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Post-Olympic Break Primer: Central Division

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Western Conference 2.23.14

In order to get you ready for the final third(ish) of the season, we gathered together some of the best and the brightest around the hockey-blogging world to get their thoughts on the remaining portion of the season. They address their team's play prior to the Olympic-break, possible activity at the trade deadline (March 5), and predictions for the playoffs.

If you missed them earlier, Pacific Division primer and Atlantic Division primer are waiting to be read by you.

Now, on to the Central Division!

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St. Louis Blues (39-12-6, 84 pts.)

By: Laura Astorian, St. Louis Game Time

Pre-Break MVP: Alexander Steen. Blues fans know the kind of player that he is, but to hear national outlets talk about him is a treat. The NBC Sports' crew calling him "dangerous" during the Olympics is great. The secret's out, I guess.

Pre-Break LVP: Chris Stewart. God, buddy. Be a power forward, be a goal scorer, be whatever - just find yourself and then get back to us and let us know what you are.

Pre-Break Team Grade: B (Met Expectations). I know, I know. Give one of the best teams in the NHL a B? I'd probably go with a B+, with points deducted for their inability to play a complete 60 minutes recently. Sometimes that bites them - and if it happens in the playoffs it's going to be a large problem.

At the trade deadline, the Blues will ... be buyers only.

What do the Blues need to buy at the deadline? IF the Blues are buyers (which no one really knows for sure if they will be), it'll be for someone to take the place of Chris Stewart if he doesn't get in gear. Nothing too chemistry-shaking, though.

What are the Blues willing to give up to get what they need? Chris Stewart and maybe some mid-round picks. I don't think that they can afford to give up anything much higher since they didn't have any first round picks last year.

At the end of the regular season, the Blues will end up ... safely in a playoff spot
Top 3 of Division or Wildcard? Top 3
When will the Blues season end? Eliminated in conference finals

Which WC team do the Blues NOT want to play in the playoffs? Good lord, any of the teams from California. No. No thank you. The Blues are 1-7-0 against all three of them. Playing them in the playoffs is a recipe for disaster.

Western Conference Champ: Anaheim Ducks
Eastern Conference Champ: Boston Bruins
Stanley Cup Winner: Anaheim Ducks

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Chicago Blackhawks (35-11-14. 84 pts.)

By: Sam Fels, The Committed Indian

Pre-Break MVP: Duncan Keith. His assist total is overblown, and he's not taking top assignments, but his high-pressure game is what makes the Hawks go, and it's been excellent all year.

Pre-Break LVP: Brent Seabrook. Not Bryan Bickell who is coming off two knee injuries. Most of Seabrook's blips have been covered by Keith, but he's been slow, wayward, and just in a general fog all year.

Pre-Break Team Grade: B (Met Expectations). Well, it's hard for the Hawks to exceed expectations. And if it wasn't for Bettman's beloved shootout, they'd basically be running away with the division.

At the trade deadline, the Blackhawks will ... do nothing. They've already made them. Versteeg and Regin pretty much eat the cap space they had, unless they move something off the roster which they won't. Stan Bowman is not a "splash" guy.

At the end of the regular season, the Blackhawks will end up ... safely in a playoff spot.
Top 3 of Division or Wildcard? Top 3
When will the Blackhawks season end? Eliminated in the Stanley Cup Final

Which WC team do the Blackhawks NOT want to play in the playoffs? St. Louis, but I have no choice. The Blues are dumb and lack premier scoring, but they're a bitch to play against and bring out the worst in the Hawks. It will also mean so much to the Blues, it'll be their Final, Super Bowl, World Series, and virginity-losing.

Western Conference Champ: Chicago Blackhawks
Eastern Conference Champ: Boston Bruins
Stanley Cup Winner: Boston Bruins

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Headless Colorado Captain (Getty Images)

Colorado Avalanche (37-16-5, 79 pts.)

By: Cheryl Bradley, Mile High Hockey

Pre-Break MVP: Gabe Landeskog was easily the team's MVP. Since the new year, he's scoring at a point-per-game pace and logging 18 minutes per night. He, alongside Paul Stastny and winger du jour, have been facing the toughest competition and doing so successfully.

Pre-Break LVP: While Matt Duchene and PA Parenteau are in offensive slumps, it's no surprise the LVP is on defense. Nate Guenin is a feel-good story, but his play is mediocre at best. He offers little beyond the PK, good for at least one big mistake per night.

Pre-Break Team Grade: B (Met Expectations). The team is maintaining its pace in the Central Division, nipping at the heels of St. Louis and Chicago while not gaining significant ground on them. It has responded to losses with wins and continues to solidify its place in the playoffs.

At the trade deadline, the Avalanche will ... do nothing. The team just lost Alex Tanguay to a season-ending hip injury. PA Parenteau would have been the most likely candidate in a trade, but he's needed now without Tanguay. There isn't another movable piece that would net a top-two defenseman.

At the end of the regular season, the Avalanche will end up ... safely in a playoff spot.
Top 3 of Division or Wildcard? Top 3
When will the Avalanche season end? Eliminated in semi-finals.

Which WC team do the Avalanche NOT want to play in the playoffs? The only team I'd put in the "please no" category is the St. Louis Blues. Not only is St. Louis arguably the best team in the NHL, it's a team that always plays well against the Avalanche. A series against the Blues would not be pretty for Colorado.

Western Conference Champ: St. Louis Blues
Eastern Conference Champ: Pittsburgh Penguins
Stanley Cup Winner: St. Louis Blues

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Minnesota Wild (31-21-7, 69 pts.)

By: Emilie Wiener, Hockey Wilderness

Pre-Break MVP: Darcy Kuemper. After having a tough few games at the beginning of the season, Kuemper came back into the line up determined to prove his doubters wrong. He's been 8-2-2 since being recalled, and stolen more than a few games.

Pre-Break LVP: Mike Rupp. Rupp missed the beginning of the season due to injury, but since being cleared to play he's spent far more time in the press box than on the ice.

Pre-Break Team Grade: B (Met Expectations). They had a terrible December. Fans expected to plummet in the standings when Harding/Koivu/Parise all went out with injuries. Instead the team came together in front of Kuemper and managed to take pts in 13 of 17 games.

At the trade deadline, the Wild will ... buyers and sellers.

What do the Wild need to buy at the deadline? Defense upgrades. Wants: A pure goal scorer and possibly a veteran goaltender.

What are the Wild willing to give up to get what they need? Hard to tell. GM Chuck Fletcher isn't interested in trading the most of the young players, and is on record as saying unless the deal greatly improves the team he won't trade them. He also isn't interested in a rental.

What are the Wild up to selling at the deadline? There are a lot of guys who the team would probably be willing to trade and/or package for other players. It just depends on who is available. I wouldn't be surprised to see Mike Rupp and/or Torrey Mitchell moved for late round picks.

What do the Wild want/need in return? For established prospects/high picks, they'll want a solid positional player. Whether it's a goal scorer or a puck moving defenseman depends on what's available from other teams.

At the end of the regular season, the Wild will end up ... on the playoff bubble.

What do the Wild need to do to make the post-season? Keep picking up points and padding the lead they have in the Western Conference Wild card race. If they can stay above .500 the rest of the season they'll be a 7th or 8th seed.

Say the Wild do make the playoffs, when does their season end? Eliminated in the semi-finals.

Which WC team do the Wild NOT want to play in the playoffs? The Blues. The games are never fun and everyone always walks away battered and bruised.

Western Conference Champ: Anaheim Ducks
Eastern Conference Champ: Boston Bruins
Stanley Cup Winner: Anaheim Ducks

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Dallas Stars (27-21-10, 64 pts.)

By: Brad Gardner, Defending Big D

Pre-Break MVP: Tyler Seguin. 56 electrifying points in 56 games. He's delivered what they wanted in the trade: Elite play at center, a star to sell, a piece (a young, young piece) around which to build going forward. Lehtonen gets a nod as well, as he always should

Pre-Break LVP: Horcoff. Gonchar. Cole has had his ups and downs. The veteran bets have just not panned out in certain stretches. Ray Whitney's struggles with father time, in particular, have hurt a forward group without a clear threat beyond Benn and Seguin.

Pre-Break Team Grade: B (Met Expectations). They're right there. Like we thought they'd be. In the mix. Like they usually are. The hard part is staying competitive through March, and they've not managed it in recent years.

At the trade deadline, the Stars will ... be buyers and sellers.

What do the Stars need to buy at the deadline? Assets that make them better in the next 2-4 years. Top six wingers will be an area of need as Whitney and Cole move on. Defense is also on the shopping list. So much defense.

What are the Stars willing to give up to get what they need? Jim Nill's style as a GM is not yet established. He wants his draft picks. He wants to patiently build through development, a la Detroit. He'll also move Loui Eriksson to get what he wants. We wait with bated breath, but the guess is not much.

What are the Stars up to selling at the deadline? Ray Whitney and Vernon Fiddler to anyone who will listen, should the Stars get out of the gate slowly. Erik Cole could be in the mix, and possibly a defenseman like Trevor Daley, if the return and the dollars make sense.

What do the Stars want/need in return? Picks and more picks, but prospects that aren't far off from maturing would be welcome offerings as well.

At the end of the regular season, the Stars will end up ... on the playoff bubble.

What do the Stars need to do to make the post-season? Injure the Vancouver Canucks in some kind of combined bus accident with the Phoenix Coyotes. Also get better on home ice, the power play, and in overtimes, where they've been pretty bad.

Say the Stars do make the playoffs, when does their season end? Eliminated in the quarterfinals.

Which WC team do the Stars NOT want to play in the playoffs? Speaking on behalf of the Dallas Stars fanbase, we'd like to face the Canadian Olympic team combined with The Avengers in the playoffs if it's a deal that's offered. It's been since 2008, guys.

Western Conference Champ: Chicago Blackhawks
Eastern Conference Champ: Boston Bruins
Stanley Cup Winner: Chicago Blackhawks

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Winnipeg Jets (28-26-6, 62 pts.)

By: TJ Maughan, Arctic Ice Hockey

Pre-Break MVP: Blake Wheeler. He led the team in goals (22). He was named to the USA Hockey men's Olympic team (suck it, Bobby Ryan!). He's smolderingly handsome. That's as accomplished as they come in Winnipeg.

Pre-Break LVP: James Wright: This is a slam dunk because Wright legitimately brings nothing to the table as a hockey player. Yet he still saw frequent ice-time under the guidance of Claude Noel. Seriously, an inanimate carbon rod could have outpaced James Wright.

Pre-Break Team Grade: C (Not good, not terrible). After a decent start under Claude Noel, the Jets fell off a metaphorical cliff in the standings. Actually, some nights it was like watching the movie Cliffhanger without John Lithgow, making it basically unwatchable. Now that Paul Maurice is in charge, things are better. We've got Lithgow back.

At the trade deadline, the Jets will ... scour the waiver wire for marginal hockey players? Kevin Cheveldayoff isn't the kind of GM to make hasty decisions, unless it's offloading high draft picks for the services of Devin Setoguchi. Look for Winnipeg to snatch up all the waiver wire claims, as long as they're players you've never heard of.

At the end of the regular season, the Jets will end up ... on the playoff bubble.

What do the Jets need to do to make the post-season? Build a time machine taking them back to June 2012 so that they can avoid re-signing Ondrej Pavelec who will undoubtedly ruin any chance of Winnipeg making the playoffs ever.

Say the Jets do make the playoffs, when does their season end? Eliminated in quarterfinals

Which WC team do the Jets NOT want to play in the playoffs? Teams are listed as follows: Anaheim Ducks, St. Louis Blues, Chicago Blackhawks, San Jose Sharks, Colorado Avalanche, Minnesota Wild, Los Angeles Kings, Dallas Stars, Phoenix Coyotes, Vancouver Canucks. See: Pavelec, Ondrej. He's really, truly not good.

Western Conference Champ: Phoenix Coyotes
Eastern Conference Champ: Columbus Blue Jackets
Stanley Cup Winner: Columbus Blue Jackets

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Nashville Predators (25-24-10, 60 pts.)

By: Dirk Hoag, On The Forecheck

Pre-Break MVP: Shea Weber has provided the all-around game that makes him a Norris Trophy contender. He plays heavy minutes in all situations, leads defensemen in goals and mentors the youngest group of blueliners in the league.

Pre-Break LVP: Viktor Stalberg was supposed to come in and basically replace Martin Erat as a primary scoring threat, but he & Barry Trotz can't seem to get on the same page.

Pre-Break Team Grade: C (Not good, not terrible). I expected this team to improve from last year's 27th-place finish but still not make the playoffs, and they're right on course for that this season. Pekka Rinne's hip infection has been costly, but the D are young & still learning, while the forwards simply don't score enough.

At the trade deadline, the Predators will ... be buyers and sellers.

What do the Predators need to buy at the deadline? The Predators need a dynamic offensive force up front, but that's not likely to be available at the Trade Deadline. They certainly shouldn't spend assets to acquire a rental player, but should look to 2014-15 instead.

What are the Predators willing to give up to get what they need? There aren't any "must keep" forward prospects in the pipeline, and at the NHL level perhaps Ryan Ellis or Colin Wilson might be tradeable - players who have shown potential and boast the fancy stats to provoke optimism in another team's GM.

What are the Predators up to selling at the deadline? David Legwand is playing out his contract and there seems to be little interest in signing him to an extension, so if he agrees to a move (thanks to his No Trade Clause), he'd be the obvious player to move.

What do the Predators want/need in return? Considering that Legwand would likely only go to a Cup contender as a playoff rental, the return would be a draft pick/prospect combination. A 1st-rounder shouldn't be out of the question, or perhaps a 2nd along with something else.

At the end of the regular season, the Predators will end up ... praying for the top lottery pick
If the Predators receive the first overall pick, they should draft ... a center.

Western Conference Champ: Chicago Blackhawks
Eastern Conference Champ: Pittsburgh Penguins
Stanley Cup Winner: Chicago Blackhawks

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