This year we’re doing something a little different for the Trade Deadline. Every blogger out there is going to tell you who’s going to be a buyer, who’s going to be a seller, who needs this, and who needs that. And for the record, I reserve the right to do the same thing later—although it might just be more entertaining to make fun of teams and completely overreact after the fact.
But we wanted to do something a little different around here. This year, we wanted to put these same questions in front of fans who cheer passionately for their teams. Its one thing to hear answers from a blogger who follows the team and has an eye towards objectivity; but it’s something else completely when you ask the question to a diehard fan who cheers with their heart on their sleeve. We’re talking about people who watch their team every game, know what their team needs, and have strong opinions on what needs to do to get better. They’re you and me. Hockey fans.
What better place to look for passionate hockey fans all over North America than checking out Twitter? So that’s where we went—and here’s who we found! For the Central Division, we have Ian representing the Blackhawks, Aaron for the Blue Jackets, Jen for the Red Wings, AJ for the Predators, and Ryan for the Blues.
Hope you enjoy the project as much as we’ve enjoyed putting it together. After checking out everyone’s views, we’d love to hear if you agree or disagree with everyone’s answers. We know you have an opinion as well!
1. Is your team living up to the expectations they had going into the season? Do you think there’s more or less pressure to make moves at the deadline because of those expectations?
Ian (Blackhawks): You get two things when you win the Stanley Cup: You get to skate around with a 35 pound silver chalice, engraved with the names of legends and you get a great big bullseye on your back. What you don’t get? An engraved invitation to next year’s playoffs and a hall pass to skip the regular season. This year’s Blackhawks squad has spent the season like they got gold-letter notes in the mail that said to show up in April and everything would be laid out for them. That have rarely displayed the kind of will, determination and heart that won them the Cup in the first place. They stand 11th in the Western Conference based both on raw points and points percentage. So, underperforming expectations would be putting it mildly.
This absolutely puts more pressure on the front office to make a deal or three before the deadline as having the defending Stanley Cup champions miss the playoffs would be nothing short of embarrassing. In fact, Stan Bowman has already started the process, trading the underwhelming Jack Skille, Hugh Jessiman and something called David Pacan to the Florida Panthers for the slumping Michael Frolik and Czech goaltender Alexander Salak, who’s currently tearing up the Swedish Elite League.
Aaron (Blue Jackets): I think a lot of people expected this to be a pretty interesting year. The new coaching staff was supposed to give the green light to the players to be creative and try and put points up. It was kind of a rough start to the year. While the record was good, there were high scoring affairs in favor of the opponents. Overall though, the Blue Jackets have hung in there and find themselves battling for a playoff spot in the tight Western Conference.
I think a lot of fans put pressure on Howson to make a move. He’s always so quiet with everything he does. He’s not a Brian Burke type GM to go out and make the moves.
Jen (Red Wings): Yes and no. I mean, you definitely can’t complain when your team is sitting at second in the West, but there is room for improvement. Injuries have played a part, just as they did last year, and the team has at times underperformed defensively. They also need to show up on time every game and obviously, there is nothing a trade can do to help that. We as fans are always going to expect our team to live up to their full potential. I don’t think that there is really any pressure to make moves at the deadline. People will speculate that an area that could use help is goaltending because of Ozzie’s injury. There has been chatter about defense as well.
AJ (Predators): Yes and no…and maybe.
The resounding feeling throughout the Nashville Predators organization is that they got knocked out of the playoffs by a great team last season, in the eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. But just as strong is the belief that they could, and probably should have won that series and advanced to the second round.
It’s this feeling of ‘unfinished business’ that has driven this team since training camp. A deep playoff run is both possible and expected, not only by the fans, but even more so by the organization itself. Otherwise, General Manager David Poille would have had no reason — and indeed would have been foolish — to have given up a first, and possibly, a second-round pick over the next two NHL entry drafts, to acquire centerman Mike Fisher from Ottawa last week.
The Preds believe the time to win is now and they believe with the addition of Fisher they have the pieces. The obvious question is, however, do they have the scoring?
Nashville is an offensively-challenged group despite the fact that their roster is loaded with guys who can put the biscuit in the basket. A season laced with injuries has played a definite role in the Preds’ offensive chemistry, which Head Coach Barry Trotz has been forced to play around with like a mad scientist since the second game of the campaign.
Nashville’s prized free agent signing from last summer, Matthew Lombardi, coming off of a 19-goal season with the Phoenix Coyotes was touted to be a top-line forward, but has been out with a concussion since way back on October 13th.
Additional long-term injuries to replacement top-line center, Cal O’Reilly (broken leg), his linemate, winger Steve Sullivan (back spasms) and center David Legwand (a pair of nine-game absences), further kept the Preds off-balance, offensively throughout the middle portion of the schedule. And while Sullivan and Legwand are now healthy, and O’Reilly should be ready for the playoffs, there’s no guarantee that the scoring issues will subside.
But there’s no panic at 501 Broadway.
Ryan (Blues): Heading into this season with a new franchise goaltender, I was really hoping to see the Blues rebound after missing the playoffs last season. Perhaps I was caught up in the acquisition of Halak, but the 9-1-2 start was pretty fun, granted only 12 games in. Then the calendar flipped to November which derailed much of that excitement. Injuries to key players, inconsistent goaltending, lack of goal scoring – a little frustrating to say the least.
I would say pressure is starting to mount. Fans want to see results from this youth movement.
2. Will your team be a buyer or a seller? What are fans hoping to see the team do at the deadline?
Ian (Blackhawks): Oh, the Hawks definitely WANT to be buyers. That said, we are in one HELL of a bind with the salary cap. Winning the Cup hit this team with $4million in bonuses that carried over to this year. Couple that with some highly questionable veteran signings (adding John Scott, retaining Nick Boynton and Tomas Kopecky) means that there’s very little wiggle room. Any additions are going to have to be value-priced.
Aaron (Blue Jackets): If they keep their pace up, they can be buyers for probably the first time in franchise history. For years, fans in Columbus have been calling for a true #1 center and a right-handed powerplay quarterback. I think that is what we’d like to see here to be successful night in and night out.
Jen (Red Wings): I don’t think that the Wings will do anything at the deadline. I am sure some fans are hoping to see some moves. I know some hope to see a trade involving the acquisition of a veteran goaltender or defenseman. I just don’t see that happening. Injured players are either back or on their way back. I can’t see Ken Holland trading away the future in order to solve a temporary problem.
AJ (Predators): Possibly both; they’ve already been a buyer with the acquisition of Fisher, but with a surplus of defensemen in the pipeline (both in Juniors and at their AHL affiliate in Milwaukee), as well as current defenseman Alexander Sultzer’s impending UFA status on July 1st, the strong speculation is that they’ll look to move Sultzer if the injury ninja cooperates.
Despite being yet another talented member of the NHL Entry Draft class of 2003 and a member of Germany’s Olympic squad last year in Vancouver, Sultzer has been a victim of the numbers game and hasn’t seen a lot of playing time in Nashville. As Nashville’s Examiner.com Hockey blogger, Jim Diamond, surmised a few days ago, the sense is that Nashville management would like to at least give Alex an opportunity with a contender as a thank you for being such a good sport during his tenure with the team. A decent, mid-round draft pick in exchange wouldn’t be too bad either.
However, complicating the matter is the still-unclear status of second-line defenseman, Frankie Bouillon, recipient of another of the more nail-biting injuries to hit the team this season. Many believe his status will ultimately be the determining factor in whether or not Sultzer is dealt.
Buillon is trying to come back from a concussion suffered versus Chicago on January 16th. Sultzer has played regularly and admirably in ‘The Cube’s’ stead, but clearly, the Preds would prefer to have Bouillon’s veteran experience and more physical presence in the lineup come playoff time. The rub is that it’s still too early to assume that Bouillon will remain symptom-fee and be cleared to play. He has just recently resumed workouts, and while that’s good news, it’s unlikely the team will know whether or not he’ll be good to go until at least the trade deadline at the end of the month. So I wouldn’t look for David Poille to let Sultzer go at any point prior to that.
Ryan (Blues): I would like to be optimistic and say the Blues remain buyers, but unless a 40-goal scoring Witch Doctor becomes available, I don’t see the organization being aggressive as buyers.
Realistically, a season full of injuries and a tough Western conference may be too much to overcome. I’d like to see them hold tight for a few more games. If the players go out and lay another egg like they did in the back-to-back against MIN, the organization must look to sell off the UFA.
3. What specifically does your team need if they want to take the next step? Which players/prospects are on the trading block and could be on the move by Deadline Day?
Ian (Blackhawks): Adding Frolik provides yet another flexible forward for Joel Quenneville to move up and down the lineup. My hope is he becomes the second-line center we’ve been seeking for sometime. Worst case is he fills Jack Skille’s fourth line role, a role he’s even LESS suited for than the departed Skille.
Our other major needs are a crease-crashing top-six forward and a sixth defenseman who can stay home, block shots and not give the puck away. The first of these could be filled internally: Bryan Bickell has done nothing but impress, even in limited playing time. Promoted to the second line, with Frolik and Hossa and told to do nothing but get in goalie’s faces, he could be a force. The defense problem is stickier. The fifth/sixth roles have been mostly filled by a rotation of Jassen Cullimore, Nick Boynton and Jordan Hendry. Recently, Nick Leddy has been called up, replacing Cullimore, who was banished to the AHL and Boynton and Hendry have been filling the 6th role. Boynton is a hot mess, despite his goal in Calgary recently. For every shot he blocks (and he was leading the league early in the season), he commits a God awful turnover, pinches inappropriately or gets turned into a pylon. To say his hockey IQ is low is to presume he has one. I still don’t understand management’s handling of Hendry, other than he’s a prospect from the previous regime (as was Skille). He hasn’t been notable when he’s gotten playing time; which for a bottom-pairing defensemen is a GOOD thing.
The loud noise you hear from outside the window is the riot squad beating down the meathead contingent calling for the return of the Atlanta ExHawks: Byfuglien, Ladd and Sopel. These three (along with Eager) were sent to clear cap space. Big Ugly’s story has been well-chronicled and Ladd’s the captain of that team and clearly thriving. Sopel is EXACTLY the kind of defenseman the Hawks require. However, returning him to the fold at this date would probably entail handing over a prime prospect. These three are probably not returning.
As I alluded to earlier, the Hawks are in a cap mess. The Bowman regime bought last year’s championship on credit and now the bills have come due. Compounded with the signings that WERE made and Bowman, much as he might want to add a significant piece, finds himself in a HUGE pickle. Most of our improvement is going to have to come from within, from players already here.
Who’s on the block? Better ask who isn’t: Kane, Toews, Keith and Turco all have no-movement clauses. Campbell and Hossa have HUGE contracts. Seabrook, Sharp and Brouwer are all players who have been acknowledged as part of the core. Crawford is the goalie of the present. Hjalmarsson CAN’T go anywhere, due to the offer sheet Chicago matched over the summer, courtesy of Doug Wilson’s attempted poaching. Nick Leddy is a future top 4 defenseman.
Outside of that (and possibly Bickell and Jeremy Morin), everyone else SHOULD be on the block. Bolland is the biggest chip in that group, but Bowman said (both in so many words and in his actions) over the summer, that Bolland was a component of the core. The problem is, he’s not much better than the-recently traded Mike Fisher, in that he’s a third-line center who can occasionally pot a goal and fill in on the second line occasionally. IF he cares and IF he’s healthy he can be a dominating shutdown center. Motivation is a question here.
Tomas Kopecky is another interesting case. He’s setting career highs in scoring. However, he spends a TON of time on a line Marian Hossa. A MARSHMALLOW could put up scintillating numbers playing with Marian Hossa (injured or not). He’s never shown anything before this year that would indicate he’s a top-six forward and he clearly doesn’t have the finish to stay up there very long. He’s a guy a I could see being moved. Anyone else with the big club is a bottom-six guy and unlikely to bring anything of use.
As for prospects, I think Morin might be all-but untouchable at this point. He’s also starting to get a reputation as injury-prone, fair or not. The big name here is Kyle Beach. The former first round pick has yet to play a regular-season game in the NHL, despite undeniable buckets of talent. This is mostly because he’s a headcase. His on-ice and off-ice antics continue to undermine his development as a hockey player. The Hawks MIGHT have the luxury on waiting for him to develop, but may not care spend any further time doing it.
Bowman said after acquiring Frolik that the Hawks would continue seek all avenues of upgrading the club. I believe him, but it won’t be easy.
Aaron (Blue Jackets): If they want to make a final push and have any success in the playoffs, he needs to make some kind of move. The big two necessities are a top-line center and a true powerplay quarterback. Up until today I would have said that a defenseman was the bigger need. The loss of Derrick Brassard though makes me perhaps consider otherwise.
As far as who’s on the block, Howson has said anyone but Rick Nash is tradable. Guys like Steve Mason, Jakub Voracek, and Nikita Filatov I think are probably the biggest interests. And then there’s Mike Commodore who wants out of Columbus. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a number of draft picks be up this season too, due to the lack of superstar power in this year’s class.
Jen (Red Wings): To make it to the next step, the team needs to play a full sixty minutes of hockey every game. They need to be defensively responsible. They need to focus on what they do well and execute. I don’t think anyone is on the trading block. Of course I could be totally wrong, but I think this is the same roster you’ll be seeing after the deadline.
AJ (Predators): Unfortunately (I guess), I see the Preds as being kinda stuck. Outside the very real probability of moving Alexander Sultzer, I personally don’t see Nashville making any blockbuster moves at the trade deadline. They would indeed like to have insurance for the possibility of Buillon not being 100% for the playoffs, but anything beyond that would be a complete surprise to those who understand philosophy Poille has espoused from the beginning as the team’s one and only GM.
On the outside, it’s possible you might see the movement of a couple of Milwaukee blueliners, who in the past have played solidly when called upon by the big club, but who also appear to be trapped in numbers limbo within the organization. Guys like Teemu Laakso and Andreas Thuresson could be dealt as depth-adds for another team, but I wouldn’t consider any defensemen on the current NHL roster as deadline fodder, save for Sultzer.
Allow me also to mention that I firmly consider the wild and unfounded speculation within some parts of Preds Nation, surrounding the trade possibilities of both Steve Sullivan and J.P. Dumont, to be woefully misguided in my opinion. Sullivan, who will be a UFA on 7/1, and Dumont, who has a year to go beyond this one on his current $4 million-per-year deal, are not pining to get out of Nashville, or vice-versa.
Clearly Dumont’s offensive production has slowed to an ebb this season, as has his perceived value among a number of apparently pre-senile Preds fans. The fact remains that he has a no-movement clause in that fat contract of his and has shown no intention of rescinding it.
Much of Dumont’s problem, as I and at least one other team observer (Dirk Hoag from OnTheForecheck.com) believe, emanates directly from the doghouse that coach Barry Trotz has housed him in. Playing on a checking line doesn’t bode well for production from a player who has historically drawn much success from complementing the play of other scorers. Dumont has never been a sniper; he has always had his best numbers while playing with those of a more offensively-minded skillset.
His apparent punishment for lack of production has, in my opinion, become a self-fulfilling prophesy by Trotz. Nonetheless, he’s not going anywhere, like it or not.
Sullivan likewise has a NMC in his contract, which expires at the end of this season, and also like Dumont is deeply invested in being a family guy. Both men and their families love being in Nashville and have expressed their intent to remain here after their playing days are over.
It’s not likely that Sully would move his family unless it was to a major contender, and I personally do not see that opportunity surfacing, particularly in view of his own comparative offensive struggles this season. Dumont’s situation is much clearer. His contract is prohibitive given his current numbers, making his tradability nil regardless of the MNC.
And therein lies the frustrating elusiveness of what Nashville really needs to become a solid Cup contender; and it sticks in the craw of every fan who calls this team their own.
The glaring need they’ve had ever since the departure/defection of Alexander Radulov to the KHL back in the summer of 2008 is that of a pure scorer. The miraculous recovery and subsequent comeback of Sullivan from back surgery later in that subsequent 2008-09 season was a huge boost, but since his return, Sully’s goal-scoring touch has yet to sufficiently offset the Radulov void. The Preds believe there’s help on the way in the system, but certainly nothing to make an impact this year.
Only to exacerbate the scoring issue has been the removal of the steady, 20 goals-per-season output of former captain Jason Arnott (who usually played alongside linemates Dumont and Sullivan — hmmm…coincidence? I think not). However, Arnott’s trade to New Jersey last summer was seen as an important step in the team’s evolution; allowing for the smooth transition of Shea Weber to the position of team captain, eliminating the obvious awkwardness of Arnott remaining and being asked to give up the ‘C’ — which no doubt would have been the case.
It was a necessary move, but one whose ripples I doubt the Preds realized would have been felt as strongly as they have. Despite the fact that his goal production diminished last season (and has continued to do so this season), Arnott’s automatic 20 has yet to be replaced within the Preds’ current lineup.
Nashville must win with what they have on the offensive side, which with the stout goaltending of Pekka Rinne, is totally doable. Mike Fisher’s addition to the mix strengthens all of the things a Barry Trotz-coached team does well. Despite being down himself in terms of typical goal scoring this season, Fisher can be the guy to give Nashville the offensive shot in the arm it needs, all while making everyone around him better.
The team can win with the players they have now, but it won’t be without supreme effort, total commitment to the plan, and probably a break or two here and there.
The Nashville Predators are more than good enough to make a deep playoff run — as they believe they were last year — but we’ll save further discussion of that debacle in Chicago for another time. *LOL*
However, that being said, with regard to the deadline, it’s highly unlikely they’d be able to acquire any further serious scoring help without departing with some seriously valuable assets in the process. That, I know, is not a price David Poille is willing to pay.
Predators fans hope it will turn out to be money well-saved.
Ryan (Blues): A Brett Hull-esque goal scorer. Is that asking for too much?
Since I don’t see the organization being very active as buyers, I will say that I wouldn’t be surprised to see the team trade Eric Brewer, Ty Conklin and perhaps Brad Boyes.