Post-NHL trade deadline: What's next for Canadian teams?
Price, Habs look like strong Cup contender
The NHL’s trade deadline has passed relatively quietly, and rosters are pretty much set for the final 20 games or so that each team has left in the regular season.
What's in store for the seven Canadian teams? Here’s a look at how each club arrived at its station and where it could go from here:
The Cup contender
In the standings: 41-17-5, 1st in Atlantic Division, No. 1 seed in Eastern Conference
The story so far: The Habs just keep winning. They’ve been either atop the East or within a victory of the lead at the start of every month. NHL goalie-wins leader Carey Price is running away with the Vezina, thanks to a goals-against average (1.92) and save percentage (.935) that are way above his peers’.
What’s next: A division title seems like a good bet with Tampa Bay now five points behind, but securing home ice throughout the Eastern playoffs could be harder with the Islanders and Rangers in hot pursuit. The Manhattanites look especially tough with defenceman Keith Yandle arriving in a deadline deal and goalie Henrik Lundqvist on his way back from injury. A Presidents' Trophy is within reach too, with West-leading Nashville only two points up.
In the standings: 32-20-12, 4th in Central Division, 1st in Western Conference wild-card race
The story so far: The Evander Kane wet-tracksuit drama threatened to put a damper on a post-season push, but he was quickly shipped to Buffalo, and now Winnipeg’s first Stanley Cup playoff game in 19 years is close to becoming a reality.
What’s next: Hockey’s most dedicated fans sometimes seem to expect the worst, but their Jets have six points on the Kings, Sharks and Flames — the teams prowling the fringes of the wild-card chase — and three on Minnesota, the second wild card. L.A. could be trouble because the defending champs have a way of turning it on when it matters.
In the standings: 36-23-3, 2nd in Pacific Division
The story so far: Anaheim has the Pacific locked down, but Vancouver is in good shape to land one of the other two divisional playoff spots as it nurses a five-point cushion for the No. 2 spot, which comes with home ice in the opening round. The Sedin bros have already surpassed their point totals from all of last season, and Eddie Lack looks like a competent fill-in for injured No. 1 goalie Ryan Miller, who’s out until at least late March.
What’s next: A playoff spot looks to be in the cards, so it’s important to not rush Miller back. His knee injury may even be a blessing if it gets the 34-year-old rested for the post-season grind.
In the standings: 33-25-4, 3rd in Pacific Division
The story so far: One of the season’s great surprises, the Flames have fought bravely for their first playoff berth in five years. But they were dealt a devastating blow this week when it was discovered that Mark Giordano — a Norris Trophy candidate and one of the league’s top-scoring defenceman — is lost for the season with an arm injury.
What’s next: Hold on for dear life. Calgary is clinging to the Pacific’s third and final playoff spot, but has only a tiebreaker edge on the Kings and Sharks. Dropping into the wild-card chase would be tough too, as Minnesota and Winnipeg are up on Calgary by, respectively, three and six points.
In the standings: 27-23-10, 6th in Atlantic Division
The story so far: Hopes of a bounce-back season fizzled early as coach Paul MacLean got the boot. The Sens’ plus-eight goal differential suggests they’re not a totally lost cause, but seven points is a lot to make up to catch Boston for the final wild-card spot.
What’s next: Ottawa is caught in no-man’s land — bad enough to likely miss the playoffs, but too good to get a high-end draft pick, barring a lottery miracle.
The lottery players
In the standings: 25-33-5, 7th in Atlantic Division
The story so far: The jerseys hit the ice early and often, but the Leafs didn’t reach their nadir until the new year, losing 21 of 25 since 2015 began. Management made a savvy trade before the deadline in dumping David Clarkson’s horrendous contract (their own mistake, but still) and elected to keep punching-bag captain Dion Phaneuf and moody forward Phil Kessel… for now.
What’s next: Play out the string and cross their fingers for the draft lottery. If the Leafs finish where they are now (fourth-worst in the league) they’ll have a 9.5 per cent chance of landing the top pick and getting Connor McDavid. The real fun could begin around the start of free agency on July 1, when big contracts are often moved.
In the standings: 18-35-10, 7th in Pacific Division
The story so far: For the nth year in a row, the Oilers harboured hopes of their young core coming of age. Instead, second-year coach Dallas Eakins took the fall for another slow start, and the curiously bulletproof management will again get to pick near the top of the draft.
What’s next: The key is to finish dead last, which guarantees a top-two pick in the draft and the right to take either McDavid or U.S. college star Jack Eichel. But Buffalo — an unapologetic tanker — is already three points “ahead” of Edmonton in the race to the bottom, and unloaded some useful players before the deadline.