possible First Round Opponents: St. Louis, Vancouver, Chicago
Probable Playoff Finish: 1st round

Draft Ranking: Mid-late first round pick
Position Targeted: Forward, Best Available

Free Agency and Off-Season Moves: I didn’t think Smith could do it, but here we sit on the precipice of the playoffs. I think getting in only means two more home games in which to sell tickets, but at least they’re in the mix. They also have around 10 Million in available cash, which is surprising for a team fighting for a spot, unless you look to next season. The Yotes have four of their big stars looking for contracts this spring, including their captain. I would re-up with Doan for sure, but I probably wouldn’t with anyone else. The only thing I really like bout this team is their defense. Yandle and O.E Larsson are world-class talents and good cornerstone pieces to build a team around. And that’s what I would do. Visentin is probably a couple years away, but should turn into a solid number one goaltender. So that just leaves the forward position. Right now the majority of their forwards are in their late 30’s. I would drop the dead weight, ink Doan but look to trade him down the stretch, and buy or draft a younger looking offense. It’s really only a two-year turn around.
Status Next Season: Will be fighting for a playoff spot

Team: Anaheim Ducks

Current Position: 12th
Probable Finish: 12th
Possible Finish: 12th-13th
Current Status: Awaiting the draft

Possible First Round Opponents: N/A
Probable Playoff Finish: N/A

Draft Ranking: Top 10 pick
Position Targeted: Forward

Free Agency and Off-Season Moves: To me this is the most disappointing team of the season. I really had faith that they would be a contender this year. I figured Getzlaf would stay healthy and that him and superstar linemate Corey Perry would tear up the points race. I also expected big breakout seasons from Bobby Ryan and Cam Fowler, but they too disappointed. The only Duck that really did have a good year was 41 year-old Teemu Selanne, who unbelievably leads the team in scoring! Hiller also wasn’t bad considering his return from vertigo (which sidelined him from the playoffs last year, and put his future in jeopardy), as well as the lack of support from his teammates. But he will have to be better next year, as well as the rest of the cast if they hope to return to form and compete in one of the toughest divisions in hockey. As for signings, I would shake this team up a little bit. The first thing I would do, is make sure that I get Justin Schultz signed! And I mean by any means necessary. Next, I would let Selanne retire with class, and at the top of his game. I would also let Blake, Koivu, and Hagman go, freeing up 12 million including Selanne. Everybody else of importance is already signed, but I would possibly look to shed some more cap on the back end and make room for Schultz or a defensive defenseman. Then I would look to add another top center, some grit, and some defensive players on either side of the blue line.
Status Next Season: Will be fighting for a playoff spot


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