Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Who is Canada's most depressing team?

With the NHL season at its midway mark, it’s time for Canadian hockey fans to start getting excited. Stake out your ground, and let the debates begin. Which Canadian team will earn the most coveted title in the land?

No, not the Stanley Cup. We all know that thing never lands north of the border anymore. No, we’re talking about something that fits better with the modern-day Canadian NHL psyche: the title of Most Depressing Team In The Nation.

Put two random Canadian fans in a room together, and it probably won’t be long before they’re arguing over which ones deserves to be the most miserable. Some years, it’s a crowded field — we all remember the entire country missing the playoffs back in 2015–16. Other years, like last season, there are fewer candidates. But it’s always a hotly contested title.

So the first order of business is to figure out who gets to be in the running. Obviously, we don’t need to consider the Jets or the Maple Leafs, two teams that are solidly holding down playoff spots. The Flames are a tougher call, as a recent slide had them drifting out of playoff contention (and their coach having temper tantrums) before their latest win streak. But they’re over .500 and only a point out of a playoff spot, so they’re out of the running.

That still leaves us with four contenders for the title of Canada’s most depressing team. The Canadiens, Senators, Canucks and Oilers are all well out of the playoff race, and all four are under .500 in terms of points percentage. That’s a crowded field, so let’s start sorting this out as we work our way through an unlucky 13 categories.

Expectations vs. reality

It’s one thing to be bad. It’s another entirely to be bad when everyone thought you’d be good. So who came into the season with the highest expectations?

Canadiens: They were the Atlantic’s top seed last year, and while they were far from a sure thing to repeat that title, most expected them to at least make the playoffs.

Senators: They went deeper than any Canadian team last year, but most seemed to expect them to take a step back this season. Some pessimists even had them missing the playoffs. But close to dead last? No way.

Canucks: Nobody thought they’d be all that good. As bad as this year has been, they’re actually on pace to improve on last year’s record.

Oilers: When the Sportsnet crew did our pre-season predictions, seven out of 16 of us had the Oilers winning the West, and two had them winning the Stanley Cup.

Edge: Oilers, and it’s not all that close.

Painful ex-player

When things are going bad, the two most painful words are “What if?” Seeing a former player lighting it up somewhere else only adds to the misery.

Senators: While the current roster struggles, they get to watch one-time Senator building blocks like Mika Zibanejad and Jakob Silfverberg blossom elsewhere. But the worst has been watching Kyle Turris fit right in as a Predator while Matt Duchene struggles in Ottawa.

Canucks: Luca Sbisa gets to be part of the fun in Vegas, and Ryan Miller‘s been fine in Anaheim. That’s about it.

Oilers: While only one is technically an ex-player, they gave the Islanders both Jordan Eberle and the draft pick that was used on Mathew Barzal. Then they get to watch those two do stuff like this:

Meanwhile, Taylor Hall looks like he’s going to lead the Devils to the playoffs.

Canadiens: Last year, it would have been P.K. Subban, who led his Predators all the way to the Stanley Cup final in his first year away from Montreal. This year, we might have to go with Mikhail Sergachev, who looks like a Calder candidate in Tampa. This time next year, Max Pacioretty.

Edge: It’s a close race, but the Canadiens take the crown on the strength of Subban just being voted an all-star captain.

Salary-cap situation

In today’s NHL, a flexible cap situation can fix a lot of problems. By the same token, making a mess of the cap can doom a team to years of suffering.

Oilers: Tight, thanks to the McDavid/Draisaitl deals, not to mention big commitments to Milan Lucic and Kris Russell. Trading Ryan Nugent-Hopkins would help, and they may be forced to do just that.

Canadiens: Not all that bad, depending on how you feel about the Carey Price deal. But Karl Alzner‘s signing already looks like a mistake, and that Shea Weber contract is going to be nightmare well before it runs out in 2026.

Senators: Believe it or not, they’ve got more cap space tied up for next year than any other Canadian team by over $5 million, thanks in part to ugly deals for Bobby Ryan and Dion Phaneuf. It clears up after 2019, but only because key players like Erik Karlsson and Matt Duchene will need new contracts.

Canucks: Once again, they come out looking solid by comparison. That Loui Eriksson deal was a mistake form the day it was signed, but with both Sedin deals expiring after this season, the cap picture is actually in decent shape.

Edge: Ottawa, in a narrow upset over the Oilers, if only because at least Edmonton’s biggest deals on the books are to their best players. I’m no cap-ologist, but having the worst cap situation when you don’t even have the budget to be a cap team is not good.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

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