When Is It Time For Clubs To ‘Give Up’?
Whether you consider it adorable or laughable; news that New Jersey still had designs on a play-off berth spread across social media last week, as the club rebuffed talk of trading veterans like Jaromir Jagr.
At the time the Devils had 25 games still to play, but sat 12 points shy of 8th, and their stance was largely met with derision as a result – especially as they were coming off the back of a 4-game skid.
Despite reversing that trend and picking up four straight victories, the Devils still find themselves trailing Boston by 8 points; and with a deep draft this summer, and trade deadline day looming, at least half-a-dozen clubs currently face the same decision as New Jersey – at what point do you throw in the towel?
For the Devils this isn’t just a case of conquering the 8 point lead Boston – who’ve been surprisingly off tempo this season – hold; New Jersey also needs to pass Divisional rivals Philadelphia and Florida, whilst holding off Ottawa.
Making up 8 points and leap frogging three teams is a big ask, no matter how optimistic you are.
Add in that the Devils are a franchise sorely in need of an injection of young talent, as their ageing roster has been repeatedly exposed this season, and the idea of ‘mailing it in’ might not be such a bad one, no matter the combined pride of Messrs Lamoriello, Stevens and Oates behind the bench – a shot at someone like Noah Hanifin or Dylan Strome should not be sniffed at; especially as the former would help the club rebuild the kind of formidable defence that once provided their ‘bread and butter’.
The Devils saw fellow bubble boys Toronto kick off a long overdue revamp recently. At what point does this former powerhouse need to make a similar move? Particularly when we come back to the average age of its current roster, and the relative lack of young talent the Devils seem to have in their system currently.
The Devils are not alone in this predicament however. While Florida is already stacked with young talent and the Flyers may have a fighting chance at catching the Bruins; the Senators and Blue Jackets could also be forgiven for paying closer attention to the draft rankings than the league standings at this point. Seldom do we see 7, 8 or 9 point deficits overturned this late in the season, and rumours that Columbus is already shopping D man James Wisnewski have spread across the hockeyverse this week.
In the West, only the topsy turvy nature of the Pacific is keeping some clubs hopes alive. Chicago, St Louis and a stunning effort from Nashville seem to have the Central Division locked up – while Winnipeg have undergone a remarkable turn around this season their wild card spot is far from safe as what was a 5 point safety net has already shrunk to 3 in less than a week. It leaves the Jets fighting with at least one other Central team (Minnesota 8-1-1 in their last 10) and up to four Pacific Division clubs for two wild card slots.
LA’s 7 game winning streak has catapulted them to 3rd in the Pacific, within striking distance of 2nd placed Vancouver, which has in turn pushed Calgary in to 9th while San Jose’s 68 points leave them a single victory away from leap frogging the Flames and Wild in to 8th. Whether this ‘log jam’ at the top of the Conference helps or hinders teams like Dallas or Colorado is highly debatable.
Both clubs sit 6 points shy of 8th, but for the Avs it becomes even more complex with their #1 D man sidelined and some big decisions to make about key free agents – notably Danny Briere, something of a proven play-off performer, and Ryan O’Reilly – who has just 1 year left on his contract before hitting unrestricted free agency. So fractured is the clubs relationship with the forward, he is almost universally expected to move – so do the Avs cash in at the deadline? Or see how things shake out on draft day?
With serious money to be made, as well as the prestige and ‘selling point’ that comes with being a play-off team, a handful of teams now face some touch decisions ahead of next weeks trade deadline. Buffalo, Carolina, Arizona and Edmonton all seemed resigned to their fate – heck, the Sabres have actively engaged in the process. Toronto too seem to have cottoned on as well and are almost happy to see themselves sink down the standings.
But at what point do New Jersey, Colorado et al need to look at moving assets in a bit to boost their own long term fortunes? Is keeping an impending UFA really of value to a team barely clinging on to their play-off hopes?
Too many clubs have clung on to players in the hope of overturning a deficit – look no further than Jay Boumweester in Florida; whom the Panthers held on to as they sought to steal 8th, only to miss the cut and loose the star D man for effectively nothing.
With such a deep draft on the horizon, perhaps the necessity to be bad in order to boost ones draft rank is actually diminished slightly? With a greater number of good prospects available, General Manager’s can keep battling for longer knowing they can still come away with something tangible even when picking 10th overall.
But then, that doesn’t boost their (albeit slim) chances at Connor McDavid – Dishonour for Connor as some call it – who has the potential to reinvigorate a franchise overnight.
No one ever said it was easy being a GM, and the next 6 days could be pivotal to at least half a dozen clubs short and long term prospects.