The Thanksgiving line drawing.
It is an annual rite of passage during each normal National Hockey League season.
It’s that time on the calendar, marked for several years now by a full list of Black Friday actions just to reinforce the importance of the moment. A time for reflection and internal frankness for the NHL teams and their fans.
This is the time of the NHL season when owners, general managers, coaches and of course the players have to look at themselves in the mirror and ask; are we done?
Or is there hope? Are we just a little bit cooked? Or maybe just marinate?
We can’t pretend to be in all of the similar conversations in the NHL, but we can give you our take on the teams that are currently sitting outside the playoff bubble on the eve of Thanksgiving (i.e. Wednesday morning) and how they fit into one of the three thematic cooking categories;
Really cooked, like burnt to a crisp: teams with no chance of qualifying for the playoffs and which must, in certain cases, face the possibility of a massive overhaul of their organizations and perhaps at the earliest.
Cooked yes, but not burnt, not yet: Teams that have underperformed for a variety of reasons, be it injury or COVID-19 or underperformance, but still have at least an outside chance of resuming their season.
just marinate: those teams who are not where we thought they would be but who we think will be fine by the time the dust clears in the spring.
So off we go with our list of cooked and uncooked Eastern Conference meals.
Enjoy your meal.
Really cooked, like burnt to a crisp
No surprises here given the scorched earth reconstruction that takes place in the desert.
On Thanksgiving, the Coyotes were playing their best hockey of the season, but were still dead last in the NHL with a .263 winning percentage. But credit GM Bill Armstrong, who appears to have gotten out of a few missteps in his first NHL GM gig for presenting a plan with a clear vision for the future in the wilderness. It won’t be pretty for a while, but it’s already a team that seems to have figured it out.
And thank you also to rookie NHL head coach Andre Tourigny for making the most of a roster that just about every night is outmatched. If there was a « burnt to a crisp but okay » category, « Yotes would be one of them. »
Imagine the Kraken expansion acting as an expansion team, wait for it? Shocking. But that’s the problem when you follow the Vegas Golden Knights, Stanley Cup finalists in their first year of existence, in the NHL. You face a lot of unrealistic expectations.
Admittedly, not much connects these two teams, as the Kraken failed to be competitive on several nights in the first quarter of their first season. The goalkeepers have been shoddy and the team’s defense is not much better, as the Kraken are dead last in terms of goals against per game. Special teams and offense are in the middle of the road, but there’s plenty of room for improvement for head coach Dave Hakstol.
The challenge will be to navigate the rest of the season and figure out how best to reset during the offseason in preparation for a second race. And more specifically, moving assets like captain Mark Giordano, who is in the last year of his contract.
Vancouver is a fire of tires and it’s hard to see how the team manages to fend off the flames and advance to the playoffs. The shocking regression of star center Elias Pettersson is just one of many issues plaguing this franchise.
Property, ultimately those responsible for this mess with their handling of management issues for most of the past decade, must decide what options there may be for managing director Jim Benning, who has gone from one contract crisis to another, the latest being the addition of Oliver Ekman-Larsson in a misguided refurbishment project that promises to haunt the team in the future.
And what about Travis Green, who has gone from being one of the game’s brilliant coaches to someone who looks overwhelmed? It’s hard to imagine that a change of scenery isn’t necessary for both the team and the coach to move forward. At the end of the day, it’s less about making the playoffs and more about who will stay standing at the end of this season.
The Blackhawks were a late addition to the ‘burnt to a crisp’ designation after we saw them get maimed by Edmonton and Calgary this week.
Despite a brief push under the guidance of interim head coach Derek King, the nightly reality is that this team is not very good. They handle the puck carelessly, they are sad in their own zone and there is a sad realization that Jonathan Toews looks exhausted. Unless Marc-André Fleury rises on his head, the Hawks are unlikely to beat even mediocre teams.
With Dallas underperforming and Nashville in sight, the playoffs aren’t out of the question… wait, yes, they are. No matter. As you were.
Cooked yes, but not yet burnt
Such a disappointing start to the season for a team which, two years ago, was two wins away from winning a Stanley Cup.
We thought this team was at the heart of the Central Division discussion given their mix of youthful skills and veteran experience. Nope. The offense stinks, especially 5 against 5, where they are last good in the NHL. And frankly, we’re surprised at some of the decisions that head coach Rick Bowness has made, including striking Riley Tufte out at home in Minnesota. Again, karma, my friends, karma.
Barring a dramatic setback, the playoffs are not in the cards and that means tough decisions for GM Jim Nill, vis-à-vis John Klingberg, who is in his year on contract. Same with Joe Pavelski and Alexander Radulov, who seems to be pretty much out of gas at this point.
San José sharks
There has been a resurgence in all three California markets after two straight years without California teams in the playoffs.
The Sharks and Kings (see below) are deadlocked in points and frankly deadlocked in our minds as to whether they have what it takes to make it into the top eight. We’re skeptical on both counts, but good on head coach Bob Boughner to keep the Sharks in the chase. And what a great story James Reimer – 1.87 GAA and .940 save percentage – has been for San Jose.
Kings of Los Angeles
We prefer the Kings ‘chances over the Sharks’ and not just for this season, but for the future. Staying in the chase without injured Sean Walker, Drew Doughty and super prospect Quinton Byfield has been impressive. Even though the Kings are still failing this season, it’s a Los Angeles team that is definitely on the rise.
Avs are like a hibernating (or marinating if you will) bear. Having played fewer games than any other member of their Western Conference and still without Nathan MacKinnon, the Avs will hit the Thanksgiving signpost outside the playoff bubble. Only.
Probably not a bad thing for a team that didn’t have a lot of adversity last season and collapsed against Vegas in the second round. There aren’t a lot of people around the game who are worried that this team won’t be in the playoffs next spring. Maybe none.
A contract extension for Jared Bednar was a smart organizational move, even if the two-year tenure doesn’t call for commitment. Goalkeepers were only meh – they’re 26e goals against per game, which can make GM Joe Sakic a little nervous. But what about Nazem Kadri, who on Wednesday was tied for fourth in NHL scorers?
So which of the eight teams currently firmly established in a playoff berth is the most vulnerable? Well the Avs are hitting someone up and we’re still not sold on Nashville, although it’s great to see Matt Duchene reinvigorated for the Preds. And do you believe in the Anaheim Ducks? We do, but they have to prove they’re the real deal after Thanksgiving, but they seem equipped to do it.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone.