Philadelphia Flyers left wing Simon Gagne (12) skates to the bench after Chicago Blackhawks\' Andrew Ladd scored in the second period of Game 6 of the NHL Stanley Cup hockey finals on Wednesday, June 9, 2010, in Philadelphia. At right is Blackhawks center Patrick Sharp. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Author: The Hockey News
Philadelphia Flyers fall short after remarkable Stanley Cup playoff run
PHILADELPHIA - While the Blackhawks celebrated, the Flyers waited hopelessly on the ice.
The official call came quickly and just like that, it was over.
One of the most remarkable post-season runs in sports history ended Wednesday night when Philadelphia lost 4-3 in overtime to Chicago in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals.
Patrick Kane scored 4:10 into the extra period to give the Blackhawks their first championship since 1961, ending the longest active drought in the NHL.
It took a few minutes for the loss to sink in, because the goal lamp didn't light up and the play was reviewed.
But the Flyers were out of breaks.
"It's tough right now," forward Jeff Carter said. "In the long run, everyone should be proud of what we did this year. We overcame a lot of adversity."
Chris Pronger, Mike Richards and the seventh-seeded Flyers overcame tremendous odds just to get this far. That's little consolation for a franchise that hasn't won a championship in 35 years.
Since the Broad Street Bullies captured consecutive titles in 1974-75, the Flyers have lost six straight times in the finals.
No one could've expected them to make it here just a few months ago, when they were 14th in the 15-team Eastern Conference. The Flyers were favourites to reach the finals in the pre-season, but they underachieved early and it ended up costing coach John Stevens his job.
Peter Laviolette took over and they slowly started to come together, despite numerous injuries to key players and all their goalies. Still, the Flyers needed a shootout victory over the New York Rangers in the regular-season finale just to get into the playoffs. Then it took a historic comeback in the second round against Boston to keep the run going.
The Flyers lost the first two games of the finals in Chicago, but won the next two at home. After a 7-4 loss in Game 5, they forced overtime in Game 6 when Scott Hartnell scored with 3:59 left in regulation.
But there would be no overtime stars for Philadelphia.
"It stings, it hurts," Hartnell said. "It will be in the back of our heads for a while."
A sellout crowd showed their appreciation for Philadelphia's incredible run. They stood and chanted "Let's Go Flyers!" while players shook hands.
With journeyman Brian Boucher in the net, the Flyers knocked off New Jersey in five games in the first round. Then they staged one of the greatest comebacks in sports history by rallying from both a 3-0 series deficit and a 3-0 hole in Game 7 to beat the Bruins.
That set up a No. 7 vs. No. 8 Eastern Conference final against Montreal, which beat Presidents' Trophy-winning Washington and the defending Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins in the first two rounds.
Behind three shutouts by Michael Leighton, who replaced an injured Boucher during the previous round, the Flyers eliminated the Canadiens in five games to reach the finals for the first time since 1997.
Chris Pronger is the last defenseman to win league MVP honors, and that was back in 2000. Since then these five defensemen came closest to cracking the Hart Trophy puzzle.
Brent Burns is on fire. The Sharks' defenseman is enjoying one of the best goal-scoring seasons by a blueliner in recent memory while leading his team to first place in the Pacific. He's emerged as the runaway favorite for the Norris Trophy. And now, he's even starting to get some Hart Trophy buzz.
He almost certainly won't win – this year's MVP vote has been shaping up as the first of many Sidney Crosby vs. Connor McDavid referendums. Barring an injury or something entirely unexpected, that won't change. It's Crosby vs. McDavid, and everyone else is gunning for third place.
But third place would still be a historic achievement for Burns. A defenseman hasn't been a serious Hart Trophy candidate since 2000, when Chris Pronger won. For whatever reason, blueliners just don't get much respect from Hart voters. Pronger remains the only defenseman to win MVP honors since Bobby Orr in the early 70s, and nobody since 2000 has even finished as a finalist.
That's kind of weird when you think about it. Ask any NHL GM about how to build a championship contender, and they'll rave about the importance of a blueline stud. But when it comes to naming the league's most valuable player, the entire position ends up being an afterthought at best.
So even if Burns won't win, just being in the conversation is impressive. As we watch his record-breaking season unfold, let's look back at the five defensemen who came closest to cracking the Hart Trophy puzzle in the years since Pronger took the trophy home.
No surprise here. Lidstrom was the runner-up to Pronger for the Norris Trophy as best defenseman in 2000, then dominated the voting for that award for most of the next decade, winning seven times.
What's somewhat surprising is that Lidstrom never came especially close to contending for a Hart Trophy, and he was only the top vote-getter among blueliners four times. In two of his Norris-winning years (2003 and 2011), MVP voters showed more love to someone else at the position. And one time, in 2002, nobody cast so much as a single Hart ballot for any defensemen at all.
Lidstrom's closest call to finalist status came in 2008, when he finished fourth. It wasn't an especially near miss – Lidstrom finished well back of Evgeni Malkin and Jarome Iginla, neither of whom were close to threatening Alex Ovechkin's near-unanimous win. But Lidstrom did receive two first-place votes, tied for the most since Pronger's 25, and that fourth-place finish remains the only time since Pronger's win that a defenseman has even finished in the top five.
Karlsson has been the top vote-getting blueliner three times, trailing only Lidstrom in the post-Pronger era. That includes both of his Norris-winning seasons in 2012 and 2015. It also includes last year, when he finished ahead of Drew Doughty in Hart voting despite finishing behind him in a contentious Norris race.
That said, the Senators' star has never come all that close to the Hart Trophy conversation. He's never finished higher than eighth in the balloting, and he's yet to receive a first-place vote. That's despite owning the best offensive season by a defenseman since 2000 in terms of points scored, and three of the top seven. That could be a bad sign for Burns. Hart voters don't seem all that swayed by gaudy offensive numbers from the blueline after all.
Apart from Lidstrom and Karlsson, Chara is the only other defenseman since 2000 to top the position in Hart voting more than once. He managed it twice, in 2009 and 2011. That 2009 season was also notable for Chara joining Lidstrom as the only defenseman in the era to get multiple first place votes, he had two.
But much like Karlsson, Chara never really came close to MVP honors. He only finished eighth in 2009, and was all the way back at 12th in 2011. Still, he received at least one Hart vote somewhere on a ballot in seven of eight seasons beginning in 2004. That's not much to get excited about, but at least somebody somewhere was writing his name down. As far as the era's blueliner's go, that seems to be about all you can ask for.
While Niedermayer is now widely recognized as one of the best defensemen of his era, the truth is that for most of his career in New Jersey he played in the shadow of Scott Stevens. Heading into 2003-04, he'd only had one season in which he'd finished in the top ten in Norris voting, and that had come six years earlier.
But during that 2003-04 season, the normally indestructible Stevens suffered a concussion and missed half the year. That allowed Niedermayer to step into the spotlight, and he responded with a Norris-winning campaign that saw him dominate the vote. It would be the first of three straight first-team all-star seasons for Niedermayer, establishing his Hall of Fame credentials.
And through all of that, he still finished just ninth in Hart voting, one spot back of the legendary Marty Turco. It marked the only time in his career that he was the highest defenseman in MVP voting.
If your first memories of MacInnis are of him blasting holes through terrified goaltenders with his patented slapshot for the Calgary Flames in the 1980s, you may have forgotten that he was still going strong when Pronger was winning his Hart at the turn of the millennium. In fact, the two were teammates at the time, with MacInnis winning his only Norris Trophy the year before at the age of 35.
He very nearly won another in 2002-03. At 39 years old, MacInnis finished second to Lidstrom in that year's Norris voting. But he edged out Lidstrom in MVP voting, finishing sixth. It was the highest of his three top-ten Hart finishes, and was also his last. MacInnis played just three games in the following season before suffering a career-ending eye injury.
Those five names comprise the entire list of defensemen since Pronger to lead the position in Hart voting while also finishing in the overall top ten. If you're wondering, three more players have led all blueliners while finishing outside the top ten – P.K. Subban (13th in 2013), Mike Green (14th in 2010) and Duncan Keith (15th in 2014).
Sean McIndoe has been writing about the NHL since 2008; you may know him from Twitter as @downgoesbrown. His e-book, The 100 Greatest Players in NHL History, is available now. He appears weekly on TheHockeyNews.com.
Any late season surge in Boston won’t be because of a new coach, it’ll be because a good team finally started getting some bounces.
When a team fires a coach mid-season and the guy barely lasts a week on the unemployment block, they’ve probably just made a huge mistake.
Back in 2011, the Capitals made that mistake. They fired Bruce Boudreau after the team hit a rough patch, and he was subsequently hired just two days later by Anaheim. It took two other coaches and three seasons for the team to find themselves another coach of his calibre, a waste of the their best players’s prime years.
Last week, the Boston Bruins made that same mistake firing Claude Julien. He lasted exactly one week on the market before another team scooped him up. The fact it was the division leading Montreal Canadiens makes matters even worse as it points to how clear of an upgrade they thought Julien was over the guy who led them to the top.
Boston’s decision came down to results and expectations. From that standpoint, it’s clear why they did what they did. After making the Cup final in 2012-13 and winning the President’s Trophy in 2013-14, the Bruins missed the playoffs twice and were sure looking like they would make it three with a 26-23-6 record under Julien. Someone had to take the fall and with this being Julien’s 10th season as bench boss, maybe his voice was getting a bit stale.
I’m not sure I buy that though and it all comes down to what the Bruins are doing under the hood this year. The year after the President’s Trophy win, the team took a step back dropping from third in score-and-venue adjusted Corsi to 12th and then dropped to 17th the year after. This year, they’ve shot all the way back up to first, ahead of the perennial kings of this stat, the Kings. Their mark of 56 percent is the ninth best mark of any team since 2007-08. Ahead of them are two Detroit teams, three Chicago teams, and three Los Angeles teams – and also three Stanley Cups. No fired coaches either.
The team made a remarkable year-to-year jump, the results just weren’t there. The team has the lowest shooting and save percentage among those top teams, and that’s led to a dastardly low 46.3 percent goals ratio, a full 10 percent lower than their shot share and six percent lower than the worst of the eight juggernaut teams above them.
While goaltending is a concern, some of that is a result of how terrible their back-up goalies have been. You’d also figure that a world class goalie like Tuukka Rask will get his groove back. The real big issue is on offense where the team ranks 21st in goals per 60 at 5-on-5. While they may have the ninth best shot attempt rate since 2007-08, they’re also posting the sixth worst shooting percentage since 2007-08.
The obvious answer from most pundits is that the Bruins aren’t actually a good team due to their massive shot advantage because a majority of those shots are coming from the outside. It turns out they have a point. Take a look at this heat map from HockeyViz.com of all the shots the Bruins are taking this year to see for yourself. It might be a lot to take in, but basically, red means “hot spots” where the team shoots more than league average, while blue represents “cold spots” where the team is getting fewer chances.
Just as expected, a lot of red on the outside and a huge blue zone right in front of the –– wait, wrong picture. That’s actually the Bruins 2010-11 season where they won the Cup and had the second highest goal scoring rate at 5-on-5. My bad. Here’s this year.
Yep, there we go. A little better than 2010-11, but still, they’re not really getting to the front of the –– wait, that’s not it. That’s actually the Bruins 2012-13 season where they made it to the Cup final and had the ninth highest goal scoring rate at 5-on-5. My bad. Here’s this year.
Hmm, a lot fewer shots overall, but again, their biggest cold spot is right in front of the –– wait, I did it again. That’s actually the 2013-14 season where the Bruins won the President’s Trophy and had the third highest goal scoring rate at 5-on-5. My bad. Okay, here’s 2016-17, for real this time.
Remember that this offense is the 21st rated offence at 5-on-5. If anyone could point out how it differs from any time the Bruins had a top five or 10 offense the past few years, I’m all ears. There is a bit of a deeper contour in front of the net than other seasons, but not by much, and the red zone in front of the slot is a deeper red and much closer to the front of the net. That should all cancel out, and it does. By expected goals for, here’s how every season under Julien ranks.
This year, the Bruins should be having one of the most prolific offenses they’ve had in years, instead, they’re struggling. The idea they’re “not getting to the front of the net” is a bad excuse because it’s clear they either never really have, it’s never really mattered, or there’s a systemic bias in Boston to record fewer shots there. Whatever the case, it doesn’t hold water.
The Bruins offense hasn’t changed much, but the results have and Julien lost his job because of it. Some might say the Bruins Corsi doesn’t tell the whole story here, but even by expected goals they’re the league’s top team, and those teams rarely struggle to convert like this team has. I normally hesitate to use “luck” as a crutch to describe a team with poor results, but it’s hard to point the finger anywhere else.
If you’re still not convinced, here’s another way to look at it. I plotted every player’s personal shooting percentage (at 5-on-5) this season compared to the the three seasons prior. Unsurprisingly, nearly everyone is having a down year.
There’s a fair number of players here who were reliable scorers in the past that suddenly can’t put it in. These 19 players have 86 goals this year, but if they were as efficient as they were before this season, they’d be at 111 collectively. If you look at expected shooting percentage that number drops a little to 104, but their expected shooting percentage is actually higher than it was in the previous three seasons. It’s hard to imagine all these guys suddenly forgot how to score, but that’s the reality if you think these results have nothing to do with luck.
Eventually, things should revert back to normal and they’ll start scoring at their normal rates again. With the way the Bruins control play, that’ll likely mean more wins down the stretch and it may be enough for a playoff spot (we think they’ve got a 70 percent shot at the moment). If they make it, they’re a dark horse team in the East, especially in a weak Atlantic. That is, if they keep playing as well as they did under Julien.
Whatever happens though, any team success will come back to the coaching change as a turning point. Make no mistake though, they likely would’ve turned it around anyways. Any late season surge won’t be because of a new coach, it’ll be because a good team finally started getting some bounces. The Bruins won’t be a good team now because they fired Julien -- they already were one.
Looking at the players available at the trade deadline, there are some who will be worth the asking price, and others who would actually make teams worse.
The craziest hockey day of the year is nearly upon us: deadline day. Rather than give into the wildness, let’s instead get logical and look at the numbers.
There are some eyes rolling in the back of the class, but with so many games and so many teams it’s hard to know every player in the league as intimately as the guys on your own squad. That’s where stats help a lot, especially advanced stats that dig a bit deeper than traditional box scores. When you watch the game, what you notice most is which team is creating chances and dominating the run of play, and over time the best players will generally have the best differentials. It’s not the be-all, end-all, they gotta score on those chances too, but they’re helpful in determining who’s helping and hurting. None of it replaces watching the game, but it sure helps illuminate strengths and weaknesses of players, especially those you haven’t seen much of.
Age and contract are obvious (and guys with term are in bold) and then I’ve added their per-game production right beside their relative shot rates (5-on-5, score/zone/adjusted) to put a focus on who’s scoring and who’s driving play. Then at the very right is their Game Score for the season (coloured by where they fit on a typical depth chart based on performance) as well as how many wins my model suspects they’re worth based on their last three seasons of Game Score. There are other metrics to be mindful of, but that should give a rough estimate of value.
Here’s the list (with goalies omitted because, well, voodoo) along with some additions from the TSN trade bait list to get to 30 after taking out already traded players and those pesky goalies.
That’s the list, now here’s the fun part. Based on these numbers, here’s which guys teams should target and avoid.
Who To Target
The Big Three: Yeah, Kevin Shattenkirk, Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog are pretty good. If you’re a contending team that can afford the cost they might be enough to get the team over the edge. Shattenkirk is an incredible D-man and he would be a home run. Very few D-men provide more value than he does from the back-end, but he obviously comes with rental risk. The Colorado boys at least come with term, but that makes their asking price higher. My model has soured on them a bit this year and they appear as “second liners” on the chart above, but I think that’s the Colorado stench clouding things. They’re legit top line talents and can change the mix of any team’s top nine.
Patrick Eaves: I’ve had a soft spot for Eaves ever since I did projections for the 2015-16 season using war-on-ice’s WAR metric. Dallas was coming off a playoff miss and the projections had them winning the division that year, which they did. Part of that was really solid forward depth, and Eaves was a big catalyst. He was a guy on the fringe who had legitimate top six upside, and we’re seeing that play out this year. Put him with some stars and watch him go. He’s the second highest goal-scorer this season from the list above. A great complementary piece for a scoring line and you absolutely can’t go wrong at $1 million. He pushes play, too, which is a nice bonus to his scoring touch.
Martin Hanzal: Not many players get respect in the desert, but Hanzal deserves it. He could very well be the missing piece to a contender puzzle as he’s a legit second line center that thrives in a shutdown role and plays a complete 200 foot game. The Coyotes are nearly three shot attempts better at both ends of the ice when he’s on compared to when he’s off. Imagine adding that to a team’s third line? They’d be one of the best third lines in the playoffs and a matchup nightmare. He might cost a lot to acquire and a bidding war might put him on the other list quickly, but he’s a guy who is still worth targeting and should be on everyone’s wish list.
PA Parenteau: Are analytics folk the only people who actually like Parenteau? He gets bounced around the league, he can’t sign a deal longer than one season, he doesn’t get much money, and sometimes he gets waived right after signing. I don’t get it. And now he’s back on the trade block because of these one year commitments. Great secondary scoring, drives possession, very cheap, what’s not to like here?
Undervalued D-men: There’s a few here, and that’s because evaluating defense is very tough. The highest defenseman from Buffalo on this list costs more and is much worse. Cody Franson should be the guy to grab there and he’ll likely cost much less to acquire. He’s fallen off since his days in Toronto, but he’s still a dependable player who suppresses shots at a terrific rate. They may be in pillow soft minutes, but all that means is he’ll crush a sheltered role and a team wouldn’t have to worry about sending him over the boards at 5-on-5 like they do with other bottom-pairing D-men. He’s right handed, too. A very easy pick-up. I think Brendan Smith and Michael Del Zotto also fall in to this camp as they’ve been solid shot rate drivers in the past (though Del Zotto has taken a step back this year). All three are having a down season and it won’t take much to pry them out as a result. They’ll help teams win more than some of the other D-men on the market. Speaking of which…
Who To Avoid
Overvalued D-men: Let’s just list them all: Johnny Oduya, Roman Polak (who has since been taken off Matt’s list, but I’ll leave here), Kyle Quincey and one more who I referenced above who gets his own blurb below. These three are relics from a bygone era: the shutdown D-man. The only thing they really shut down is any semblance of offense as they fail to get the puck out of their own zone. The market is starting to reflect that as guys like Polak and Quincey come in at the bottom of the list, but then there’s Johnny Oduya at the top and I don’t understand it. Well, I do, he’s got Cup rings and a sparkling defensive reputation, but hockey isn’t a 100 foot game (to his credit his numbers have been a little better this season than usual). Offensive guys get slagged for being one dimensional, but you never see the same comments hurled toward these type of defensemen. There are legit shutdown D-men out there, like Niklas Hjalmarsson and Chris Tanev, but the guys available aren’t that. Not even close. They’re likely going to hurt whichever team acquires them. Mobility on the back-end is vital in today’s NHL and these guys don’t have that skillset.
Especially Dmitry Kulikov: If there’s one player to completely avoid at the deadline, it’s Kulikov. To say he’s been among the league’s worst defensemen this year may sound unfair, but it would probably be accurate, too. He’s been bad. It’s not just this year either, he hasn’t been all that good for the past couple seasons. He’s one of the league’s biggest drags on shots at both ends of the ice and this year his scoring has dried up, too. His Game Score this year is better than just one regular defenseman: Josh Gorges. That’s. It. Over the last three years he’s averaging a 16 point pace and is a net negative six shot attempts relative to his team. At $4 million, any team that acquires him is paying way too much for someone who really only makes them worse, not to mention the cost to acquire him. The Panthers knew that much when they moved him in exchange for the very underrated Mark Pysyk who’s been doing just fine this year. There aren’t too many landmines this year, but he’s the biggest one.
Over-performers: Two names stick out: Thomas Vanek and Brian Boyle. Fine players, sure, but not as good as they’ve been this season. Vanek was just bought out last summer and after years of decline, but he’s had a nice bounce back season with a 65 point pace. Here’s the thing, his personal shooting percentage of 15 percent is his highest since 2013-14 and the same goes for his on-ice shooting percentage. At 33, I have my doubts he’s back to scoring the way he was in his prime and I’d expect some regression. There’s also the red flag on defense where he’s declined from -5.1 relative shot attempts against in 2015 to -6.4 in 2016 and -7.4 this year. Those are brutal numbers, near the bottom of the league. In Brian Boyle’s case, he’s always been a fine third line guy who’s looked much better this year after a shooting percentage increase of his own. The price to acquire him is really high and while he’s obviously useful, don’t expect this year’s numbers to continue.
Expensive Veteran Wingers: Jarome Iginla, Shane Doan, Patrick Sharp – these would’ve topped the trade bait list in years past, but at ages 39, 40 and 35, respectively, that’s not the case anymore. Each of them are still mostly effective, okay players, but with their contracts in mind there’s simply no value paying much for what is now bottom six talent (though, there’s an argument to be made for Sharp as a second liner in the right situation). Is the veteran experience worth the lack of on-ice value? I personally have my doubts. Iginla and Doan are the elders here and while their shot rates may look nice, keep in mind those relative numbers are on basement dwellers; they likely won’t push play much on better teams. Sharp is a better option, but he’s also the most expensive one.
Young Reclamation Projects: There are three kids rumoured to be on the move on TSN’s trade bait list, and I’m happy Matt didn’t have them on his list because they’re just not very good. Anthony Duclair is 21 and was the prize of the Keith Yandle trade and after a big 2015-16, he’s fallen off quickly. Turns out you won’t score on 19 percent of your shots forever. The guy barely takes more than one shot per game and is a ghost on defense. He’s the best one of the three though and may actually be worth the risk for a bounce back. The other two though… not so much. Mikhail Grigorenko was the prize of the Ryan O’Reilly trade and he hasn’t worked out either. Imagine being 6.5 shot attempts worse on a team as bad as the Avs because that’s what Grigorenko is working with. But even he isn’t as bad as Curtis Lazar, who somehow has hype behind him. Somehow. He’s got one point in 32 games this season and is one of the league’s worst possession players at minus-24 net shots per 60. Blame his linemates if you want, because Chris Kelly and Chris Neil are terrible, but even they’re doing better than him. Young reclamation projects are nice gambles on most deadlines, but this time around it’s hard to see as much upside given how these three have played.
As we count down to the March 1 trade deadline, here are five of the teams that present the toughest buy-or-sell call.
We're now one week away from the trade deadline, which means the entire league is being divided into buyers and sellers. This year, there's far more of the former than the latter, so much so that it might throw the market into chaos, or maybe lead to a very quiet week.
Still, most teams know where they stand by now. If you're a Cup contender or desperate for a playoff spot, you buy. If you're already toast, then you look to the future and let the firesale begin.
But what about those teams that are stuck somewhere in between? Even this late in the season, there are still some teams that could make a good case for either side of the equation. Maybe they're not quite sure if they're still in the running, or maybe they can't decide if this is the right year to make a push. But either way, they've got a few days left to make up their minds.
As we count down until March 1, here are five of the teams that present the toughest buy-or-sell call.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The case for buying: One year into the Auston Matthews era, the Leafs have been better than most expected and are right in the mix for an Eastern Conference playoff spot – and a run at home-ice or even a division title isn't completely out of the question. The team has access to a ton of cap room and plenty of picks and prospects to work with.
And maybe more importantly, they have a three-year window while Matthews and Mitch Marner are on their rookie contracts. James van Riemsdyk's cheap deal runs for one more year after this one. William Nylander needs a new contract after next season. The time to strike could be soon.
The case for selling: "Soon" doesn't mean now. The Leafs have been patient during this rebuild, and waiting another year to really swing for the fences would be the smart play. And with a handful of rental options like Roman Polak and Matt Hunwick, collecting a few more future assets might be a smart way to prepare for what's to come.
Where they'll end up: You never know with Lou Lamoriello and his fortress of silence, but for now it sounds like they're not planning to do much.
The case for buying: After making the playoffs last year, the Flyers have taken a step back and are fading from the race. But this team is good enough to do some damage, as they showed earlier this year when they won nine straight and briefly moved into the mix with other elite teams in the Metro. Ron Hextall has been patient since taking over the GM's job, but this team hasn't won a playoff round since 2012 and Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek are in the late stages of their prime. At some point, it's time to take a step forward.
The case for selling: Timing is everything, and this year's Metro Division is so stacked that taking a run at it seems foolish. Better to move rentals like Mark Streit and Michael Del Zotto (and maybe even Steve Mason) and regroup for next year.
Where they'll end up: Their next two games are against the Capitals and Penguins, if they lose those, Hextall likely folds his hand.
The case for buying: We've been talking about the Jets as the NHL's team of the future for years now, but that future never seems to arrive. The West is wide open this year, and the path out of the Central doesn't seem as daunting as it has been in recent years. Their biggest need is goaltending, and there could be some good ones available, even as short-term rentals. With the team on the edge of the playoff bubble, this could be the year to make a push.
The case for selling: This team is good enough to make the playoffs, but are they really a threat to do much damage once they're there? The franchise has been patiently building up a young talent base since returning to Winnipeg, and abandoning that approach now just to get swept in the first round could seem like a panic move.
Where they'll end up: History tells us that GM Kevin Cheveldayoff and the Jets won't do much at all, no team has been as reluctant to trade in recent years. This could be the year that changes, especially if a goaltender shakes free as a decent value buy. Then again, it feels like we've said that before.
The case for buying: They've been bad for five straight years. Some of those were strategic, granted, but that phase of the rebuild was supposed to end in 2015 and give way to progress. There's been some, but not as much as fans probably hoped, and they're on the verge of missing the playoffs yet again.
But they've been better since a rash of injuries torpedoed their start, and they've got assets to work with to plug some holes. And in an off-year for the Atlantic, a push into the playoffs isn't far-fetched.
Again, most teams don't want to load up at the deadline just to make the playoffs and go out early. But this isn't the same situation as a team like the Jets, who didn't have to endure hitting rock bottom like the Sabres did. In Buffalo's case you wonder if even a first-round exit wouldn't represent a worthwhile investment, if only to offer long-suffering fans some hope that things are moving in the right direction.
The case for selling: They're not winning it all this year, and the roster is still young. Sure, missing the playoffs again will be frustrating, but there's no need to rush. Trust the process, trust Jack Eichel and the young core, and most of all, trust Tim Murray. At least for one more year.
Where they'll end up: Murray might tinker here or there, but any big moves to improve now would also have to extend to next season and beyond.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The case for buying: They're the Lightning. They went to the Cup final in 2015, and to the conference final in 2016. Plenty of us picked them to win it all this year. They'll be facing a cap crunch soon and their window may be closing, but on paper this team is still good enough to win it all, especially if Steven Stamkos comes back by the playoffs.
So of course you're buying. This team can win the Stanley Cup. They're the Lightning.
The case for selling: They're also terrible.
I don't know why. You don't know why. I'm not sure Steve Yzerman knows why. But they just haven't clicked all year, and they remain outside the playoffs with multiple teams to pass. Better to accept that, recoup some assets for guys like Ben Bishop and Brian Boyle, and maybe even figure out a way to dump some deals with term. For whatever reason, this just isn't their year, so start setting the table for the next ones.
Where they'll end up: Yzerman's earned the benefit of the doubt over the years, so you figure he'll make the right call one way or another. The betting is with two more home games before the deadline, he waits as long as he can before throwing in the towel. But I have them in the "sell" column.
Sean McIndoe has been writing about the NHL since 2008; you may know him from Twitter as @downgoesbrown. His e-book, The 100 Greatest Players in NHL History, is available now. He appears weekly on TheHockeyNews.com.