If you could bet on the fortune of an NHL team like you could a publicly traded stock, a discerning fan could make a few bucks calling out teams that appear to be at a low and are bound for brighter days ahead. I suppose this is why we have Las Vegas.
The ST. LOUIS BLUES come to mind. After wandering Siberia in search of prospects and a new identity since the end of the lockout, they seem to have enough NHL-calibre talent that they've self-developed or fleeced from the Colorado Avalanche to sustainably compete for quite some time. If I were a betting man, and I am, I'm betting 100 common shares of Wal-Mart them to make the playoffs in 4 of the next 5 seasons.
Conversely, there are a few teams that either made or nearly made this year's NHL playoffs that would be strong candidates to "short-sell" as they appear highly unlikely to make it back to the dance next year ... or perhaps for another half-decade. Fans of these teams might want to take their budget for the next half-decade's worth of season tickets and instead purchase a foreclosed home in the Phoenix area with rental income potential.
The NEW YORK RANGERS:
The blueshirts looked decent in their series with the Capitals. Their defense was strong and goaltending even stronger, but couldn't score one more big goal to actually win the game. Ranger fans should expect to hear that refrain for a while. This is perhaps what is so distressing about the Rangers - they have some solid pieces on defense and in goal, but after big raises to Callahan and Dubinsky due up this summer, there won't be any money left to afford luxuries like "depth defensemen" a "3rd line".
What's worse is that the Rangers probably don't fully sense the inevitability of their regression. They might point to the development of Derek Stepan as some kind of panacea, but that just implies that they won't be bad enough to be a lottery team, while definitely not good enough to land anywhere better than 9th in the East for quite some time.
Prediction: The Islanders make the playoffs 3 times before the Rangers ever do again. This might actually come true.
THE PHOENIX / WINNIPEG COYOTES:
Oh the excitement that's brimming in Manitoba these days! The Jets are coming back! The Jets are coming back! And like previous Jets teams, they are going to suck.
I'm not going to stickhandle around the fact that the franchise boasts a potential Norris-calibre defenseman in Yandle, or a set of hard-working forwards, and perhaps the best coach in the league. There are some good assets here. But this team does not possess any gamebreaking scoring talent whatsoever, and coaxing a human with that talent to move their rich ass to Winnipeg is just not part of this reality.
Oh, and their All-star goalie is a UFA and hates cold weather.
Prediction: Same sh!t different decade for WInnipeg fans.
The MONTREAL CANADIENS:
Poor Montreal. Lambs who turned into Lions. A level of skill that might serve as the poster child for the new NHL. A compete level to be admired league-wide... and a set of small forwards who are just past their prime and unlikely to deliver in the future as they have in the past.
The Canadiens will have a very slow regression. Pretty soon Gionta won't be able to deliver the mail and will turn into the second coming of Scott Gomez. Plekanec has been impressive but to me seems like the kind of guy who will lose interest with every passing season. The Habs have a number of UFA defensemen that won't re-sign, and their identity as a team built from the goal out will have a visible chasm between Carey Price and the forwards.
PK Subban will entertain us with his antics for some time however, just not in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Prediction: The Maple Leafs pass the Canadiens in '11-'12 and don't intersect again until 2020.
The CALGARY FLAMES. This probably comes as no surprise. The Flames are like that guy at work who you knew was the first to get canned when the recession hit. They hang around the office pale and diminutive and you just hope the severance package and job re-training from the Government will help the poor bastard get back on his feet one day.
Fans of the NHL, especially ones north of Red Deer, have been heralding the demise of the Flames ever since they signed Jay Bouwmeester and traded Phaneuf away for a collection of overpriced spare parts. Apart from Jarome Iginla, the Flamers have no All-Star calibre players, both on the current roster or anywhere in the system. The contracts for Langkow, J Bouw, Stajan are probably 3 of the 10 worst deals in the entire NHL, and will prevent Calgary from re-signing Glencross or adding another quality player to the roster to serve as a dose of methadone to their awful affliction.
If Jay Feaster is smart, he'll realize that things are bound to get bad before they get better, and will try to find a way to re-stock the barren cupboard as early as this upcoming draft. This inevitably involves attempting to get a solid return for both Iginla and Kiprusoff. If the Flames decide to stampede toward another 10th place finish in '11-'12, they'll just be delaying the inevitable, bound to soon be passed by Columbus, St. Louis, and Edmonton sooner rather than later.
To me, the Flames represent the absolute worst-case scenario of an NHL team. Their best player is beginning to go grey, they lack complimentary players or the ability to acquire complimentary players via Free Agency, and don't have up and coming talent to fill the holes. They have pursued a model of sustained mediocrity with the same incredulity that a broke person borrows money at higher rates of interest to finance their short-term debt. The Flames are like the United States of the NHL.
These teams are doomed. Bound to wander the wilderness as the Blues, Oilers, Blue Jackets, and Islanders have done for a half-decade before them. The upside however is that being lost seems to be the evenutal way to be found ... but it can take several economic cycles, maybe a Donald Trump Presidency, and the rise of China and the New York Islanders before it comes to fruition.