Last week we got all the positivity out of the way — today, reality bites.
While optimism is all the rage at the start of a new season, crushing disappointment eventually sets in for most. Maybe it’s a slow start out of the gate, a late-season meltdown or a early-post-season exit, but most teams fall short of expectations.
Time to rain on your parade. Here are reasons to be pessimistic about each of the 30 NHL teams heading into 2016-17.
On Jan. 1 of this year, the Ducks were 15-15-7 and 11th in the Western Conference ahead of only Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton. Bruce Boudreau made the necessary adjustments to kick-start the season and eventually get the Ducks to the top of the Pacific Division.
Will new (again) head coach Randy Carlyle get that kind of response from this group? He has won a Cup in Anaheim before, but that was 10 years ago when Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry were sophomores. After that Cup, Carlyle’s teams have made it past Round 1 just once.
You know what the problem is with a team of tomorrow? It’s still today! And besides, who believes the goaltending tandem of Mike Smith and Louis Domingue is good enough to overcome a ridiculously hard Western Conference?
The Bruins haven’t made the playoffs in two years and captain Zdeno Chara, the rock of a very thin blue line, is a year older and a year slower. Loui Eriksson is gone after a very productive season, and it’s unlikely Brad Marchand will equal his career year. If only Dougie Hamilton and Tyler Seguin were still around…
As mentioned in our points of optimism, if goaltender Robin Lehner stays healthy he’ll be a boon to Buffalo’s playoff hopes. Guess what? He had to pull out of September’s World Cup because his injury isn’t fully healed. Bring on the pessimism.
The numbers support Brian Elliott being the starter Calgary needs, but there’s a big difference between being a tandem starter and a clear No. 1 with no safety net. The last time Elliott started more than 50 games in a season (2010-11), he posted a save percentage of .880 and a 3.22 goals against average. Before that: .909, 2.57.
Didn’t think so.
Ward has been subpar for two years in a row now, so he appears to be in real decline. Lack has one strong season on his resume. Weakness at this position is enough to force the Canes off course.
Patrick Kane’s ridiculous 106-point MVP season won’t be duplicated (will anyone get to 100 points this year?). Duncan Keith — now 33 years old — had to pull out of the World Cup because he’s still recovering from a 2015 injury. And last year was the first time since 2007-08 that the Hawks weren’t top-six in corsi for percentage (they finished 15th).
Everyone’s Cup window eventually closes…
Bad-alytics. The Avs had such a poor corsi percentage last year that the difference between their 30th-ranked mark and New Jersey’s 29th was roughly the same as the difference between the Devils’ and 21st-ranked Columbus.
At least they didn’t trade Tyson Barrie, but that defence is pee-yew, and will be crushed by the Central Division.
Sergei Bobrovsky’s injury and poor numbers last season were alarming, and backup Joonas Korpisalo won’t keep posting better numbers in the NHL than any other pro league he’s played in. Nick Foligno had an awful first year of a contract paying him $5.5 million against the cap (a.k.a. David Clarkson money).
Scott Hartnell ($4.75 million) waived his no-trade clause, but the Blue Jackets couldn’t find any takers for a player who looks to be in decline. They will continue to struggle with shots against. Seems a lot could go wrong here again.
Built to entertain, not to win. The Stars’ offence is great fun to watch, but it’s not a formula to take the Stanley Cup. The early-Ovechkin era Washington Capitals were the same way, and only became a real serious Cup contender when they started focusing on adding (and playing) defence. Dallas needs to make that adjustment. Making matters worse is the extremely shaky goalie combo of Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi.
They barely squeaked into the post-season last year and now second-leading scorer and all-time great Pavel Datsyuk is gone. The Red Wings struck out on big free agent target Steven Stamkos and promising young UFA Jimmy Vesey, signifying a change in how the Wings are viewed in the league. They used to be able to get Brett Hulls and Brendan Shanahans. Year 26 of the playoff streak ain’t happening.
This rebuild was supposed to be over long ago – Edmonton should be on a three-season playoff streak right about now. Yeah, Connor McDavid is healthy — but a single player doesn’t turn an entire team around, especially one so deeply buried in a tough conference. Adam Larsson isn’t enough to help the Oilers make up the 17 points by which they missed the playoffs.
Roberto Luongo, 37, had a fantastic year for the Panthers – so good, there’s no way he equals it this season as he comes off an injury. Jaromir Jagr, 44(!), also put up the kind of production he’s highly unlikely to repeat. The Panthers were on the low end in terms of corsi for per cent among playoff teams last year, so a downturn seems reasonable to expect.
Expectations for this team are high – Stanley Cup high. But they haven’t won a series in two years and maintained the same core. Slow skaters Rob Scuderi and Matt Greene still patrol the blue line. Former captain Dustin Brown can’t score at all anymore and Marian Gaborik appears to be in sharp decline as well.
It’s no surprise that after signing a big contract awarded to him because of one huge season, Devan Dubnyk’s numbers fell back to Earth. There’s an awful lot of cap space invested here into what amounts to a very average-looking team. The Wild had the worst corsi percentage of any Western Conference playoff team last year and were bested by Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton – teams many think can pass them in a wild card or divisional spot in 2016-17.
Carey Price alone cannot save this team as he comes back from injury. The Alexander Radulov signing, though low risk on a one-year deal, has the makings of a failure. Alex Galchenyuk still won’t play centre for a team that needs a young centre. Andrei Markov, Shea Weber and Alex Emelin make up half of Montreal’s blue line, and none of them are particularly fast skaters. Not good in a quick-paced NHL.
Though Pekka Rinne was injured in 2013-14, in three of his past four seasons he’s posted a save percentage at .910 or worse. James Neal, after a very nice 31-goal, 82-game season, is due for an injury again. Nashville is clearly cursed and not allowed to move beyond Round 2.
The second-worst team in corsi for percentage last season and worst in offence, New Jersey has a great goalie, but there’s not a whole lot else to look forward to here. Kyle Palmieri scored 30 goals thanks to the highest shooting percentage of his career (13.5), while Adam Henrique also hit 30 goals for the first time with one of the highest shooting percentages in the league (20.1). What are the odds they both achieve those heights again? Slim. Taylor Hall will make up some of the difference, but for this team to take a leap back into the playoffs it needs marked improvement up front.
Out goes Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen, two key pieces on a roster that seemed to be coming into its own. Coming in is Andrew Ladd, whose 2015-16 numbers were inflated by a terrific end to the season with Chicago. Without that finish, he would have struggled to hit 20 goals – and now he’s making $5.5 million. There’s a goalie problem here, too. Thomas Greiss looks to be ready for the top job, but he’s never played more than the 41 games he saw last season.
Some nice low-cost value adds up front, specifically Jimmy Vesey and Brandon Pirri, but if you’re counting on their contributions to keep a declining team afloat, I have news for you: You’re still sinking.
Marc Staal and Dan Girardi combine for $11.2 million against the cap but have terrible possession numbers and don’t move very fast. The loss of puck-mover Keith Yandle cannot be underestimated. Mika Zibanejad is a nice addition over Derick Brassard for the future, but that’s a downgrade for 2016-17. The Rangers had the fifth-worst corsi for mark of any team in the league last year. The decline is real and it’s rapidly happening.
Last year, Steve Burtch wrote for Sportsnet.ca on Erik Karlsson and the historical season he enjoyed. No doubt Karlsson is a tremendous and effective player, but is he going to put up another season like that one? He won’t hit that height.
And the Senators already allowed the highest average shots against per game last season, making Craig Anderson’s job the most difficult in the league. There’s no evidence yet that they’ve gotten better in that regard.
What the Flyers got out of Michal Neuvirth and Steve Mason last year was as much as you could ask out of either of them, judging by their history. They’ll be the same this year, or worse – and here’s betting they’ll be worse, because the blue line is a disaster. Brayden Schenn’s career year probably won’t be repeated and it’s really hard to imagine Shayne Gostisbehere pulling off the same magic again.
The Stanley Cup was nice, but the hangover won’t be such a delight. No team has won back-to-back championships since the 1997 and 1998 Detroit Red Wings and with tight competition at the top of the NHL, the Penguins will fall short. Pittsburgh caught lightning in a bottle after a terrible start to the season in 2015-16, posting a 28-10-3 record in the second half. They’re a Kris Letang injury away from being a disaster on the blue line.
At age 36, Joe Thornton posted his best offensive output since 2010 and earned his way back on to Team Canada for the World Cup. That kind of production won’t happen again for a guy his age. Brent Burns had a career year with 27 goals from the blue line – a career high for him and the most for any defenceman since Mike Green in 2008-09. So that’s also going to be hard to duplicate. Patrick Marleau’s points have been declining for three years. Last season was a perfect storm for the Sharks that they won’t be able to replicate.
The 47 games Jake Allen played last year were the most he’s ever seen in the NHL and while his numbers were pretty good, his history suggests at least a little regression could happen. And now there’s no Brian Elliott safety net. The Blues aren’t known for their scoring, finishing 15th in the league last season – the lowest for any team that moved into Round 2 of the playoffs. They are, however, known for their heavy play — though losing David Backes and Troy Brouwer will hurt that aspect of their attack.
Can the Lighting become the first Eastern Conference team since the Islanders dynasty years to reach back-to-back-to-back conference finals? Admittedly, there is no shortage of things to like about this roster, but their power play could stand to improve. The top teams in the league all have effective power plays (Pittsburgh’s improved through the season and into the playoffs), except the Lightning. Tampa was 28th with the man advantage in the regular season and sat among Toronto, Winnipeg and Vancouver. It didn’t improve much in the playoffs either. If you aren’t taking advantage of enough of these opportunities, you aren’t winning the Cup.
Auston Matthews. William Nylander. Nikita Soshnikov. Maybe even Mitch Marner. There is tremendous excitement among Maple Leafs fans and promise that this team is finally on the right track. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves: a playoff team this is not.
Stats suggest Frederik Andersen will be worse than Jonathan Bernier was in his best years with the Leafs and Andersen moves from one of the best shot suppression teams to one of the worst. Toronto was a more fun team to watch at the end of last season when some young guys were getting chances, but they still finished 3-7-0 in their last 10 games. Another No. 1 overall pick isn’t out of the question.
The Canucks maybe have one good line before their depth and production falls off a cliff. The goalie situation is a big problem and it’s hard to envision a scenario where Jacob Markstrom or Ryan Miller are better than what they did last year. The Canucks have a hard time preventing shots against and got slower with the addition Erik Gudbranson. The team is rebuilding on the fly in the sense that they’re keeping the Sedins, Alex Burrows, Alex Edler et al, and moving towards a great draft pick anyway.
The Capitals have great success in the regular season, but can’t translate that into post-season victories. They have won a couple of Presidents’ Trophies in the Ovechkin era, but haven’t gotten past the second round yet. They seem to leave everything out there in the regular season, leading them to fall short in the post-season. Between that history, the fact Braden Holtby has played at least 80 per cent of the team’s regular season games the past three years and the number of Caps players going to the World Cup, Washington could be doomed to repeat a familiar outcome.
Mark Scheifele had a terrific finish to his season and many expect him to build upon that. Jacob Trouba is bound for a bounce back/breakout season and many expect that to come this year as well, his fourth in the league. Connor Hellebuyck looked good in 26 games, but how much will he play with Ondrej Pavelec and Michael Hutchinson sticking around? And if he does play a lot, he’s still mostly an unproven commodity. Too much needs to fall just right for Winnipeg to rocket past Nashville, Minnesota, Chicago, St. Louis, or any other teams that improve in the West.