Thursday, January 12, 2017

NHL stock watch: January

As of today, it’s been exactly three months since the NHL opened. On that night back in October, we all settled in to get our first glimpse of regular-season action, as the league took its initial steps towards the inevitable Lightning versus Stars matchup in the Stanley Cup final.

OK, so not everything has turned out like we thought it would. (Fine — like I thought it would. Never listen to my predictions on anything.) But that uncertainty is a good thing; the league wouldn’t be any fun if we always knew what was coming. And it makes it worthwhile to occasionally take stock of where we stand as the season goes by.

This is something we like to do around here about once a month. Sometimes, the trends end up sticking – back in November, we bought in on the leaguewide youth movement and the rise of the Metro Division, while in December it was time to go all-in on John Tortorella. Then again, back in the season’s first month it also looked like we could be in for a busy season of trading, and, well, we’ll get to how that turned out.

So yes, markets can be volatile and you invest at your own risk. But you knew that already, so let’s get to this month’s stock watch.

Stock rising: Last year's bottom five

Now that we're past the halfway mark, it's becoming clear who the league's truly bad teams are. The Coyotes and Avalanche surely fit in that category, and the Islanders, Devils and Red Wings aren't far from joining them.

But there's some good news for those teams: If this year is any indication, a stay in the league's basement doesn't have to be long-term.

Here were last year's five worst teams, based on the standings: Calgary, Columbus, Vancouver, Edmonton and Toronto. Of those, three teams are holding down playoff spots right now – Columbus, Calgary and Edmonton. A fourth, the Maple Leafs, are on the outside based on total points but have played fewer games than most of the teams they're chasing, and would be in based on points percentage. And even the Canucks, written off early as the favourite to finish dead last, have been hanging around the playoff race thanks to a recent win streak.

Granted, four of those five teams could still fall out of the race with a bad week or two. But the fact that they're even in the mix offers some hope to the Coyotes, Avalanche and friends. In a league where we still talk about five-year plans and slow and steady rebuilds, it's encouraging to see some evidence that a quick leap up the standings is possible.

Of course, just because something is possible doesn't mean it's guaranteed. Which takes us to our next stock...

Stock falling: Buffalo Sabres

It wasn't supposed to be like this.

The Sabres went through years of misery, but it was the good kind: self-inflicted, and with a purpose. That purpose at least partially involved winning draft lotteries, and that part didn't work out so well, but there was still plenty of room for optimism. Last year brought progress, and set the stage for the year when it would all come together and the Sabres would finally contend for a playoff spot.

It hasn't happened. Three months into the season, the Sabres are once again nestled towards the bottom of the Eastern Conference. Right now, they're on pace to finish with 84 points, which would barely be a step up from last year's 81.

Sure, some of that is injuries, with key names like Jack Eichel, Evander Kane and Ryan O'Reilly missing time. But even with all those players back in the lineup, the Sabres have been largely spinning their wheels. And patience, which Sabres fans have supplied in abundance, may finally be running out.

Nobody said this rebuild would be easy, and there's still time to right the ship this year. But watching the Sabres flounder yet again while fellow also-rans like the Blue Jackets, Oilers and Maple Leafs soar past them can't be anything but frustrating. These days, even the franchise-savior owner is losing some of his shine.

Something has to give eventually. For the sake of some of the longest-suffering fans in the league, here's hoping it's a few wins.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

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