Lancione takes a look at three teams that will be buyers and three that will be sellers
We're only in December, though we can already see the cream beginning to rise to the top. Gone are the quick-starting pretenders (a la Calgary and Long Island). Back to the top of the standings are the predictable evergreens (Pittsburgh, Chicago, Boston and San Jose are the four current division leaders). Colorado has stunned most pundits by hanging in there with the big boys this long.
We'll take a look at a half dozen Western Conference squads, which I've identified as lining up to be eventual Buyers and Sellers -- Three of each -- and which players are candidates to be shipped out of town in the coming months.
The Honda Centre continues to treat the Anaheim faithful with gem after gem, as the Ducks remain the only team in the NHL yet to lose in regulation at home. The Ducks have been a top five team in the league since opening night. This goalie factory can continue to run four deep, spread out over two excellent tandems at both the NHL or AHL levels. However, that would be a wasteful use of resources in what is The Great Teemu Selanne’s swan song. They owe it to him and the fan base to stack this team further and really go after a second franchise Cup win.
Consequently, the Ducks really need to look at flipping one of these great goaltending assets for more scoring help or veteran defensive expertise. I’d think Anderson and Gibson are the true long-term future of this team and Hiller is the only really experienced goaltender of the lot. So, we’re left with Fasth as the best candidate to be moved. It’s imperative that they do so, to best exploit and facilitate the Selanne window while he’s still around. NY Islanders would be a good destination for Fasth as the Islanders' current poor form hasn't deterred Garth Snow from believing his team can make the playoffs. After bringing in Thomas Vanek, they'd be wise to fix their murky goaltending situation (what else is new in Long Island?) and make a run for eighth.
The Calgary Flames have missed Lord Stanley’s Playoffs for four seasons running; a trend with no end in sight. In fact, they'll be hard-pressed to avoid finishing in the deepest shadows of the NHL’s basement, considering their provincial foes aren't likely to stay in the basement all year. The fire sale that media, pundits and fans alike had been clamoring for several years for, finally took place this past spring when franchise player Jarome Iginla, big money rearguard Jay Bouwmeester and depth winger Blake Comeau were dealt. Alex Tanguay returned to Colorado in the offseason and franchise netminder, Miikka Kiprusoff hung up the skates.
With top remaining player Mike Cammalleri missing a month of action to start the year, things looked incredibly ominous. However, despite Injured Reserve designations for their best two defenseman (Mark Giordano & Dennis Wideman) soon following the start of the season, they pulled off a powerful October, hanging near the top of the West. Led by the likes of surprise rookie, Sean Monahan (also since sent to the ballooning infirmary) and Stanley Cup Champion Jiri Hudler, they certainly impressed. However, they're already headed for a chance to draft Sam Reinhart or Aaron Ekblad this summer. So, don't be surprised to see Calgary vultured by contending team GMs for Cammalleri, Wideman, Curtis Glencross and perhaps even Hudler.
The defending Champs are unsurprisingly sitting in top spot in the NHL through two months. Their high octane offense is as strong as ever with the most goals scored in the league, 102 to date -- a whopping 3.64 per game! There's no reason why the Hawks don't have a legitimate shot at a repeat and third title in five seasons. They're also the hottest team going, having won six straight. Hard to find deficiencies in their well built roster- something the Bowman family certainly has a penchant for. However, you can never have enough depth, as the injury bug can arrive at any time. As skilled as he is, you never know when Band-Aid Boy Marian Hossa will go down next.
Chicago has over $1.1 million to spend under the cap, which isn't a ton of room, however come deadline day in March that'll equate to about a $4.5 million valued player that can be brought in. By packaging off a couple of fringe guys such as Michal Handzus and perhaps Sheldon Brookbank, you could raise enough cap space to bring in a Mike Cammalleri, a very nice complimentary touch to upgrade the top six.
"Ya've done well son, Ya've done well" (Sakic patting Patrick Roy on the back for a historic start to ones's coaching career). The Avs were expected to be in tough to make the playoffs despite selecting superkid, Nathan Mackinnon first overall last summer. However, an excellent team philosophy entrenched into the young squad by Roy has yielded excellent results to say the least. Matt Duchene has certainly done himself wonders, catapulting into Team Canada - Sochi discussion with 20 points in his first 18 games. However, he has slowed down, going pointless in his last four.
The problem, come playoff time (should they still be in the hunt), is lack of experience. With the departure of Milan Hejduk and with J-S Giguere only able to do so much as a backup netminder, they'll need to target veteran skaters to fill out the roster. Tanguay is a solid greybeard and Max Talbot's Cup runs experience are nice to have up their sleeves, but they'll need to bring in some quality depth with a track record. Perhaps a Lubomir Visnovsky can be targeted when he returns from the IR, as the Avalanche blue line seems devoid of a power-play protagonist, offensive whiz. As for the forward ranks, Steve Ott would be the perfect replacement for the traded Steve Downie-- an experienced version of the same grit they lost in that deal. Talbot's fourth line minutes didn't do much to mitigate what they sent to Philly in what still seems like a silly deal to me for Colorado.
Although a rocky ownership situation presided in Atlanta for many years, since the franchise’s 1999 expansion, they have only the lone 2006-2007 post-season appearance to hang their hats on. For those of you counting at home, that’s a sole playoff berth over 13 seasons, or six consecutive misses and counting. Unfortunately, even though they have made strides the past couple seasons, there's a great chance the Jets will miss the show for the seventh straight time this spring (13 of 14 years missed). Despite annually selecting high in the draft for nearly the entirety of the franchise’s history, all was forgiven by the Winnipeg faithful at the outset of the relocation.
Evander Kane has been a huge letdown, only on pace for 44 points. He's seemingly taking a step back in his career, when all signs heading into this year were pointing to a breakout campaign. Seems very similar to what Matt Duchene endured in 2011, where he was lining up for a big contract extension at the conclusion of his entry-level deal only to put together a stinker (28 points in 58 games). However, two years later and things have worked out pretty well for him, so there's still plenty of hope the same re-dedication to his craft can yield similar results for Evander in the not too distant future.
In the meantime, there are useful players in this organization which could very well fetch more important pieces for the future from contending teams. Leading scorer Brian Little comes to mind. A strong faceoff man, he could certainly provide that intangible boost come playoff time for a team on the periphery of a playoff spot as we approach the deadline. Such bubbles teams in the west will likely be Dallas, Phoenix and Nashville. Olli Jokinen is also a possible short term rent option, as he heads into likely free agency.
The Preds just came off a sensational run where they took five of six games, including a 7-2 demolition of the champs and shutting out the Red Wings and Jackets. However, this is an unsustainable run, as their stifling defensive performances can’t bail them out forever as long as they have next to no offense going. Their uptick on the goal scoring department the past couple of weeks is simply a mirage. I once against do not expect a soul in that typically inept lineup to hit 60 points by season’s end. When push comes to shove, they’ll be floundering near the bottom of the conference by 2014, and moving back into seller mode.
A juicy name for Poile to dangle will be David Legwand, who’s 20 points are not too shabby for a chap only 14% owned in Yahoo leagues. Faceoff whiz, Paul Gaustad would be another bottom-six gem to add for a playoff-bound franchise. He currently sits 10th league-widein the faceoff category despite garnering fewer minutes than everybody ahead of him on the list.
(~~ Follow Anthony Lancione on Twitter @Anthisdaman)
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