NHL Handicapping: Worst Teams to Bet On
by Trevor Whenham - 11/11/2013
We are already 20 percent of the way through the NHL season. There is a whole lot of hockey left to play, and anything can happen at this point. If a team has tallied fewer than 15 points by this time, though, they just aren’t very good. Their season isn’t over, but if they don’t get back on track soon, then it will be. There are six teams below that mark at this point. Let’s look at each to see if they can get back on track — and deliver some betting value at the same time:
Buffalo Sabres (7 points): This team was supposed to be terrible heading into the season, and, if anything, they are even worse than expected. The only thing they have excelled at is general goonery — two different players have been dealt suspensions for excessive physical stupidity. There are very few bright spots. Cody Hodgson has emerged as a legitimate top-line center in his third full year in the league, and Matt Moulson has contributed a point a game since being acquired from the Islanders. The team has already dealt away their best forward in the Moulson deal when they shipped out Thomas Vanek, and it would be both surprising and a mistake if they didn’t deal their biggest remaining asset, goaltender Ryan Miller, at some point this year. This is a team in the beginning of what is going to be a long and ugly rebuild. This year will just be about one thing — getting as many balls in the draft lottery as possible.
Edmonton Oilers (10 points): The Sabres are at the start of a rebuild. Meanwhile, the Oilers are in the midst of a seemingly endless one. They have added three No. 1 overall picks to the team — Hall, Nugent-Hopkins and Yakupov — and other young talent as well, yet the team just can’t seem to gain any momentum. This year may be the worst the team has looked at any time in the rebuilding process. Their goaltending has been abysmal. The defense is weak. They aren’t scoring. The chemistry between the youngsters is non-existent. New coach Dallas Eakins talked a good game, but he may have lost the team already. Nail Yakupov, the top pick two years ago, spends as much time watching games from the press box as he does on the ice — and adds just as many points when he isn’t in the lineup as when he is. It’s just a mess. They tried to shake things up this week by adding Ilya Bryzgalov in nets. At his best he is elite, but his best is a distant memory. I have been bullish on this team for a few years as I have thought that they are on the verge of big things with so much young talent. Now I don’t know what to think. They should be dramatically better than they are. However, can they ever turn the corner? Colorado has followed a somewhat similar rebuilding schedule as Edmonton, but is so far ahead of them now it is ridiculous. So is St. Louis. Something is rotten in that locker room.
Florida Panthers (10 points): Like Buffalo, this team was supposed to be incredibly bad, and they certainly aren’t disappointing. Their struggles cost coach Kevin Dineen and two assistants their jobs already this year, though it’s hard to blame him for the woes or to believe that his absence will turn things around. There is plenty of talent here — Huberdeau, Barkov and Gudbranson are all top-three picks. They are incredibly young and raw, though, and they don’t have any talent around them to play with. This team just needs to be patient, let the youngsters develop, add a few more, and hope for the best. There is no upside here in the short term. Or, likely, the medium term.
Philadelphia Flyers (11 points): This isn’t supposed to be a major Stanley Cup contender, but they should be a solid playoff team. This is just plain embarrassing. Things are clearly getting desperate. Actually, they have been that way almost all year — head coach Peter Laviolette was fired after just three games and replaced by assistant Craig Berube. The change has not been a huge success — the team is just 5-7-1 under the new regime. Owner Ed Snider, who is never afraid to speak his mind, has clearly lost patience with this bunch of losers, and so you can be sure other changes will be coming soon if things don’t turn around. This team has dramatically more mature talent than their record indicates, so if any team on this list is going to turn things around and finish respectably, it will be the Flyers. They just really don’t seem to care like they should, though, and their top offensive talents are all underperforming. I’m cautiously pessimistic.
Columbus Blue Jackets (12 points): This team is a disappointment. Last year their biggest star, Rick Nash, was traded away before the season, yet they came within a lost tiebreaker of making the playoffs. It was a gritty, impressive performance. The team is largely the same this year, but that heart and intensity is completely absent. They have had a four-game and a five-game losing streak so far this year, so when things go bad they can’t get themselves back on track. They don’t have elite talent by any means, but then they didn’t last year, either, and it didn’t seem to matter. They have moved from the Western Conference to the East this year, but that should only help them — easier travel and a weaker overall conference.
Calgary Flames (14 points): The Flames have finally realized what others have known for years — they are no good, and it is beyond time for a complete rebuild. The team jumped out of the gate strong this year, but have since remembered who they are and have fallen back to earth hard. Their goaltending is lousy, injuries have hit them hard, and while their young players are mostly playing hard, there is just not very much talent to work with, and this team is going nowhere. By the time it’s all over, this squad should be third-worst in the league ahead of only Buffalo and Florida — and not by much.
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