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Top 5 teams in trouble

New Jersey Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur cannot stop

New Jersey Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur cannot stop a shot by Detroit Red Wings' Tomas Holmstrom, not shown, for a goal during the first period. (Dec. 11, 2010) Credit: AP

Just a little list for you, since this is the season of lists...

5. Flames. Not to say we told you so or anything, but Center Ice (before we even had a name or a blog, really) called this in the season preview: Darryl Sutter assembled a terrible, overpriced team, and the Flames are proving to be just what we thought they were. Miikka Kiprusoff's GAA is up (2.76), Jarome Iginla's morale is down and the rest of this middling lineup isn't doing much.

Luckily for Sutter, 11 Flames have no-trade or no-move clauses, including Olli Jokinen. Wouldn't want to break this group up.

4. Sabres. Ryan Miller has been OK, but that's not enough for a squad that has too many hurt or underperforming parts. For a team that prides itself on continuity, just getting captain Craig Rivet back from various injuries in the last three weeks is a bigger deal than it might seem.

3. Islanders. I think we've covered this one extensively around here... But last night's no-show in Nashville set the bar even lower than usual.

2. Hawks. They may still make the playoffs, but I'd say they're a better bet to follow in the footsteps of the 1995 Devils and go from champions to the lottery. Dustin Byfuglien -- an amazing story in revamped Atlanta -- was a huge loss; ditto Andrew Ladd, who's also making himself invaluable in the ATL.

But the biggest mistake the Hawks made was signing Marty Turco. A 3.06 GAA, many games in which they seem to be playing pond hockey -- the Hawks won in spite of their goaltending last year, but it was downright Flyer-like to think they could skate through without a top-level goaltender.

1. Devils. John MacLean isn't going anywhere this season, it seems -- Lou Lamoriello said as much yesterday -- so the Devils will simply have to slog through their worst season in over two decades and try to repair things next season.

As bad as the Islanders are, they're a known quantity; placing the Devils here is a reminder that they've been on borrowed time with an aging goaltender and, now, an untenable contract for a player who's not made of leadership material.

That seems like a big enough fall to place them at the top. Or bottom.

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