The NHL Central Division poker game is in full swing. At stake is the upper hand entering the 2015-16 season. While all the players wanted a seat at the table, Stars and Avs did not have the entry fee. The Jets, Preds and Blues flopped on The Flop although the Preds seemed to raise the stakes when they bet their 2015 1st round pick on players they immediately discarded. The Turn exposed the Wild’s weak Vanek-ing act while giving confidence to the Flames’ young hand. It also confirmed the Ducks and Blackhawks having the most swagger at the table.
We now come to The River. It is the wild card between the Blackhawks celebrating the Stanley Cup and the teams making their final bets for next season. Based on a mountain of internet table-talk, here is one way The River could get played out by the Ducks and the Central Division hands:
Ducks: They hold 19 players under contract with $17.5 mil in cap space. There are three restricted free agents (RFA) to be signed, but there is space for a top scoring forward. These are The Nuts. The Ducks will make a very bold move. The Big Deal-Rick Nash to the Ducks for younger and less expensive assets. The Rangers have $9.5 mil in cap space, but four RFA to be signed this year including Derek Stephan and Carl Hagelin and two next year. They need cap relief and the Ducks need goals.
Blackhawks: They are almost out of chips, but they do have three Cups. They have 8 forwards and 3 defensemen under contract and they are a little less than $5 mil under the cap. They will discard high priced talent, but Stan Bowman said it will not be Crawford. The Big Deals-Convince Patrick Sharp to go to the Oilers for Anton Lander and picks. Brian Bickell to the Panthers for Dylan Olsen and picks. The Blackhawks seem to love bringing players back (Olsen was their #1 pick in 2009 draft) for a second try and Florida loves former Blackhawks (5 on their current roster).
Preds: They still have a big stack ($28.6 mil below cap) but only 6 forwards under contract. They want to hold onto their UFA’s Mikes, Ribeiro and Fisher, as well as their 5 RFA. The Big Deal-Given their recent fumble at the table, the Preds will look to find a way to overpay David Clarkson-style for UFA Matt Beleskey. Much has been made of his 22 goal regular season and 8 goal playoff performances-career numbers. Rarely mentioned is his lack of assists (11 total) and lost is the fact that last year was only his second where his PIM was less than his games played going back to his days in juniors.
Wild: They like to play their cards, betting loads on the Parise, Suter and Vanek deals. They also seem to like where they sit. The Big Deal-Beau Bennett to the Wild for Marco Scandella. The Pens need stability on the blue-line and the Wild need help on the right side. This eases the Wild’s cash position and would allow for future betting.
Jets: They are staring at Ace/Three as in a great group of first-line forwards and weak depth. With nearly $21 mil in cap space, the Jets can make a huge move. The Big Deal-Phil Kessel and Nazem Kadri to Jets for Dustin Byfuglien, Ondrej Pavelec, prospects and 2016 picks. This Big Deal works if Kessel agrees and Leafs find forwards for Dion Phaneuf.
Stars: They play a bold offense but lack any kind of defensive poker-face. They have 19 players under contract and $13.4 mil under the cap. The Big Deal-Keith Yandle, Cam Talbot and conditional picks to the Stars for Valerie Nichushkin. The Rangers need to compensate the Stars for taking the risk of trading a 20 year old projected star for two players facing UFA after next year.
Avs: Like the Stars, Avs have 21 players under contract, $11 mil in cap space and were outside the playoffs looking in. The Big Deal: Dion Phaneuf with other considerations to the Avs for Ryan O’Reilly and other considerations. O’Reilly hits UFA next year so Leafs need more.
Blues: Here sits the Blues. Same good cards for the last four years with the same, killer Flop. Their deliberate table presence has been observed by the opponents and easily defeated. New and creative are required. The need is intensity, speed and scoring while maneuvering around cap issues. The Big Deal-Tobias Rieder to the Blues for Patrick Berglund, Jay Bouwmeester, Brian Elliott and considerations (as in asking the Coyotes what else they need). The trade makes the Coyotes far more competitive. There are issues for the Blues, but it makes them better too. First issue is getting Bouwmeester to agree. The second is convincing the Blues fan base this has huge upside.
Rieder is a shot machine and has a history of being an effective scorer. He is young, super quick, wins the battles on the boards and would be a very pleasant change from the sleepy guys going back to AZ. Also, the deal relieves cap pressure for the Blues and puts no pressure on AZ.
Unforunately, the chance of the Blues making this deal is about zero. But the guy they need will look like Tobias Rieder-young, super quick, super intense, a nose for the net and someone only rink rat hockey trolls have heard of-and the cost for Armstrong to call the bet will be quite high. I hope he has the stomach for it.