Jason Brough

Merry Christmas! Here are the five most disappointing teams in the NHL

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PHT is spending Christmas listing the best teams, the most disappointing teams, and making our mid-season awards picks. Because what better day than Christmas to infuriate readers with our opinions!

1. Columbus Blue Jackets

I hate to say I told you so. Actually, who am I kidding? I love to say I told you so. Especially when I can say it to Halford, who was all about the Blue Jackets heading into the season. Granted, he wasn’t alone in hyping the Jackets up, and nobody expected things to get so bad that they’d bring in John Tortorella to wreak his patented brand of havoc. But let this be a lesson to all hockey fans — don’t ignore the blue line. Good forwards are great to have, but without a complementary back end, it doesn’t work.

2. Pittsburgh Penguins

Speaking of ignoring the blue line! Mike Johnston paid the price with his job, but GM Jim Rutherford rightly admitted he was to blame for not having enough puck-moving defensemen on the roster. Hence, the Trevor Daley acquisition, which was a nice start to rectifying the problem. I’m not ready to write the Pens off quite yet, but they’ll be five points back of a playoff spot coming out of the break. They can’t afford to stay out of sync much longer.

3. Anaheim Ducks

If the Ducks were in the Central Division, they’d be 10 points out of a playoff spot. Fortunately for them, they’re in the Pacific, so the deficit is only five points. It’s hard to explain what’s happened to this team. Obviously, the “Junior B” mistakes don’t help. And they were probably a bit overconfident heading into the season. But given their PDO — the second-lowest in the NHL, per war-on-ice.com — surely some of it’s bad luck. Regardless, if the Ducks don’t make the playoffs in the Pacific Division, it’s going to be one heck of a thing.

4. Winnipeg Jets

Last in the Central, eight points back of a playoff spot. The Jets went into the break with a 4-1 loss to Calgary, and with an angry head coach. “This team needs some rest,” Paul Maurice told the Associated Press. “The coach has been in a bad mood for a long time. We need some rest and some separation.” Meanwhile, Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd remain pending unrestricted free agents.

5. Tampa Bay Lightning

The Bolts went into the break with a 2-1 loss to a road-weary Vancouver team that was forced to kill 10 penalties. “Maybe after a game like this, it’s good to get away from the arena,” coach Jon Cooper told the Associated Press. Sound familiar? Meanwhile, Steven Stamkos remains a pending unrestricted free agent. To be fair, the Bolts have been decimated by injuries and should be a lot better when they get healthy. They’ve actually been excellent defensively, tied for 3rd with a 2.29 goals-against average. But the first half has been frustrating all the same for the defending Cup finalists.

Merry Christmas! Here are the five best teams in the NHL

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PHT is spending Christmas listing the best teams, the most disappointing teams, and making our mid-season awards picks. Because what better day than Christmas to infuriate readers with our opinions!

1. Washington Capitals

Let’s just say I’m feeling pretty good about picking these guys to win the Stanley Cup. They head into the break with the No. 2 offense and the No. 1 defense. You look at the roster and it’s just hard to identify a weakness. The emergence of Evgeny Kuznetsov makes them so much harder to defend. I honestly believe expectations for this team should be higher than they’ve ever been. Even higher than in 2009-10. This must be both exciting and terrifying for Caps fans.

2. Dallas Stars

It’s funny, the Stars are actually quite similar to those 2009-10 Caps. They’ve got two young offensive stars in Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, and nobody scores more goals than they do as a team. The big question is whether their style will translate to success in the playoffs, because they’re only 12th in goals against. In the salary-cap era, only the 2008-09 Penguins managed to win it all with a middling defensive team. At the very least, we’ve seen it can be done.

3. Los Angeles Kings

I’ve got them ranked below the Stars because they’re 12 points lower in the standings, but if they met the Stars in a playoff series, I’d probably pick the Kings. And I bet a lot of people would do the same. These guys remain one of the most dominant puck-possession teams in the league, and they know how to check. That’s a combination that’s earned them two Cups in the last four years. Nobody should be shocked if they make it three in five this spring.

4. Montreal Canadiens

Don’t be fooled by the 2-9-0 record going into the break. That’s mostly goaltending-related; it doesn’t happen with Carey Price in there. Also, the Habs really miss Brendan Gallagher. Now, that’s not to suggest everything will be fine once those two are back. I expect GM Marc Bergevin to pursue another top-six winger, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he called the Hurricanes about Eric Staal, or possibly even the Lightning about Steven Stamkos.

5. Chicago Blackhawks

There isn’t a whole lot separating the top 10 teams in the NHL. Heck, there isn’t a whole lot separating the top 20 teams. Which is to say, I considered a bunch of other teams for this spot, particularly the Blues and Isles. But the ‘Hawks made the cut because 1) their core has more than earned the benefit of the doubt, and 2) their revamped roster deserved some time to come together. That being said, it should concern ‘Hawks fans that one line — the Patrick Kane line, in case you’ve been in a coma — has been doing so much of the scoring. I’m not sold on Chicago’s bottom six, and I think they could use another defenseman. How much GM Stan Bowman can improve his roster prior to the deadline remains to be seen, but you can bet he’ll try.

Ducks GM rips ‘returning players who decided training for this season was optional’

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The Anaheim Ducks went into the Christmas break with a 12-15-6 record, the second-fewest points in the entire league, and one grumpy general manager.

“We had far too many returning players who decided training for this season was optional, thus a poor start,” Bob Murray told the O.C. Register in a candid interview.

“After succeeding during the past few regular seasons, suddenly we are underachieving and having to handle adversity, and some are not physically prepared to work through the challenge.”

Murray didn’t name names, but one immediately thinks of captain Ryan Getzlaf, whose casual play has drawn sharp criticism as the Ducks have failed to get on track. The budget-conscious franchise is paying Getzlaf a lot of money. He has one goal in 29 games, an empty netter at that.

The Ducks are fortunate that they’re in the Pacific Division, where a 12-15-6 record has them just five points back of a playoff spot, with three games in hand on third-place Vancouver.

Hey look, its nearly Christmas and the Oilers are still in the playoff race

skates against the Edmonton Oilers at Madison Square Garden on December 15, 2015 in New York City. The Rangers defeated the Oilers 4-2.
Getty
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It’s going to be a new feeling for the Edmonton Oilers when they return from the Christmas break.

That feeling is called the playoff race.

“It’s nice for sure, it’s a good feeling to know that we’re in the race,” Oilers forward Taylor Hall told the Edmonton Sun. “These games after Christmas are really important. I haven’t had that for a long time and we still have some guys out with injuries too, and that’s a really promising sign.”

Among the injured is, of course, Connor McDavid, who said today that he’s feeling “very good” as he continues to recover from his broken clavicle. If all goes well, he could be back as soon as next month.

Depending what happens tonight, the Oilers (15-18-2) could come out of the break just one point back of third place in the Pacific Division.

Granted, that’s nothing to brag too hard about — it’s the Pacific Division, after all — but hey, it’s better than the Oilers’ situation last year when the standings looked like this coming out of the break:

Standings

Or the year before, when the standings looked like this:

Standings2

True, the Oilers were right in the thick of the race when the year 2013 began, but that was only because the lockout wiped out the first half of the season. After making it all the way to April without collapsing, they won just three of their last 12 and fired the coach again.

Just a reminder: the Oilers last made the playoffs in 2006, the year they went all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.

That’s the longest postseason drought in the league. Carolina is next; the Hurricanes haven’t been since 2009.

Hockey odds: Canada favored to win gold at World Juniors

Canada's Joe Hicketts bites his gold medal as he celebrates his team's 5-4 win over Russia in the title game at the hockey World Junior Championship in Toronto on Monday, Jan. 5, 2015. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Frank Gunn)
AP
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The defending gold-medalists from Canada will go into the 2016 World Juniors in Helsinki as the clear betting favorites.

Online bookmaker Bovada has Canada at +110 to win the tournament, followed by the United States (+400), Sweden (+450), Russia (+500), and host Finland (+600). The other five participating countries are considerable underdogs.

Canada’s roster features 12 first-round draft picks, including top-10 selections Mitch Marner, Jake Virtanen, Dylan Strome, and Haydn Fleury.

Bovada’s odds to win World Juniors

Odds

Related: Werenski named Team USA captain for World Juniors