We're past the all-star break in the NHL and closing in on the trade deadline. As teams decide whether they are buying or selling leading up to the deadline, it can be a depressing time for the fans of some teams. Teams that came into the season with high hopes and are struggling by now probably need to accept that it isn't going to happen for them - that this is a lost season. Yet another lost season in many cases.
There is no shortage of disappointing teams - ultimately, every team that doesn't make the playoffs is disappointing to some extent. There are four teams, though, that stand out as particularly soul crushing because they came in leading people to expect so much, and we have seen so little (Apologies to Columbus, which could easily be here, too, but get a pass because they have already been aggressive on the trade front in an admission that next year matters more than this year).
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As a Canadian it really hurts my soul that all four are from my native land - and that it is possible and perhaps even likely that none of the seven Canadian teams will make the postseason:
Calgary Flames: We'll start with the team that plays 10 minutes from where I am sitting. They made the playoffs last year and won a round. They had a very strong offseason, getting better on paper. Their young roster had another year to grow and mature. Expectations were sky high here heading into the season. But then they dropped nine of their first 11 games, and the season was essentially over before it started.
They had a much better December but still not good enough to be relevant - they are within a whisker of last place overall and far from the playoffs. After slow starts Anaheim and San Jose have heated up and the Kings are excellent, so there is no room for them to make the playoffs in their division even if they did get hot - and they just don't have the personnel right now to get hot.
They have some pending free agents who are not a long term part of this team, but it isn't yet clear that the team's management is willing to concede defeat and move them on at the trade deadline. Whether they do or not, it's clear that this team will not save this season.
Focus is a concern, too. The team had Super Bowl Sunday off. Several players, including their two best offensive stars - Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan - were in rough shape the next morning for practice and reports are that three guys will miss Tuesday night's games. Things like that are not a sign that a team is laser-focused on the task at hand.
One interesting factor here is the economy. Calgary is a town heavily reliant on oil, so times are very rough right now. The Canadian dollar is also in horrible shape against the American dollar - and the team sells tickets in Canadian dollars and pays players in American. They may not embrace an obvious tank and continue rebuilding strategy this year because that could disillusion fans, and they can't afford to lose any. Edmonton is in a similar situation as well - though the twin excitement of Connor McDavid and a new arena opening next season should make things a little better for them.
Winnipeg Jets: The story here is similar to Calgary, only they weren't quite as surprising of a playoff team last season, and they didn't win a series. They also didn't reload as much as Calgary did - largely because they didn't need to.
They waited longer than Calgary to throw their season away - they started out 8-4-1 but then lost eight of 10 to fall to earth. They have lost eight of their last 12 to really put a cap on the season. Distractions have been a problem here. Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd - arguably their two most important players - were both pending free agents. Byfuglien signed a long-term deal this week, but that makes it harder to believe that Ladd, the captain, figures in the long term. Add that to fan support that is waning slightly and this is a team that could easily see the rest of their season continue on like the last month has.
Edmonton Oilers: They won the Connor McDavid sweepstakes, had a much needed overhaul of the front office and the coaching staff, and made some big deals for other players as well. It was a very aggressive offseason. So, why does this team look so much like the other disappointing ones of the last six or eight years?
Losing McDavid for much of the year didn't help. He sparked the team when he came back and his first two games were brilliant. But then the team played their two worst games of the season - and two of the worst any team has played all year - over the last weekend. Now they are in line for yet another high draft pick and are hearing more calls for an overhaul of the roster that sees some of the young forwards shipped out for competent defensemen.
Making a deal at the deadline would send a good message - though losing Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to injury makes that tougher.
Montreal Canadiens: Carey Price was the league MVP last year, and this season has proved how deserving he was. The team won their first nine games and looked unbeatable. But then Price's health issues began, and he has missed much of the season - with no clear timetable for return as of yet. Price was out for a while then came back briefly. His last start was Nov. 25. Since then the team has gone a truly dismal 9-20-2. Really, really ugly.
The prescription here is simple - if Price comes back the team could find themselves, but that isn't likely to happen before it's too late. Let's be honest - it's already far too late. With a coaching change likely as well - not as easy a thing to do in Montreal as other places because the coach needs to speak French to appease the fans - things could get rocky.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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