Even after Sam Reinhart had been selected the collective eyes of Sabres Nation were on the 2015 Draft and Connor McDavid. Even as Tim Murray approached the podium in Philadelphia he had three first round picks in this year’s draft sitting in his back pocket and a ragtag roster with fairly limited potential.
Fast forward beyond July 1 and the first month of the season and not much has changed. The Sabres are bearing headfirst towards the draft lottery, allowing an astronomically high number of shots per game, barely scoring and showing little capacity for carrying out any sort of hockey system.
While I don’t endorse rooting for losses, I fully understand the course this team has been set on and I can accept the decisions based on the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
I put together a post at the end of June that gave a peek at which teams may or may not compete with the Sabres for 30th place in the NHL and the precious 20% lottery share that comes with a dead last finish. Some of the teams that I expected to nosedive have managed to keep their heads above water while others are surprisingly bad. So I decided to take the opportunity to revisit the teams who could sneak in beneath the Sabres in last place.
The entirely subjective 1-5 (one being the highest) ratings I gave each team were designed to reflect my opinion on where a team would likely finish in the final standings. I made a slight change from “Lottery Threat” to “Lottery Chances” to reflect the influence each team could have on the draft. A team with a one means they have a strong likelihood of picking very high. The opposite, of course, is true of a team with a five. After offseason acquisitions and a month of play, my rankings have undergone a slight change as the NHL landscape has taken shape.
Anaheim Ducks – Lottery Chances: 5 (previously: 5)
The Ducks were going to be one of the West’s powerhouse teams no matter what. That hasn’t changed early in the year and they’ll be looking at a deep playoff run this season.
Arizona Coyotes – Lottery Chances: 1 (2)
The move from two to one is predicated on Arizona’s stunning inability to keep pucks out of their net. They’re a bottom five team in the ultra-competitive Western Conference. Vancouver’s strong play coupled with the presence of the Ducks, Sharks and Kings in the Pacific means division and conference wins will be hard to come by.
Boston Bruins – Lottery Chances: 5 (5)
Even with their early season slump and injury concerns, there’s no need to worry about the Bruins. They may not be a President’s Trophy contender but they’ll be a tough out come playoff time.
Calgary Flames – Lottery Chances: 2 (2)
Despite their early run, I’m not buying in on the Flames. They’re among the league’s worst when it comes to Corsi and Fenwick and no team can survive hoping their goalies can steal games every night. Ultimately I don’t see them as a playoff team, although I wouldn’t expect them to be in the double digits in terms of lottery balls.
Carolina Hurricanes – Lottery Chances: 1 (2)
A team that looked to be on the decline in the summer kicked things into high gear thanks to some early season injuries. While the Sabres have played more games and given away more points, the Hurricanes still only have six points in the standings and sit in 30th. They should improve once healthy, but they’ll be in the thick of the McDavid and Eichel sweepstakes all year.
Chicago Blackhawks – Lottery Chances: 5 (5)
They’re floating in the middle of the league standings without their starting goaltender in the lineup. They’ll be just fine.
Colorado Avalanche – Lottery Chances: 2 (4)
A team that appeared to be on the upswing entering the offseason, Colorado has come back to earth in a hurry. Their advanced stats indicated that they weren’t as good as their record indicated last year, but I didn’t expect this steep of a decline. They’re second worst in many advanced categories and unless Semyon Varlamov regains Vezina form, they’ll be in bad shape.
Columbus Blue Jackets – Lottery Chances: 3 (4)
Nathan Horton’s injury doesn’t appear to have any end in sight and the MASH unit that has taken over the Columbus locker room has begun to impact their place in the standings. While a healthy roster will certainly challenge for a playoff spot, their early slide will require quite a bit of make-up work.
Dallas Stars – Lottery Chances: 3 (3)
I ranked the Stars before they had put the finishing touches on an impressive offseason. They haven’t fully clicked as they’re mired in the middle of the standings, but I don’t foresee any sort of significant collapse from this squad.
Detroit Red Wings – Lottery Chances: 3 (3)
Strong out of the gates, the Red Wings weren’t and aren’t going to be any sort of threat to finish at the bottom of the standings.
Edmonton Oilers – Lottery Chances: 2 (1)
Even with some improvements, the Oilers are still floating around the bottom five of the league. They aren’t a guarantee to stay in the league basement, however, as the additions they made this season should grant them an improvement in the standings.
Florida Panthers – Lottery Chances: 2 (1)
The Panthers managed to claw out of the basement after the first month of the season. Due, in part, to the addition of a quality goaltender like Roberto Luongo, the Panthers aren’t completely helpless this year. Like the Oilers, I don’t expect the Panthers to threaten for a playoff spot but they shouldn’t fall too far towards the bottom of the standings.
Los Angeles Kings – Lottery Chances: 5 (5)
The defending Cup champs sit smack in the middle of a very deep Pacific Division. No need to worry, however. They’ll dig their way out eventually.
Minnesota Wild – Lottery Chances: 5 (4)
The league leaders in puck possession thus far, the Wild have gotten great play from Darcy Kuemper and equally impressive play from their deep forward ranks. They’ll be a playoff team this season.
Montreal Canadiens – Lottery Chances: 5 (4)
The Habs have one of the league’s best goaltenders, a dominant offensive threat (who can defend) on the blueline and a quality forward group. They’re playing well and will be playing in the postseason come spring time.
Nashville Predators – Lottery Chances: 3 (2)
The Preds have been better than I expected them to be. Much better, in fact. While I’m not sure they’ll maintain pace as a top-five team all season, I doubt they regress enough to fall out of the wild card picture. They’re looking like a very likely playoff team right now.
New Jersey Devils – Lottery Chances: 3 (2)
Had the Devils won a few shootouts last year they wouldn’t have had to worry about missing the playoffs. They finally got that long-awaited win in the skills competition and have also established some quality possession numbers. They’d be in if the playoffs started today and I doubt they sink anywhere near the lottery.
New Yorks Islanders – Lottery Chances: 4
The Isles received a five in the summer since the Sabres own their pick and that is probably a fitting ranking. Jaroslav Halak has provided enough stability to make the Islanders a viable contender in the East. Their relatively weak division helps keep them out of the lottery conversation.
New York Rangers – Lottery Chances: 4 (4)
The Blueshirts haven’t been particularly good and have suffered a bit from the injury bug early on. They went through a similar ebb at the beginning of last year before pushing their way to the Cup Final. They probably don’t have another Cup run in them, but I have faith they’ll push their way out of the league’s bottom ten teams.
Ottawa Senators – Lottery Chances: 3 (2)
I expected another dud of a season from the Sens this year. Craig Anderson, however, has been impressive and the Senators are playing well. They’re on the outside looking in for the Eastern Conference playoff race, but they’ll be part of the conversation all year.
Philadelphia Flyers – Lottery Chances: 2 (3)
Philly is going the wrong way. They’re getting average goaltending and there isn’t much to like about the rest of the team. The east is weak, especially the Metro, so they have a chance to backdoor their way to the playoffs, but they’d be looking at draft reports if the playoffs began today.
Pittsburgh Penguins – Lottery Chances: 5 (5)
The league’s elite teams are at no risk of missing the playoffs, even the Kings. The Penguins aren’t an exception to this fact.
San Jose Sharks – Lottery Chances: 4 (4)
The Sharks are a deep, talented team. While there was some expectation that they’d regress this year, there doesn’t seem to be any concern over this team missing the playoffs.
St. Louis Blues – Lottery Chances: 4 (5)
A four out of five simply because their goaltending remains unresolved. Even with the question marks surrounding the crease, the Blues won’t find themselves contributing to Buffalo’s draft chances.
Tampa Bay Lightning – Lottery Chances: 5 (4)
The best team in the East is on track to take a regular season division title and roll into the playoffs. They proved they can perform with Stamkos on the shelf. A whole year of him ought to do wonders for Tampa’s spot in the standings.
Toronto Maple Leafs – Lottery Chances: 3 (3)
Toronto isn’t a great team. They aren’t a real threat for any prolonged playoff run despite their spot in the league’s top-15 this afternoon. I don’t see them sustaining their current level of play through the entire year.
Vancouver Canucks – Lottery Chances: 4 (2)
Count me as someone who expected the Canucks to truly struggle this season. Ryan Miller has brought new life to the crease and they’re getting scoring from a number of sources. They may only wind up as a wild card team, but they should expect to see the postseason.
Washington Capitals – Lottery Chances: 3 (3)
The Capitals possession numbers are far too good for them to remain near the bottom of the standings much longer. They’re also in one of the league’s weakest divisions, so they should experience a nice resurgence at some point.
Winnipeg Jets – Lottery Chances: 2 (3)
The Jets are sitting right around the 10th overall pick right now and that sounds about right. They’ll win a game here and there but they probably won’t threaten the playoffs or the very top of the draft one way or the other.
Buffalo is obviously a hard one at this point along with Arizona and Carolina. None of the three are particularly deep or talented and they’ll likely jockey for position in the league’s basement for most of the season. The McEichel website offers an interesting look at the standings based on the percentage of points lost during the year. Buffalo leads the way thanks to having played more games, but the Canes still sit at the bottom of the true standings with only six points.