The Big Question: Which team is the biggest disappointment?

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The Big Question will be a weekly feature on PHT where we ask a question, provide some background and ask you, the reader, to weigh in with your opinions.

Today’s question: Which NHL team is the biggest disappointment at this point in the season?

Three candidates to get things started:

Buffalo Sabres (16-15-3, 11th in the Eastern Conference) – Committed a ton of owner Terry Pegula’s money over the summer, acquiring Robyn Regehr from Calgary and adding free agents like Christian Ehrhoff and Ville Leino. So far the investment hasn’t paid off. Besides Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek, it’s hard to find a Sabre that’s played particularly well. A lack of team toughness and inconsistent goaltending from Ryan Miller are two subjects that have been much talked about.

Washington Capitals (17-14-2, 10th in the East) – Started out with seven straight victories, went in the tank, saw their coach get fired, and now just seem to be treading water. Like the Sabres, the Caps made a number of moves in the offseason, adding gritty forwards Joel Ward and Troy Brouwer, veteran defenseman Roman Hamrlik, and goalie Tomas Vokoun. Of course, much of the payroll remains tied up in Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin, two ultra-talented forwards that aren’t producing like they should. Making matter worse, the team’s top defenseman, Mike Green, has missed most of the season with injuries.

Columbus Blue Jackets (9-21-4, last place in the NHL) – Another team that jacked up payroll over the summer, the Jackets traded for sniper Jeff Carter and signed offensive defenseman James Wisniewski. The one area GM Scott Howson didn’t address was goaltending, deciding to roll the dice with Steve Mason. Unfortunately for Howson, the gamble was a poor one. It took nine games for Columbus to get its first win, and at that point the team’s confidence was already crushed. No group has suffered more heartbreaking losses than the Jackets in 2011-12. Their latest debacle came Thursday when they blew a 4-1 lead in Nashville, losing 6-5 on a Predators goal with nine seconds left in regulation.

Other “most disappointing team” candidates include Los Angeles, Anaheim, Tampa Bay and Montreal.

I’d have to go with the Blue Jackets, if only because there was so much optimism before the season started. Now their playoff hopes are all but over, and it’s not even January. That’s sad.

‘Dialed in’ Hurricanes could add more drama to playoff race

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At first glance, Carolina’s potential playoff push seems like a longshot.

The ‘Canes head into tonight’s action five points back of Boston for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, and would need to leapfrog both the Bolts and Isles just to get there.

BUT!

The ‘Canes have a game in hand on both New York and Tampa Bay, and two on Boston. They also get to play six of their last nine at home, and are currently riding a terrific streak in which they’ve collected 17 of a possible 20 points (7-0-3 in their last 10).

“Guys are playing well, guys are dialed in,” head coach Bill Peters said, per the Raleigh News & Observer. “You’ve got to continue to keep pace. Around the league everyone seems to find a way to win, so you’ve got to keep pace and then hopefully somebody falters.”

Looking ahead, the next 48 hours will decide if this dream becomes a reality. Carolina begins a crucial back-to-back set against the Red Wings tonight, with both games to be played at PNC.

Tonight’s game, you may recall, is the makeup date for the Dec. 19 postponement due to unplayable ice.

As such, the ‘Canes now get a Red Wings team playing its third game in four nights, following Friday’s 2-1 OT loss to Tampa Bay and yesterday’s 3-2 OT win over Minnesota. Veteran Detroit d-man Niklas Kronwall isn’t expected to face Carolina, and the club is unsure if Darren Helm (lower body) can go.

The ‘Canes, meanwhile, are pretty healthy and firing away. Jeff Skinner has a five-game goalscoring streak, Elias Lindholm has points in each of his last 10 contests and Sebastian Aho in each of his last six. The club has also received terrific netminding from Eddie Lack, who has gone 5-1-1 in March with a .931 save percentage.

If they can get a result tonight, attention will be turned to the out-of-town scoreboard. The Isles are at home to the streaking Nashville Predators (6-1-0 in their last seven), and the Bolts host the Blackhawks, who are coming off an embarrassing 7-0 loss in Florida.

The Bruins aren’t back in action until Tuesday, when they host the Preds.

Report: Coyotes majority owner has a ‘potential new partner’

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The Arizona Coyotes’ ownership group may be getting a new member.

According to Sportsnet’s John Shannon, Randy Frankel is a “potential new partner” for majority owner Andrew Barroway.

Frankel, who made his money on Wall Street, is already a part owner of MLB’s Tampa Bay Rays.

Shannon also reported that the Coyotes required a mid-season cash call, to the tune of $20 million, from their ownership group. Arizona has averaged just 13,020 fans at home games this season; hence, the revenue shortfall.

The Coyotes, of course, are trying to get a new arena built in the greater Phoenix area. So far, their efforts have been for naught.

Related: Arizona lawmaker suggests Coyotes pledge more money for new arena

Report: Rangers land Gophers standout Lettieri

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University of Minnesota senior Vinni Lettieri has agreed to join the Ranger organization, per the Star-Tribune.

Lettieri, 22, finished second on the club in goals this year, with 19, and third in scoring with 37 points in 38 games. The Star-Tribune’s Mike Russo reports Lettieri is joining New York’s AHL affiliate in Hartford, and that he and the Blueshirts are closing in on a two-year, entry-level contract.

Lettieri has some interesting bloodlines. His grandfather is former Minnesota North Stars player/head coach/GM Lou Nanne, and his father is former professional soccer netminder Tino Lettieri, who represented Canada at the 1986 World Cup.

The younger Lettieri went undrafted, and was a free agent following Minnesota’s NCAA championship loss to Notre Dame.

Zetterberg on pace to play 1,000th game in Joe Louis Arena farewell

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Barring injury, Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg will get the opportunity to make his 1,000th NHL game even more special.

Detroit head coach Jeff Blashill confirmed today that Zetterberg will play tonight and tomorrow in Carolina, putting the 36-year-old on pace to play his 1,000th game on Apr. 9, the date of the final Wings game at Joe Louis Arena.

The Wings, who will miss the playoffs for the first time since 1990, have eight games left in their regular season. They host New Jersey on Apr. 9.

Tonight’s game was originally scheduled for Dec. 19, but had to be postponed due to poor ice conditions at PNC Arena.