INDIANAPOLIS – There is a reason the ECHL’s Central Division is referred to as a meat grinder. With Cincinnati, Toledo, and Fort Wayne perennial playoff contenders, it usually leaves the other three divisional rivals to fight for the fourth and final spot. This season, every club in the Central has a chance for the postseason (although Kalamazoo has an uphill battle to gain eight points on fourth place Indy).
The Sin Bin’s John Hafer, Evan Miller, and C.C. Hawkley preview the six-team Central Division ahead of #ECHLDeadlineDay on Thursday, March 5 at 3:00pm EST. These three break down the greatest need for each club, as well as their predictions on who will be active come deadline day!
Cincinnati Cyclones Info: 35-16-7-1, 78 points
Home Record: 23-5-3-0 Road Record: 12-11-4-1 Last 10 Games: 6-4-0-0
Goal Differential: +30 Power Play Rank: 23rd (14.6%) Penalty Kill Rank: 10th (83.2%)
Greatest Need: A scoring forward on the second or third line. While Cincinnati is currently 5th in the ECHL in goals against per game (2.61), they also sit 16th regarding goals for (3.12). With last year’s league MVP Jesse Schultz, Ben Johnson, Justin Vaive, and Mason Mitchell all potting 15+ goals so far this season, having another depth scoring threat couldn’t hurt heading into the home stretch of the regular season and into the playoffs.
Prediction for the Deadline: Cincy stays put and doesn’t make any moves. The Cyclones have already made seven deals during the 2020 calendar year, and Head Coach Matt Thomas only made one trade during the deadline in 2018-19. Considering Thomas had just a single transaction in 2019 before the trade deadline, his increased activity in 2019-20 likely points to him slowly retooling his roster over time rather than waiting until the deadline itself to do so.
Toledo Walleye Info: 34-16-4-1, 73 points
Home Record: 18-7-1-1 Road Record: 16-9-3-0 Last 10 Games: 5-2-1-2
Goal Differential: +56 Power Play Rank: 2nd (24.2%) Penalty Kill Rank: 2nd (87.9%)
Greatest Need: A bruising presence at forward. With a team chocked full of point-getters, the Walleye could stand to use an enforcer-type on the ice to mirror the likes of defenseman Michael Moffat. With Fort Wayne boasting the likes of Brady Shaw & Gabriel Verpaelst, Kalamazoo rostering Luke Sandler & Garret Ross, and Indy bringing Ryan Van Stralen & Craig Wyszomirski to the table, Toledo could get pretty roughed up if they don’t invoke the same spirit of retired tough-guy Ben Storm.
Prediction for the Deadline: Head Coach Dan Watson will make at least one trade. Looking at the past three seasons, Toledo has pulled the trigger on exactly one transaction come the trade deadline. If historical continuity is to be considered, then Coach Watson will not hesitant to fill the glaring need of a power forward that can protect the high-profile scorers for the Walleye.
Fort Wayne Komets Info: 28-22-6-2, 64 points
Home Record: 14-9-3-1 Road Record: 14-13-3-1 Last 10 Games: 7-3-0-0
Goal Differential: -8 Power Play Rank: 1st (25.0%) Penalty Kill Rank: 23rd (79.2%)
Greatest Need: A solid netminder. The Komets don’t have a goaltender above a 3.05 goals against average, or a .900 save percentage. Both of those marks belong to Cole Kehler, who is currently under contract to the Los Angeles Kings. It gets as bad as a pedestrian 4.02 goals-against-average and a .864 save percentage. These are numbers put up by NHL-contracted Dylan Ferguson, who was loaned to the Komets by the Vegas Golden Knights.
Prediction for the Deadline: Goaltending has been the main issue for Fort Wayne, along with a consistent roster. Sharing an official affiliation with the Chicago Wolves (and unofficially with the Ontario Reign), players and goaltenders have been on the move at an all-time high in the Jungle. Look for Head Coach Ben Boudreau to pick up a solid goaltender at the deadline, possibly at the expense of a scoring forward.
Indy Fuel Info: 28-25-2-2, 60 points
Home Record: 16-10-1-2 Road Record: 12-15-1-0 Last 10 Games: 3-6-0-1
Goal Differential +16 Power Play Rank: 5th (20.2%) Penalty Kill Rank: 21st (79.6%)
Greatest Need: Many of Indy’s defensive defensemen have been called up to the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs, so a solid defenseman to stay home in front of the net for the Fuel is crucial to keeping the puck out of the net (although they did just get defensive defenseman Tim Shoup back from injury). This is especially important in crunch time as Indy has given up many leads this year, losing nine games when leading after the first period, the largest such mark in the entire ECHL.
Prediction for the Deadline: Last year at the trade deadline, Head Coach Doug Christiansen made massive moves for Manchester that ultimately led the Monarchs to the 2019 Kelly Cup Playoffs. Expect Christiansen to make a couple of moves at the deadline for Indy, as they have lost seven of their last ten games and sit in fourth place in the Central Division.
Wheeling Nailers Info: 24-26-5-0, 53 points
Home Record: 15-12-2-0 Road Record: 9-14-3-0 Last 10 Games: 3-7-0-0
Goal Differential:-32 Power Play Rank: 21st (15.6%) Penalty Kill Rank:17th (80.6%)
Greatest Need: Power forward, and not just as an enforcer. Wheeling sorely lacks the type of player that can get gritty goals in front and screen netminders for shooters at the blueline. Granted, it wouldn’t hurt if he could also drop the gloves every now and again in the rough-and-tumble Central; the Nailers have no skaters over 50 penalty minutes for the season.
Prediction for the Deadline: Wheeling looks to be standing pat moving forward due to the Penguins getting healthy and players moving around in the organization. Head Coach Mike Bavis made a trade last week to add Kyle McKenzie from Worcester to shore up the defensive side of the puck.
Kalamazoo Wings Info: 22-26-7-1, 52 points
Home Record: 13-11-3-0 Road Record: 9-15-4-1 Last 10 Games: 4-4-2-0
Goal Differential:-38 Power Play Rank: 12th (17:6%) Penalty Kill Rank: 26th (77.0%)
Greatest Need: A stay-at-home defenseman or two…or three. Most d-men currently donning a Wings uniform are on the minus end of the plus/minus rating system. Ian Edmunson is the only Kalamazoo defender that has played in over 40 games this year and has a positive rating (plus-12). Considering K-Zoo is also 25th out of 26 in goals allowed per game (3.95), the proof is truly in the pudding that the Wings need some serious defensive assistance.
Prediction for the Deadline: Kalamazoo has been adding defensive players whose plus/minus has been positive so far in the 2019-20 regular season campaign. Expect this trend to continue as Head Coach Nick Bootland looks to right the ship and become relevant in the Central Division playoff picture.
Follow John, Evan, and C.C. on Twitter for the latest Wheeling Nailers, Indy Fuel, and AHL’s Colorado Eagles news and notes!
Don’t forget to catch The Sin Bin’s ECHL Trade Deadline Show from 7:30 to 9:30 pm ET on Thursday, March 5 via The Sin Bin app, Facebook Live, and YouTube for a breakdown of all the day’s deals.
Also, keep tabs on your team’s transactions with The Sin Bin’s Trade Tracker!