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Neutral Zone Wrap: Banished to Columbus

Evan Berofsky

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As the real clubs wind down their schedule, you'll notice each one has marked its own trend. Whether it be excelling and adding new pieces, trending in the opposite direction and giving up, or stuck in limbo and confused about their chances. The first and last options usually cover known commodities, which if repeated, tends to serve as a boring fantasy exercise. The middle path often yields the best in new material. That's the result of allowing the stars of tomorrow the opportunity to shine today.

While no team has officially been eliminated from the postseason (cough, Colorado), it may be difficult to ascertain which lineups contain the highest youth quotient (ahem, Florida and Tampa Bay). Check the boxscores, mark the minutes, and research the history. And follow the trail of roster dumping; you'll be able to spot the guilty parties (namely Dallas, Calgary, and Buffalo) by their lackadaisical effort and defeated disposition.

This week, we conclude our whirlwind tour of every team with the final five entries. It's like picking the last crop of fruit before they completely spoil. So, yeah, the following information may not be the best you'll ever receive. But you'll take it and at least pretend to enjoy it:

(Stats as of Thursday April 4th)

Just when you thought the Rangers were throwing in the towel, in comes the trade deadline to completely change the outlook. Marian Gaborik (and his two 40-goal campaigns in NYC) apparently wore out his welcome enough to be exiled to Columbus. But the key in the deals was the addition of toughness in the form of Ryane Clowe (first two goals of the season Wednesday, 79 PIM, 73 hits) and Derek Dorsett (cracked collarbone, won't return this season). Nice debut from Derick Brassard (career-high four points), but hold off on the celebrations until seeing how he fits into the Tortorella system. Ryan Callahan needs more performances like Monday (four points sandwiched between six scoreless contests). Carl Hagelin's production has dropped off (one in seven, minutes dramatically cut) but it isn't as if he is renowned for his offense.

(*Marian Gaborik Fun Fact: Entering Thursday's action, Gaborik had amassed 333 goals and 333 assists in his career during the regular season. Of course, that adds up to 666 points. Guess that's reason enough to allow him to escape from Hell's Kitchen.)

Times are tough in Jersey. The captain is hurting, the team is struggling, and the natives have become restless. Ilya Kovalchuk (shoulder injury, slated to be out at least three more weeks) will be missed, but his absence shouldn't keep the Devils behind. Andrei Loktionov (11 in 20) has partially caught up to his original hype. The current NJ version of Alexei Ponikarovsky (six in 21) isn't working as well as the last incarnation (18 in 33 plus nine in 24 in the postseason). Maybe recruit Matt D'Agostini (two in six since arriving from St. Louis, temporarily slotted into Kovy's spot) can provide decent coverage. Steve Sullivan is 38 and hasn't pointed in a while (try 10 games). And while the Adam Larsson project is currently stalled (five assists, a couple recent healthy scratches), Andy Greene (three in four, including a PPG) is trying to supply as much as he can.

Winnipeg is holding on for dear life in the Southeast, trying valiantly to hold off the charges from the charging Caps and collapsing Canes. Nik Antropov (lower-body problems, out two weeks) has fallen, which inevitably means ex-Florida floater Mike Santorelli (him of the three points all season) will catch fire. Bryan Little ain't that small when it comes to production (although scoreless in six with a minus-8 isn't promising). Guess Olli Jokinen (whopping 12 points, healthy minus-19) hasn't been the #2 center the Jets were shopping for. These last few games will probably serve as the last chance for Alex Burmistrov (two in 16) to stay in the Prairies. The blueline corps looks downright intimidating; just don't expect college signee Jacob Trouba (29 in 37 with UofM) to succeed immediately when he first steps on NHL ice.

The Sharks may have lost some bite (Clowe to NYR, giant D-man Douglas Murray to PIT), but you can never rule them out for the stretch drive. Congrats if you remembered Martin Havlat (seven in nine, including two PPAs) still exists. Be amazed about the run Scott Gomez is currently riding (assists in seven of last 12). Only opt for newcomer Raffi Torres (12 points, but very little in the penalty department) is you're banking on no upcoming suspensions. Occasional forward Brent Burns has earned positive pointage (12 in 12), while Matt Irwin (zip in five, preceded by seven in nine) will grab added time thanks to Murray's departure and returnee Scott Hannan's questionable upper body.

Does Vancouver have enough in reserve to go deep this spring? Injuries to Ryan Kesler (broken foot, another week or so), and David Booth (confidential leg surgery, could be back for the playoffs) have hurt the frontline, but there's enough scoring to go around. Derek Roy (six in his final five with Dallas) will add some substance to the second unit, which unfortunately relegates Jordan Schroeder (zero in four after four-in-a-row) to an observer role. Beyond the regular contributors, Mason Raymond (four in seven) is nearly doing what he should be doing. Chris Higgins has also chipped in of late (four in four). And Dan Hamhuis (17) had surpassed Kevin Bieksa (nine) on the reliability scale, but the favor is turning more towards the latter (the guy who notched a PPG).

And instead of rebooting the team approach, let's stick to the list format for the remainder of the columns. Maybe a Top-5/10 keepers to hold on to/throw back, and/or something looking ahead to 2013-14. The fantasy possibilities are virtually endless. Heck, you're the readers. You decide what lists you would like to see. And if you've been good, then we'll swap some playoff talk later in order to prepare you for the next stage of the season.