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June 23, 2011
Plugging Holes
Central Division

by Robert Vollman


With the Stanley Cup heading back to Boston, it's time for every NHL team to evaluate 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 (explained here) and offering a unique suggestion on how to fix it for 2011-12. The series continues today with fixes for the five teams in the Central Division, where the Blackhawks need to find some pivotal role players on the cheap.

Chicago Blackhawks

The hole: Low-cost defensive forward

The Chicago Blackhawks are built around an impressive but high-priced collection of talent. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Brian Campbell, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook together total more than $36 million in cap space, which is more than seven other entire teams, and will continue to do so until 2015-16. They need to fill their roster with bargains. Chicago won the Stanley Cup in 2009-10 thanks to low-cost secondary players like Dustin Byfuglien, Kris Versteeg, Andrew Ladd and even our proposed fix.

The fix: John Madden (4.5 GVT)

2001's Selke winner and three-time runner-up John Madden is still respected as one of the league's finest defensive forwards. After he left Chicago, its penalty killing dropped from fourth in the league to 25th. Though 37, Madden still played well for Minnesota, improving its already decent short-handed unit. With the Wild he played for just $1.25 million, but should he want something closer to the $2.75 million he enjoyed last time he was in Chicago, more affordable alternatives to explore could include Radek Dvorak, Marty Reasoner, Vernon Fiddler, Jerred Smithson and Adam Hall.

Columbus Blue Jackets

The hole: A puck-moving defenseman

Jaroslav Spacek scored 45 points in 2002-03. Can you name another Columbus defenseman to score at least 35? Sorry, but that's a trick question, because he's the only one. In fact, only four other defensemen have even managed 30 points, a feat no one could accomplish last season. Put simply, when Deron Quint, Anders Eriksson and Jamie Heward are the types of players who have historically led your blue line in scoring, it's not hard to figure out why you have a chronically hopeless power play.

The fix: James Wisniewski (9.8 GVT)

James Wisniewski, who split time between the New York Islanders and Montreal Canadiens last season after tours of duty in Anaheim and Chicago, was fifth among defensemen last season with 51 points on his way to an impressive 9.4 offensive GVT. More importantly, his power-play scoring rate was 5.2 points per 60 minutes, good for sixth among NHL defensemen. Wisniewski is just what Columbus needs to ignite potent offensive forwards like Rick Nash, Derick Brassard and Jakub Voracek, and it would be a mistake to enter the 2011-12 season without a puck-mover like him.

St. Louis Blues

The hole: Reliable but inexpensive backup goalie

Many were surprised that the Blues missed the postseason once again, especially after they entered 2010-11 following back-to-back 40-win campaigns and featured a core of young players ready to explode. The addition of 2010's playoff superhero goalie, Jaroslav Halak, seemed to only bolster those playoff chances. Instead, 2010-11 was a disappointment they definitely won't want to repeat. For St. Louis, the margin of difference between pretender and contender is so small that the selection of a low-price but usable backup for Halak could be a critical one.

The fix: Yann Danis (1.0 GVT in 2009-10)

Some teams don't look past Evgeni Nabokov when searching the KHL for options, causing them overlook Khabarovsk's Danis. Initially a promising goalie prospect, Danis got stuck behind Halak and Carey Price in Montreal's system. He eventually found his way to the NHL, playing 43 games for the Islanders and Devils from 2008 to 2010, earning an impressive even-strength save percentage of .926 and quality start percentage over 60. This success could be due to the small sample size, but Danis certainly deserves the opportunity to prove it.

Nashville Predators

The hole: Elite scoring

The Predators have nearly all the pieces to become a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. They have the goaltending, they have one of the top pairs on defense and they have a depth of secondary scorers -- but on whom can they rely when they're down by one late in the game? Sergei Kostitsyn, Patric Hornqvist and Martin Erat? Get serious!

The fix: Alexander Radulov (8.7 GVT in 2006-07)

Predators fans, hear me out. A-Rad is arguably the best non-NHL player in the world, and the Predators have his rights. Radulov, the same man who once tore up the QMJHL and whose 50-game scoring streak was second only to Mario Lemieux, has been tearing up the KHL, setting a single-season record for most points on his way to becoming the league MVP, and helping his team win the Gagarin Cup. Re-signing Shea Weber and convincing Radulov to prove himself against the world's best could easily spark a franchise that is finally ready to ignite.

Detroit Red Wings

The hole: Elite defenseman

Nicklas Lidstrom will return, but Brian Rafalski retired and the Red Wings could be weak where they've historically been so very strong. On the plus side, that frees up a lot of cap space, and opens up opportunities for youngsters Jakub Kindl and Brendan Smith, but will the likes of Niklas Kronwall and Brad Stuart be enough to keep their power play popping while they develop?

The fix: Bryan McCabe (6.9 GVT)

While no Rafalski, McCabe can be relied upon to score at a solid and consistent rate of 0.8 points per 60 minutes at even strength, and between 3.2 and 3.5 on the power play. Like many established puck-moving defensemen he can occasionally be a defensive liability, but his role is to generate the offense for which the Red Wings could soon find themselves desperate. Sure, they could throw money at a Kevin Bieksa instead, but going with McCabe could leave them some cap room, and gives them a couple of years to advance players through their own system instead.

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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<< Previous Article
Angles and Caroms (06/22)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Plugging Holes (06/21)
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Premium Article Plugging Holes (06/25)
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