Last week we started in Bubba Country (the Southeast). This week we're swinging West. We break down the Central Division to see where they stack up in the lifecycle. The Central was the among the strongest divisions in the NHL last year, in spite of having the worst team, but can they maintain it?
Prior postings in this series:
- Core player: High quality or elite player that the franchise is building around. Often indicated by a No Trade Clause (NTC) in their current contract.
- Transitional player: Quality player that is either not yet or no longer part of the core.
- Geriatric star: Recognizable senior veteran (mid-30s or older, usually) who is definitely on the downside of his career or Teemu Selanne (since he doesn't seem to decline).
Western Conference - Central Division
Chicago Blackhawks 2012-2013
Core Players: Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook,
Transitional Players: Andrew Shaw, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Johnny Oduya
Geriatric Stars: Marian Hossa
Cap Space: $7.8M
Lifecycle Phase: Contending
Analysis: Lots of youth in the core, decent depth, but a total fail in net has the Blackhawks standing below the Climax phase. If they can address this without losing a core player or gutting their depth (yet again), they will be a team to be reckoned with in the West. If not, they continue to be the team that was eliminated 4-2 by Phoenix in the first round in 2011-2012. They stand close to the cap, so their options in free agency are limited, and they won't be able to take on much new salary in any trade scenario. It is quite possible that Chicago will peak below the current core's potential unless significant moves are made in net in the next couple of years.
Columbus Blue Jackets 2012-2013
Core Players: R. J. Umberger, Derick Brassard, James Wisniewski, Fedor Tyutin
Transitional Players: Ryan Johanson, Nick Foligno, Jack Johnson, Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov
Geriatric Stars: Vinny Prospal, Adrian Aucoin
Cap Space: $12.6M
Lifecycle Phase: All Blowed Up
Analysis: Train wreck, and one that has been going on for years. Howson finally did something about the Nash situation. He's gone and in his place are young roster players, prospects, and low draft picks, which is exactly what this team needs for the rebuild. They are on the path for rebirth, but not there yet. Their current core is underwhelming and overpaid. They're nowhere near where they should be in cap space based on performance and are actually worse off after trading Nash. It's a mystery why Howson's contract was extended based on his long-term inability to put a winner on the ice. But, now that the Nash era is behind them, he has an opportunity at redemption. Letting Lebda go in FA was a good first step. Getting a decent return for Nash in an impossible situation was the second.
Detroit Red Wings 2012-2013
Core Players: Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterburg, Nicklas Kronwall, Jimmy Howard
Transitional Players: Darren Helm
Geriatric Stars: Just about everyone
Cap Space: $13.1M
Lifecycle Phase: Past Prime
Analysis: We often joke about how old this team is, but when you sit down and really look at it, it's worse than you could imagine. The core is sparse, and largely on the downside of their careers. Worse yet, there's nothing back down on the farm. In the next two years 18 contracts for NHL regulars will be up for renewal. The day of reckoning is finally here. Death's door is at most a season away. Their only possible salvation would bring forth howls of protest from Red Wing Nation. They should trade Datsyuk and Zetterberg for picks and prospects this season. Maybe flip Franzen while they're at it. Anyone over the age of 28 (meaning just about everyone) should be on the block. Otherwise, the Wings are in for a continued slow decline and painful climb back into relevance. They have some cap space, but haven't been able to talk anyone into taking some of it off their hands.
Nashville Predators 2012-2013
Core Players: Shea Weber, Pekka Rinne, David Legwand, Patric Hornqvist
Transitional Players: Ryan Ellis, Colin Wilson, Sergei Kostitsyn
Geriatric Stars: Mike Fisher, Hal Gill
Cap Space: $16.5M
Lifecycle Phase: Past Prime
Analysis: They did it. They matched a ridiculous offer that will put their franchise in a cash bind for the next 3-4 years. To the positive, they kept their captain and one of the strongest young blueliners in the league. This team lost a big piece of their core when Suter ran off to Minnesota. Their core of Weber, Rinne, Hornqvist, and Legwand is not the picture of an offensive juggernaut, but they will remain solid in their own end. They have few assets to trade for prospects, (except Brandon Yip, who should land Crosby and a second). They have plenty of cap remaining, but one has to wonder if there is sufficient cash flow to come close. Rumor has it that a Russian-Canadian consortium from Pittsburgh was the source of the loan that kept Weber out of Philly (and you heard it here first).
St. Louis Blues 2012-2013
Core Players: Andy McDonald, David Backes, T. J. Oshie, David Perron, Alex Pietrangelo, Barret Jackman, Kevin Shattenkirk
Transitional Players: Matt D'Agostini, Roman Polak, Jaroslav Halak, Brian Elliott
Geriatric Stars: Jamie Langenbrunner, Andy McDonald
Cap Space: $16.6M
Lifecycle Phase: Contending
Analysis: More than one commentator in the MSM spoke as though the Blues came out of nowhere after Hitchcock came to town. Not true. This team had been under-performing under Davis Payne, but they were carefully constructed and ready to break out. Hitchcock was just the trigger. This team was built from the blueline forward, and the defensive core has a mix of youth, talent, size, and experience. While they were swept in the 2nd round of the playoffs by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Kings, they contended through the 2nd half of the regular season for the NHL points lead, fading toward the end. This coming season will see a different Blues team who will start faster and remain consistent, building to the playoffs. The experience of the past season, and a healthy amount of cap space for reinforcements should see St. Louis in a strong position, competing for the Cup.