10 TO WATCH

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With the exhibition season drawing to a close, it’s time to anticipate some of the story lines I think we’ll see develop over the course of the season.

Here are the 10 top things I’m expecting to emerge over the next 7 months.

  1. Ryan Johansen

Johansen is the oft forgotten graduate of the Class of 2010 that also includes Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin, Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko. The 6’3″ 225 centre came close to a PPG last season and, now that he has Brandon Saad patrolling his left wing, I expect Johansen to take another step forward and emerge as a true superstar. Worth noting that Johansen led the NHL pre season scoring with 4G and 12P in only 4 games while his right winger, Nick Foligno finished with 9 points and Saad recorded 8. This is setting up as one of the premier lines in all of hockey.

2. McDavid vs. Eichel vs. Sam Bennett

Most observers expect McDavid and Eichel to be the top two in an outstanding rookie class but it needs to be remembered that both are playing on teams that don’t score much, have huge holes on the blue line and questionable goaltending. None of those things apply to Bennett whose Calgary Flames were 6th in goal scoring last season and promise to be even better this season with a healthy Mark Giordano, the additions of possession darling Michael Frolik and puck moving wizard Dougie Hamilton as well as further maturation of young stars Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau. Others to keep an eye on are Artemi Panarinin in Chicago and Nikolaj Ehlers in Winnipeg.

3. Jamie Benn

Benn won the scoring title last season despite playing with two bad hips which he had operated on in the offseason. He’s now healthy and will have Patrick Sharp and Tyler Seguin as line mates. Will he win the Hart Trophy? When asked which player he would build a team around, Sidney Crosby immediately identified Benn as his choice. I don’t disagree.

4. Tyler Seguin

The Yin to Benn’s Yang is Tyler Seguin who emerged last season as a bonafide superstar. Seguin would have easily topped 40 goals last season had he not missed 10 games to a dirty low bridge hit. He may be one of the few players with a legitimate chance to hit 50 this season and I wouldn’t bet against him.

6. Bo Horvat

Horvat was a revelation last season starting out on the 4th line and later in the season centering Vancouver’s 3rd line. In camp this season, he’s already moved up to the Canucks 2nd line C position and there are more than a few observers who believe he will soon make Vancouver fans forget all about Ryan Kesler.

7. Vladimir Tarasenko

Tarasenko is another member of that sweet 2010 draft class that should hit another level this season. After scoring 37 goals and 73 points in 77 GP last season, I expect Tarasenko will soon join Seguin atop the pinnacle of that draft class.

8. Buffalo vs. Edmonton

The Oilers finished 8 points ahead of the Sabres last season and, while adding Connor McDavid, trading for Cam Talbot and signing Andrej Sekera, the Sabres have blown them away in making substantive changes to their roster.

Jack Eichel, Evander Kane, Ryan O’Reilly, David Legwand, Jamie McGinn, Zach Bogosian, Cody Franson and Robin Lehner trump everything the Oilers have done in the offseason. I expect they’ll improve much more than the Oilers. and….by the way…the Oilers are almost cap strapped while the Sabres have almost $12M in free cap space. 

9. The Detroit Red Wings

This is the season that the Wings finally fail to make the playoffs. It’s not so much that they will decline by a large margin but the hard charging Florida Panthers, the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Ottawa Senators all are likely to finish ahead of them.

10. There is always one team that surprises with their success and at least one other that does a face plant. This season, I think the Calgary Flames are going to surprise and will win the Pacific Division. My candidate for the team likely to fall furthest is the Chicago Blackhawks. The Hawks made the playoffs last season by a mere 3 points and with the changes they’ve been forced make and the surging Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild and Winnipeg Jets, they could well finish 6th in the tough Central Division.

Ranking the Rebuilds #9…the Buffalo Sabres

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The Sabres rebuild hasn’t been all that long by normal standards.

They last made the playoffs in the 2010/11 season with a respectable 96 points but it was clear after early playoff exits and It’s plausible their rebuild began in February 2012 when they sent  long time Sabre Paul Gaustad to Nashville for a 1st round pick (which after a trade with Calgary would become Zemgus Gigensons)

That draft also produced Mikhail Grigorenko (since traded to Colorado) and Jake McCabe but it wasn’t enough to save the job of GM Darcy Regier after 16 years on the job.

He was replaced by longtime Assistant GM of the Ottawa Senators Tim Murray, who, since his hiring in January 2014, has been tasked with building a winner.

As anyone who pays attention knows, you build a winner from the back end out and down the middle and it would seem that’s exactly what Murray is doing.


The Sabres again had 2 1st round picks in the 2013 draft before Murray arrived and had selected Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov so Murray had two blue chip D prospects when he took over the reins as well as Mark Pysyk who was drafted in the 1st round in 2010 and, of course former rookie of the year Tyler Myers who was drafted in 2008

While those players were under development Murray wisely brought in some veteran support in Josh Gorges and Mike Weber. But he was hardly finished.

In a blockbuster deal, Murray sent Myers, veteran Drew Stafford and a 1st round pick to Winnipeg for Zach Bogosian and controversial winger Evander Kane.

Bogosian projects as a #1D as does Ristolainen so Murray felt comfortable trading from a position of strength to address the Sabres long time woes at C.

But even with a lot of promise on D, Murray today signed Cody Franson, easily a top 4 D on most any team to a bargain 2 year contract and I would imagine the Sabres are set at the position for at least the next several seasons.


With enough D in the pipeline, Murray set about fixing the Sabres long time woes at C.

First up was the 2014 draft where the Sabres took Sam Reinhart in the list round and then, after losing the draft lottery to the Oilers, got Jack Eichel as a consolation prize.

Not one to rest on his laurels, Murray then swung a trade with Colorado and got two way C phenom Ryan O’Reilly in return for  Zadorov and Grigorenko.

The results going into the season is that the Sabres have addressed their C depth in a big way for years to come.

Jack Eichel

Sam Reinhart

Ryan O’Reilly

Tyler Ennis

Zemgus Girgensons

David Legwand

Cody McCormick

Oh my.

The Sabres remain shy on scoring wingers with Kane and Matt Moulson providing most of the top 6 punch but Kane has the potential to score more than 30 goals and there is at least some secondary support coming up through the system. (source)

Strengths: After struggling in almost incomprehensible fashion this season, the Buffalo Sabres are nearly ready to climb back to respectability. The team will add a franchise-changing center at the 2015 NHL Draft, but already in the system is Sam Reinhart. Reinhart is an offensively-gifted player who processes play at an elite level, and should make his linemates more effective for years to come. After him, the center pipeline is still solid, with JT Compher and Connor Hurley both top college prospects with whom the organization can afford patience.

There are several solid prospects at right wing too, with Justin Bailey and Nick Baptiste projecting as gritty supports with some upside, and Hudson Fasching a finesse player with size.

The Sabres have also had a revolving door of goaltenders since Ryan Miller left but hope to have addressed that with Robin Lehner in the offseason. Lerner, with limited experience as a start is a gamble but one that could pay off.

Given the relative short time the Sabres have been rebuilding, I think it’s fair to assert that Murray is on the right track and has already addressed the most difficult tasks.

He’s going into the season with almost $9 million in free cap space and is imposition to take advantage of any cap strapped team now and in the future.

Considering the 2015 McDavid/Eichel draft, it’s going to be almost impossible not to compare the Sabres and Oilers rebuilds going forward.

To my eye, The Sabres are well ahead of schedule and, with the prudent use of all that cap space, the Sabres could blow by the “infinite-build” Oilers in very short order.

The Home Stretch

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Only 5 weeks remaining in the NHL regular season and we’re in for a helluva finish in the WC and there are still 3-4 teams that could grab the final wild card spot in the EC.

The Boston Bruins just defeated the Flyers in OT.

Boston moves to 73 points, up 3 on Florida and 4 on Ottawa and Philly. Given that Florida is without their top 2 goaltenders they may be all but out of it and I’d keep an eye on the streaking Senators who are 8-1-1 in their last 10GP, somehow.

Much more interesting in the WC where Minnesota, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Calgary, Los Angeles, San Jose and even Dallas, are still all vying for a playoff spot.

I had all but counted the Stars out of the race but there’s word today that Tyler Seguin is expected to return from injury tonight much sooner than expected and, if they can get even average goaltending, they may well be right back in it.

As for the others, I would bet a sizeable amount that the Minnesota Wild will make the playoffs with a very good chance to overtake the Blackhawks and/or St’ Louis for 2nd or #rd in the Central Division.

Then it gets really interesting.

Winnipeg has been exceeding expectations all season but now they are without their best player, Dustin Byfuglien, and their top centre, Bryan, Little for an extended period. I’m not sure they can withstand that double body blow.

Vancouver is almost impossible to get a read on. In their last 10 games, they’ve beaten Minnesota, the Rangers, the Islanders, Boston and St. Louis but lost to Buffalo, Arizona and New Jersey. You have to wonder why they can’t beat the teams they should beat.

The Calgary Flames continue to amaze. Everyone was counting them out when Mark Giordano went down with a season ending injury but all they’ve done is beaten Detroit, Boston and Philly…all on the road….since he went down. What the Flames are accomplishing with the lowest payroll in the league (other than those who sold the farm at the deadline) is a testament to great coaching and hard work. Yes, I know they are getting hammered in the possession stats but what many of the staszis don’t often recognize is that shot blocking is a demonstrable, repeatable skill and the Flames are exceptional at it. Flames defenseman Kris Russell leads the league in BS by a wide margin with 221 compared to 175 for the second place shot blocker Roman Josi of the Nashville Predators. Dennis Wideman, TJ Brodie and Mark Giordano are also among the top 20 in the league. Shot blocking may not be good for your Corsi rating but it sure does stop goals from being scored.

It also helps that the Flames are among the top scoring teams in the league (11th) at 2.82 while the supposedly young, fast talented Oilers will all those #1 picks are 28th at a paltry 2.17…only Arizona and Buffalo are worse.

Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan are both providing great numbers fro such young players and those who expected Monahan to fall back this season have been very disappointed…he could hit 30 goals and 60 points.

Both Los Angeles and San Jose remain just outside the wild card spots and, while I expect LA will make it, San Jose appears to be in serious trouble despite their star-studded lineup.

Buckle up…it’s going to be a great ride.

 

 

 

 

SNAPSHOTS

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Well, the dust is settled and we’re now in the home stretch heading into the playoffs. The bottom line at the trade deadline is that the rich got got richer and the poor are tanking.

1) The Buffalo Sabres, as currently constituted, may be the worst team ever in the NHL. After moving out both of their starting goaltenders, Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford, Torrey Mitchell and the enigmatic Chris Stewart and with Tyler Ennis and Zemgus Girgensons injured, the Sabres leading scorer is  Matt Moulson who has 9 goals and 29 points. Yikes!

2) The Arizona Coyotes are also in full tank mode after trading their best centre Antoine Vermette, their leading scorer, Keith Yandle and another top 4 defenseman in
Zbynek Michalek.

3) Edmonton Oilers GM Craig MacTavish set off a firestorm among fans when he pulled an “Iraqi Information Minister” performance out of his bag of tricks by expressing his utmost confidence in what is likely the worst defensive corp in the entire league. That the Oilers lost their best defenseman for a paltry return tells you pretty much everything you need to know about MacT’s ability to assess defensemen.

4) As the trade deadline loomed, the Calgary Flames and the Vancouver Canucks pulled off a very interesting trade. The Flames sent Sven Baertshi to the Whale for a 2015 2nd round pick. The young Swiss (Vancouver now has 3) players had reportedly asked for a trade and said he would not be re-signing with them at the end of the season so Clgary did very well getting a 2nd for the former 1st round pick. The Canucks are just playing the odds here, in my opinion, since the chance a 2nd round pick turns into an actula NHL player is around 25% and I’d wager there is a 50% chance Baertschi makes the grade.

5) The worst news of the day also involved the Flames who have lost their best player and captain to season ending surgery. If the Flames somehow manage to hold on to a playoff spot without Mark Giordano they will be due all sorts or accolades for playing an incredible team game under very difficult circumstances. I’m pulling for them.

6) The Anaheim Ducks showed their very serious about a cup run when they acquired James Wisniewski from the Columbus Blue Jackets. As for the Jackets, they cleared out a $4.5M contract in preparation for off season acquisitions as well as picking up a promising young prospect and an extra 2nd round pick in the draft.

7) The Arizona Coyotes are, in my opinion one of the biggest winners in the wake of the trade deadline. They not only picked up another 1st round pick, but also added blue chip prospects in Anthony Duclair and Klaus Dahlbeck. Considering they are likely going to get one of the top 3 picks in a very deep draft and already have premium prospects in Max Domi and Henrik Samuelsson on the way, their rebuild centred on Norris quality defenseman Oliver Ekmann-Larsson, hockey should be fun again in Arizona…at least until they move somewhere else.

8) Toronto Maple Leafs GM Dave Nonis tired to sell the farm yesterday without much success. Apparently a deal was close to send Dion Phaneuf to Detroit but it fell apart over the Leafs taking back a toxic contract and Toronto insisting Anthony Mantha being part of the return. I wouldn’t be surprised, after Craig McTavish strikes out on signing Johnny Boychuk, that he takes a run at Dion in the offseason. Phaneuf takes way too much heat fro what’s wrong in Toronto but I don’t think he would do very well playing for another loser franchise.

9) Poor old Shawn Horcoff…the Dallas Stars tried to give him away yesterday…no one wanted him.

10) The Dallas Stars are loading up on Swedish defensemen. They now have half the starting D from the 2012 Swedish WJC gold medal winning team in John Klingberg, Patrick Nemeth and the newly acquired Mattias Backman. If the other two play as well as Klingberg, the Stars are going to have lethal d>

 

 

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.

Timing is Everything

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At the All Star break, it appears the Buffalo Sabres are destined to finish dead last in the NHL.

I remain convinced the Arizona Coyotes will win a “managed” draft lottery as a return for Andrew Barroway bailing out the Coyotes again and will feature Connor McDavid as their marketing missile going forward.

So, it’s very likely, in my opinion, that Jack Eichel will be counted on to lead the Sabres out of the basement. But he won’t be alone.

The Sabres also have 2 more 1st round picks that they received in trade from the New York Islanders and the St. Louis Blue and they already have 2 2nd round picks with likely more to come.

ESPN/TSN analyst Pierre LeBrun has an exceptional column today on the Sabres rebuild and I encourage you to read the whole article but this excerpt gives you an idea of how the Sabres might be able to turn things around pretty quickly IF they make the right decisions at the draft and then develop their picks properly.

The Sabres also have the St. Louis Blues‘ first-round pick (via the Ryan Miller trade last season) and the New York Islanders‘ first-round pick (from the Thomas Vanek trade last season). Neither will be high picks, but they’re first-round picks nonetheless.

Already there’s a base of youngsters on the Sabres, such as All-Star forward Zemgus Girgensons, 21, as well as blueliners Rasmus Ristolainen, 20, and Nikita Zadorov, 19.

Throw in defenseman Mark Pysyk, 23, who seems ready for the NHL but remains in the AHL, as well as 19-year-old center Sam Reinhart, who starred in the recent world junior championships for gold-medalist Canada, and it’s a start. It’s not enough yet, but it’s something.

“They have some really good pieces, no question,” said a Western Conference GM. “But you have to be careful not to bring them in too soon. The big thing is not just drafting, but are they developing the players properly? That’s bigger than anything else. Are they spending enough money to have the right people to develop the players the right way? That’s very important.”

 

The last two times a team had three 1st round picks in the draft was in 2007 when the Edmonton Oilers selected Sam Gagner, Alex Plante and Riley Nash, none of whom are playing for the team and then the Florida Panthers had three in 2010 and selected Erik Gudbranson, Nick Bjugstad and Quinton Howden. Gudbranson and Bjugstad are now staples of the Panthers lineup and Howden remains a long shot.

Considering how deep the 2015 draft seems to be, it’s a good bet the Sabres are going to walk away with at least two, and maybe more, NHL players.

The Sabres already are showing they have a pretty good idea that good teams are built from the backend out and down the middle.

Goal:

Enroth (26)

Neuvirth (26)

Two goaltenders just entering their prime.

Defense: 

Ristolainen (20)

Zadorov (19)

Pysyk (23)

Myers (24)

That’s a pretty daunting future top 4.

Centre:

Eichel (18)

Reinhart (19)

Grigorenko (20)

Girgensons (21)

Hodgson (24)

Ennis (25)

Considering the Sabres will be adding to their prospect pool with all those additional picks as well as what they may receive from selling at the deadline, they are in an exceptional position to start moving  up the standings in the very near future.

I would imagine Drew Stafford, Matt Moulson, Chris Stewart and others may fetch additional picks at the deadline and the 2015 draft will forever be known as the “Sabres Draft”.

Timing is everything.

 

 

Snap Shots

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1) The Buffalo Sabres, with a little help from the Edmonton Oilers, are now in control of the Epic Tank Battle in the dungeons of the NHL.  While the Sabres have an identical win percentage, .337, the Sabres have control of the all important tie breakers with only 8 regulation wins to the Oilers’ 9 and also have a sparkling -76 goal differential to the Oilers’ -50.  The Sabres have a game in Detroit later today so it’s a good bet they’ll tighten their grip even further.

2) The Arizona Coyotes continue to tumble down the standings and GM Don Maloney has the for sale sign up with all of Antoine Vermette, Martin Erat and Keith Yandle all likely to be shipped out soon so don’t count them out of the race quite yet.

3) Which raises the question of who is likely to win the draft lottery? Well, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman owes new Coyotes’ majority owner Andrew Barroway a solid for bailing out the Coyotes once again so don’t be surprised if Connor McDavid pulls on a Phoenix jersey at the draft.

4) McDavid would be a great start to a rebuild in the desert…he’s a very marketable young player, obviously, and the Coyotes also have several young blue chip prospects to help kick start the process. The Coyotes prospect depth includes WJC star Max Domi, Henrik Sameulsson (now playing in the AHL), 2014 1st round pick Brendan Perlini and youngsters Tobias Reider (thanks Oilers), Luca Lessio and D Connor Murphy who are already playing in the NHL. Considering the Coyotes will also likely receive young prospects and/or picks for the aforementioned Vermette, Erat, Yandle et al, the Coyotes are already well positioned to push the re-set button.

5) And that, of course raises another question…how close to the wood does Barroway want Maloney to go? With a glut of young defenseman in the desert, would they also look at moving Oliver Ekman-Larsson and his $5.5 million dollar cap hit for the right deal? I think they might if the return was another flashy forward with marketabilty like, say, Taylor Hall?

6) The only way the Oilers are going to take a major step forward is to acquire at least one bona-fide top pairing D and the only way they’ll be able to do that is to move one of their “core”. It would be counterproductive to trade Ryan Nugent-Hopkins given the organizations dreadful centre depth and Jordan Eberle won’t have enough value to do it, so, if I’m the Oilers GM I would be all over that kind of move. As Dean Lombardi says:

“Don’t fall in love with your players.”

7) I see Tyler Seguin, who has been battling the nasty flu virus going around (tell me about it…2 weeks and counting) seems to have recovered putting up 1G and 1A last night and grabbing a share of the goal scoring lead again. (Since surrendered to Rick Nash)

8) Which brings us to Nash’s brilliant play this season. As of this writing, he has another 2 goals today as the Rangers romp over the Penguins, bringing his goal scoring total to 28. Nash is perhaps the best current example of a player, like Taylor Hall, selected 1st overall and expected to lead his team to glory, who just can’t get the job done in his current environment. And the Blue Jackets, who traded Nash to the Rangers for multiple assets, were stuck in neutral until they made the trade. Win-win and remember:

“Don’t fall in love with your players.”

9) David Perron serves as the current most visible reminder that the Edmonton Oilers excel at de-valuing their players and then moving them for pennies on the dollar. Perron posted another goal and an assist in today’s loss to the Rangers and is thriving now that he’s not stuck with 3rd line minutes and a couple of stiffs to play with. As you know, the Oilers used a 10th overall draft pick on Magnus Paajarvi and then moved Paajarvi and a second round pick to St. Louis for Perron before moving Perron to the Penguins for a low 20’s overall pick. St. Louis got their required salary dump, a chance to see if Paajarvi could be an NHL player (he isn’t) and Ivan Barbashev. Barbashev is ripping up the QMJHL (34GP 24G 28A) and would seem to be a pretty good bet to be an NHL player while I expect Pajaarvi will return to Sweden, Pittsburgh got an outstanding scoring winger and, of course, the Oilers ended up with a draft pick. Good grief.

10) I keep thinking the Winnipeg Jets are going to falter and fall out of the playoff race and, then, they win another game. Guess they’re better than I thought.

11) And, of course the Calgary Flames keep the flickering alive. Despite a long losing skid, the Flames have rebounded and hold down the final wild card spot after beating the Sharks in San Jose last night. The Flames have won 3 straight and are 7-3-0 in their last 10 all with the league’s lowest payroll. Makes you wonder what they will be able to accomplish when they finally open up the cheque book.

Snap Shots

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1) Tyler Seguin in beast mode in Edmonton with 2G 1A. Now on pace for 64 goals and 107 points. Oh, and he had NINE shots on goal.

2) Kyle Wellwood Sam Gagner  Jakub Voracek is one point ahead of Seguin for the NHL scoring lead with 43 points in 33 GP. Don’t mention the war… or Logan Couture.

3) Jarome Iginla is a bust in Colorado…right? Did you know Iginla, with a $5.3 million dollar cap hit, has 21 points, one more than Jordan Eberle who has a $6 million cap hit.

4) I see the venerable Lowetide has come around to thinking the way a few of us have for years:

Lowetide:
Oilers have to do something about their goalie. Question: Do they make that move now? At this rate they can keep this team down in the standings and stay in the 29-30 slots. I mean, we’re basically halfway through the season.

I’d agree to that but they have to fire management.

What took you so long buddy?

5) The Edmonton Oilers are on pace for a -101 goal differential.

6) It looks like the race for the basement is now down to 3 teams. The Buffalo Sabres just picked up another point in OT and now have 29 while Carolina, Arizona and Edmonton are all within 5 points of one another. If Arizona conducts a fire sale in the new year, as expected, I’d wager they finish 30th and the NHL will “manage” the lottery so that the Oilers pick 3rd.

7)  The Calgary Flames have dropped (no surprise) to 3 points out out of  a wildcard spot. But don’t count them out just yet. Brian Burke is sitting on $22 million free cap space ($61 million! at the trade deadline) to make deals with. Would Antoine Vermette, Keith Yandle and another scorer propel the Flames into the playoffs? Maybe. Keep an eye on the Flames…they have the cap space and assets to make major moves.

8) The Minnesota Wild continue to out shoot opponents by a wide margin (an average of almost 6 shots/game) but are still muddling along (4-3-3 in their last 10GP). One wonders why they don’t win more often.

9) What’s up with the Winnipeg Jets? Despite losing FOUR of their top 6 D, they remain competitive and are currently in a playoff spot. Who says coaching doesn’t matter.

10)  The Chicago Blackhawks lead the NHL with a +35 goal differential.The Anaheim Ducks, conversely, lead the NHL with 49 points despite a goal differential of only +5. Can you spell clutch?

 

Tanking

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All sorts of speculation early this NHL season about which teams might tank for a chance to draft Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel.

In years past, there might have been 2 or 3 teams who were so bad that they might want to give up on the season and do everything they can to get the 1st overall pick but this season I think it’s fair to say there might be 8.

But I think, in reality the list is likely a bit shorter.

Let’s start at the bottom.

As of this writing, the team with the worst win percentage is the Edmonton Oilers (.328)

Oilers’ GM Craig (It’s Not My Fault) McTavish has already indicated he won’t be making any moves to improve his team so it’s likely they’ll limp along pretty much where they are for the rest of the season at least until the trade deadline when I expect they’ll move Jeff Petry and David Perron for “futures”. The loss of those two might cause a slight downturn in the teams  performance but not to the degree that it should have any signifcant impact on the final standings.

Staying in the Western Conference, the Arizona Coyotes have been bad and they’re getting worse. They’ve just dropped their 8th straight game at home and have only won twice in their last 11 games. GM Don Maloney has already indicated he’s getting ready to blow things up and move out sone expensive veterans and I expect he’ll soon follow through on that threat not only to start a rebuild but to save money for the cash strapped team. I would wager all of Keith Yandle, Antoine Vermette and Martin Erat will all have new addresses early in the new year and the Coyotes will go from bad to worse and then worser. This is the team I think will finish 30th in the NHL and draft McDavid. The team desperately needs a marquee name to market and I expect the NHL will do everything in its “power” to ensure that happens.

Another teams that is poised to go into sell mode soon is the Carolina Hurricanes. Jiri Tlusty and Andrej Sekera are both UFA at the end of the season and I expect both will be dealt. I also believe the Hurricanes will try to convince Eric Staal to waive his NMC so they can turn him into a first round pick and other assets. Say hello to Jack Eichel!

The Buffalo Sabres are not a very good team but they have stellar goaltending, a great coach and are 7-3-0 in their last 10 games played and look like they’ll be moving out of the sub basement.

The Columbus Blue Jackets are beginning to get their injured players back and are on a 5 game winning streak. I think they’ll easily play themselves out of the chance to draft the wonder kids.

Which leaves us with 3 big question marks…The Philadelphia Flyers, The Colorado Avalanche and the Dallas Stars.

Now, the odds of any of these 3 teams winning the lottery are pretty low but an extended losing streak by any of them could increase those odds significantly and I can see Ed Snider in Philly, with a wink and a nod from his buddy Gary, going into full tank mode in the very near future.

Stranger things have happened.