Fans of Canadian NHL teams are undoubtedly wishing they could turn back the clock. Oh, how times were better last season.
The Vancouver Canucks overachieved and made the playoffs. The Calgary Flames really overachieved and even knocked off those Canucks in the first round. The Winnipeg Jets 2.0 made their maiden voyage to the dance. The Ottawa Senators got in, too. They were knocked off by the Montreal Canadiens.
Five – yes, five – Canadian teams reached the NHL’s second season in 2014-15. And while the current campaign is far from over, it’s all but a certainty that number won’t be matched again – or even neared.
As the calendar creeps into 2016, just one Canadian team can boast playoff odds greater than 50 per cent. The Canadiens’ chances of returning to the post-season reached 88.5 per cent – according to sportsclubstats.com – after a 2-1 win over New Jersey on Wednesday. Their estimated fortune improved to 89 per cent a day later thanks to some losses by their rivals.
The list concluded with Vancouver (31.6 per cent, 20th), Calgary (30.9, 21st), Ottawa (29.6, 22nd), Winnipeg (24.6, 23rd), Toronto (24, 24th) and Edmonton (8.6, 27th) all way down the list.
There is some reason for optimism. Ottawa is just one point out of a hotly contested wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. Calgary, Vancouver and Edmonton are essentially fighting for two playoff positions in a lousy Pacific Division with Arizona, San Jose and Anaheim.
It’s possible as many as four teams could sneak into the playoffs. But it’s more probable that just the Blue, Blanc et Rouge are representing the Great White North in mid-April. Not ideal if you’re a fan of Canadian teams.
For the ones who don’t make it, well, at least there are plenty of top-flight NHL draft prospects to choose from in June.
Now for the eighth act of The Seven – a weekly look at the Canadian-based NHL teams. This week we’ll break things down in order of descending playoff odds.
Trending – It paled in comparison to the big deals of the week, but the Canadiens made a trade, too. Having acquired a third goaltender, Ben Scrivens, before the new year, Montreal shipped Dustin Tokarski to Anaheim for winger Max Friberg.
Making his mark – Brendan Gallagher returned to the lineup in time for the Winter Classic and posted a goal and an assist in a 5-1 win. He scored in the next game as well.
Dubious distinction – P.K. Subban will be the team’s only representative at the All-Star Game in Nashville. He has 28 points, but just one goal.
What’s ahead – The Canadiens host Pittsburgh on Saturday and Chicago next Thursday.
Trending – Winger Jake Virtanen was on the receiving end of plenty of criticism for his play at the World Junior Championship (one assist, 10 penalty minutes). But Canucks general manager Jim Benning says the intention is to keep him with the big club.
Making his mark – Bo Horvat scored on the power play with 1:06 left in regulation as the Canucks downed former teammate Eddie Lack and the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2.
Dubious distinction – The Canucks are clinging to the third seed in the Pacific, but have a minus-15 goal differential and are tied with Minnesota for worst overtime record (1-7).
What’s ahead – Home games against Tampa Bay and Florida are next before the start of another Eastern Conference road trip in Washington next Thursday.
Trending – Robyn Regehr last played in the NHL in 2014, but he’ll retire as a member of the Flames. Regehr, whose 826 games with the franchise is good for second all-time, officially hangs up the blades at a ceremony next Monday.
Making his mark – The Flames have been hoping one of their three goalies would assume the starter’s role. Karri Ramo appears to have done so. Ramo has allowed just three goals in as many games, posting a save percentage of at least .900 in seven of the last eight.
Dubious distinction – Calgary’s minus-19 goal differential is the sixth-worst mark in the league.
What’s ahead – The Flames finish off their four-game homestand with matchups against San Jose on Monday and Florida on Wednesday.
Trending – Mike Hoffman is tied for seventh in the NHL with 19 goals. That total wasn’t enough to earn a trip to Nashville though.
Making his mark – Max McCormick scored his first NHL goal in a 3-2 loss to Florida on Thursday. It was the former Ohio State Buckeye’s 10th career game.
Dubious distinction – The Senators’ only win in their last five games came courtesy of a Bobby Ryan overtime goal in St. Louis on Monday.
What’s ahead – The Sens host Boston on Saturday, before hitting the road for dates in Washington and Anaheim.
Trending – Jets fans are preparing for the Sunday return of former not-so-favourite player Evander Kane by suggesting they’ll wear tracksuits to the game. Others are offering a cash reward to those willing to buy his jersey.
Making his mark – The Jets scored a rare but big road win by knocking off Nashville 4-1 on Tuesday. The 44-save performance by Connor Hellebuyck is the latest example of him laying claim to the crease.
Dubious distinction – Blake Wheeler is seventh in league scoring with 40 points in as many games. Like Ottawa’s Mike Hoffman, Wheeler won’t be playing in the All-Star Game.
What’s ahead – After hosting Kane’s Sabres on Sunday, the Jets also get visits from San Jose and Nashville.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Trending – The Leafs have among the worst post-season odds for Canadian teams, but have been one of the NHL’s best teams since Dec. 1. They now own a .500 record (16-16-7) and the second-best goal differential among squads north of the border (minus-1).
Making his mark – It’s hard to believe anyone saw Leo Komarov as an all-star heading into the season. But that’s what he is thanks to a team-leading 15 goals.
Dubious distinction – James Reimer is back. But Jonathan Bernier has allowed just three goals in as many games – all wins – including a shutout. Sounds like potential for everyone’s favourite distraction – a goaltending controversy.
What’s ahead – The Leafs complete their California road trip in San Jose on Saturday. Then it’s back home to host Columbus next Wednesday.
Trending – Amazingly, the Oilers aren’t quite dead and buried yet when it comes to the playoff race. They’re four points behind the Canucks. Getting extra points in extra-time wins, as they did against Arizona and Carolina, will only improve their situation.
Making his mark – Andrej Sekera scored the lone goal in a 1-0 overtime victory over Carolina on Monday. The off-season signee is settling in nicely in Edmonton.
Dubious distinction – The Oilers have had to endure the most man-games lost to injury. According to mangameslost.com, Edmonton’s total of 177 as of Jan. 6 edges out Buffalo and Detroit. Of course, with players like Connor McDavid, Jordan Eberle, Justin Schultz and Nail Yakupov all missing significant time, the losses have been hard to overcome.
What’s ahead – The Oilers host Tampa Bay and Florida before visiting division rivals Arizona and San Jose.