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Central: Future free agents could be players most likely to move at deadline

by Dan Rosen
In honor of the big day next week, these Central Notes are all about the trade deadline.

And since no one ever accurately can predict trades -- though it is fun trying, isn't it? -- we instead offer some analysis on the players in this division who are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents after the season.

After all, when rumors start flying, the UFAs usually get mentioned. Some are big-ticket items, while others are just role players. Some even are healthy scratches. However, it's rare to find a pending UFA who is shielded from trade talk.

The Central Division only has a few UFAs, but there are some who could be on the move. No one besides the GMs and perhaps the agents and players has a clue if and when that will happen, but it is the hot-button topic in the NHL at this time of the season and we just couldn't ignore it.

Let the debates begin…

CHICAGO -- Martin Havlat, Nikolai Khabibulin, Craig Adams, Matt Walker, Aaron Johnson

The big names in this mix are Havlat and Khabibulin, so let's start there.

Khabibulin, currently on injured reserve with an upper-body injury, has been rumored to be heading out of the Windy City since Cristobal Huet signed a four-year contract with the Blackhawks over the summer. However, 60 games into the season, Khabibulin isn't just still in Chicago, he's been splitting time with Huet for most of the season and could very well turn into the Blackhawks' No. 1 option heading into the playoffs.

So with that in mind, it's probably unlikely you see Khabibulin playing for another team next week, but one never knows. Huet has been good as well this season, and the Hawks have a pair of young goalies -- Antti Niemi and Corey Crawford -- waiting in the wings. Niemi is with the club now, serving as Huet's backup.

Havlat is another interesting case. Hawks General Manager Dale Tallon reportedly has started work on contract negotiations with the Czech winger, who has managed to stay healthy and productive all season.

Upsetting the apple cart at this point in the season for a team that envisions itself a Stanley Cup contender probably is not the best course of action, so Havlat, too, likely will still be with the Hawks after the trade deadline passes. He could fetch a decent return, though.

COLUMBUS -- Michael Peca, Manny Malhotra, Jason Williams, Christian Backman, Wade Dubielewicz

If anything, the Jackets likely would be buyers at the deadline, so don't expect much movement from their UFAs. Than again, GM Scott Howson has stated that he definitely would like to find a No. 1 center to play with Rick Nash, so perhaps nothing is out of the realm of possibility.

Columbus traded for Williams earlier in the season, so he's probably safe. Dubielewicz is the only backup goalie they have with NHL experience, and considering the starter is a rookie (Steve Mason), you have to figure Howson, who plucked Dubielewicz off waivers earlier this season, would not be inclined to move him.

Peca, Malhotra and Backman are keys to the Jackets' depth, but if any of them could be moved in a deal for a better center to play with Nash, you have to think Howson would listen. That, though, probably is unlikely.

DETROIT -- Marian Hossa, Johan Franzen, Mikael Samuelsson, Tomas Kopecky, Darren McCarty, Aaron Downey, Chris Chelios, Ty Conklin

If they get there, Hossa and Franzen will be two of the biggest names on the market July 1. Detroit GM Ken Holland is doing all he can to not let that happen, though, so you know they are not on the market at this season's trade deadline.

Conklin isn't going anywhere, either. He signed a one-year deal this summer and with Chris Osgood struggling, Conklin could wind up as the Wings' No. 1 option heading into the playoffs.

That leaves Samuelsson, Kopecky, McCarty, Downey and Chelios. It would be a surprise if any of them got moved, though -- I mean, do the Red Wings think they need to get better?

Sure, if a deal presents itself -- like Brad Stuart for draft picks at last season's deadline -- the Wings would jump on it. However, if anything they're looking to add again at the deadline, not subtract from their NHL depth.

NASHVILLE -- Steve Sullivan, Radek Bonk, Vern Fiddler, Scott Nichol, Joel Ward, Jed Ortmeyer, Greg DeVries, Greg Zanon, Ville Koistenen

The Predators are in a predicament. They're not in a playoff spot yet like Columbus, but they aren't too far out, either. They have two more games before the deadline to figure out if they're going to be buyers or sellers, or just stand pat with the team they have.

Of the names listed here, Koistenen probably is the most likely to move. Since he's a young, puck-moving defenseman he also may be able to fetch a decent return, be it in draft picks, prospects or perhaps even an NHL-ready player. Koistenen, in fact, has even played some forward lately. He earned 5:16 of ice time at wing Tuesday in Chicago.

Koistinen, 26, reportedly has asked management to consider trading him, and GM David Poile admitted that he is looking for a match. Koistinen has been a healthy scratch for half of Nashville's games this season.

Zanon is another player some teams might be interested in. He's a reliable, stay-at-home defenseman who is a plus player this season. He's not flashy, but could add something to a contending team. De Vries has won a Stanley Cup before, and since he's 36 years old any team that acquires him wouldn't feel obligated to sign him long-term.

Sullivan is working his way back into the lineup after a nearly two-year layoff, and based on the patience Nashville already has shown in him, why would they move him now?

Bonk, who will be out at least another week with an upper-body injury, has the potential to help a contending team as a depth forward who can win faceoffs.

Although Ward is 28 years old, he's been impressive in what is really his rookie season. The Predators probably would consider signing him in the offseason considering it won't cost too much and he wouldn't fetch much in return at the deadline.

ST. LOUIS -- Keith Tkachuk, Dan Hinote, Brad Winchester, Mike Weaver, Manny Legace

St. Louis comes last on our list because, if you haven't figured it out by now, we've gone in alphabetical order. However, the Blues arguably are the most interesting Central Division team at the deadline because of whom they have and where they stand.

Are they a legitimate threat to make the playoffs this season? If so, Tkachuk isn't going anywhere. If not, expect him to be shipped out sometime before 3 p.m. ET on March 4 to a contending team that likely will offer the Blues a package of draft picks and/or prospects in return.

The Blues, who moved within three points of a playoff spot Thursday night, have two more games to figure out their plans at the deadline. Win both and they are right in the thick of the playoff race. Lose both, and it's likely good-bye Tkachuk. Split and, "Oh baby," Blues President John Davidson will be saying, "what now?"

He said it
-- Blues President John Davidson on his team's predicament: "It's a tough spot, but I like the tough spot. It's better than being so many points out that it's an easy decision. We've had so many injuries this year that most people in their right minds, including me, thought it would be very difficult for this team to get anywhere near the .500 mark. We get up (Wednesday) morning, looked at the standings, we're .500. I credit what our coaches and players have done. We've got a good thing going on in St. Louis. Remember, we have to sell hockey in the city of St. Louis and surrounding areas. Right now they're on board with us with the way we've gone about our business, the way we're playing hard, the way we've been entertaining, the way we don't die in games, the way our young kids are improving. We're going in the right direction."

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