February 28th marks an important date on the NHL’s calender. It is deadline for the clubs to trade players and draft picks to try to bolster their clubs for the future.
But this date has a considerable effect on the AHL as well. A majority of the deadline transactions involve moving a rental player (someone who has an expiring contract), in exchange for assets (draft picks and/or prospects), also known as teams trying to win now versus teams building for the long term future. The result is a change in the makeup of AHL teams prior to the stretch run.
Here is how I think each team in the AHL’s West Division will be effected:
Houston (Minnesota): Though the Wild have an outside shot of making the playoffs in 2011, I see Minnesota as still in the building stages. Therefore, I expect the Wild to be quiet overall, with a few Aeros joining the NHL ranks late in the season. Final Verdict: Slipping.
Milwaukee (Nashville): The Predators are going for a win now approach. Though the budget is tight after the acquisition of Mike Fisher, Nashville still could trade an asset for a rental with an expiring contract for its final push. Even still, I expect Milwaukee to remain well stocked. Final Verdict: Neutral.
Peoria (St. Louis): The Blues started the season with great promise, but have been devastated by injuries. With its playoff hopes dim, St. Louis will be in the market to sell off a few assets and add some more youth or picks. However, there are only a few players that the club is willing to part with. Final Verdict: Neutral.
San Antonio (Phoenix): Still dealing with an ownership mess, the Coyotes are the toughest team in the NHL to judge. Still, Phoenix looks like a playoff team and was extremely active at last year’s deadline. I expect the Coyotes to again use prospects in order to pick up some rentals for the stretch run. Final Verdict: Slipping.
Texas Stars (Dallas): Dallas is in free fall and might slip right out of the Western Conference playoffs. Brad Richards may be traded, resulting in a full ransom of talent in return, but other than Richards, the Stars look to be building onto a young core and hoping it gets some playoff experience this year. Final Verdict: Improving.
Oklahoma City (Edmonton): Edmonton seems destined to finish dead last in the NHL. How does that effect OK City? The Oilers will be trying to add more prospects and pushing its talented youth up to the NHL. Final Verdict: Slipping.
Chicago (Atlanta): Atlanta is currently in a terrible tailspin and looks destined to fall out of the playoffs in the East. However, the Thrashers remain in the thick of the playoff chase. Therefore, I expect Atlanta to be looking to add talent in the hopes of a last ditch jump over Carolina and Buffalo, which means trading prospects. Final Verdict: Slipping.
Rockford (Chicago): Though the Ice Hogs are clearly out of the AHL playoff race, their divisional games will still play a pivotal role in its outcome. Chicago is right on the edges of the NHL playoff race, but the Blackhawks are still cap tight and prospect bare. My hunch is that Chicago will be stuck trying to build for the future. Final Verdict: Improving.