The NHL regular season is now entering its final quarter and the trade deadline is looming. Some teams are destined for playoff hockey and have practically stamped their ticket already. Others are on the bubble and may acquire that one missing piece to get them over the hump.
The five teams I will highlight today, however, are looking ahead to next season and beyond. The playoffs are well out of reach for these basement dwellers, but they all have some good building blocks.
Only one team, Winnipeg, in this group has managed twenty-five wins this season while Toronto is the only team yet to register fifty total team points. This season may have been dismal for these six franchises, but the future is bright. At least for the fans they have to hope it is and stay optimistic that the front office knows what it’s doing.
Toronto Maple Leafs 20-22-9 18pts back of 3rd in the Atlantic division.
Well Leaf Nation, the long going Toronto ‘make me laughs’ joke continues this season. Leaf fans are one of the most loyal bunch and they continue to be disappointed again this season. How the ACC is constantly packed amazes me, but if you love the game of hockey, and the Leafs, success is something you remember fondly from the past and hope to see in the future, whenever that may come.
Having a good goaltender is top priority for winning franchises. Based on his numbers I think the Leafs have that in Reimer and their dismal season cannot be allocated to his play. A 2.45GAA and .920 save percentage are solid numbers and he gives this team a chance to win most nights.
Their blue line is young with four under the age of twenty-five. Rielly and Gardiner are a solid start, but the lack of experience with Corrado, Cowen, and Marincin means the growing pains will happen on the blue line unless a veteran is brought in.
The emergence of Komarov as an All Star this year and Holland still growing, gives this team some decent Centers to build with. Kadri has had a decent season (11/17) but not good enough for a contract year. He is not a first line Center and would do well on the second or third line. This team does not currently have a first line Center, in my opinion, and will likely look to bring in a big free agent in the off season to fill this void. Stamkos would be great, but let’s not put the cart in front of the horse.
JVR and newly acquired Michalek are solid left wingers for this team as well. The right wing needs a boost and with much youth expected to arrive next season the Leafs can hope to turn the corner in the 2016/17 season.
Edmonton Oilers 22-31-6 17pts back of 3rd in the Pacific division.
How many number one picks does one team need before they find success?
This team is riddled with young talent that can perform well, but for some reason the group doesn’t mesh. They have twelve players under the age of twenty-five and have numerous pieces to have a great team. The lack of veteran presence may be the issue and with the trade deadline around the corner I don’t expect every member of this young core to still be intact afterwards.
Five defenseman under the age of twenty-five puts a lot of pressure on your goalie. The group of Clendening, Davidson, Klefbom, Nurse, and Schultz is great down the road, but not today. I expect one or two to be moved and some veteran brought in to help mentor and lead this group.
Despite this young blue line in front of him, Talbot has done a decent job between the pipes this season. His 2.67GAA and .913 save percentage may not be at a Vezina type of level but provide a fighting chance night in and night out.
The Center trio of Draisaitl (15/26), McDavid (10/16), and Nugent-Hopkins (8/22) give you star power up the middle and production. They all have the talent to be top line Centers, but will all three still be in an Oilers jersey in March?
The trio of Eberle, Pakarin, and Yakupov control the right wing but with the exception of Eberle, and his thirty-four points, have underperformed. Again, I anticipate a move with one of these three.
Hall is really the only star player on the left wing and he has had a great season with fifty- one points. Add McDavid and Eberle and you have created one of the most formidable first lines in the entire league for the foreseeable future.
Trades will be made with this team, at least I expect there to be. If I were to predict who gets moved by the deadline I think Schultz and Davidson from the blue line, along with Nugent-Hopkins and Pakarin from the forward group would get the best return.
Columbus Blue Jackets 23-29-7 16pts back of 3rd in the Metropolitan division.
I can’t place my finger on exactly why this team has been unable to find success.
Korpisalo has emerged as a great goalie option for this team with a 2.53GAA and .923 save percentage. Bobrovsky has also played decent with a 2.65GAA and .911 save percentage.
The combination of youth and veteran talent should have this team making the playoffs this year, but they are on track for another top five pick. Saad and Jenner, along with Atkinson give this team a great trio to build a forward group around. All are of pace for fifty point campaigns and will only get better with experience.
Looking at the current four Centers of the team I think they round out a nice first to fourth line group. Dubinsky (1st) Jenner (2nd) Wennberg (3rd) and Karlsson (4th).
The left wing trio of Saad, Foligno, and Hartnell is also riddled with talent. Although Foligno has registered only six goals this season he has still managed to help his team with twenty-two assists.
The right wing is the weak spot, with Atkinson as the only real threat to score from that spot. I expect this to be an area the team addresses either with a trade or in the off season.
The defence is okay with Jones and Murray to build with. If they do end up with another top five pick it would not surprise me to see them use it on a blue liner.
The trade deadline will shake things up for this team I expect with one or two big name veterans being moved, possibly Foligno or maybe even Bobrovsky with Korpisalo playing well and being under twenty-five. Crazier things have happened.
Winnipeg Jets 25-28-4 23pts back of 3rd place in the Central division.
The Jets might very well be the only team in their division to not make the playoffs this season. The Central is the most competitive division in the whole NHL and competing with the likes of Chicago, St. Louis, and Dallas for a playoff spot year in and year out is not an easy task.
Hellebuyck looks to be the goalie of the future for this team and his 2.34GAA and .918 save percentage show he is ready to take the reins. Don’t be surprised if they try to move Pavelec at the deadline and go with Hutchinson as the back-up going forward.
The defence stability improved drastically after the resigning of Byfuglien and with Myers and Trouba the blue line group is starting to take shape.
Scheifele, Burmistrov, and Lowry are three talented young Centers, all under twenty-five, and give this team depth through the middle should the elect to trade Little or Perreault at the deadline.
Ladd and Wheeler are the only wingers that provide any scoring threat for this team, which is why I mention moving Little or Perreault to try and fill that void.
Ladd is also in a contract year and his name has surfaced multiple times in trade talks so his thirty points may be on the way out. I don’t think this would be the best move for the team and after resigning Byfuglien to a big contract I could see them doing the same with Ladd. Only time will tell though and deep down the people of Winnipeg are just happy to have hockey back, if it takes a couple years for success to accompany it, they can wait.
Buffalo Sabres 24-28-7 12pts back of 3rd in the Atlantic division
This team has the pieces to be great and I think they aren’t that far away from reaching greatness. With young talent up the middle, on defence, and in net, experience is the only thing holding them back.
O’Reilly, Eichel, and Reinhart all possess abilities to be top line Centers someday but for now having the bolster a first, second, or third line is great. O’Reilly is on pace for a sixty-point season and both Eichel (17/22) and Reinhart (18/9) have had solid rookie campaigns.
Ristolainen has been a stud on the blue line for this team all season with thirty-three points. Combine him with McCabe and Franson and you have a good defence that just needs a veteran to play alongside and learn from.
- Foligno, Kane, and McGinn are a great group for the left side and all can be forty point players. As they build chemistry with their line mates this team will be good. Like I said, experience is the main thing holding them back.
Acquiring a good right winger would be a top priority for this team, in my opinion, and with the trade deadline moving will every member of this young core still be intact. We shall see, sometimes you have to trade a young asset or a position of depth to fill a void.
These five teams have the 2016/17 season to look forward to, but need to finish strong and build confidence in their final quarter of the season. The identities of these teams are likely to change over the next couple weeks as the leagues’ basement dwellers tend to be sellers at the deadline. If they acquire the missing piece(s) via the deadline of in the off season these teams might be represented in the post season before we know it.
Thank you again to all my readers. Be sure to check me out on Twitter @GHam614 and don’t forget to follow @SuperTwo_Sports as well.
*stats as of February 19th