Here's the final installment in the weekly lap around the Central Division's trade talks as the deadline closes in, from the divisional leaders on down:
General manager Jim Nill likes his team, as well he should. The Stars have rebounded from a midseason malaise to push the Blackhawks at the top of the Central, where it's an absolute dogfight for first place. The sense from Nill is that he's not going to do anything crazy in the next week. "The young kids are getting better," Nill said, and that's an important development. The playoffs aren't necessarily the time to go young, especially on defense, so there still might be a temptation to bring in a veteran for depth if Nill's opinion of the young players changes. There's not a deep pool of available defensemen, but the Calgary Flames' Kris Russell would be a good fit if Nill ultimately decides he doesn't want to depend on youth to fill out his defense during a potential postseason run. It might come down to asking price for the Stars. Dallas has been very protective of its first-round picks in the Nill era and this deadline likely won't change that.
The Blackhawks have been connected to Andrew Ladd since the moment it became unlikely Ladd would sign a contract extension with the Jets, and they remain the most logical destination for two reasons. The first is that he's going to cost a lot to acquire. The expectation is that Ladd will fetch at least a first-round pick, and the Blackhawks are deep enough organizationally and strong enough Cup contenders that trading a first is completely justified in this case. Second, Ladd likely would be used in the top six, and that isn't necessarily the case for other Ladd suitors. Take the Washington Capitals, for example. GM Brian MacLellan, who you can't rule out of this discussion, potentially would be giving up a first-round pick for a player likely slotted in the third line. Now, you need a strong third line to win a Stanley Cup, but that's a big price to pay. When the Florida Panthers are healthy, it's probably the same thing. Chicago could plug Ladd right in on a line with Jonathan Toews, and the price paid, assuming it's not outrageous, fits the role Ladd would be asked to play.
As was outlined in Wednesday's blog post, the Blues are tight against the salary cap, so GM Doug Armstrong is going to have to send out a dollar in salary for every dollar he takes on in any trade before the deadline. That makes things challenging because traditional hockey trades aren't usually pulled off this time of year. "We've had a constant drip of injuries. That puts a strain on your salary cap," Armstrong said. "It's just the facts. You can't lose any sleep over it. It is what it is." Even so, Armstrong is a deal-maker. He's been aggressive at the deadline before and there's a belief that this Blues team, which has played remarkably well through all the injuries, is capable of making a run. It's exactly the kind of group you'd want to support with a deadline deal. The Blues' currency of choice would be to spin some of its depth on defense for help up front. There could be a deal to be made with the Boston Bruins if they decide to deal Loui Eriksson, and Jonathan Drouin of the Tampa Bay Lightning remains another potential fit for the Blues.
GM David Poile has been busy working the phones to get a sense of the market and who might become available, but as of late Wednesday afternoon he wasn't close to anything. "I can tell you, I have nothing going on with anybody right now," Poile said during a Wednesday afternoon phone conversation. "I've talked to virtually everybody in the last two weeks. They know what I might be looking for. I have a good idea of what they might trade." Sadly, Poile declined to share with the hockey reading public who is on the want list. The Predators have been mentioned by executives outside Nashville as a possible destination for both forward help (with one suggesting Loui Eriksson as a fit) and depth on defense, but Poile sounded like a guy who could be content letting it ride with the team he has. "There's more of a chance of that than doing something. I've already made a significant deal with the [Seth] Jones and [Ryan] Johansen deal," he said. "I think our team is playing better. Maybe this is the year not to do anything else."
Colorado's first move this week was exactly the kind of move GM Joe Sakic said he'd be looking to make: Add depth without mortgaging the future. The Avalanche did well to acquire forward Shawn Matthias in a deal with the Maple Leafs without giving up anything of consequence. He brings size and has shown an ability to score in the West with 18 goals last season with the Vancouver Canucks. Sakic has no desire to move a first- or second-round pick for a rental and this is the kind of move we might see him replicate -- depth for the stretch run without putting organizational depth at risk.
It was fascinating to hear Mike Yeo speak to how the trade rumors surrounding the Wild impacted the team's play on the ice. The Wild had very publicly been connected to Ryan Johansen and Jonathan Drouin, and when neither deal happened there seemed to be a negative impact. "I felt that was a little bit of a turning point," Yeo said during a Wednesday afternoon phone conversation. "Every team deals with trade rumors and there's always something coming up that can become a distraction. My gut feeling was not right all year." The Wild have sprung to life under interim coach John Torchetti but certainly could use more scoring. Mikko Koivu is leading the team with 42 points, but even that is just a 57-point pace for the season. An 80-point scorer isn't likely to walk through that dressing room door, but perhaps the Wild's improved play will be rewarded by GM Chuck Fletcher. Jiri Hudler wouldn't cost as much as some of the other high-priced rentals and is one of the few pure goal scorers on the market. He might be the kind of player capable of injecting offense at a reasonable price.
There have been comparisons made between the Jets having to deal Ladd this season after opting not to deal Michael Frolik last year, and letting him walk for nothing. It's an erroneous conclusion simply because the Jets made the playoffs last year. That playoff trip was an important step for the young group to get that experience and more worthwhile than the draft pick Frolik would have fetched at the deadline. The Jets made the right move there. This season? The right move is undoubtedly trading Ladd. Not getting return for their captain if he's not signing a contract extension would be an absolute disaster. All indications suggest there will be a robust market for Ladd, with Chicago, as mentioned, the ideal destination. The Capitals are another team you can't rule out, and the Panthers would get involved if the price isn't too high for GM Dale Tallon's tastes, although Florida is extremely hesitant to move its first-round pick at this point in its development. If that remains the case, it would make Florida a long shot in the Ladd sweepstakes.