What flaws does each Central Division team have and what moves can they make to fix these holes?
Plugging Holes: Chicago Blackhawks
The Hole: A power-play specialist
The defending champions don't have too many holes -- but surprisingly, the team that dominated offensively at even strength was only pedestrian with the man advantage. Finishing 12th with a 0.6 GVT on the power play and 16th in power-play efficiency, scoring only 17.7 percent of the time, there could be a cause for concern next season, when the team could lose some of its offensive assets because of cap constraints.
The Fix: Sign LW Vaclav Prospal from the New York Rangers
With 20 goals, 58 points and a 9.6 GVT last year -- fourth-best on the Rangers in 2009-10 -- the veteran can provide any team with offense. However, the left winger also can play effectively on the power play. Last season, Prospal finished tied for third on the Broadway Blueshirts with six power-play goals and 3.67 power-play points per 60 minutes, including a fifth-best 3:13 minutes of power-play time on ice per game; in 2008-09 with the Tampa Bay Lightning, he was tied for third with seven power-play goals. New York's alternate captain last season is exactly what the Blackhawks need to turn their fortunes around with the man advantage.
Prospal earned just $1.1 million last year in New York. With cap restrictions forcing lots of talent out the door, this could be a good way to recover some production on the cheap.
For ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek's take on the Chicago Blackhawks, click here.
Plugging Holes: Columbus Blue Jackets
The Hole: Essentially, everything
Columbus performed poorly in all aspects of the game last year: special teams play in all situations was below average and even-strength play on both sides of the puck was dismal. Overall, the Blue Jackets finished 26th in team GVT with a minus-38.4 mark. Goaltender Steve Mason fell into a sophomore slump after a brilliant rookie campaign and young center Derick Brassard has yet to develop into anything resembling a franchise player.
The Fix: Patience, grasshopper
While the Blue Jackets can use a top pair of defensemen, it's not going to be worth the cost in salary cap room and prospects. Columbus is the second-youngest team in the NHL with an average age of 26.3 years old. Only the Chicago Blackhawks, at 26.2, are an overall younger team than the Blue Jackets.
Give Mason and Brassard at least another year to turn things around; Nikita Filatov, who left Columbus for the KHL, has stated his intentions of coming back to play for the Blue Jackets next season; John Moore has the potential to be a very good blueliner and is still maturing in the minors; Jakub Voracek finished strong and displayed a lot of promise down the stretch. If the Blue Jackets are patient enough, they could find themselves with a very strong team in a few years. If they choose to win now, they risk harming the team in the long run.
For ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek's take on the Columbus Blue Jackets, click here.
Plugging Holes: Detroit Red Wings
The Hole: Youth at LW, RW
The Red Wings admittedly suffered an unfortunate number of injuries last season to the likes of Henrik Zetterberg, Tomas Holmstrom, Johan Franzen, Valtteri Filppula and Niklas Kronwall. However, the team is getting older by the day, and last season Detroit finished 21st in even-strength offense with a minus-0.9 GVT, 14th in total offense with a minus-3.5 GVT and 14th in goals per game with 2.72.
The Fix: The return of LW Jiri Hudler
After one season away from Detroit in the KHL, 26-year-old Hudler is returning to the Red Wings on a two-year, $2.875 million deal, which is the same contract he received in arbitration in 2009. As a Red Wing, the 5-foot-9 left winger was a good offensive contributor with a fifth-best 1.19 even-strength goals per 60 minutes and a seventh-best 2.00 even-strength points per 60 minutes in 2008-09 (only players who played 20 or more games were included). He has been capable of producing about a 10 GVT in the past. The winger will be a solid addition to the Red Wings' offense and should help them improve after a disappointing season.
For ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek's take on the Detroit Red Wings, click here.
Plugging Holes: Nashville Predators
The Hole: Offense in general
The Predators finished 17th in even-strength offense last year with a minus-0.6 GVT and were 18th in goals per game with 2.65. While Nashville received contributions on offense from some of their stars, they will need to improve at scoring if they plan to finally get over the first-round hump in the playoffs that they've had trouble overcoming the past few seasons.
The Fix: Re-sign RW Patric Hornqvist
Signing new players onto Nashville's roster will prove difficult considering that they only spend around $5 million more than the salary floor requires -- including a player budget of only $44.5 million this past season. With very limited funds to sign a number of free agents to their roster (around $3 million), the Predators should focus on dealing several players in order to ensure that they can sign the talented Hornqvist to a long-term deal. Let Dan Hamhuis and Denis Grebeshkov go, and start taking calls for J.P. Dumont. Letting your number one offensive playmaker leave after next season would send a very bad signal to Nashville fans.
For ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek's take on the Nashville Predators, click here.
Plugging Holes: St. Louis Blues
The Hole: A top-six forward, a top-four defenseman
St. Louis finished a disappointing 19th in even-strength defense with a minus-6.6 GVT and 14th in total defense with a 2.3 GVT, though they managed to finish tied for 11th in goals against per game with 2.66. The even-strength offense, which ranked 16th in the league this past year with an underwhelming minus-4.5 GVT, wasn't much better.
The Fix: Get Andrew Ladd from the Chicago Blackhawks
The 24-year-old Chicago Blackhawk is currently a restricted free agent, so Chicago would have to be willing to deal him or let him be signed away via offer sheet within the division, and St. Louis would likely need to surrender a third-round pick. But considering Chicago's salary cap situation, there is little potential for a matched offer.
Ladd is a top-six forward who would make an excellent addition to St. Louis' second line after a 5.4 GVT performance last year. He also finished sixth on Chicago with 0.97 goals per 60 minutes at even strength.
For ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek's take on the St. Louis Blues, click here.
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .
Andrew Rothstein is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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