The trades that sent Devan Dubnyk to Nashville and Ben Scrivens to Los Angeles pushed the division-by-division forecasting back a day, so we’ll finish this week with the Central Division (see the Atlantic here) and then cover the other two divisions as soon as possible. (Hey, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if something exciting happened again.)
So, with that out of the way, let’s get cracking with the Central Division.
15 home remaining, 18 road remaining
Toughest stretches: If there's anything that might just send a few people jumping off of the Chicago Blackhawks' bandwagon, it's the combination of a tough run and the Olympics. (Scroll down for the latter part.)
The Blackhawks have two tough home games (Anaheim on Friday and Boston on Sunday) before things get a little hairy. They'll play eight of nine games away from Chicago from Jan. 22 to Feb. 7, finishing that with a six-game road run. They'll play a road game right after the break, but then things are mostly golden, Pony boys and girls.
The only stretch that's relatively challenging beyond that one is at the end of the season: a stretch of four of five on the road and six road vs. three home games in the last nine.
Lucrative stretches: Get ready to roll your eyes regarding some "Blackhawks march through March"-type storylines, as things look promising until March 27. It's easier to think of it in terms of runs.
-- Three home games in a row from March 1-6.
-- Two road games, two home games and one more away contest make mid-March (March 9-18) the only real bumpy patch.
-- They then play four straight games in Chicago from March 21-25. So, the best stretch is March. 14-25, as they'll play six of seven at the United Center.
Olympic factor: 10 players (via Lyle Richardson's handy list).
The Blackhawks might be wise to rest key players strategically rather than fighting bitterly for playoff positioning, because February could be a treacherous month.
Patrick Sharp making the team is great for the handsome sniper, but the Blackhawks probably aren't thrilled that so many borderline guys (Johnny Oduya, Michal Rozsival, Marcus Kruger and Michal Handzus) aren't getting rest. At least Corey Crawford will get a much-needed breather, though.
15 home, 20 road remaining
Toughest stretches: Colorado already took care of a chunk of what is currently a challenging stretch, so things look less imposing at four of five road games as opposed to six out of eight.
Extending it a little farther shows that that run has just begun. Extending things from Saturday (Jan. 18) to Feb. 8, Colorado will play nine out of its next 12 contests on the road, with a three-game trip and a four-game trip.
The other tough stretches are four of five on the road in mid-March and four straight road games against West teams to end the season.
Lucrative stretches: The Avalanche might just need to ride their strong start, as there's only one stretch that really catches my eye. At least it's a good one right after the Olympic break.
Colorado plays three games in a row, two on the road, then four more at home. That's seven of nine at home.
Olympic factor: Four players
Not a ton of guys going overseas, but all of them are important to Colorado and could see significant roles for their countries. If they come out of that break healthy and happy, that nice stretch could be that much nicer.
18 home, 17 road remaining
Toughest stretches: The Stars have a tough mini-one coming up in February, even if it's just three road games, because those contests come against their former Pacific Division pals.
Things really turn sour in mid-March.
-- First, they play four of five games on the road from March 11-20.
-- The Stars get a little break with three of four games in big 'ol Texas.
-- After that, they'll play five straight games on the road. Overall, it's a tough run from March 16-April 6, as they'll play nine games on the road vs. three away.
Lucrative stretches: The Stars should keep their heads up, or even keep their eyes on trade sellers like Buffalo to beef up for a big push.
The Stars play five straight games from Jan. 21-30. Things could get interesting after the Olympic break, as they play three home games in a row and six of seven at the American Airlines Center.
Olympic factor: Three players
Pretty weird that Tyler Seguin stays home but Valeri Nichushkin is headed to Sochi, eh? The Stars shouldn't be too nervous about injuries, as long as Kari Lehtonen is mostly sightseeing overseas.
15 home, 17 road remaining
Toughest stretches: The Wild have two stretches owners should be concerned about (hopefully Zach Parise will be back for at least the later one).
First, they play five of six on the road from Jan. 21-Feb.4.
Returning from the Olympic break is a mixed back at first, but the bumps in the road really start on March 17.
-- They play three in a row on the road and four of five from March 17-23. They then get one home game and face a four-game road trip after that.
-- Overall, they only play two out of 10 games in "The State of Hockey" from March 17-April 3.
Lucrative stretches: Minnesota's two best chances to collect points are pretty modest.
They play five of six games at home shortly after the Olympic break and finish the season with four of five of home games. The more I look at the schedule, the more I wonder if Ryan Suter, Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu will end their seasons at Game 82.
Olympic factor: Five players.
The Wild's big three will be counted upon in a big way, assuming Koivu (ankle) and Parise (foot) make the trip. If not, the Olympic break could very well help to save the Wild's season, as two heavily relied upon stars might just get healthy in that interim. (Don't count on it, but cross your fingers if you own them in a league.)
Ryan Suter might just want to spend the first week of his hockey vacation doing nothing but lounging in sweatpants whenever this season is over, as the United States will probably lean on him more than anyone except maybe their No. 1 goalie.
15 home, 18 road remaining
Toughest stretches: The Predators' remaining schedule seems rife with troubling runs.
The first: six of seven road games from Jan. 23-Feb.6.
The second: Seven of eight away contests from March 10-23. It goes in the form of a three-game trip, one home game (back-to-back at Chicago March 14, home vs. the Blues on March 15) and then four straight road contests. They face the Blackhawks twice, Blues once and Canucks once in that span.
The third isn't quite as bad quantity-wise (four out of five road contests from March 28-April 8), but that stretch includes two games against the Stars and one against the Sharks and Ducks. Yikes.
Lucrative stretches: The Olympics seem to be a beacon of hope for the Predators. They play one home contest before the break and then five home games in a row after the break. Other than that, it's pretty bleak.
Olympic factor: Two players.
Dream scenario: Hey, more time for Pekka Rinne to heal! Reality: more energy for grinders to grind.
ST. LOUIS BLUES
17 home, 19 road
Toughest stretches: The Blues' schedule seems to swing from hostile to friendly basically from here on out. We'll start with the difficult.
Jan. 20-31: Five of six road contests.
Feb. 26-March 9: Six of seven road games (two three-game trips sandwiching a home game against the Stars).
March 19-25: Four road games in a row.
April 6-11: Three out of four away contests.
Lucrative stretches: While the Blues see multiple nagging road stretches, the good times are mainly represented in two big home chunks (or at least one solid one followed by one huge one).
Jan. 28-Feb.8: Five of six in St. Louis.
March 27-April 8: Five in a row at home and six of seven.
Olympic factor: 10 players
The Olympics show the downside that comes with climbing from a middle-of-the-road (if not bad) team to a legitimate contender. The Blues have a lot of players going overseas, and most of them on teams that should contend. At least Ken Hitchcock has a deep team that could shake off injuries better than more top-heavy teams.
16 home, 17 road remaining
Tough stretches: All things considered, the Jets don't face outrageous challenges. Combining two lower-level challenges makes for a tougher stretch.
Jan 21-26: three out of four road games
Jan. 28-31: two home games
Feb. 2: four road contests in a row and five out of six away.
So, from Jan. 21-Feb. 2, they'll play eight out of 12 times on the road.
Lucrative stretch: Maybe the March jokes will fall to the Jets instead of the Blackhawks (they could share, too).
From March 4-22, the Jets enjoy eight of 10 games at home.
There are smaller opportunities here and there, but that's the standout group.
Olympic factor: Four players.
The good news: their best fantasy assets (Dustin Byfuglien, Evander Kane and Andrew Ladd) get to rest up … and hopefully not gain a ton of weight. Many Jets fans wouldn’t shed a tear if Ondrej Pavelec was injured overseas, either.
(Boy, the Czech Republic isn’t the dangerous team it once was, eh?)
-- The ‘Hawks face a tough road between their schedule and the Olympics. That being said, March could help them store enough standings points to rest some tired players.
-- Patrick Roy’s challenges probably aren’t over in Colorado.
-- The Dallas Stars could very well make a push with an unusually beneficial schedule compared to many of their division mates.
-- The Wild could be in big trouble.
-- It might be too late for Nashville to make up a lot of ground with a tough road ahead.
-- St. Louis faces ups and downs with the Olympics possibly being the biggest challenge.
-- Winnipeg’s schedule isn’t too bad, and they could enjoy a big March.