With the Olympic break giving the hockey world a reprieve from endless trade speculation and innuendo, NHL general managers have had plenty of time to analyze their roster strengths and weaknesses and put themselves in position to strike as soon as the roster freeze lifts after the Winter Games.
From that moment until 3 p.m. ET on March 5, those same GMs will be in a mad scramble to address their various roster holes and either strengthen their rosters for a hopeful postseason push or sell off extraneous pieces as they build toward better days in future seasons. Hockey Prospectus has scoured the league to find good fits for each of the 30 teams. We covered the Atlantic Division and the Metropolitan Division earlier this week.
The Central Division is shaping up to be very exciting leading up to the trade deadline. Chicago, St. Louis and Colorado are near-locks for the postseason, while every other team is still squarely in the hunt for a wild card, with no one yet relegated to the status of "sellers." As the NHL broke for the Olympics, both Western Conference wild-card spots were held by clubs in the Central -- Minnesota and Dallas -- while Winnipeg and Nashville were within a short hot streak of replacing them.
Note: Goals versus threshold (GVT) is Hockey Prospectus' proprietary player valuation metric.
The need: No. 2 center
Chicago's biggest problem is off the ice, as it has the least amount of cap space among all teams in the league, at $837,489 still available, per CapGeek.com. So it goes without saying that to get any upgrade, the Blackhawks will have to get the other team to retain salary of the player they acquire or to take salary back from Chicago in the deal. If the Blackhawks can, they should try to upgrade their second-line center position. They have an all-world two-way man in Jonathan Toews on the first line and a promising youngster in Marcus Kruger on the third line. Andrew Shaw is the nominal second-line center, but he would be better served as a third-line winger, a role more in line with his faceoff prowess (less than 45 percent over the past two seasons) and his scoring rate (well below the threshold for a top-six player at even strength).
If GM Stan Bowman can find a way to make the numbers work, the Predators lifer would make for a significant upgrade. The pending unrestricted free agent is having a resurgent season in Music City, putting up good numbers in spite of some bad puck luck, which is reflected in his low shooting percentage (9.8 percent). Able to play in all manpower situations and making positive contributions in all three zones of the ice, Legwand would be a huge improvement.