They Might Be Sellers: A look at the wild card race in the East

Photo credit:Mark Alberti-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
1 year ago
The Western Conference looks pretty set when it comes to the playoffs. It’s just a matter of whether the Flames believe they can push either the Oilers, Wild, or Avalanche for the final playoff spot, but even so, with 7 of the 16 Western teams pretty much confirmed sellers, the conference has been sorted out nicely.
That is a lot less true of the Eastern Conference and the wild card race there. The divisional spots are as good as claimed, but the wild variance of games played as made the wild card race look like the dogs breakfast.
Red Wings56620.554-5
Okay, so Ottawa isn’t really in it, but I guess they can safely be identified as the floor of the group. They will be sellers assuming they have anything to sell. After that, it’s much hazier.
When you look at those numbers in conjunction with the playoff odds it might make it a little clearer who should just drop out now and reorganize themselves for next year.
NHL Playoff OddsMake PlayoffsMake 2nd RoundPoints
Red Wings18.9%4.9%87.8
Maybe the odds only complicate things more and decisions made at the trade deadline can certainly change those odds as well.
The Red Wings certainly look like a favourite to fall off and are equally a team unlikely to be adding. Throw their -5 goal differential into the mix and the games at hand might not amount to much in the playoff race.
The Panthers on the other hand are in a playoff spot as of this moment and the odds like them as well. Also consider the imminent return of Anthony Duclair and there is help on the way before even making a trade. Of course Duclair’s return means someone else is out, and with more games played than a lot of the teams chasing them, this could go sideways for them quickly and the odds shift dramatically by tomorrow.
The Capitals have been without Ovechkin and his return might dictate what they think they can do, while the Islanders have just lost Mat Barzal for much of the remainder of the season and have played the most games to date to get only that marginal lead over the rest of the field.
Perhaps the best thing going for the Penguins is that they are very aware that they have a finite number of chances left with this core and they will do what they can at the trade deadline to get themselves close. There is a question of Brian Burke’s philosophy about how many mistakes are made at the trade deadline, but Ron Hextall and Burke seem equally unlikely to pack it in when they are this close to the playoffs.
That really just leaves the Sabres because there isn’t much point to talking about the Senators. The Sabres have overachieved and shown a lot of promise. They clearly aren’t going to blow anything up, but adding rentals seems unlikely as well. In that sense they are a bit of a non-factor as well. (And with that cue the Timo Meier to Buffalo trade.)
What a lot of it might come down to is what happens in the standings over the next week that determines what is done…
Sabres5@TB, @FLA, WSH, CBJ, @BOS
Red Wings5NYR, TB, @OTT, @OTT, SEA
Panthers3BUF, @TB, NAS
Islanders4WPG, LA, @WPG, @MIN
Senators5@CAR,@MTL,DET,DET, @NYR
Penguins5EDM, @STL, TB, @NAS, @TB
Capitals4ANA, NYR, @BUF, @ANA
From a Leafs perspective it is comforting to see the Lightning will have 5 games in the next eight days against teams fighting for their playoff lives. That’s about as good as it gets heading into the deadline.
From a looking at the schedule volume and strength of schedule it certainly doesn’t seem like answers will be clearer until we’re closer to the deadline. With four of those teams having 5 games wedged into the next week a lot can change.
Of course, this is a Leafs site and it’s important to look at how all of this affects the Leafs. Here’s the rundown.
  • The Panthers have an interesting asset in Radko Gudas that Elliotte Friedman has connected to the Leafs. Anthony Duclair is also an interesting target.
  • The Islanders have Scott Mayfield which is another player mentioned by Elliotte Friedman. Zach Parise is a potential bargain deadline acquisition for someone.
  • Buffalo isn’t going to be looking to do the Leafs any favours and they aren’t going to be significant sellers
  • Ditto can probably be said for the Senators
  • The Red Wings being out opens up some interesting possibilities around Vrana (who might be available regardless) and Tyler Bertuzzi. If things get really nuts maybe we get some Dylan Larkin rumours, but it’s hard to imagine the Leafs can afford to be players on him.
  • It’s hard to imagine the Penguins bowing out, but Jason Zucker at 50% retained is something I could get behind.
  • Finally, the Capitals. It seems like their entire blueline is heading to free agency, and that’s interesting. Hathaway being a pending UFA is something to keep an eye on as well, and Marcus Johansson would fit in well with the Leafs bottom six Swiss Army Knife crew.
It’s likely this Eastern Conference wild card race that will make deadline day itself interesting as these will be the late to the party teams loading up or the last minute sellers.

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