Friday, February 12, 2016

Mediocrity at the bottom of the leage equals many sellers at deadline

Reprinted with permission from

There's been a lot of hemin' and hawin' about the Buffalo Sabres being inches away from the bottom of the league once again. At 48 points Buffalo is in 27th place, one point ahead of the last place Edmonton Oilers with one game in hand. In between those two are the falling Toronto Maple Leafs and a stabilized Columbus Blue Jackets club.

Just a friendly little reminder about the upcoming draft, the NHL changed the lottery in an attempt to discourage tanking. Instead of the last place team being guaranteed a top-two pick, the NHL now has a format where the top three picks will be determined by the lottery system meaning a last place team could end up with the fourth overall pick.

Here are the odds for the bottom four teams:

30th-- 20% 
29th-- 13.5 
28th-- 11.5 
27th-- 9.5

There are two huge grouping at the bottom of the league right now that constitute a bog of mediocrity. Filling out the group represents the bottom-six in the league separated by only four points are the Calgary Flames and the Winnipeg Jets.

In the next grouping above them are five teams in the 54-56 point range for a total of 11 teams within nine points of each other. Granted the number of games varies but in looking at each team's last-10, not one of them has more than five regulation wins during that spane. The Arizona Coyotes, who last year were in a heated tank-battle with Buffalo, presently sit in 24th place are 2-7-1 in their last 10 and look to be lottery favorites once again. And there's an interesting saga brewing in Minnesota as they're 1-7-2 in their last 10.

The Wild made a huge splash in 2012 by signing defenseman Ryan Suter and forward Zach Parise to mega-contracts just prior to the NHL lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. Although they made the playoffs three consecutive seasons, they never had the firepower to make it past the second round and this season things are beginning to unravel. Former Sabre Thomas Vanek, whom the Wild signed to a 3 yr./ $19.5m contract in 2014 was a healthy scratch for Minnesota's game against St. Louis on Saturday.

Minnesota lost that game, then followed with an overtime loss to the Dallas Stars on Tuesday. They're winless in their last six, have one win since January 9 and are 3-10-4 for the 2016 calendar year.

The Sabres face the Philadelphia Flyers tonight for the final time this season. The Flyers sit in 23rd right now with 55 points and are 4-5-1 in their last 10. The two teams met twice within four days in late October with the Sabres coming out on top by scores of 4-3 (OT) and 3-1. A win tonight, according to Sabres PR, will give Buffalo a season sweep for the first time since 2001-02.

None of the bottom-11 teams have a realistic chance of making the playoffs right now and each team can flood the market with pending UFA's come trade deadline time. Some of the names who may be of interest to playoff contenders are Winnipeg's Andrew Ladd, Arizona's  Mikkel Boedker and Niklas Grossman, Vancouver's Dan Hamhuis and Radim Vrbata, and Calgary's Jiri Hudler.

Word on the street is that this may be Arizona veteran Shane Doan's last season. He'll be unrestricted at year's end and may just want a shot at a Cup. Two others who happen to be premier UFA's to be--Eric Staal (CAR) and Loui Eriksson (BOS)--could be moved if the Hurricanes or Bruins believe they'll either be out of the playoffs or that they won't be able to re-sign them.

Buffalo has at least three pending UFA's that could be of interest to playoff contenders--F, Jamie McGinn, F, David Legwand and D, Mike Weber. If there's a market for a back-up goalie, Chad Johnson's name could end up in the mix as well.

More than likely there will be 11 teams declaring themselves open for business leading up to the NHL trade deadline on February 29th and the market will saturated. Unfortunately for teams looking to make deals there's quantity but little top-end quality especially if you take out Staal, Eriksson and Doan.

As for the Sabres, they're a 27th-place team with pending UFA's who may be of interest to other teams. And many fans are OK with that for this season.

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