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Central Division Weekly Roundup: NHL Draft Lottery and SBCSN Schedule Changes

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The NHL and NBCSN announced changes that benefit teams at the top and the bottom of the Central Division.

NHL: Columbus Blue Jackets at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

1. Tampa Bay Lightning: .781 P% (24-6-2) 50 Points

Veteran defenseman Ryan McDonagh is listed as day-to-day with a lower-body injury in Sunday’s game against the Florida Panthers. There has been no update on McDonagh’s status. He has been playing on the second pairing with Erik Cernak but plays the second most time on the Lightning. His 21:58 is only behind Victor Hedman, who averages 25:32 per game. Most teams would have an issue losing a guy who plays that many minutes but not the Lightning.

Of course, they have the best defenseman in the league. They have been propelled by Hedman, who has a goal and six assists for seven points in his last six games. Since McDonagh went out, the Lighting won the game he went out and their game last night. The Lightning have had no issues with the Stanley Cup Finals rematch. They are a perfect 4-0-0 against the Dallas Stars.

2. Carolina Hurricanes: .726 P% (21-7-3) 45 Points

The Hurricanes snapped a three-game losing streak with a 3-0 shutout win against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday. While the Canes technically lost three straight, they had two overtime losses and still have the ability to get six out of eight total points in this four-game series. While these games were not ideal this pace has still kept them above the Florida Panthers but behind the Lightning by five points.

There were multiple questions after the game to Rod Brind’Amour about goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic’s play and him possibly getting more starts. He actually seemed like he was considering it even though he was very tightlipped about future plans. With two days off it is conceivable that Ned could start a second game in a row. This would be the first time all season that he would start two games in a row. But looking at the stats, both goalies have played well in March and there may not be an actual good reason to break up the cycle.

In the month of March, Ned has started six games to James Reimer’s five. Ned has been more successful with a 5-0-1 record compared to Remier’s 3-1-1 record. However, Reimer still has a .934 save percentage and a GAA under two. Nedeljkovic does outpace him in both categories with a .944 sv% and a 1.63 GAA, but why not keep both goalies fresh? The two goalies’ styles are completely different. Reimer’s sometimes more frantic saves make him a bigger target to fans, but he is still playing well enough to continue the rotation.

3. Florida Panthers: .688 P% (20-8-4) 44 Points

Along with the Canes, the Florida Panthers benefit from the updates to the NBC Sports schedule change. The Panthers will now have two more nationally televised games on April 15 and April 29 against the Lightning and Blackhawks, respectively. The Panthers were set to have zero national games after their game against the Detroit Red Wings on Feb. 21 was moved up and taken out of the national window.

This is a great idea for the NHL, which originally built in its schedule “flex dates” much like how Sunday Night Football works for the NFL. The NHL can now change its national schedule to show more games with playoff implications. This is awesome news, so we aren’t stuck watching yet another Rangers/Flyers game with no implications. The Canes also add two new dates to their national television schedule. Finally, hockey fans can become aware of the speed and skill coming out of the old Southeast Division.

4. Chicago Blackhawks: .530 P% (15-13-5) 25 Points

The Chicago Blackhawks are almost through their six-game Florida stretch that has not gone well to say the least. In a make-or-break month for the Blackhawks, it certainly looks like they broke. So far this month they have a 3-6-1 record with another game remaining against the Panthers and a game against Carolina to close the month. If they are not able to pick up multiple wins against the Nashville Predators this weekend they will likely fall out of the fourth position to the Blue Jackets by the end of the week.

Chicago has been struggling to score this month. The Hawks have 2.3 goals for per game which is 26th in the league. This is also down from their season-long 2.91 goals for per game. The goals production has fallen directly with Patrick Kane's output, despite Alex Debrincat keeping his production up with five goals this month, which has kept up his season-long pace of 16 goals in three months. Kane has just a single goal this month.

5. Columbus Blue Jackets: .500 P% (13-13-7) 28 Points

The Columbus Blue Jackets have a lot to be proud of this month. Before the loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, they had a five-game point streak. Their 5-3-2 record in their last 10 isn’t blowing the doors off, but it has done enough to get them even with the Chicago Blackhawks, who once were thought to have claimed the final playoff spot in the division. Now it will be a real battle heading down the back-half of the season.

The Blue Jackets are hoping to get defenseman Mikko Lehtonen to Columbus finally. The Jackets traded goaltender Veini Vehvilainen to the Maple Leafs for Lehtonen more than 10 days ago. However, due to work visa issues, Lehtonen has been stuck in Canada. Once making it to Columbus, he will only have to go through a 48-hour quarantine. The defenseman has played in Finland and the KHL for the past six years. Though he was only given nine games in Toronto, he has three assists and four PIMS.

6. Dallas Stars: .483 P% (10-11-8) 28 Points

The season of injuries continues for the Dallas Stars. On Sunday both Radek Faksa and Joel Kiviranta left the game with injuries and Rick Bowness commented that they both will need MRIs. They join Alexander Radulov who has not played a game since March 18 after sustaining another injury and is marked as day-to-day. Radulov had only played three games after missing over a month. Mark Pysyk, Tyler Seguin, Stephen Johns, Martin Hanzal and Ben Bishop are also on the injury list.

Despite all of the injuries, Joe Pavelski has been leading the team and having a great year while doing it. In just 29 games, Pavelski has matched his 67-game goal total from last season with 14. Those 14 goals are also six more than Roope Hintz, who sits in second. It's not just goals, Pavelski also has 28 total points, which is nine more than the second-place player, John Klingberg. He is the only reason that the Stars are still even sniffing the final playoff position in the Central.

7. Nashville Predators: .470 P% (15-17-1) 31 Points

The Predators had their best week of the season with a 3-1-0 record. The biggest reason for their success is Calle Jarnkrok, who was named the NHL first star of the week with three goals and three assists in four games played. Against the Lighting on March 15, he had a four-point game with a goal and three assists. The three assists and four points were both career bests in a single game for the Swedish winger.

It was reported that defenseman Ryan Ellis was among the few untouchables for the Nashville Predators going into the trade deadline. According to Elliott Friedman’s 31 Thoughts this week, it sounds like the initial report was wrong. GM David Poile and the Predators know that they could get more of a return for Ellis, who has six years left on his deal than they could get for Mattias Ekholm, who has just one year remaining on his deal.

8. Detroit Red Wings: .364 P% (10-19-4) 24 Points

It’s never great when you search a team on google and the first “People Also Ask” is “Are the Red Wings the worst team ever.” The good news is after the Buffalo Sabres’ run this year, the answer will be no. That’s even with their 39-point season last year. This season does look better for the Red Wings. They are already over halfway to the number of wins they had last season with about six weeks left in the season.

The Red Wings losing out in the draft last season was a major reason that the NHL changed the draft lottery rules yesterday. Now only the top two picks will be determined by the draft instead of the top three. Teams will only be able to move up 10 spots in the draft, which means only 11 out of the 16 teams that miss the playoffs can win the number one pick. Starting with the 2020 draft, teams can only win the lottery twice in a five-year span. A combination of the Rangers winning last year while still being in the playoff round and the Red Wings dropping positions in the last four draft lotteries finally forced the league's hand.