2014 NHL Trade Deadline: Teams Most Likely to Go from Pretender to Contender

Allan MitchellFeatured ColumnistMarch 3, 2014

2014 NHL Trade Deadline: Teams Most Likely to Go from Pretender to Contender

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    New York Rangers' Chris Kreider, left, jumps up in front of Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask during the second period of an NHL hockey game Sunday, March 2, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    The trade deadline is close, and deals will be coming down the pipe for the next two days. The strongest teams will be adding depth and insurance, while teams in playoff contention will be trying to add firepower to get to the postseason.

    There are eight bubble teams poised to make a run. Some have been playing with bad luck, a few teams have injured players returning, while others replaced coaches and are finally having success.

    Here are eight teams most likely to go from pretender to contender after the trade deadline.

8. Phoenix Coyotes

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    Jonathan Kozub/Getty Images

    Why they've struggled: The Phoenix Coyotes are average in goals for but struggling in goals against this season. They're very close to a playoff spot in the Western Conference.

    What has changed? The Coyotes are under new ownership, and the desire to please the fans will be strong. Phoenix can help itself with a sniper, a playmaker or a strong defensive acquisition.

    Will they make the postseason? This is a veteran team with an outstanding coach in Dave Tippett, but they will miss the playoffs. The Coyotes have the quality and depth to make the postseason, but the West is so tight this season it looks like a narrow miss.

7. Winnipeg Jets

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    John Russell/Getty Images

    Why they've struggled: The Winnipeg Jets may have tuned out coach Claude Noel. Since his firing, the team is 11-3-1 and knocking on the playoff door.

    What has changed? New coach Paul Maurice entered the scene and things turned around immediately. The lineup remains basically unchanged, but the results have been outstanding—the Jets are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games.

    Will they make the postseason? The Jets won't make the playoffs this season. They are close to a playoff spot, but the teams around them hold a game or two in hand. The winning streak under Maurice wasn't accompanied by an upgrade in talent, suggesting a return to normality is likely.

6. Columbus Blue Jackets

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    Why they've struggled: The Columbus Blue Jackets have been playing with bad luck. They own the 10th-best goal differential in the league (180-170, +10) but are 18th in points.

    What has changed? Veteran sniper Marian Gaborik has returned to action and should help the offense. Even without him, average luck should mean the Blue Jackets see their record improving down the stretch.

    Will they make the postseason? Columbus will see the playoffs this spring. A smart addition at the deadline will help, but the balance and skill on the roster is too much for the rest of the Eastern Conference.

5. Detroit Red Wings

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    Jana Chytilova/Getty Images

    Why they've struggled: The Detroit Red Wings have been devastated by injuries. They've lost 259 man games this season, according to mangameslost.com.

    What has changed? A funny thing happened when all of those injuries hit. Detroit gave opportunities to its young players, and the results have been impressive. Despite all the problems, they are in a playoff spot.

    Will they make the postseason? Detroit will make the postseason and will be a tough team to beat in the first round. They would be seeded much higher with a healthy roster.

4. Dallas Stars

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    Glenn James/Getty Images

    Why they've struggled: The Dallas Stars are in a controlled rebuild designed to keep them in contention with veterans long enough for the kids to catch up. It's working well this season.

    What has changed? The Stars are in a playoff spot and have options. They could trade or keep Ray Whitney and may be tempted if the quality of the offer improves by the deadline.

    Will they make the postseason? Dallas will make the postseason. The club is enjoying outstanding growth from youngsters like Brenden Dillon and Valeri Nichushkin. The young guns on Dallas are about to embark on their first playoff chase and will make it.

3. New Jersey Devils

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    Mel Evans/Associated Press

    Why they've struggled: The New Jersey Devils are having trouble putting the puck in the net. They rank near the bottom in goals in the NHL while playing a solid defensive game.

    What has changed? The Devils are starting Cory Schneider more than earlier in the season. It has caused friction with Martin Brodeur but has resulted in more wins.

    Will they make the postseason? New Jersey will miss the playoffs after a strong run in the final stretch. They waited too long to make Schneider the everyday goalie.

2. New York Rangers

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Why they've struggled: The New York Rangers couldn't find consistency early in the season. It's reflected by the numbers of Henrik Lundqvist, who has been solid but unspectacular.

    What has changed? The Rangers have settled in and played a more consistent game since the new year. Small tweaks in the lineup and the continuing emergence of Ryan McDonagh have been key.

    Will they make the postseason? They will make the postseason. The Rangers have shuffled the depth chart at times, but that may make them stronger in the playoffs.

1. Ottawa Senators

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Why they've struggled: The Ottawa Senators have lacked balance this season struggling at times in all aspects of the game.

    What has changed? Several of the Senators' youngsters have emerged as impact players. Erik Karlsson, Bobby Ryan and Kyle Turris have been pushing the rest of the team.

    Will they make the postseason? Ottawa will miss the playoffs this season. Slow reaction to holes on the roster leave a talented crew on the outside looking in.