Wednesday, November 12, 2014
Bad Teams Have Two Months to Shape Up
Riddled with injuries, the Columbus Blue Jackets have every reason and excuse to throw in the towel during this young season. From the career-ending condition for Nathan Horton to losing starting goalie Sergei Bobrovsky for several weeks, the walking wounded goes up and down the lineup, from top line to depth player. Even their fans, who'd seen just about the worst kind of luck over the franchise's existence, could probably give the team a pass on this.
However, despite the horrendous losing streak that killed off a strong start, the Blue Jackets aren't out of this yet. Neither are the Carolina Hurricanes, who went winless in October, or the Buffalo Sabres, who are the Buffalo Sabres.
No team is out of it. And no team will be out of it until around the turn of the calendar year. That's the point when teams far below .500 can throw in the towel (or if you want to think about positively, throw their hat in the Connor McDavid derby). Before then, though, these aren't problems that can't be fixed by a few strong stretches of play.
Let's take the Blue Jackets as an example. With Bobrovsky scheduling a return sooner rather than later, let's assume the Jackets grit out a short stretch of going .500 over the next two weeks or so. From mid-November through the rest of the year, a handful of winning streaks could easily right the ship. It doesn't vault them into a playoff spot, but it sets the foundation for the team to show what they can really do when they have a full roster (without Horton, who is done barring a miracle).
That's the beauty of the unofficial deadline of New Year's Day. As long as you're close to .500 around that time, you're still in it. The NHL season is filled with ups and downs for every team, and a team that's holding the division lead on January 1 can go down in flames by the time April rolls around if the right combination of injuries and bad luck catch up to them. On the flip side, a .500 team has 3+ months to put together a few really strong stretches where they can leapfrog over the competition.
That does mean that a team has to show some signs of life in November and December. At the end of the season, teams are battling each other for positioning but during the early stages, they're simply battling themselves. There's no scoreboard watching going on because it's a battle for chemistry, coaching systems, bounces, and streaks. In short, it's a season in itself, the unofficial pre-cursor round to the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Columbus, Carolina, Buffalo, Edmonton, Dallas — some of these teams have the talent but have lacked the tools; in other cases, some of them are a frustration question mark of bad decisions and worse luck. By the time we celebrate Christmas and look toward the Winder Classic, there's a good chance that about half of these teams will have righted the ship while the other half will have drifted towards the draft lottery. As it stands now, there's no need for loyal fans to give up — unless, of course, they want their team to get the first-overall pick. Then, by all means, start cheering for losses.