Central Division Watch (March 1)

Every week, we’ll provide updates for each division. The biggest contenders and/or closest races will receive the greatest amount of attention.

Bold = playoff contender; Italics = likely lottery fodder.

Central Division outlook (March 1 -March 7)

1. Detroit Red Wings (39-18-6 for 84 pts; 63 Games Played)

Current streak: Two wins.

Week ahead: Three away games – vs. Anaheim (Wednesday), San Jose (Thursday) and Phoenix (Saturday).

Thoughts: The Red Wings won the first two games of their five-game road trip. If they can win all of them, that would be impressive. Even for Detroit.

2. Chicago Blackhawks (34-23-6 for 74 pts; 63 GP)

Current streak: Five straight wins.

Week ahead: Home vs. Calgary (Wed), home vs. Carolina (Fri) and @ Toronto (Sat).

Thoughts: If you don’t have a horse in the ridiculous Western Conference bubble race, then you should root for the Blackhawks to make the playoffs. They’re far and away the most entertaining team of the bunch and would be a legitimate first round threat for any other team, despite their flaws.

3. Nashville Predators (33-23-8 for 72 pts; 63 GP)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Three road contests – against Edmonton (Tues), Vancouver (Thurs) and Calgary (Sat).

Thoughts: This week begins a four-game road swing for the Predators (they also play the Sharks next Tuesday). This could be a good barometer of where this scrappy bunch really is in the playoff race.

4. Columbus Blue Jackets (31-24-6 for 68 pts; 61 GP)

Current streak: One loss.

Week ahead: Four away games – vs. Vancouver (Tues), Edmonton (Thurs), Calgary (Fri) and St. Louis (Mon).

Thoughts: The Blue Jackets began their five-game road trip with a loss to the Predators and will face a big back-to-back with the Blues next week. Will one Central Division foe deliver a near-death blow to the other team’s postseason dreams then?

5. St. Louis Blues (28-25-9 for 65 pts; 62 GP)

Current streak: One loss.

Week ahead: Home vs. Calgary (Tues), @ Washington (Thurs), @ Islanders (Sat) and home vs. Columbus (Mon).

Thoughts: The Blues are just a loss or two from being totally out of the playoff picture. Really, they might already be out of it, judging by the fact that they’re letting their tree-sized goalie Ben Bishop get some reps (though he’s playing well). They aren’t mathematically out of it yet, though.

Sutter won’t retire from coaching, willing to join a rebuild

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Given he turns 59 this summer, has won a pair of Stanley Cups and coached over 1,000 NHL games, Darryl Sutter probably could’ve called it a career after getting fired by the Kings earlier this month, and done so comfortably.

But that’s not happening.

In speaking with TSN’s Gary Lawless, Sutter said he has no plans to retire from coaching. What’s more — and, perhaps more interesting — is that Sutter said he wouldn’t limit his next job solely to a contending team.

Currently, there are just two vacant coaching gigs in Buffalo and Florida. We wrote about the Panthers’ search earlier today (more on that here). The situation in Buffalo is more complex, as the Sabres need to hire a new general manager and coach. Logic suggests the GM will be hired first, then spearhead the new bench boss hire.

In that regard, Buffalo is pretty intriguing.

Though the Kings have yet to be contacted for an interview request, ex-GM Dean Lombardi has been tied to the Sabres gig. And Lombardi, of course, is forever tied to Sutter — he was the one that hired Sutter after a five-year coaching exodus to join the Kings, and the pair went on to achieve great success together.

That five-year coaching exodus does need to be mentioned, though.

History suggests that Sutter isn’t joking when he says he’ll be picky about the situation and won’t rush to find the right fit. After being dismissed in Calgary in 2006, he returned to work on the family farm in Viking, Alberta and seemed fairly content doing so.

That said, hockey always seems to draw him back.

“The game has given us everything,” Sutter told Lawless. “We still have lots to give.”

Coyotes fire assistant coach Newell Brown

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The Arizona Coyotes have parted ways with some personnel.

Assistant coach Newell Brown has been fired, along with Doug Soetaert, who was the general manager of their AHL affiliate in Tuscon.

Pro scouts David MacLean and Jim Roque won’t be back either. Their contracts will not be renewed.

“I’d like to thank Newell, Doug, David and Jim for their contributions to the club,” said GM John Chayka. “They are all good people but we believe these changes are necessary in order to improve our organization. We wish them the best in the future.”

A longtime NHL assistant coach, Brown is perhaps the most prominent of the four men. He joined the Coyotes in the summer of 2013 and received high praise for his work with their power play.

But Arizona’s power play slipped to 26th this past season, converting at a rate of just 16.2 percent.

As for Soetaert, he was only named GM of the Roadrunners last summer. The former NHL goalie had previously been a scout.

Plenty of seats available for tonight’s game in Ottawa

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The Ottawa Senators say they’re still expecting a full house, but Ticketmaster’s website shows plenty of available seats for tonight’s second-round opener with the New York Rangers.

From the Ottawa Citizen:

Many of the available tickets for Thursday’s game were in the corners of the upper bowl, seats that carry a $96 price tag.

The Senators sold out all three games in the opening round of the playoffs against Boston. Game 1 drew a crowd of 18,702, while 18,629 showed up for Game 2 and 19,209 were in the seats for Game 5.

Attendance has been an issue in Ottawa — or, more specifically, suburban Kanata — all season, to the point owner Eugene Melnyk expressed great frustration with the lack of sellouts at Canadian Tire Centre.

Poor attendance also led to friction behind the scenes. At least, it sure sounded that way in the lawsuit that was filed against the team by its former chief marketing officer.

Poor attendance is why the Sens are trying to get a new downtown arena built. They believe that a more central location is the key to bigger crowds.

But regardless of the arena’s location, it won’t be a good look if there are empty seats tonight. This is the playoffs, and the Senators are one of eight remaining teams in the hunt for the Stanley Cup. The building should be full.

Related: Melnyk thinks Sens can make deep playoff run

McPhee won’t bring Stanley, Vegas’ lucky golden rooster, to draft lottery

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There’s no way any lede I write will do this Review-Journal anecdote justice, so yeah, just read it:

[Vegas GM George] McPhee still has his superstitions like any former athlete. But don’t expect him to be rubbing a rabbit’s foot or holding a bunch of 4-leaf clovers in his pocket.

And he decided to leave Stanley the Rooster home rather than try and explain to Canadian Customs officials why the gift given to the team by the Mandarin Oriental back in February during Chinese New Year should be allowed into the country as a good luck prop.

The draft lottery goes Saturday in Toronto, at 7:30 p.m. ET. Vegas won’t drop any lower than sixth and has a 10.3 percent shot at the No. 1 overall pick, behind Colorado (18 percent) and Vancouver (12.1 percent). Arizona also has a 10.3 percent chance at getting top spot.