Pavel Datsyuk

Central Division Watch (February 8)

With the All-Star break over, it’s time for the NHL playoff races to intensify. Every week, we’ll provide updates for each division’s outlook. The biggest contenders and/or closest races will receive the greatest amount of attention.

Bold = playoff contender; Italics = likely lottery fodder.

Central Division outlook (February 8-14)

1. Detroit Red Wings (32-15-6 for 70 pts; 53 Games Played)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Home vs. Nashville (Wednesday), road vs. Boston (Friday) and home vs. Boston (Sunday).

Thoughts: Pavel Dastyuk returned to the Red Wings lineup just in the nick of time, as Detroit had been shut out of two straight games. It’ll be interesting to see how they do in a back-to-back with the Northeast Division-leading Boston Bruins, the tail end of which will be NBC’s Game of the Week.

2. Nashville Predators (28-19-7 for 63 pts; 54 GP)

Current streak: One loss.

Week ahead: @ Detroit (Wed), home vs. Colorado (Sat).

Thoughts: After winning three in a row, the Predators have gone 1-4-1 in their last six games. As great of a coach as Barry Trotz is, he can’t seem to get this group to avoid these hot and cold runs.

3. Chicago Blackhawks (27-22-4 for 58 pts; 53 GP)

Current streak: Two losses in a row.

Week ahead: Three road games: vs. Edmonton (Wed), vs. Dallas (Fri) and Phoenix (Sat).

Thoughts: The ‘Hawks seem like they are cracking a bit, but the good news is that this week will complete this challenging six-game road trip. They don’t have any other road runs longer than this one remaining. If Chicago can pull out two out of three this week, they should be pretty pleased.

4. Columbus Blue Jackets (25-22-5 for 55 pts; 52 GP)

Current streak: Two wins.

Week ahead: @ Pittsburgh (Tues), home vs. San Jose (Wed), home vs. Colorado (Fri), @ Dallas (Sun).

Thoughts: Even with a banged up Pittsburgh’s team, that’s still a tough back-to-back for the Jackets. This week could give a glimpse what this team is (or isn’t) capable of.

5. St. Louis Blues (23-20-8 for 54 pts; 51 GP)

Current streak: One loss.

Week ahead: @ Florida (Tues), home vs. Minnesota (Fri), @ Minnesota (Sat), home vs. Vancouver (Mon).

Thoughts: It’s going to be a trying rest-of-February for the Blues. The good news is that the Wild will deal with the same back-and-back games as St. Louis, so that home-and-home series could be very big for both teams. The Blues should try to shoot for 5-6 out of 8 points this week.

Raffl coverts PTO into one-year, $575K deal with Jets

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There’s another Raffl in the NHL.

On Tuesday, the Jets announced that Thomas Raffl — the older brother of Flyers forward Michael Raffl — has signed a one-year, one-way deal worth $575,000.

Raffl, 29, was in Winnipeg’s camp on a PTO after a lengthy career in Europe. He spent time playing in Sweden and his native Austria, most recently with powerhouse EC Red Bull Salzburg — last year, Raffl scored 53 points in 52 games for Salzburg and three in seven games for Austria while serving as team captain at the World Hockey Championships.

“We would like to recognize and express our appreciation to the EC Red Bull Salzburg organization for allowing Thomas and the Winnipeg Jets this opportunity,” Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said in a statement.

With the Jets, Raffl projects to play in the bottom-six forward group, where he can utilize his 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame in a checking-slash-energy role.

For now, though, he’ll start out with the club’s AHL affiliate in Manitoba.

Flyers to start season with seven d-men; MacDonald sent to AHL

Andrew MacDonald, Matt Calvert
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Seven defensemen will comprise the Philadelphia Flyers’ opening-day roster, which the club finalized today.

Those seven are Radko Gudas, Michael Del Zotto, Luke Schenn, Nick Schultz, Brandon Manning, Mark Streit, and Evgeny Medvedev.

Not on the list? Andrew MacDonald, who has cleared waivers and been assigned to AHL Lehigh Valley. (That move allowed the Flyers to keep both Manning and youngster Scott Laughton.)

Also not on the list were prospects Shayne Gostisbehere, Robert Hagg, Sam Morin, Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim. The first three will start the season in the AHL. The last two have been sent back to junior.

But the opening-day roster is not where this story ends. How the Flyers’ defensive mix changes as the season progresses will be worth watching.

They’d no doubt love to move Schenn, a pending unrestricted free agent with a $3.6 million cap hit. He could also end up in the AHL, a la MacDonald.

Medvedev, the 33-year-old who came over from the KHL and put up five points in five preseason games, is another pending UFA. The club could either look to re-sign or flip him.

Might 37-year-old Streit be a chip worth cashing in at the deadline, especially if the Flyers aren’t in a playoff position on Feb. 29? He’s only got two years left on his contract.

Meanwhile, GM Ron Hextall will be watching pending restricted free agents Manning and Gudas closely. Are they part of the future?

So, lots of decisions to make in Philly as the blue line continues its much-needed transition.