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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

10 in 1: Who has Toughest Schedule, Trades and Cap Space

Only six days until the trade deadline, and just under seven weeks remaining in the NHL season to decide who makes the playoffs. No spot is guaranteed, and while some teams seem like a lock to make the playoffs, where they finish is far from certain.

The final 46 days of the regular season should be highly entertaining.

The Pittsburgh Penguins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Vancouver Canucks and New York Islanders have already made a move nearing the trade deadline. Jason Zucker is in Pittsburgh, Blake Coleman in Tampa, Andy Greene on Long Island and Tyler Toffoli is a Canuck. How will others respond?

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1. I see 21 teams with a realistic shot at the 16 playoff spots. Ten teams in the East are in the race — sorry Rangers fans, but I don’t have them still in the mix.

Boston, Washington, Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh are locks in my eyes, but the other four spots are wide open. One of Toronto or Florida is guaranteed to make it as the third seed in the Atlantic, while the other five Metro teams are battling for third in the division and the two wildcard spots. Here are their remaining schedules.

Islanders: 24 games remaining with 12 at home, 12 on the road, and 13 of those are against teams in the playoff hunt. Home to BOS, MINN and CAR (twice), on the road in PITT, TOR, PHI, CBJ, STL, COL, VAN, EDM and CGY and seven of those are against Eastern teams. They have three sets of back-to-back.

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Blue Jackets: 22 games remaining with nine at home, 13 on the road and 19 of their games are against teams in the playoff mix. Home to PHI, PITT, WSH, NYI, TB, MINN, VAN and NSH, on the road in PHI, BOS, TOR, TB, CAR, NSH, MINN, CGY, EDM, VAN and DALL with 10 against Eastern teams. They have five sets of back-to-back and the most difficult schedule based on the opposition.

Flyers: 23 games with 13 at home, 10 on the road and 15 of those games are against teams in playoff contention: Home to CBJ, CAR, BOS, NYI, PIT, WPG, MINN, EDM, STL and NSH, on the road in CBJ, WSH, TB, DALL and NSH with eight against Eastern teams. They have five sets of back-to-backs.

Hurricanes: 24 games left with 11 at home, 13 on the road and 16 against teams in the playoff hunt. They are home to PITT (twice), TOR, BOS, CBJ, DALL, COL and STL, on the road in TOR, PHI, BOS, PITT (2x), NYI (2x) and NSH with 12 games against Eastern teams. They have seven sets of back-to-back. Every weekend starting with FRI/SAT this month and then SAT/SUN for the final five weeks.

Maple Leafs: 22 games remaining with 11 at home, 11 on the road and 15 against teams in the playoff picture. They are home to PITT, CAR, TB, NYI, CBJ, FLO, VAN and NSH, on the road in PITT, BOS, FLO, CAR, WSH and TB (2X) with 13 games of them against Eastern teams. They only have two sets of back-to-backs, but have a tough schedule.

Panthers: 23 games left with 11 at home, 12 on the road and 12 against teams in playoff contention. They are at home to TOR, BOS, WSH, CGY and STL, on the road in TOR, BOS, VEG, ARI, STL, DALL and WPG with only five of those against Eastern teams. They have four sets of back-to-backs.

2. I see 11 teams in the Western playoff hunt. I included Minnesota only because they have four games in hand on Arizona. They are on the fringes of a playoff spot.

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St. Louis and Dallas seem like locks, although the defending champs have only won two of their last 10 games. Colorado’s chance of gaining home ice advantage took a big hit with the news Mikko Rantanen is out 6-8 weeks with a broken collarbone, and he joins Nazem Kadri, Matt Calvert and goalie Philip Grubauer on the injured list. The Oilers managed to go 3-1 without Connor McDavid, James Neal, Kris Russell and Zack Kassian for the past two games. Injuries suck, but they are part of the game and good teams find ways to overcome them.

Here is the remaining schedule for the western teams.

Colorado: 24 games remaining with 12 at home, 12 on the road and 14 are against playoff teams. They are home to VAN, VEG, NSH, ARI, WPG, STL and NYI, on road in STL, NSH, ARI, VEG, BOS and CAR and 10 of these games aren’t against west teams. They play three sets of back-to-backs.

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Edmonton: 23 games remaining with 13 at home, 10 on the road and 15 against playoff teams. Home to MIN, WPG (2x), COL, VEG (2x), BOS, CBJ, NYI and TB, road games in VEG, NSH, DALL, CGY, PHI and WSH and ten of these games are against the West. They play three sets of BTB.

Vegas: 21 games remaining with 10 at home, 11 on the road and 16 against playoff teams. They are home to EDM, DALL, VAN, ARI, TB and FLO, on the road in WPG (2x), EDM (2x), CGY (2x), MINN, COL, ARI and VAN with 14 games against western foes. They have three sets of BTB.

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Vancouver: 23 games remaining with 12 at home, 11 on the road and 17 against playoff teams. They are home to MINN, ARI, COL, WPG, CGY, VEG, BOS CBJ, NYI and TB, on the road in ARI (2x), COL, VEG, DALL, CBJ and TOR with 11 games against the west. They have four sets of BTB.

Calgary: 21 games remain with 12 at home, nine on the road and 15 against playoff teams. They are home to WPG (2x), VEG (2x), ARI, EDM, TB, BOS, CBJ and NYI, on the road in NSH, VAN, BOS, TB, FLO and NYI and eight of these games are against the west.

Arizona: 20 games left with 11 at home, nine on the road and 15 against playoff teams. They are home to DAL, VEG, NSH, WPG, VAN (2x), TB and FLO, on the road in DAL, STL, VAN, CGY, WPG, VEG and COL and 13 of those are against the west. They have two sets of BTB.

Nashville: 24 games remaining with 13 at home, 11 on the road and 15 against playoff teams. They’re home to CGY, EDM, DALL, COL, WPG, CAR, CBJ and PHI, on the road in MINN (2x), DALL, ARI, COL, TOR and CBJ and 10 of those games are against the west. They have six sets of BTB.

Winnipeg: 22 games remaining with nine at home, 13 on the road and 18 against playoff teams. They are home to VEG (2x), ARI, MINN, COL, WSH and FLO, on the road in EDM (2x), CGY (2x), VAN, DALL, NSH, COL, VEG, PHI and WSH with 14 games against the west. They have a very challenging schedule with so many games against playoff teams.

Minnesota: 24 games remaining with 10 at home, 14 on the road and 16 against playoff teams. They are home to STL, NSH (2x), VEG, COL, CBJ and WSH, on the road in EDM, VAN, WPG, STL, NSH, CBJ, PHI, NYI and WSH with 10 games against the west. They have four sets of BTB.

3. In 2020 the Oilers have played a league-low 17 games, but they are 11-4-2, picking up 24 points and carrying a .706 points percentage (P%), which is fourth best in the NHL behind Tampa, Boston and Pittsburgh. Calgary and Vancouver have 23 points, while Vegas and Arizona have amassed 20. They have been really good, despite a rash of injuries.

4. The injury bug bit hard again as Oscar Klefbom had a minor procedure on his shoulder and will be out two to three weeks. That means Caleb Jones will move into the top-four and play more minutes, while Darnell Nurse will take Klefbom’s spot on the first PP unit. Look for Nurse to play over 26 minutes many nights as Jones and William Lagesson are the other left defencemen in the lineup.

5. Did Vancouver pay a lot for Tyler Toffoli? Possibly. It all depends how Tyler Madden and the draft pick pan out. On paper, it seems like a lot, for a potential rental, but the Canucks are without Brock Boeser down the stretch and their GM, Jim Benning, felt it was the time to take a gamble and make the playoffs, and possibly win a round or two. Every team is going to be different, and of course the goal is to win the Stanley Cup, but getting playoff experience can also be important. I caution those who say it was too big or a risk, because Madden is ranked high on a future prospect list.

He might become a really good player, but there are no guarantees. Remember the Athletic pre-season ranking on Oilers top-20 prospects? Ethan Bear was listed #13. I realize it is not just about this season, but projecting what the future holds, and none of the projected rankings are set in stone. I find Corey Pronman’s rankings favour younger players, or more recently drafted. It makes sense as recency bias is a legit thing. My point is projecting prospects is very difficult, and it can change a lot from year to year. On paper it looks like Vancouver gave up a lot for a rental, but we won’t know for a few years if they actually did. And if they win one playoff round, that experience for their young players like Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes and others might be just as valuable.

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5. I like Tampa’s acquisition of Blake Coleman, as they are in win-now mode. He will be with them for at least two playoffs, and possibly more if they re-sign him. And his $1.8 million cap hit makes him even more valuable. They will be able to trade away one of their $4m players in the off season and have a replacement who is likely just as productive for less than half the price.

6. I still think the Oilers biggest need is a scoring winger, but none jump out at me as must-haves. I’m intrigued by Ilya Kovalchuk, and his AAV is the easiest to absorb. I know Ken Holland would prefer to acquire a player with term, and that’s where Jesse Puljujarvi could come in. But his value might be the highest at the draft when more teams would be interested in making a deal.

7. Let’s assume the Oilers are healthy in a few weeks. Their lines would likely look something like this:

Ryan Nugent-HopkinsLeon DraisaitlKailer Yamamoto
James NealConnor McDavidZack Kassian
Tyler BensonRiley SheahanJosh Archibald
Jujhar KhairaGaetan HaasAlex Chiasson

Archibald has played 61% of his 5×5 time with Riley Sheahan. If you acquire a third line centre, which many say the Oilers need, then Dave Tippett either splits up those two, or he plays Benson and Chiasson with the new centre. I like the latter option better. Outside of Jean Gabriel Pageau is there a third line centre you think is that much of an upgrade on Sheahan?

8. Oilers GM Ken Holland would like to make a move, but he doesn’t have a lot of cap space. That is his biggest challenge. They could use more of their LTIR space, but I’m sure Holland doesn’t want to max that out, because then Mike Smith’s bonuses would count against next year’s cap. Essentially it would be dead cap space. The Oilers already have $4.83m in dead space next year due to the buyouts of Andrej Sekera ($2.5m), Benoit Pouliot ($1.33) and Milan Lucic ($750K retained salary). Many expect Edmonton to be more competitive next year, and the $1 million to potential $1.5m of Smith’s bonus could take another dent out of their cap. I don’t think they can afford that.

9. Brenden Dillon isn’t a flashy player, but he is a solid defender and an outstanding human being. His teammates love him and adding a guy like that, even if a bit pricey, to a deep team is a good add. Dillon will help Washington defensively. He played mainly with Brent Burns or Erik Karlsson with the Sharks this season, so he can play in the top four or be a dominant third pairing defender. I like this move by the Capitals.

10. I wonder if the Flames are a bit concerned about David Rittich’s play in the second half of the season. For the second year in a row he is struggling. In the past two seasons Rittich had a .915Sv% in October-December, but from January-April he has a .898Sv%. Last year he had a .920Sv% in the first half and a .902Sv% in the second half, while this year he was .912Sv% in the first half, but only has a .892% since January first. If he can’t play well when the games matter more, the Flames might have to look for another option next season.

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PRAY FOR PLAYOFFS

The boys are in the mix and we’re looking ahead to April. Please, Hockey Gords, make it so. Competitive games in February! Exclusively at NationGear.ca.