Isles' season at a crossroads.
Our next game is against the team that has twice represented the Western Conference in the Cup Finals, winning once and losing in a seventh game the other time. This would seem the perfect time to assess this team's realistic chances of making it to the big dance this year.
Through 46 games, we have 46 points. Five points more and we are the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference. Five points less and we are the #4 overall pick in the entry draft. Is this a playoff team? It seems unlikely.
There are 16 games left between now and the end of February when GMs will be making decisions regarding deadline deals. That's 32 possible points. To be a serious contender, I would think the Isles would need to come away with at least 24 of those points and have 70 points going into the game against Chicago on March 2. That's 12 wins or possibly 10 wins and four OT / SO losses. Raise your hand if you think this team can do that. Me neither.
More likely the Isles will have about 60 points at the deadline with 20 games and 40 possible points left. They would probably need to win about 15 of those 20 games to have a realistic shot at the playoffs. That's not happening either. Garth certainly will not be buying at the deadline. Will he be selling off talent? If so, who?
This will depend partly on DP. If he is lights out, Biron and possibly Roloson could be on the block. As I have said before, Roly should only be traded if a team such as the Sens offers a first round pick. It's not impossible, but I would not assume it. Weight, Sutton, Sim, and Park are all possible trading assets as well. If most or all of these players are traded, Schremp, Tambellini, and Comeau--to name a few--should all see more ice time. Joensuu and Mikko, if he's healthy, would be called up as well. There will likely be a few other Bridgeport boys who see action with the big club.
What should Garth's Draft Day strategy be? A lot depends on what happens on Deadline Day and on where we finish. Garth will obviously be in a much stronger position if he can pull off a trade getting us a second first round pick. If not, it will depend on what our draft position is and who is on the board when we pick. If we somehow get the #1 overall again, Taylor Hall is the obvious pick followed by the best defenseman available (possibly after a tradeup--Erik Gudbranson?). If not and if Cam Fowler is still on the board when we pick, we probably pick him and use the 2nd rounder for a forward like Victor Ohman if he's still available. If we get another first rounder or if neither Hall or Fowler are available, we should draft PF Nino Niederreiter, followed by the best available defender--possibly his Portland teammate Troy Rutkowski.
It was never really about this year but about assembling the core of a champion. We know that JT, Kyle, Josh, Matt, Hunts, DP, Jack, Andy and Mikko will likely be part of that core. Franz, Bergy, Blake, Jesse, and eventually Calvin, Travis, Jyri, Anders (Lee and Nilsson), Kirill, Matt D., and Aaron will probably join them. Who else? And what will the next Isle Cup winner look like? By next fall, we should have a pretty good idea. That's what this season is really about. The future and the Drive for Five.