How Low Can You Go? The Loonie League Set To Go 0-7 For Playoffs. How Did This Happen?
On the day after the NHL Trade deadline Day, we have a Tuesday edition of IDLM to catch up on the Loonie League post TDD. Like its namesake loonie, the Loonie League has seen a steep depreciation this winter. We got one big thing right about the Loonie League and one big thing wrong about the Loonie League when we unveiled our Canadian team rankings last fall.
The big thing we got right was how problematic the seven Canadian teams were likely to be. Yes, five home-brewteams had made the 2015 playoffs, but we saw vulnerability all over the Canadian map. However, no one could have foreseen that every team in the Loonie would stink. And stink they did, as they’re set to get 0-7.
The one big thing we got wrong was the Calgary Flames, our pick for the Eddie Litzenberger Cup, emblematic of the top team in the Loonie League. Coming off their breakout playoff year in 2015— then adding Dougie Hamilton and Michael Frolik— made the Flames look like the class of a tepid group. As things stand at the trade deadline, the Flames are fourth in the Loonie with a chance to drop even further.
Let’s look at what happened.
- Ottawa (2 last ranking) 20th in the overall NHL standings still puts the Sens atop the Loonie League at the trade deadline. Frankly, the Sens are one of the few Loonie teams ranked where everyone thought they’d be— namely, scrambling for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. With a handful of good young players the Sens shown offensive promise, but they can’t outscore the NHL’s worst defence. That’s what led to obtaining Dion Phaneuf before TDD. They sent Shane Prince to the Islanders for a third-round pick at the deadline, but their playoff chances ride with the Phaneuf acquisition. You hope for better for GM Bryan Murray.
2. Montreal (1) The Habs’ implosion is the story of the Loonie League season. The best team in the league till December the Habs have written an epic collapse that will cost coach Michel Therrien his job and possibly sting GM Marc Bergevin, too. A recent 6-3-1 record has pushed them over .500, but no one is fooled. Bergevin dumped role players Dale Wiese ,Tomas Fleischmann and Devante Smith-Pelly (for Stefan Matteau), and will pin its final month on getting Price back into the net. With Price injured, Didier Drogba of the soccer Impact now may be the most popular athlete in town. This team’s in a world of hurt.
3. Vancouver (3) The Hokey Pokey team with one foot in and one foot out, the Canucks are unwilling to accept rebuilding so far. That’s the price of having the wondrous Sedins twins still on longterm contracts. Can’t trade ‘em, can’t win enough to make them happy. GM Jim Benning had six UFAs to cash in, but got nothing for them.
He’s being roasted for letting Calgary move Kris Russell to Dallas ahead of UFA Dan Hamhuis. Benning then admitted at a media availability that he’d been outfoxed by Flames GM Brad Treliving in the Dallas dealing. This after sending highly prized prospect Hunter Shinkaruk to Calgary. Strap it on, Vancouver, the S.S. Trevor Linden is headed for the rocks.
4. Calgary (5) As mentioned above, the Flames’ defence wasn’t enough to overcome spotty goaltending, weak secondary scoring an the league’s worst penalty kill. With their top young prospects Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan set for huge pay days this summer, there are questions about their maturity after being benched for off-the-ice issues. The setback year was not entirely surprising, but it still stings in Cowtown.
Resigned to a non-playoff spot for a few weeks now, GM Treliving did what Benning failed to do: he jettisoned Jiri Hudler and Russell for a nice package of players and draft picks— including a conditional first for Russell from Dallas and two seconds from Florida for the erratic Hudler. With a possible two firsts in the draft, the Flames can move up if they want a certain player. Lots of holes to fill, but a nice start the past week.
5. Winnipeg (4) The Jets knew they were in tough in the Central Division, but no team has been a bigger flop than the Jets. Coming off a playoff spot last season, the locals were expecting the same as a minimum this year. As trade-deadline day arrived, they had the third-worst record in the NHL. The Jets -24 goal differential describes a team that can’t outscore its mistakes. Not even close.
With Dustin Byflugien signed to a long-term deal to lead the youngsters, it fell to GM Kevin Chevaldayoff to peddle Andrew Ladd to Chicago for a so-so prospect and a first-round pick from Chicago. There’s a nice platform of developing talent for next year, but the final six weeks of this season are going to go very slowly for the Jets.
6. Edmonton (7) Connor McDavid. It starts and ends there for the Oilers, who could get the top draft pick for a fifth time in seven years. New GM Peter Chiarelli wanted the full season to see what he had to compliment McDavid, and that included not going big at the trade deadline. There were some key moves— Justin Schultz was finally freed from north Alberta solitary— but the serious work on offloading the many top picks/ ill-fitting pieces is going to extend into the 2016 draft season. The possibilities are limitless— but then, they were limitless for every Oilers GM the past decade.
7. Toronto (6) The tank is on for Toronto— and it’s the smartest thing the Leafs have done in a long, long time. Some of the survivors of the forced march the past decade have been freed— goalie James Reimer, Roman Polak, Nick Spaling, and, of course, Dion Phaneuf. Draft picks have been assembled, 12 in all, for Toronto’s brain trust to wield in Buffalo at draft time. Cap space awaits the Steve Stamkos UFA decision. They have competent managers and coaches. All they need now are players.
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy
Bruce's career is unmatched in Canada for its diversity and breadth of experience with successful stints in television, radio and print. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster, he is also the best-selling author of seven books. He was a featured columnist for the Calgary Herald (1998-2009) and the Globe & Mail (2009-2013).