Expert Hockey Betting Advice: Which Team is Poised for Post-Holiday Turnaround?
There is a theory in NHL circles that if a team is not in a playoff position by Thanksgiving, then they are in real trouble. It's more than a theory, really - it's a pretty solid trend. In the five years prior to last season, 62 of the 80 teams that had been in a playoff spot as people sat down to gorge themselves on turkey were still there when the season ended so many months later. That's a 77.5 percent rate. Last year, things were just a little off of that pace, as 11 of the 16 playoff teams were in those spots in November.
But it's not that the pace was a little bit behind the norm last Thanksgiving that really put the league on notice this year. It's that St. Louis was sitting second last in the entire league on that day and dropped to last in January. But then they got red hot and wound up hoisting the Stanley Cup in June. It was bizarre and unexpected. But because this is a copycat league, now everyone is looking for which team that is out of a playoff spot now has the best chance of turning things around and getting on track. Who will be the next St. Louis Blues? Here are three good possibilities:
Tampa Bay Lightning: The Lightning didn't just win the President's Trophy last year. They made a mockery of the race. It was a totally dominating regular season. And the shortest possible postseason appearance, as they were swept by Columbus in one of the most shocking results in years in all of sports - not just the NHL. They took care of business this offseason like they always do - it's almost as if they play with a different salary cap than the rest of the team. But they were very slow out of the gate this year and are nowhere close to where they were. The team had just 16 regulation losses all of last year. They have had seven already in their first 21 games. They are on pace for 11 more losses, which is significant in an 82-game season. They have found their stride lately, winning seven of their last 10. They are still outside of a playoff spot at this moment, though. It's close, and they are a very good bet to make it in the end. So, the bigger question is not if they are a playoff team, but if they can shake off the gigantic funk that has led them to fall well short of their potential in the postseason during this stretch of real strength.
Buffalo Sabres: Every year we wait for it finally to be Buffalo's time. And every year they find a new way to disappoint. This year, they started out at 9-3 and finally seemed to be turning the much-promised corner. But then they lost six in a row and nine of the next 10. This is a team that isn't as good as their start, but they aren't nearly as bad as they have been lately, either. If they can find some stability, then maybe this can actually be the promised year for this team. They certainly have a foundation to build on. Jack Eichel has emerged as the superstar he is paid to be, with 30 points in 24 games. Last year's first overall pick has taken massive strides forward in his second season. Center Sam Reinhart and winger Victor Olofsson are rolling. The goaltending could be a little better, and they obviously need to be more stable, but there is a lot to like here. And a lot of upside. If this isn't the year, they are going to figure it out eventually. Maybe.
Calgary Flames: The Flames were the top team in the West last year, but they also made a very premature departure - though at least they lasted one game more than the Lightning before falling to Colorado. This year they were frustratingly flat out of the gate despite mostly returning the same team, and in November they have been truly awful, losing seven of their last eight and being shut out three times on the road. Their best players have been bad. And if it weren't for the heroics of their goalies, they would be in even worse shape. As if the struggles weren't enough, they have faced some new and totally unexpected adversity. Coach Bill Peters was revealed to be a really awful guy this week, sparked by a tweet alleging vulgar racism by Akim Aliu, a former player of Peters'. He has not been fired as I write this, but it is just a matter of time. He won't coach another game for the team, which means they have to deal with a sudden November coaching change - with associate coach Geoff Ward as the likely replacement. Ward's first game in charge will be Calgary's 28th of the season. Last year, Craig Berube took over the Blues head job in the 20th game of the season after serving as an assistant and worked miracles with a team that had been horribly underachieving. Calgary isn't quite as bad as St. Louis was at this point last year, but they are certainly dramatically underachieving.
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