Started from the bottom and we’re still here: the story of the 2014-15 Edmonton Oilers and Buffalo Sabres.
As exciting as the various playoff races down the stretch will be, the other major storyline surrounds the race for a top-2 pick in the upcoming NHL Draft. Two teams at the heart of that race reside in the Pacific Division.
Through the 2014 portion of the 2014-15 season, the Oilers were the odds on favorite to finish dead last in the NHL, giving them the best chance to acquire the No. 1 overall pick for the fourth time in the last six years. However, the Sabres said “oh no you don’t,” going 0-11 since Dec. 29, promptly taking the lead in the race for 17-year-old phenom Connor McDavid.
— Hockey's Future (@HockeysFuture) January 21, 2015
While this season’s incarnation of the Sabres may be the worst team of the last five years, including last season’s Sabres, they will have competition for the league’s worst record by the Oilers, Arizona Coyotes and Carolina Hurricanes. Carolina is playing better hockey of late, 6-2-1 in 2015, so let’s focus on the former two.
Buffalo may have taken over Edmonton’s spot for the league’s worst record, but the race is tight (only two points apart). The Oilers have played around .500 hockey lately, going 5-4-2 since Dec. 30. Their overall game is as erratic as ever, but they are having more good nights than bad in the last 3+ weeks.
While Edmonton’s ups and downs will continue for prolonged stretches the remainder of the season, the Oilers may find themselves outside of the bottom-2, but solidly inside the bottom-5, at season’s end because of another team in their division.
Aside from the Sabres, no team is making a more rapid descent down the standings than the Coyotes. Arizona is 2-7-1 since New Year’s Eve and losers of six in a row (0-5-1) heading into the break. The fire sale in the desert has begun after trading their back-up-but-better-than-the-starting-goalie Devan Dubnyk to the Minnesota Wild. With reports that the Coyotes are shopping pending UFAs, Arizona is certainly on the path of getting worse before they get better.
Coyotes currently 3rd worst record in NHL would be HUGE to get McDavid or Eichel — Franchise changing players.
— John Gambadoro (@Gambo987) January 21, 2015
So where does that leave these teams in the race for a franchise-changing center? Well, there are actually two races.
The race to the end of the season is preceded by the race to the trade deadline. It is likely that the Oilers stand pat, not wanting to give up a young star, the Hurricanes do the same by keeping both Staals and the Sabres follow suit simply because they do not have the assets for a major fire sale. On the other hand, the Coyotes have the most to move.
Should the reported names of center Antoine Vermette and defenseman Zbynek Michalek get traded away from the desert, that takes away Arizona’s No. 1 center and one half of their top defensive pairing. Couple that with the possibility of moving a pair of third liners, David Moss and Martin Erat (NMC), the Coyotes could easily be without one-third of their top-9 forwards for the final 19 games of the regular season.
So Martin Erat was a healthy scratch last night. Not surprised. His play has deteriorated lately after a fast start.
— DOMInation (@CoyotesAvs12) January 19, 2015
The race for Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel will be almost as intriguing as the race for the Wild Card playoff spots. As it stands today, four teams have a really good chance at grabbing one of those elite young center prospects in hopes of finding the next franchise cornerstone. Buffalo is leading the charge to the bottom of the standings while the bottom of the Pacific Division is not too far behind.
Although, this could all be for naught should a low percentage team win the draft lottery.