10 NHL Teams That Should Start Packing Their Lockers
At this point in the season, teams know whether they are contenders or pretenders, which is usually evident in how they behave at the trade deadline. Teams like the Columbus Blue Jackets, who are already 24 points out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, know that they are playing to improve for next season and the future.
Here, we'll take a look at which teams should start packing up their lockers because they will not be playing past the regular season. The list will flow from the more obvious picks (excluding Columbus) toward the slightly bolder ones.
10. Anaheim Ducks
The Ducks are already 10 points out of a playoff spot and despite six wins in their last 10 games, time is running out. The Ducks have been labeled sellers at this year's deadline and a rumor that has gotten a lot of media attention has been Hart Trophy winner Corey Perry leaving for Vancouver. While the truth to that rumor remains unclear, the Ducks have probably already seen the writing on the wall.
With star players on the roster like Perry and Bobby Ryan, the Ducks have been one of the biggest disappointments this season after making the playoffs last year. Sorry Ducks, start packing it up.
9. Carolina Hurricanes
Another team that has played better hockey of late, going 6-2-2 in their past 10, is Carolina. However, for the Hurricanes, it's too little too late. Currently sitting in last place in the Eastern Conference, the Hurricanes remain 12 games out of the final playoff spot. They still have 28 games to play and a lot can happen over that span, but Carolina has not been able to stop teams from scoring, ranking 27th in goals against per game and 28th in penalty kill percentage.
With those types of defensive numbers, Carolina cannot expect to make a playoff push, especially not behind an offense that ranks 20th in the league in goals scored per game. With the team looking to rebuild, there is talk around the league that goaltender Cam Ward could be on his way out of Carolina. Any time a team's starting goalie is on the trade block, they already know to pack it in.
8. Edmonton Oilers
Edmonton has shown some real improvement this season after being the worst team in the NHL in 2010-11. Led by some youngsters like Sam Gagner—who recorded the NHL's first eight-point game in over 20 years last week—and top draft pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the Oilers are on the upswing. However, their run doesn't begin this season. 11 points separate the eighth-place Wild and the Edmonton Oilers, which has the Oilers thinking about next season.
A lot of positives have come from this year for Edmonton, who knows that it takes time to build up a team. Considering they don the second lowest point total in the league, they rank in the top half of the league in goals per game (15th), penalty kill percentage (13th) and power play percentage (third). These numbers are all playoff-caliber, but they need to better their defense and get younger in net.
7. Buffalo Sabres
A team that rode a hot streak into the playoffs last year, Buffalo has been terribly inconsistent this season. After a strong start, the Sabres haven't been able to hit their stride, which has them 11 points out of playoff position. A team that has been riddled with injuries all year has also been let down by the poor play of goaltender Ryan Miller, whose struggles have put Jhonas Enroth in net more than expected.
Without consistent play from their paltry offense that ranks 26th in scoring, and whoever is in net, the Sabres will not be able to make a run like they did last season. There may be a lot of time left, but if they keep up their play, it won't matter.
6. Montreal Canadiens
Montreal has been the beneficiary of some bad luck in a way this season. They have a two-goal better differential than eighth-place Ottawa, but sit 12 points back. For a team ranking 12th in goals allowed and first on the penalty kill, it would seem on paper they are right in the thick of the playoff race. However, their inability to win close games and dead last ranking in power play efficiency have them on the outside looking in from a distance.
Perhaps they could figure out how to close out games and come out on the winning end of the one-goal games, but for that to happen they'll have to be better on the power play. Capitalizing on the man advantage is crucial in this league and until that unit can start putting the puck in the net, the Canadiens will remain out of the playoff picture.
5. Tampa Bay Lightning
Despite having the leader in goals scored on the roster (Steven Stamkos), the Lightning are 10 points back of the final playoff spot in the East. With 31 games to play, there is a lot of room for the standings to shift, but the Lightning have been letting in goals at an alarming rate. Ranking last in the league with 3.3 goals allowed per game, the Lightning cannot expect to be playing past April.
They do sit eighth in scoring, thanks in large part to that Stamkos fellow, but they have a minus-26 goal differential to go along with it. Their defense must get better, along with their special teams play which ranks 26th and 24th in power play and penalty kill percentage, respectively. Look for Tampa Bay to remain this far out the rest of the way.
4. New York Islanders
Forever the little brother in New York, the Islanders have remained relatively irrelevant for years. Despite having three capable netminders in Al Montoya, Rick DiPietro and Evgeni Nabokov, the Islanders haven't been able to put the puck in the net in the offensive zone. For a team that is strong on special teams, sitting in the top-10 on both the power play and penalty kill, they do not have the offense to match when playing five-on-five.
There is no reason for the Isles to have three goalies like they do, which could lead to one of them being traded, which could be a smart move and possibly get them some offense to help John Tavares. There is a lot of hockey left to play, but the Islanders don't have the look of a playoff contender.
3. Winnipeg Jets
For a younger team with promise, the Winnipeg Jets don't look like they have what it takes to contend right now. Led by the speedy Evander Kane, the Jets simply cannot score with the rest of the league. Their 125 goals, only 2.4 per game, has them at a minus-25 goal differential, which will never get a team into the playoffs. They haven't been too bad defensively, but if they can't score that won't matter.
The fans in Winnipeg have been happy to have their Jets back, but it will end for them at the end of the regular season. The Jets don't have the offensive fire power to make a late push like some other teams, which will have Winnipeg turning their sights toward next season.
2. Colorado Avalanche
The Avalanche are still well within reach of the final spot in the West, sitting only three points back in a packed playoff picture. Colorado's scoring leader, Ryan O'Reilly, has only recorded 38 points, which is a reflection of their offense that 24th in scoring. Their offense has not played well enough, despite a great shootout record at 7-1.
However, it may be their shootout numbers that force Colorado out of the playoffs. If there is a tiebreaker, it will come down to regulation and overtime wins, excluding shootouts. If this is the case, Colorado will more than likely fall short and find itself on the outside. They've received promising play from rookie Gabriel Landeskog and their future may be bright, but Colorado will not be playing playoff hockey in 2012.
1. Florida Panthers
Although the Panthers may be sitting atop the Southeast division and currently in third place as a result, their lack of experience and presence of a sleeping giant will have them sitting home come the playoffs. Solid play from Kris Versteeg, Brian Campbell and Tomas Fleischmann have put Florida in the position they're in, and despite just beating Washington, it will be hard for them to sustain their lead.
Leading the Caps by a mere point, is there any doubt that Alexander Ovechkin and company will be playing in the playoffs? For the team that captured the top spot in the East last season, the Capitals have struggled mightily, leading to the firing of coach Bruce Boudreau earlier in the season. However, Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and defenseman Dennis Wideman will carry the team into the playoffs. Besides, what hockey fan doesn't want to see Ovi in the playoffs?
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