NHL teams welcome Olympic break
The NHL’s two-week break for the Vancouver Winter Olympics couldn’t have come at a better time for some teams.
For the Carolina Hurricanes, Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers, who have no realistic chance of playing their way back into playoff contention, it provides a welcome respite for their players from the grim task of playing out the remainder of a season already lost. It will also allow their general managers more time to weigh trade offers for players they wish to move.
Ray Whitney of the Hurricanes remains the most attractive forward in the trade market whilst Toronto’s Alexei Ponikarovsky is believed a certainty to be dealt by the March 3 trade deadline.
The Oilers have several expensive players they wish to move — notably Sheldon Souray, Lubomir Visnovsky and Shawn Horcoff — and this break could allow GM Steve Tambellini more time to find potential takers.
For those clubs fading in the playoff race — the Florida Panthers and New York Islanders in the Eastern Conference and the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets in the West — it’ll allow their respective management time to evaluate their rosters and decide if it’s worthwhile to acquire depth for a late run at a playoff berth or to write off the season and become sellers by the trade deadline.
Panthers’ management have let it be known no one in their lineup is untouchable, making them an attractive target for playoff-bound clubs seeking roster depth.
Banged-up teams battling for playoff berths like the Detroit Red Wings and Montreal Canadiens will certainly welcome this break, as they won’t lose any positioning in the standings awaiting the return of injured stars like Johan Franzen, Andrei Markov and Mike Cammalleri.
Tampa Bay, Atlanta and the New York Rangers in the East and Nashville, Calgary, St. Louis and Anaheim in the West will certainly appreciate the breather as they’ve been battling hard to remain in playoff contention.
The next two weeks will allow most of their players — apart from those selected to play for their home countries in the Olympics — an opportunity to rest, their coaching staff time to look for solutions to their recent struggles and their general managers the chance to lay the groundwork for potential roster-boosting deals.
Washington, New Jersey, Pittsburgh and Buffalo currently sit atop the Eastern Conference but have struggled of late so the time off will be a welcome chance to recharge while their respective managements consider potential lineup changes.
The San Jose Sharks and Chicago Blackhawks hold a wide lead over the rest of the West so this break isn’t likely to adversely affect them. Their only concern would be one of their star players like Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley, Patrick Kane or Duncan Keith getting injured in the Olympic tournament.
Some teams, however, might find this break an unwelcome distraction.
Sitting third and fourth respectively in the Western Conference, the Vancouver Canucks and Phoenix Coyotes owe their positioning in large part to their starting goaltenders.
Roberto Luongo of the Canucks and Ilya Brygalov of the Coyotes are respectively part of the Canadian and Russian men’s hockey teams, and they might not get much opportunity to rest over the next two weeks if they see considerable playing time in the tournament. That might have an adverse impact upon their respective post-Olympic performances.
The Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins were on a roll of late in the East, going into the break riding four-game winning streaks that lifted them in the standings while the Ottawa Senators were red hot, winning eight of 10.
Over in the Western Conference, the L.A. Kings were one of the hottest teams in the league, winning eight of their last 10 while the Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars both won four of their last five games.
The time off could possibly stymie the momentum they had built up, which might prove difficult to recapture following a two-week layoff.