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Hockey Prospectus 2012-13 is here! Download Sample Chapter - Penguins!

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June 19, 2012
Plugging Holes
Central Division

by Robert Vollman and ESPN Insider


With the Stanley Cup finals in the books, it's time for every NHL team to tinker with its roster and see how it can retool for next season. The analysts of Hockey Prospectus provide some help, identifying the biggest shortcoming on every NHL roster using their GVT valuation metric and offering a unique suggestion on how to fix it for 2012-13. The series continues with fixes for the five teams in the Central Division, where the Red Wings need to replace a legend.

St. Louis Blues

The hole: Depth up front

The Blues, who were the best possession team in the league this past season, are relatively free of glaring holes. They enjoyed terrific goaltending and a fantastic regular season but unfortunately ran into a white-hot Los Angeles Kings team in the second round of the playoffs. The Blues don't want to shake things up at this point, and since their team is built on solid, possession-driving, all-around players, they should be looking for someone cast in the exact same mold in their quest for greater depth.

The fix: Sign LW David Moss, unrestricted free agent (1.2 GVT)

Injuries limited 30-year-old Moss to just 32 games this past season, but Calgary nevertheless trusted him with the toughest ice time, playing him in almost identical situations as respected veteran Olli Jokinen. Yet it fared so much better, possession-wise, with the unheralded and lower-priced Moss. Moss was a usable secondary option on the power play and the penalty kill and is the perfect type of possession-oriented, do-it-all player who has made St. Louis great.

Detroit Red Wings

The hole: Nicklas Lidstrom

The departure of a player like Lidstrom leaves more of a chasm than a hole. Detroit turned to Lidstrom to play the toughest minutes in all situations, and the team still managed one of its best shot differentials with the incomparable Swede on the ice. No single player can replace Lidstrom, but the right player can fill as much of that void as humanly possible.

The fix: Sign D Ryan Suter, UFA (12.0 GVT)

Along with linemate Shea Weber, Suter was the key to the Predators' blue line, the only defensemen with whom they enjoyed a possession advantage. Suter killed 49 percent of their penalties, worked 46 percent of their power plays and played 40 percent of their toughest even-strength minutes against top opponents in both zones. Though he wouldn't come cheap, the 26-year-old silver medalist has averaged over 40 points the past four seasons and could be the closest thing to Lidstrom available on the open market.

Nashville Predators

The hole: Veteran top-four defenseman

It could be a tough season in Music City no matter what the Predators do, given how their 104 points -- their highest total since 2006-07 -- came despite the league's second-worst possession statistics and more by virtue of highly fortunate finishing percentages. As a result, seven players set new scoring highs, five more finishing with their second-highest career totals and only three who didn't have career seasons. The return to reality next season could come as a tough blow, one that might be softened with the acquisition of a veteran and defensive-conscious top-four presence on the blue line.

The fix: Sign D Adrian Aucoin, UFA (3.3 GVT)

Normally a 39-year-old defenseman who just saw the second round of the postseason for the first time in his career wouldn't be our proposed solution to any problem, but in the case of a team with so many young and inconsistent defensemen, a dependable veteran like Aucoin could be a perfect fit. Despite not being much of a possession team itself, Phoenix actually did well possession-wise with Aucoin in a lower-top-four role, and he also helped them finish with the league's eighth-best penalty kill. The Predators agreed with us by trading for Hal Gill at last season's trade deadline and will hopefully agree that a temporary low-cost addition such as Aucoin is a helpful step to weathering a potentially stormy 2012-13 season.

Chicago Blackhawks

The hole: Defensive-minded special-teams forward

Two seasons removed from their Stanley Cup and one year removed from nearly upsetting the eventual Western Conference finalist Vancouver Canucks, the Blackhawks are facing something entirely new: sub-mediocrity. Last season they allowed the ninth-most goals in the NHL because of special-teams deficiencies (fifth-worst power play and fourth-worst penalty killing), bad goaltending (.902 save percentage) and poor overall team defense.

The fix: Sign RW Lee Stempniak, UFA (4.6 GVT)

While the Hawks would ideally like to find someone with the same qualities at center, it's hard to argue that Stempniak isn't the right fit. Just as he would this coming year in Chicago, last season Stempniak fit nicely on Calgary's third line while working 34 percent of its power plays and killing 28 percent of its penalties. Without disrupting Chicago's salary structure or its long-term development plans, Stempniak is the type of veteran forward who can immediately step into a supporting role and, in all manpower situations, reduce the volume of shots its struggling goaltenders have been facing.

Columbus Blue Jackets

The hole: Almost everything

Columbus struggled through a season with the league's seventh-worst power play leading to the third-worst offense. Thanks to the league's worst penalty killing, terrible goaltending (.903 save percentage) and poor overall team defense, it also allowed the third-most goals. No wonder Rick Nash wants out. Well, if Nash must go, the Blue Jackets need someone who can do it all to replace him -- score goals, prevent goals, kill penalties, work the power play and just about everything else.

The fix: Trade Nash for a package that includes C Joe Pavelski (14.6 GVT)

If the Jackets have to trade Nash, someone like Pavelski is who they'd need in return. Pavelski, for whom a Selke argument could have been made last year, brings a lot to the table but was overshadowed by headline players such as Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton. The 27-year-old is a terror in the faceoff circle, winning 58.7 percent of his draws; can play all three forward positions; and played 58 percent of San Jose's power plays (killing 36 percent of their penalties). For just $4 million per season for two more years, the Blue Jackets would get a 30-goal man who scores at the top-six level of 1.9 even-strength points per game, took only 13 minor penalties while drawing almost twice as many and played against top opponents but managed to help his team outshoot opponents by one of the widest margins.

A version of this story originally appeared at ESPN Insider Insider.

Robert Vollman is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Robert by clicking here or click here to see Robert's other articles.

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Plugging Holes (06/20)

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2012-06-21 - Plugging Holes: Pacific Division
2012-06-20 - Plugging Holes: Northwest Division
2012-06-19 - Plugging Holes: Central Division
2012-06-18 - Plugging Holes: Southeast Division
2012-06-15 - Plugging Holes: Northeast Division
2012-06-14 - Plugging Holes: Atlantic Division