Epic Tank Battle II

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The Toronto Maple have finally achieved a weeks long descent into the depths of the National Hockey League standings.

The latest standings in the Epic Tank Battle:

Buffalo – 43

Edmonton – 46

Arizona – 47

Toronto – 55

Carolina – 55

I’d wager Carolina will slowly pull away from this group since they are playing pretty well in their last 10GP (6-4-0)

I would also wager Arizona (1-9-0) will drop below the Oilers (4-5-1) by the end of the regular season.

I guess it’s possible the Oilers will also pass the Leafs but 9 points is a huge gap with only 19 games left in the season.

The question then becomes, who wins the lottery and why?

If ever there was a draft that the league will keep a close eye on where 2 generational players end up, I think it’s this one.

The Coyotes desperately need a marketable player and I would think nothing would make Gary Bettman happier than to reward Andrew Barroway for riding in and rescuing the Coyotes in the latest bailout in the desert.

On the other hand, Bettman might be cognizant of the fact that Rogers Communications (part owner of the Leafs) stepped up big time when it spent billions of the new Canadian TV contract.

I wouldn’t be the least surprised if Toronto “won” the lottery and drafted Connor McDavid while Arizona, if they continue to lose every game, selects American wundkind Jack Eichel while Buffalo has to make do with the #3 overall pick.

As noted before, McDavid is a GTA boy and has stated he would be thrilled to play for the Leafs.

American Jack Eichel would be a great fit in Arizona and Buffalo would still be rewarded by a very skilled pick in any of Hanifan, Strome or Marner.

It’ll be fascinating to watch.

Beyond BeLeaf

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Obviously lots of speculation about who will win the Connor McDavid sweepstakes, mainly centered on Buffalo, Edmonton, Arizona and Carolina but there’s a new entrant in the race and their chances are improving with every passing game.

Yes, folks, it’s the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Here is how the Lottery Standings stack up today:

Buffalo: 33

Edmonton: 37

Carolina: 43

Arizona: 45

Columbus: 45

Toronto: 48

It’s likely not possible for Toronto to lose enough to catch Buffalo but, given how Edmonton (4-6-0), Carolina (5-2-3), Columbus (3-7-0), Arizona (3-403) and Toronto (0-9-1) have played in their last 10 games, I think it’s highly likely that Toronto leapfrogs Columbus, Arizona and Carolina with an outside chance of catching the Oilers.

Columbus has 3 games in hand on the Leafs and Carolina 1, while the others have the same number of games played.

I’d wager the Leafs will finish in the #3 hole, greatly enhancing their chances of picking McDavid.

McDavid would be a perfect fit with the Leafs who have been looking for a #1C since Christ was a cowboy and a line of JVR-McDavid-Kessel could be a lot of fun to watch.

McDavid is a GTA boy, having grown up in Newmarket and playing in the Greater Toronto Hockey League before moving on to play with the Erie Otters.

Here’s how the lottery odds looked earlier this weeK:

The top contenders to win the 2015 NHL draft lottery (as compiled by nhllotterysimulator.com)

Team Points Odds

Buffalo Sabres 33 20.0%

Edmonton Oilers 37 13.5%

Carolina Hurricanes 41 11.5%

Arizona Coyotes 44 9.5%

Columbus Blue Jackets 45 9.5%

Toronto Maple Leafs 48 7.5%

New Jersey Devils 49 6.5%

Ottawa Senators 49 6%

*Based on standings prior to Wednesday’s action.

As you can see, the difference between #2 and #3 is a mere 2 percentage points so finishing 3rd gives you a pretty good shot.

That the Leafs are expected to hold a fire sale at the trade deadline, I don’t think it’s inconceivable that they can bring a Buffalo kind of putrid to the final month of the regular season striking terror into the hearts of hockey fans across the rest of the country.

Snap Shots

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1) With the trade deadline fast approaching, I think we’ll soon see some dominos fall. The chief sellers are likely to be Arizona, Buffalo, New Jersey and Philadelphia.

2) With the Canadian dollar in freefall, the salary cap is not likely to hit the $73M estimated earlier with Gary Bettman recently indicating it may be around $71M . That will have a major impact on teams like Boston, Chicago, the Rangers and Pittsburgh who are going to be in cap hell in the offseason.

3) Teams who have a lot of cap space (like Calgary and Arizona) or who can create it by selling expensive pieces are going to be in a great position to pick up some very good players for pennies on the dollar as we saw last offseason when the Islanders picked up Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy and fast tracked their rebuild right into the playoffs.

4)  Worth noting that the league leading Nashville Predators have one of the lowest payrolls in the league at only $61M. Scary to think how good they can be if they pick up a couple of major pieces this summer.

5) Other than Nashville, perhaps one of the league biggest surprises (quietly) is the Detroit Red Wings.

• Detroit is second in the Atlantic Division, one point behind Eastern Conference-leading Tampa Bay. The Red Wings have won five straight and are 13 points better than were at this point last season. The surprising part is they’ve gotten better with little roster turnover.

“Around July 5 when not much happened last summer, I was disappointed – just like a few of my veteran players who called me were disappointed, too,” coach Mike Babcock said. “I don’t think any of us would’ve believed we’d be in this spot, the general manager and myself included.”

So much for those who predicted the Wings would fall apart when Lidstrom retired.

6) The Vancouver Canucks are a bit of an enigma. They remain vulnerable to any of the 5 or so teams chasing them for a playoff spot (although the Canucks have games in hand on most) but what is holding the Canucks back is that they are very mediocre at home (11-8-1) while possessing the best road record in the league (15-8-2). Go figure.

7) It appears the Maple Leafs aren’t going to be signing UFA defenseman Cody Franson to a term and dollars the team likes and will move him shortly. The 6’5″ 215 pound RH shooting defenseman is having a career offensive year with 6 goals and 29 points. The Sicamous, BC boy would look pretty good on the Canucks blue line but I don’t know if the Canucks will be willing to give up much for a playoff rental even with Kevin Bieksa out of the lineup for 4-6 weeks with a broken hand. He may end up in Dallas who could also use another RH shot.

8) With Franson on the market, the trade value of Jeff Petry will sink even further. Another RH shot, Petry’s boxcars are pretty bad…4G 6A 10P -22. Disturbing to think Petry is the Oilers best defenseman and they are going to send him away.

9) There’s an old hockey saying…”goaltending is 50% of the game when you have it and 100% of the game when you don’t”. See Winnipeg and Nashville for reference.

10) Want to know why the Calgary Flames could make the playoffs? It’s because they have a 19-8-1 record against WC and a 14-4-1 record agains the Pacific Division. Want to know why the Oilers are in the basement? They have 3-19-1 record against the WC and are 2-14-3 against the Pacific Division.

What Now?

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We’re getting very close to the point that we can see which teams will have the best odds of winning the draft lottery and there are indications surfacing that give some idea how those  teams are going to proceed for the rest of the season.

There are 8 teams  which, in my opinion, are pretty much out of the playoff race and we can list them but their chances of making the post season courtesy of Sports Club Stats.

Edmonton 0.05

Buffalo 0.1

Columbus 0.7

Arizona 1.1

Dallas 2.2

Colorado 2.2

Carolina 5.7

Philadelphia 8.7

So, now, let’s take look at what we might expect those teams do between now and the end of the regular season.

Edmonton Oilers:

Craig MacTavish, without saying it directly yesterday, has essentially thrown in the towel this season and appears ready to do nothing to improve his hockey team as least until the trade deadline…expecting the “progression of accountability” he sees in the Oilers to pull his team out of last place. That message was reinforced this morning when a very serviceable veteran centre, Kyle Chipchura wasn’t claimed on waivers by the Oilers. In the wake of McTavish’s moaning that he didn’t want to give up any assets to acquire a NHL centre, you’d be right in questioning his veracity.

What I expect will happen is that the Oilers will bumble along until the trade deadline and will trade UFA defenseman Jeff Petry and winger David Perron for the best futures he can get. Unfortunately, both those moves will make the team weaker in the present and Groundhog Day will continue.

Blogging icon Tom Benjamin dropped into Lowetide today to echo what I’ve been saying about the Oilers chances of winning the lottery and rafting MacDavid:

TOM BENJAMINsays:

I don’t see how tanking gets the Oilers anything.

Isn’t it a lottery? Isn’t Bettman still in charge? I’m betting that the Oilers fall as many places as they can possibly fall in the “lottery”. Will the real powers that be in the league let the Oilers claim yet another first overall – and a franchise player to boot? I think the fix will be in and the result will please most hockey fans outside Edmonton. The Oiler brass will know they are getting stuck, but what can they say?

Is that too cynical? I think not.

As I’ve said previously, I doubt the league will “allow” the Oilers to pick in the top 2 no matter what so, if McTavish plans to sit on his thumb for the rest of the season, he may be in for a rude awakening at the draft.

Buffalo Sabres:

The Sabres are a bad hockey team…sporting the worst goal differential in the league at -37. They are also 6-4-0 in the their last 10 games so it’s pretty obvious they haven’t given up and are trying to win despite being so close to the 1st overall pick. At some point though, I think their lack of talent will prevail and both Columbus and Carolina will pass them in the EC standings. The big question here is whether or not any of Edmonton, Arizona, Dallas or Colorado can finish worse than the Sabres. I expect not and the Sabres will have a the best shot at the #1 pick.

Columbus Blue Jackets:

This is really a sad story for this franchise and its fans. When healthy, they have a playoff calibre roster but have lost hundreds of man games to injury. As those players return slowly, I expect they’ll climb the standings somewhat and could conceivably finish ahead of Carolina and Philly in the EC standings. I  any event, they’ll get a very nice player from the draft and, if healthy next season should be right back in the mix.

Arizona Coyotes:

The Coyotes have already started making moves designed to be better in the future and I expect there will be a lot more in the next couple of months. Don Maloney has already traded Rob Klinkhammer to Pittsburgh for a young, inexpensive defenseman in Phillip Samuelson. The 23 year Swedish defenseman is the brother of Henrik who was drafted in the 1st round by Arizona. The Coyotes have also started calling up young players to get them some experience and, as mentioned earlier, waived Chipchura and sent David Schlemko to the minors. There is rampant speculation that Maloney will trade UFA veterans Antoine Vermette and Martin Erat as well as defenseman Keith Yandle in the near future not only to save money in a lost season but to stockpile more 2015 draft picks and/or younger players. Worth keeping an eye on.

More on the Coyotes from Larry Brooks:

Remember how a few short weeks ago Andrew Barroway was on the verge of gaining majority control of the Coyotes, the news first reported by The Post?

Not so fast, for now comes word from a plugged-in source that the deal appears to be falling apart, with Barroway seemingly on the verge of backing out.

Slap Shots has been told the current ownership has directed GM Don Maloney to shed payroll … which would mean stripping the club with the league’s third-lowest payroll into a bare-bones operation.

Who could be going in addition to Keith Yandle (at $5.2 million per season through next year)? Not Shane Doan? Not Oliver Ekman-Larsson?

The equally pertinent question, though, is which will come first: the end of the NHL’s financial problems in the desert or the end of Coyotes?

Actually, it’s not so much a pertinent question as a rhetorical one.

Dallas Stars:

The Stars should be much better than their record but shoddy defensive play and sub par goaltending ( a league worst 96 GA) has deep sixed their season. It’s not inconceivable the Stars could go on a run and finish considerably higher in the standings but the hole is already so deep it would take a miracle for them to reach the playoffs. The Stars will have just a ton of cap space next season to address those issue with Horcoff ($5.5M), Erik Cole ($4.5M) and Rich Peverley ($3.25M) coming off their payroll so I think Jim Nill’s play is likely to ride this out until the offseason.

Colorado Avalanche:

Colorado has been playing a bit better of late but they have been subject to late game collapses that remind me a lot of  last season’s Toronto Maple Leafs. Going into the season, the weakness they have on the blue line was no secret and it appears the addition of veterans Brad Stuart, Jerome Iginla and Daniel Briere has been a disaster that won’t be easy to recover from. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a blockbuster deal involving one of their young centres to try and fix their blueline but that likely won’t occur until the offseason.

Carolina Hurricanes:

This is a team to keep a very close eye on. As the season winds down, I expect the Hurricanes will conduct a fire sale.I wouldn’t be in the least surprised if the Canes convinced the Staal brothers to waive the no trade clauses to move to a contender and may be able to move Cam Ward’s awful contract as part of that deal if the other team is prepared to buy him out. The Hurricanes would then be in full tank mode to try to land MCDavid or Eichel…and I expect they will.

Philadelphia Flyers:

I doubt reality has set in Philly yet (when does it?) that the season is lost and they are likely to make some ridiculous moves to try to save it The biggest problem for the Flyers is that they have virtually no cap space so any move they might want to make will be very difficult to pull off. For a smart GM, there may be an opportunity here to bend the Flyers over if Philly panics.

If I was a betting man, I would wager that the draft order following the lottery will look like this:

Buffalo

Carolina

Arizona

Edmonton

Columbus

Colorado

Dallas

Philadelphia

By the way, there is a HUGE game tonight in Calgary between the San Jose Sharks and the Flames. With a win, the Flames could pull 8 points ahead of the Sharks and the final wild card spot. The Flames are starting to get their injured centres back (Matt Stajan is playing tonight) so Bob Hartley is going to have more weapons to try to keep their winning ways going. Should be a great game to watch.

Go Flames?

Sam Wellwood

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Over the past several years, I’ve been drawing parallels between the careers of Sam Gagner and Kyle Wellwood (and suffered a great deal of derision for doing so).

However, with Gagner moving on to Arizona, perhaps the fanboys will now be open to taking a closer look at the evidence.

The careers of the two small centres did not start out in lock step, since Wellwood was drafted in the 5th round in the 2001 entry draft, while Gagner was drafted 6th overall in 2007.

Wellwood would spend a couple of seasons in the AHL posting very good numbers while Gagner was thrust immediately into a seething cauldron of suck and was seen as the brightest bauble of a dreadful team.

While Gagner managed to score 49 points in his rookie season, he has never matched that output again and, based on his overall performance, would seem to have managed 1 years’ experience 7 times.

Wellwood’s best season would come in 2011/12 when he posted 18G and 47P in 77 games which is almost identical to Gagner’s best.

Wellwood’s career was derailed by injury 5 years after he was drafted and, other than his brief resurgence in Winnipeg, he was never able to recapture his career momentum and, at the age of 30, is out of hockey.

Gagner, as everyone is aware, suffered a broken jaw in his 6th NHL season and was pretty dreadful in all aspects of the game last season before being moved to Tampa and then Arizona.

So, what can we expect from Gagner in Arizona?

The Coyotes are absolutely starved for offence so I can imagine Gagner will be given every chance to succeed but head coach Dave Tippet is also a defensive task master and, unless Gagner can quickly develop a 2 way game he never displayed in Edmonton, he may find himself in the doghouse.

So, what can we expect from Sam in his first season in Arizona?

I’ll defer to TSN’s Scott Cullen who has been ranking every player’s fantasy expectations for the upcoming NHL season and is very reasonable in his projections.

He has pegged Gagner to score 15G and 45P, which is slightly less than he scored as a rookie.

In his 7th NHL season, Kyle Wellwood scored 18G and 47P.

Eerie isn’t it?