Before the season started most people thought the final standings are going to shake down one of two ways.
One, a wide separation between the high end teams and the low end teams.
Or two, there would be a huge jumbled mess that swallows up most of the conference.
Right now it’s looking more and more like the second scenario. The two last place teams in each conference are within 6 points out of a playoff spot. That may not be that shocking, the season is only around a dozen games old, and we expect some of those teams to stay near the bottom. A number that is surprising is the fact that the teams in 13th place in both conferences are within 6 points of the five spot in the conference. Six points is nothing; it’s around a week of games.
If Detroit has a bad week while Los Angeles has a good week those two teams could theoretically switch places in the standings. Among the teams currently out of the playoff picture are the aforementioned Kings, the Flyers, and the revamped Wild. Good teams or at the very least teams that aren’t going to curl up and die; especially when they are within 6 or fewer points of a playoff spot.
What does this mean?
We are almost a month into a three and half month season. The trade deadline is only a month and half away. Due to the condensed conference only play and the slow start some elite teams have had this season will be incredibly tight going forward. This means there will be fewer moves made at the deadline. Fewer teams selling off rental players for picks. And harder for the teams just out of the picture to get back into the picture.
While some teams, like Philadelphia, who have the skill of a playoff team and will be getting players coming back off of injury will be able to make it back into the playoff picture without a major acquisition. Teams like the Blues and the Rangers don’t need “one more piece” to turn them into Stanley Cup contenders. While these teams wont be hurt by the smaller market at the trade deadline, other teams will definitely be hurting.
Toronto will probably need some help keeping them in the playoffs. Nashville will likely need scoring help if they want to get back to the conference semi finals and beyond. Ottawa is now forced to play most if not all of the rest of the season without their two best players.
Do they try to acquire some scoring or do they ship off Sergei Gonchar who is in the last year of his contract?
Some teams who think they might be contenders will be left holding the bag at the end of the season. There will be teams that make moves at the deadline, who give of picks and prospects at the trade deadline, who will finish 9th, 10th, or 11th.
Teams we will look back at later and think “Why didn’t they just tank it”?
How many years have people been saying “Why haven’t the Flames just tanked it and play for high draft picks”?
It’s a difficult decision to decide to go “Death for Seth” or “Not Winnin’ for MacKinnon” but for some teams it will undoubtedly be the right move. Ottawa is one of those teams. Currently 6th in the East; even if Ottawa plays hard and rides hot goaltending I don’t see them making the playoffs without Jason Spezza and Erik Karlsson. Ottawa could get a lot in return for Sergei Gonchar. He’s probably the best possible defenseman available and could easily bring back a 1st round pick or a great prospect. And, though it is pretty unthinkable, they could probably get an equally sizable return for Daniel Alfredsson. Both could be out of the NHL next season, if you are likely going to end out of the money so to speak, why not get what you can with them.
Phoenix is an equally intriguing team in the West. With an uncertain future and fourteen players in the last year of their contract they could move some of their role players for above market value price. Mikkel Boedker and Lauri Korpikoski aren’t game changers but could be major acquisitions in a small market. Even players like Radim Vrbata and Keith Yandle could be moved and would bring back a considerable sum.
The short season and conference schedule will keep a lot of pretenders thinking they are contenders to long into the season (i.e. past the trade deadline). The first team to realize that their playoff contention may be futile will be the first team to benefit from the small market and could benefit the most.
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