St. Louis Blues
General manager Doug Armstrong will have some tough decisions to make.
St. Louis won its fifth straight game Wednesday, 2-0 at the Detroit Red Wings, and has won six of seven games (6-1-0) since Armstrong fired coach Ken Hitchcock on Feb. 1 and replaced him with Mike Yeo.
The Blues were two points out of a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and had lost five of six games (1-5-0) when the coaching change was made, but now are third in the Central Division with 65 points, five ahead of the top non-playoff team in the Western Conference, the Los Angeles Kings.
This puts Armstrong in a tricky deadline position for the second straight season.
Video: STL@DET: Hutton makes a clutch last-minute stop
Last season, Armstrong did nothing at the deadline with the Blues holding the fourth-best record in the NHL at the time, keeping impending unrestricted free agents David Backes and Troy Brouwer and also choosing not to add anyone to the roster.
The Blues advanced to the Western Conference Final but lost to the San Jose Sharks in six games.
On July 1, 2016, Backes signed with the Boston Bruins and Brouwer with the Calgary Flames, giving the Blues nothing in return for those assets.
This season, it's defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and center Patrik Berglund who can become unrestricted free agents July 1, and Armstrong is faced with a similar decision on what to do with them.
It has been considered a bit of a foregone conclusion that Shattenkirk will be traded. He enters Thursday tied for fifth among NHL defensemen with 39 points (11 goals, 28 assists) in 57 games and is in a five-way tie for first with 18 power-play points.
Video: STL@WPG: Shattenkirk makes nifty move to notch goal
Armstrong doesn't want to lose Shattenkirk for nothing if he is unable to re-sign him by July 1, but he also won't want to make many changes to his surging team.
The same dilemma exists with Berglund, though probably to a lesser extent. The 6-foot-4, 223-pound center joins Martin Hanzal (6-foot-6, 226 pounds) of the Arizona Coyotes as big, two-way centers with expiring contracts, the type of player most playoff-bound teams covet.
But Berglund has come alive under Yeo with six goals in his past six games, including a hat trick in a 4-2 win against the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday.
Can Armstrong trade Shattenkirk, Berglund or both before the deadline and keep the Blues' playoff hopes alive?
They have five games remaining before the deadline, starting at home against the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; SN, SN360, FS-MW, NHL.TV).
Detroit Red Wings
Detroit's streak of 25 straight seasons reaching the playoffs is in trouble, especially after their loss at home against the Blues on Wednesday. General manager Ken Holland has to seriously consider cashing in some of his assets at the deadline.
Holland never has been in this position before, so it will be interesting to see his approach.
The Red Wings enter play Thursday last in the Eastern Conference with 54 points, nine points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for the second wild card into the playoffs. The Red Wings not only have to catch the Maple Leafs, but also leapfrog the seven teams that sit between them in the standings.
Not a likely scenario.
Video: CBJ@DET: Vanek, Abdelkader connect for PPG
Forwards Thomas Vanek and Steve Ott and defenseman Brendan Smith can become unrestricted free agents July 1, and each has varying degrees of value as trade commodities ahead of the deadline.
Vanek, 33, probably is the most attractive of the three with 14 goals and 36 points in 44 games. He also leads the Red Wings with five power-play goals and 10 power-play points.
There reportedly were 18 NHL pro scouts in attendance at the Blues-Red Wings game Wednesday, and although that is rarely a reliable indicator of anything, it is an unusually high number.
Senators owner Eugene Melnyk said he is excited by the possibility of his team reaching the Stanley Cup Playoffs after missing them last season, and he is willing to allow general manager Pierre Dorion to add salary for the stretch run through a trade between now and the deadline.
"I would be fully supportive if Pierre came to me and recommended that we add to our payroll by bringing in players from other teams at this point of the season. As long as it's reasonable," Melnyk told Postmedia on Wednesday.
Perhaps coincidentally, forward Curtis Lazar is back in the lineup against the New Jersey Devils on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; MSG+, TSN5, RDS, NHL.TV) after being a healthy scratch in four straight games and in five of the past seven.
Video: NJD@OTT: Kinkaid makes consecutive stops on Lazar
Lazar has been reported as a potential trade chip Dorion could use to try and bring in some scoring help to compensate for the loss of Clarke MacArthur, who has missed the entire season because of a concussion.
Dorion did inquire with the Colorado Avalanche about the availability of forward Matt Duchene and the price of acquiring him. That price, according to Melnyk, appeared too high for the Senators.
"Did you see what they want for Duchene and stuff? Oh my God," Melnyk said Wednesday, according to the Associated Press.
Melnyk told Postmedia that top prospects like defenseman Thomas Chabot and forward Colin White essentially are untouchable in any trade.
Which leaves Lazar, 22 and a first round pick (No 17) in the 2013 NHL Draft.
Lazar's agent, J.P. Barry, is scheduled to meet with Dorion in Toronto on Saturday, when the Senators are in town to face the Toronto Maple Leafs, to discuss Lazar's future in Ottawa.
Video: MTL@OTT: Lazar pads the lead with a shorthanded goal
"I haven't talked to [Barry] in quite some time, so just to sit down with him and not only talk about the current situation but just about myself and what it will take for me to succeed will be good," Lazar said Thursday. "The bottom line is I'm an Ottawa Senator and want to be an Ottawa Senator."
There is some question as to how big of a return Lazar could fetch for the Senators. He still is young and plays a fast game, but his numbers in three NHL seasons are not very impressive. In 172 games he has 12 goals and 36 points. He played 13 games with Binghamton in the American Hockey League earlier this season and had three goals and one assist.
It's unlikely Lazar alone would be enough to bring an impact offensive player to the Senators, unless they were to acquire an impending unrestricted free agent. But it's just as unlikely Dorion would want to trade Lazar for a rental player.