This post wraps up our whirlwind tour around the league. While the remaining seven squads find the playoff fortunes in a precarious spot, the remaining ten weeks will give each ample opportunity to alter their trajectory and pick off one of the present playoff bound teams.
So what will it take to unseat one of the weaker contenders and reveal them to be pretenders. Peak below the fold for a look at the buyers, sellers, hidden contenders and utter pretenders. With three cellar dwellers who have loaded up their discount merchandise tables, the list is easier to divide. Four teams that could buy, and three that better sell.
Our previous installments:
Below the fold you’ll see how they all shake out.
Colorado Avalanche – Holders – In three of the last five seasons, the Avs have missed the post season. It has been eight seasons since they made the Conference Finals. With some youth arriving and contributing (specifically Ryan O’Reilly, Gabriel Landeskog and Matt Duchene despite his current injury) the Avalanche appear to be on the upswing.
The big area of weakness is in net. Semyon Varlamov has played his way out of the majority of starts and has become more of Jean-Sebastien Giguere‘s backup than equal partner for Colorado. While making a push for the playoffs, they’ll lean on the veteran. But the Avs priority should be seeing exactly what they have in Varlamov. So I don’t expect them to make a deal to upgrade the position.
They have movable parts. And the correct long view move is to determine whether keeping Paul Stastny makes more sense for the future competitive team, or getting more young quality guys for him does. Thanks to the uncertain timetable for Duchene’s return, I suspect Stastny stays. They could seek a quick fix to get long time Av Milan Hejduk another quality run. But I don’t see that making sense for their overall long term strategy. I don’t expect they’ll make the post-season. Giguere can’t play every game and structurally they are not a very good five on five team, right now. But they are making incremental improvements. It makes almost no sense to push like crazy to get bounced in five by the hated Red Wings.
Dallas Stars – Holders, possibly Buyers – The Stars swoon preceding the All-Star Break left them on the outside looking in of a theoretical post-season dance that in some fantastical world commences tonight. Thankfully for Dallas hockey lovers, the remaining march to the real start of do or die hockey is still 10 weeks from now.
And for the Stars as a whole that means blissful health and well-being. Though, it’s fair to say no team is ever 100% healthy once a season starts, the Stars have been missing Jamie Benn (appendectomy), Mike Ribeiro (knee), Stephane Robidas (foot) and Brenden Morrow (neck/shoulder). To have all four back on ice, even if, as is the case with Ribeiro, the injuries are not healed, but able to be endured, makes a significant difference to the tenth place team in the Western Conference.
Relative health matters. They have at least one game in hand on all the teams with which they will compete for the final playoff berths in the conference. With the return of their injured players, they improve their ability without sacrificing talent to do so. And now is the time they need to make their move.
February is a brutal stretch for Dallas, with 16 games throughout the month. How they play in that stretch, will determine if they flip youth for vets with a week or less to go in the month or run up the white flag and try to strategically add elements for next season.
Calgary Flames – Sellers – They already parted with one of their over thirty bunch. And while Brendan Morrison may not be missed the way Olli Jokinen or Jarome Iginla would be, his departure to the Blackhawks signals that the Flames management correctly understands that they are in need of a youth movement.
Brian Connelly, the prize won for Morrison, joins T.J. Brodie and Chris Butler along the blue line and adds more youth to the defensive corps. Even Jay Bouwmeester, ancient compared to the aforementioned trio is a young buck compared to the old timers up front.
What makes a Flames firesale hard to figure is the long run that Iginla has had in Calgary. He’s been the face of that franchise almost since he was 19. And only once has he come close to touching Stanley. At 26, and it seems so long ago, that his Flames fell to the Lightning in seven glorious games. Three blowouts to open followed by a 1-0 shutout, a 3-2 over time thriller followed by a 3-2 game six double overtime heartbreaker in Calgary. Then in game seven to fall 2-1 and lose the Cup. If they deal him, he will have enjoyed a fantastic run.
Phoenix Coyotes – Holders – The Coyotes have no where to go. Perhaps then they’ll at last decide to stay in Phoenix. Ownership uncertainty persists, which leaves the franchise unlikely to bolster their woeful powerplay in the four weeks before the trade deadline.
They certainly are not out of the race, as they have the same 52 points that Colorado, Calgary and Dallas have. And unlike those squads or even Minnesota the current eighth seed, their point differential is nearly neutral at -4. Compared to Minnesota’s -11, Colorado’s -13, Dallas’ -10 and Calgary’s -17, Phoenix is sitting pretty.
But even if the Coyotes make the post-season, their veteran trio of top-scorers are getting long in the tooth. Ray Whitney is 39. Shane Doan is 35. Even Radim Vrbata has just crosse dover to the wrong side of 30. However the franchise is reconstituted, if/when new ownership arrives, those three are as likely as not to be parceled out for youth. Maybe giving them one last run is worth it. But make no mistake, that’s what this is.
Anaheim Ducks – Sellers – Hard to fathom when one looks at the roster and the stats these guys have compiled. Collectively they are slightly above average on the power play, have a solid penalty kill and their goal-differential (-20) while bad is not putrid. The net result is that Randy Carlyle was fired and pretty much the entire roster is available in trade. The biggest names are the duo who have a name in common — Bobby Ryan and Ryan Getzlaf.
Ryan rumors have roamed the league since November when the S.S. Ducktales began to list and take on water. Ryan offers a tantalizing cocktail of size, skill and toughness.
Then there is Getzlaf. While he’s older than Ryan, he’s more accomplished in his career and could suit a current contender with a window of this year a little better.
But there are contrarians who argue that the Ducks should not plan for their summer break so soon. But wait and see how it plays out. It’s not as if Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne are getting any younger. What’s to prevent the point streak that led the Ducks to the break from extending out into their final contests? Are Phoenix, Calgary, Dallas, Colorado and Minnesota so good that they can’t catch them? The Ducks have authored such insane runs before. Holding is gutsy and foolish and it makes for a helluva story. And the likelihood that they do is pretty much non-existent.
Edmonton Oilers – Sellers – Like the Ducks, a cursory look at the Oilers only serves to confuse. A solid power play, decent penalty kill and reasonable goal tending mark the curious failure of the Edmonton Oilers, 2011-12 edition. Young players fill the roster, such as Taylor Hall, Sam Gagner, Jordan Eberle and teenager Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. And of those, absolutely none are going anywhere. Not dealing your young talent core is vital to developing a successful franchise.
What’s really left on Edmonton’s cupboard worth selling off? Well there’s Ryan Smyth. And yes, he just got back into town and is regarded as the emotional leader and mentor to the kids. But he can be brought back in the offseason after he fetches a draft pick and perhaps a glittery bauble to show the kids and inspire them to bust their butts even more to earn one of their own.
Then there is the aged Nikolai Khabibulin. He still makes the saves though and as Dwayne Roloson showed us last year, goalie age is very frequently relative. They might consider shopping Corey Potter or Tom Gilbert as well.
Columbus Blue Jackets – Sellers – The best news the Blue Jackets got out of the All-Star festivities was that Columbus will host the 2013 event. Buried in last in the West, there is little joy in the land of the Blue Jackets. Though their fans continue to show vocal support, while demanding accountability, the team’s on-ice woes linger. A poor power play, an atrocious penalty kill, and the worst goal differential in hockey combine to leave a foul stench clinging to the franchise. Now in their 11th season, the Jackets have one Playoff appearance in franchise history.
One truly is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do.
So, the word is out, Jeff Carter is on the block. Greg Wyshynski of Yahoo’s Puck Daddy blog summed up the whispers about Carter’s diminishing marginal utility. Which is bad news for a reasonable return. Other players likely to be shopped include: Vinny Prospal, Samuel Pahlsson, and Fedor Tuytin among others. With the team languishing no one should be untouchable.
Which brings me to Rick Nash. It’s difficult to picture a scenario where their one and only bonafide star is sent packing. But it’s worth remembering, this is an epically bad team. If Nash can fetch what is being sought for Ryan or Getzlaf then they should think long and hard about shopping their franchise player. Keeping him to placate fans who are already hacked off at the direction things have gone is not going to do it. Building a long term winning franchise will. At this point it is necessary to ask, can Nash contribute to that by being a part of that team, or by being traded to acquire the parts that go into that team?