The Trash Heap: Which Team Has Had the Worst 2016?
The ENS crew is now back from Christmas break and ready for big things in 2017. Hopefully everyone had a great time celebrating
Christmas the Oilers being in a playoff spot, had copious amounts of turkey and alcohol, shredded the outdoor rinks, and spent some quality time with friends and family.
For this week’s Trash Heap, I thought I’d take a look back at 2016 as a whole and see which team put up the worst record over the course of the calendar year. Normally we would just assume it was the Oilers and move on, but the tides, they are a changin’ in the NHL. Edmonton is McMissing from this list and sitting comfortably at Gary Bettman’s definition of .500 so far in 2016, compiling a record of 33-33-9 for 75 points. If this year were a season it would mark the first time since 2012-13 that the Oil wouldn’t finish in the bottom-5. Baby steps.
Toronto also would’ve qualified if this list was based on points alone, but I ranked the teams based on points percentage rather than total points. The Leafs have three fewer points than the fifth-worst team, but also have played five fewer games. Any futility list that doesn’t include the Oilers or the Leafs is a good one in my books, so without futher ado let’s break down the worst of the worst in 2016:
5. Winnipeg Jets (34-35-5, 73 PTS)
In what is a bit of a surprise, the Jets have played like a lottery team in 2016. With the amount of talent on that team there really is no excuse for that record, even with Ondrej Pavelec in net for half the year. Blake Wheeler has averaged 70 points per season for three years now and has 27 in 37 this year, Mark Scheifele led the league in second-half scoring last season and is close to a point per game this season, they’ve added Patrik Laine, Nikolaj Ehlers is continuing his breakout year, and their top 4 defencemen are (on paper, at least) amongst the best in the league. It’s crazy to me that they aren’t in a playoff spot, although part of their problem is that they’re stuck playing in the best division in hockey.
4. Buffalo Sabres (28-32-12, 68 PTS)
The Sabres have once again struggled so far this season and despite a revamped Top-6, they still can’t score any goals. Their leading scorer is Rasmus Ristolainen, who doesn’t come to mind as an elite offensive defenceman. A top-6 consisting of Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart, Kyle Okposo, Ryan O’Rielly, Evander Kane and Matt Moulson should be able to generate some goals, but not one of them has hit double digits. In fact, only four Sabres forwards have eight or more goals. Obviously the Jack Eichel injury was a huge blow, but their record hasn’t improved much since his return. Their defence corps outside of Ristolainen is a flaming pile of garbage and Robin Lehner is still trying to establish himself as a proven number one goalie, so the fact that they’ve given up a mere 2.6 goals per game (ranked 9th lowest in the league) is probably unsustainable. Unless their top guys start putting pucks in the net, the Sabres will end up in the Eastern Conference basement once again.
3. Vancouver Canucks (28-33-12, 68 PTS)
In a stunning upset, Vancouver is not the worst team of the year. Trevor Linden, Jim Benning, and the rest of the management should all be very proud of their team’s upward trend. At this pace, they’ll be back in a playoff spot by 2022 and a Cup contender by 2030. Hopefully the Sedin’s have another 15 years of solid play ahead of them. (As a side note, the Sedins would need another 13 years of 70-point seasons to pass Mark Messier, just to reinforce how ridiculous Jaromir Jagr’s career is).
Despite the numerous complaints from fans and suggestions by those in the industry to rebuild, Linden and Co. honestly believe that this team has playoff potential. When asked why they aren’t selling off assets and rebuilding, Linden said “it wouldn’t be fair to the Sedins.” Tonight, the twins are on a line with their number one fan Jayson Megna, so you tell me what’s really unfair:
Every trade that Benning has ever made has been a loss except for getting a 2nd rounder for the corpse of Kevin Bieksa. They drafted Jake Virtanen ahead of Nik Ehlers and William Nylander because he was big and from B.C. They believe that their core moving forward consists of Brandon Sutter, Erik Gudbranson, Troy Stetcher, Brock Boeser, and Olli Juolevi. Chris Tanev and Bo Horvat should be untouchable but it seems like they’d be ready to trade them at any moment, especially since Horvat sits on the bench so that they can get Derek Dorsett out on the ice in the final minute down a goal. TSN had a ranking of each team’s core players under 24 years old, and most of this decade’s bad teams (Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, Calgary, etc.) all rank near the top. Vancouver ranks 21st. I honestly can’t wait for Gubranson to get 6 years/$27 million this summer and become the captain after the Sedins leave. It’s also going to be awesome when they finish last next year, lose the lottery and miss out on Rasmus Dahlin.
2. Arizona Coyotes (29-35-8, 66 PTS)
The Yotes have been treading water since their trip to the 2012 Conference Finals. They’ve managed to stockpile a pretty impressive collection of young talent, but they don’t yet possess the one or two game breakers that every good team seems to have. Max Domi and Anthony Duclair fit the mold of what a forward needs to be in the West: fast, skilled, and have the ability to play on the edge. Dylan Strome, Christian Dvorak, and Clayton Keller will most likely be placed in prominent roles next season, and the acquistion of Anthony DeAngelo and the drafting of Jacob Chychrun gives them a couple soon-to-be Top-4 defencemen to play behind OEL, who I can only assume will be a career Coyote since there’s no reason why anybody would ever trade him.
Although I hate everything about Mike Smith, he’s still an average to above-average goaltender who can bail out his young team while they continue to learn and develop. They now (apparently) have money to spend and a smart GM in John Chayka, who has so far done a pretty good job of creating a foundation for future success. Give the youth another 2-3 years to develop and then use all that open cap space on some veteran scoring and some puck-moving defenceman, and suddenly this could be a very good hockey team for a lot of years. With a new arena on the way, the 2020’s could be the Coyotes decade to establish themselves as a perennial contender.
1. Colorado Avalanche (30-38-4, 64 PTS)
Finally, we come to the worst team of 2016: the Colorado Avalanche. As I briefly discussed in a previous Trash Heap, the Avs are following the same road the Oilers did and it appears as though 2017 will bring a big change to their core and their culture. It seems almost certain that Matt Duchene will be Taylor Hall’d out of town for a young second pairing defenceman (Jacob Trouba, Cody Ceci, Matt Dumba?) They hate Tyson Barrie for some reason, don’t have any scoring depth behind Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon and Gabe Landeskog. Their prospect pool is very shallow, their blueline is a mess, and they have rookie coaches. I love Burnaby Joe as much as the next guy but it’s pretty obvious he’s not cut out to be a GM. I know Semyon Varlamov’s having a down year by his standards, but I shudder when I think about how bad their record would be without him. Throw Ben Scrivens or Nik Khabibulin in Avs net and you have the Oilers of 2 or 3 years B.C. (before Connor).
This is a team that doesn’t seem to be moving in a positive direction, and with no Connor McDavid’s or Auston Matthews’ being available in any of the next few drafts, it could be a long time before the Avs are back in the playoff picture. Trading Matt Duchene and/or Tyson Barrie won’t do anything to help, either.