As it comes close to the start of the season every team and their fans get excited about the team’s potential. Everyone starts with a clean slate and has the potential to make the playoffs and win it all. Everyone dreams of hoisting the cup over their heads just like Phil Kessel and the Pittsburgh Penguins did last year. It is never fun being the one that has to bring bad news but someone has to do it. I thought about writing another Stanley Cup prediction article but really who wants to read another one of those? So I figured it is my duty to cross five teams off from cup contention before the season has even begun. These are the teams that will be fighting for the coveted first overall pick. It is generally not fun being a fan of these teams but hopefully with some luck and hopefully a good General Manager these teams can hope for better to come in 2017-18. So with that I bring the five teams that will finish last in the standings in the 2016-17 season:
30. Carolina Hurricanes
All signs point to a difficult season for Canes fans. This season marks the first year year in the post Eric Staal era. Picking up Teuvo Teravinen was a good move towards the future and did not cost much in return but this team lacks top end talent and depth among their forwards. The strength of this team is their defense (see Justin Faulk and Noah Hanifin) and is young enough to be a good start to building a foundation but the lack of scoring up front and subpar goaltending will not cut it and will leave this team with the highest chance of roping in that first overall pick. What makes it more difficult for Canes fans is that on paper this team does not look like it will be a fun watch either.
- Columbus Blue Jackets
My guess is that every Blue Jacket fan has had only one of two thoughts this offseason: 1) “I sure hope the rest of the league was wrong about Jesse Puljujarvi” or 2) “I sure hope management was right about Pierre-Luc Dubois”. Sometimes in sports, teams are rewarded by going against the grain and taking a shot on a player or strategy that is not is not viewed by the majority as the best decision. The Blue Jackets, for better or worse, will be tied to this decision for the foreseeable future. It is generally frowned upon a team making a decision that is viewed as one of the worse decisions in the offseason but when a team makes two decisions that can be franchise altering within a calendar year it might be a while before a team can recover. Not picking Puljujarvi and bringing John Tortorella into the fold last season does not give much hope for Jackets this season. They will need big seasons from Brandon Saad and Seth Jones while seeing a bounce back season from Nick Foligno. This does not even touch on what we will see from the likes of Ryan Murray, Cam Atkinson and Sergei Bobrovsky. A lot needs to go right for this team to get themselves off of this list and I am not convinced it will. Hopefully Dubois can prove the majority wrong and the top 3 pick they get next season can help him turn this franchise around.
- Ottawa Senators
Erik Karlsson. That is it. That is the list of players that instill any amount of confidence of making this team a top 25 team let alone a playoff team. Surprisingly, that is not going to cut it. This would be be tough enough but if you add on a goaltending tandem that figures to be near the bottom of the league in production will make it a long season for the Sens.
- Vancouver Canucks
The Canucks are stuck in between rebuilding and trying to make the playoffs (see Canucks conversation from the podcast this week). Signing Loui Eriksson was a move for the present, but the rest of their lineup says this team should play for the future. The Sedin’s are another year older; the team refuses to move to Jacob Markstrom and there is not nearly enough depth on defense. The top line will score goals but that is about it. Until this team is able to move on from the Sedin’s and go full rebuild they will consistently find themselves at the bottom of the standings.
- New York Rangers
That is right. The New York Rangers. The same team that put up 101 points last season. Admittedly, this is a long shot but let me try and make the case. 685. That is how many games Henrik Lundqvist has played during his NHL career. That is also second among active goalies only behind Roberto Luongo. This is 30 more than Ryan Miller and Marc-Andre Fleury (although Miller has two more years under his belt and Fleury one). This is a lot of hockey especially for a goalie. At some point he is due to decline or worse he could start breaking down with injuries. There are few goalies that are like Luongo and can withstand time. If or when the Rangers are not able to count on their goalie to play 60+ games a year and carry their team they will be looking at a situation worse than when the Canadiens lost Carey Price last year. On top of that this team has some young players but yet it continues to feel old and slow. They keep trading future assets to bring in trade deadline rentals and it will finally catch up with them. Rick Nash is not nearly what he used to be, Jimmy Vesey is not the savior and goals should be hard to come by. Only way they find themselves higher in the standings is if Lundqvist and the defense carry this team again but that will stop eventually. I think this is the year.
Honorable Mentions: Toronto Maple Leafs, Edmonton Oilers, Buffalo Sabres.
Chances are one of these teams will replace the Rangers in the bottom five (and after watching the Leafs fall apart against the Habs the other night it will probably be them). The biggest difference between these three teams and the ones in the bottom five is that these teams futures are much brighter.