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NHL Thanksgiving predictions

By Lori Bennett National Sports Columnist NHL Noise The Americans celebrated Thanksgiving this past week, and that’s a pretty significant milestone for hockey fans. Statistics from recent NHL seasons reveal that the standings at American Thanksgiving are a strong predictor of who will ultimately make the playoffs. Since the 2005-06 season, about three-quarters of teams in a playoff position on American Thanksgiving have been there when the regular season winds down. The opposite is also true – for teams outside of a playoff spot, the odds are against them to claw their way back in. The unknown quarter is essentially comprised of the bubble teams. What does that picture currently look like? In the Western Conference, the usual suspects look strong. The Vegas Golden Knights look poised to defend their Stanley Cup title, while the Colorado Avalanche are ready to climb their way back into a championship. The Dallas Stars and Los Angeles Kings also look firmly situated in playoff position, along with two Canadian teams. The Vancouver Canucks are shockingly good, riding the wave of new coach Rick Tocchet, hot young defensemen Quinn Hughes, and the resurgence of core forwards Pettersson, Miller and Boeser. The question is whether they can maintain this pace for the whole season, but doubts are diminishing as the season ticks on. The Winnipeg Jets are also among the pack who look playoff-bound, an outcome that didn’t seem possible last summer with Pierre-Luc Dubois getting traded and other core players asking to be dealt. But the return for Dubois was solid, considering the context, and with Scheifele and Hellebuyck signing contract extensions, the Jets have found new life. The two remaining Canadian teams out West find themselves outside of a playoff spot. The Calgary Flames, who entered the season with questions about whether they should be going for it or entering a retool, look like they’re ready to make some deals for the future. But they may choose to let some more of the season go by first before they wholeheartedly throw in the towel. GM Craig Conroy knows his unrestricted free agents may fetch a better return at the trade deadline, so he has the luxury of letting things play out. The Edmonton Oilers are in the basement of the Western Conference. Predicted to be Stanley Cup contenders when the season began, they were very slow out of the gate. Having already made a coaching change, they desperately need a new goalie and to strengthen their defence. But as of the press deadline, GM Ken Holland was playing a fiddle while Rome burned, so to speak. He may have already delayed too long for the Oilers to redeem their season. In the Eastern Conference, the Boston Bruins are the shocking powerhouse, having lost important players in the offseason, including their captain and first-line centreman Patrice Bergeron. The Florida Panthers have also overcome significant injuries to remain strong in the standings, and some usual suspects make up the rest of the field of “likely to play in the postseason”, and they include the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning, along with the rejuvenated Philadelphia Flyers and the mysteriously shaky Carolina Hurricanes. The Toronto Maple Leafs are poised for another postseason berth, but perhaps not as convincingly as leadership would hope. GM Brad Treliving would like to strengthen the defence group and he opened that possibility on Thursday when he placed blue liner John Klingberg on long-term injury reserve. Treliving may also be having second thoughts about the contract he handed forward Ryan Reaves this past summer. Reaves likes to talk about being the tough guy in town and defending his teammates, but he doesn’t seem to like to do it much. In the meantime, William Nylander looks to be having a career year and is driving up the cost of his next contract with each passing game. The Leafs could probably get as much out of a league minimum contract as Reaves is delivering, and those dollars could sure go a long way toward retaining Nylander. But finding a taker for Reaves won’t be easy. The two remaining Canadian teams are in the basement of the Eastern Conference. The Ottawa Senators were supposed to be taking a bigger step this season but may be impacted by some of the off-ice drama that has unfolded including a gambling suspension, a league-imposed fine on management, and a change at the GM level. The Montreal Canadiens got off to a strong start, but it’s Groundhog Day for the Habs. Injuries have piled up, beginning when they lost centreman Kirby Dach in Game 2, through to placing two defensemen on the injury list this past week. It seems more likely that GM Kent Hughes is planning for a haul at the trade deadline rather than sneaking into the postseason. Of course, the American Thanksgiving rule is not hard and fast. The St. Louis Blues won the Stanley Cup in 2019 after being in last place on January 1st. If a team can turn things around, and go on a run, it’s possible to change their fates. By the time you’re reading this, one of these teams may have already made a deal to try and do just that, and if rumours are to be believed at all, it may be the Montreal Canadiens and Edmonton Oilers swinging a blockbuster. Blue Jays Babble Rumours are swirling around the Toronto Blue Jays as offseason business is picking up. As of press deadline, that’s all they were – rumours. But with the MLB winter meetings due to get underway on December 4th, we can expect some baseball rumours to be converted into deals in the Jays ahead. One of the players getting attention in Toronto is Matt Chapman. Even though the third baseman did not sign his qualifying offer from the Jays, making him a free agent, the Blue Jays are reportedly still pursuing him and trying to get him under contract. Alek Manoah is another player getting some time in the rumour mill. The young pitcher was believed to be a long-term ace for the Baby Blue. But after a solid breakout season in 2022, Manoah struggled in 2023 and spent most of the summer in the minors. Does Manoah even want to return to the Jays? Might the Jays be tempted to deal him before another attempt to get the magic back? There isn’t one team in the major leagues that wouldn’t love to add superstar Shohei Ohtani to their roster. Is it too farfetched to believe the Blue Jays might make a serious play for the phenom? Ohtani is a free agent this summer, but his future is complicated by offseason elbow surgery. In addition to being an ace pitcher, he’s a steady lefthanded batter, and the Jays would love to make room for both in their lineup. But with the pending surgery there are question marks around how long he will need to recover, and whether he will be the same pitcher after he returns. That question impacts his value, but smart money says take the risk. Stay tuned. It’s possible your Toronto Blue Jays may get a present or two in advance of Santa’s arrival.

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