It was a 3 team race in the Battle for the Bottom in 2014-15, and the coveted top pick was awarded to the 28th Overall team, the Edmonton Oilers. Edmonton won the Draft Lottery for the 4th time in 6 years last season, making it a trend for the Oilers. Get a top pick and never develop into a contender.
This year it currently is a log jam at the bottom, you can keep track here, updated nightly. The two teams with the “Best” shot to bottom out, are the Buffalo Sabres, and Columbus Blue Jackets. Both are having extremely disappointing seasons, but would benefit from the addition of American Auston Matthews.
The Sabres have finished in 30th Place overall, the last 2 years in a row, and this year they are competing for the final spot. The roster may be much better with the likes of Eichel, O’Reilly, Kane, McGinn, Reinhart all being recent additions who have helped this team be more exciting. But one problem still exists, a consistent team that can compete every night. Buffalo has had stretches of both good and bad this year, but the losing streaks are starting to be a reoccurring theme. This is expected for a young team trying to find its identity. If you’re still expecting a playoff run, I’m sure you also thought you would win the Powerball weeks ago as well. It’s not a fun fact for fans to accept, a possibility of 3rd place for the 3rd straight year. Things could get blown up, but that is only if the team shows no signs of improvement in year 3 of Murray’s rebuild.
The Columbus Blue Jackets made the playoffs in 2013-2014, and just missed out on them in 2014-2015. They may have been 9 points outside of a playoff birth, but their final 17 games were exciting to watch. The team finally got healthy and went 15-1-1, wining 9 straight to close the season. Fan expectations were set for playoffs for 2015-2016. Problems surfaced in the off-season with an unhappy, and unsigned young center, Ryan Johansen. He was the teams coveted cornerstone center. Having him unhappy was foreshadowing to what would unfold for half of the 2015-2016 season. Columbus traded the locker room cancer, Johansen, to the Nashville Predators for a top defensive prospect in Seth Jones. The Blue Jackets chances of making the playoffs are long gone, and the only thing to root for is a free fall, to lock up the last pick, even with the new lottery system, to discourage tanking. Good news for the tank? Sergei Bobrovski hurt his groin AGAIN, for the 3rd time this season and will miss an extended period of time.
The Edmonton Oilers are once again sitting at the bottom, which is becoming painful to watch. The team has an unbelievable amount of offensive talent, but the Oilers never seem to be a competitive team. The never ending rebuild, has fans wondering why they continue to select Forwards, when the team needs to develop defensemen and goalies to help. The Oilers manage to find their way to the bottom each year. This year was supposed to be better, with the addition of Connor McDavid, and early on, it looked that way. Connor managed to stay healthy for just 13 games, before he hurt his collarbone, and missed the teams last 37 games. He is due to return tomorrow (2/2/2016), to hopefully get the wheels turning in Edmonton. They sit 13 points outside of the Wildcard, but are tied with Columbus for last place, so even though it’d be nice for the Oilers to start winning, expect another bottom 5 finish from the Oilers.
The Toronto Maple rebuild started during the off-season with the surprising trade of Phil Kessel, to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Maple Leafs had a hot start to the year, and many fans wondered if making the playoffs could be a possibility. The Maple Leafs are 1-7-2 in their last 10 and need to get things going, before it bottoms out. Things aren’t going to be easy without James Van Riemsdyk out 5-7 more weeks, and the trade deadline approaching. The Maple Leafs are a serious contender to finish in 30th this season.
Now that the half-way point of the season has come and gone, and the All-Star Break has past, it gives fans a realistic look and how things will shake up, Playoff picture and the Battle for the Bottom. The Battle for the Bottom is by no means over yet, with 23rd place and last place decided by only 8 points. A few teams could do a fire-sale at the deadline and free fall to the bottom, to increase their chances of a top pick. As the deadline nears, we will see teams General Managers make final opinions on their teams chances, and for job security, being either sellers or buyers.
This will be covered like last year, with each team, predicting whether they will be buyers or sellers, and positions to look at.
This year may not have the hype of “McEichel” but still has fans interested to see who lucks out and wins the lottery. Could this year finally be the year Buffalo wins the lottery? 3rd times a charm right? Heartbroken wouldn’t even be close, to explain fans feelings if 3 years of 30th place, with no 1st overall selections to show for it. Book it though. The NHL will do whatever it takes to show that tanking is a poor way to rebuild, because “it’s not good for the game” and “it ruins the competitive nature of the game”.
Prediction? Toronto finishes the year out in 30th this time, making it the first year in the past 3 that Buffalo doesn’t hold that position. For me, I’m hoping that the Sabres can luck out and add Auston Matthews to their already talented young lineup. The Sabres much like the Bills, have an unspoken ultimatum for 2016 – Playoffs or goodbye.
Each of the 4 teams in the bottom have a legitimate shot at clinching 30th, but the desire to intentionally tank isn’t as big as it was last year.