I’ve been gushing about the NHL lately.
It seems I can flip on NHL Live every night and be fully immersed in the action. Florida, Toronto, Colorado, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Calgary – if you’re exclusively watching a handful of competitive teams and matchups, well, rarely has the league been this good.
To experience this, though, there needs to be a willingness to pick and choose. Those who consume the sport through one team and one team only might not be so lucky.
Because for every exhilarating market, there is a dud. Some were expected. Arizona, Buffalo, San Jose, New Jersey and even Montreal were among those who few had major expectations for. Others, however, did let their markets down.
Here are the six teams that came wildly short of expectations.
Preseason points projection: 99.5
Actual pace: 86.7
Hey, maybe these were just my expectations. The egg is still firmly caked on my face after choosing the Islanders to win the Stanley Cup before the season. While it’s technically still possible that they squeeze into the postseason and make life miserable on someone, the Islanders are almost assuredly toast one season after making the conference finals, and realistically have been since wrapping up a 13-game road trip to begin the season.
Oh, the cost of a new arena.
Even then, the Islanders haven’t performed at the level expected at the start of the season at any point. Since Jan. 1, they are a respectable 23-16-3 – which is could be enough to crack the top half of the league, but not to erase the early-season deficit. They have also built that record on underlying data that would be considered clearly unsustainable.
Lou Lamoriello has received a ton of credit, mostly loudly from his peers, over the past few seasons. But the decisions to trade players like Devon Toews, investing long-term dollars into an aging core group, and extending rentals like Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Kyle Palmieri seem to be stacking up against the front office.
Preseason points projection: 92.5
Actual pace: 64.4
Chuck Fletcher wasn’t lacking ambition entering the season. Perhaps against better judgment, the Flyers were one of the most aggressive teams in the summer, trading for Rasmus Ristolainen and Ryan Ellis in a desperate effort to round out a defensive corps. The better of the two defenders – Ryan Ellis – has been limited to four games all season with injury, while Ristolainen has been a disaster, but managed to secure a long-term extension, anyway. Now there have been rumblings that the two best defenders on the roster despite the overall struggles – Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim – might be expendable. It’s a very strange world in Philly.
As bad as it is on the back end, however, Philadelphia’s forward group has become a mess as well. Signaling the end of an era, former captain Claude Giroux was traded from a collection of forwards making far too much money for too long. Behind that, it’s a group of young players and prospects who haven’t shown the type of progression one would expect.
There were signs before, but the Flyers seem completely disjointed now. That some had them competing in the Metropolitan Division is a major head-scratcher in retrospect.
Preseason points projection: 74.5
Actual pace: 68.9
The situation is still positive in Ottawa. This is a franchise on the rise, and with real meaningful building blocks in place. However it feels like this season shouldn’t have been a repeat of last, where the Senators started slow and came on by the midway mark. It’s a wonder why none of last season’s momentum carried over.
Part of it might have been the strange narrative entering the year. Tired of waiting, Pierre Dorion called the rebuild over, only to have to walk back those comments, tail between legs, following the disappointing start.
Still the expectation was that Ottawa would be more than a team showing signs in less than meaningful late-season games.
Next season was always more likely; just play it cool this time, Pierres.
Preseason points projection: 91.5
Actual pace: 69.1
It turns out they weren’t a few pieces away.
Chicago made waves in the offseason, trading and extending Seth Jones, and making a move for Marc-Andre Fleury before welcoming captain Jonathan Toews back into the mix. The moves marked a clear talent uptick, yet it wasn’t enough to move the needle for a group still lagging well behind in that department.
Now new GM Kyle Davidson seems prepared to take his time cleaning up the mess made by Stan Bowman in his predecessor’s attempts to rush through the ebb and flow.
Trading a cost-effective wonder like Brandon Hagel is a pretty clear indicator the new regime isn’t preparing to slam the non-competitive window shut.
Preseason points projection: 92.5
Actual pace: 58.6
Harsh? Yeah, maybe. But how could we not include the team that’s going to fall the farthest short from their projected points total?
Expansion team or not, there have been more disappointing elements than encouraging ones. The team has not grown into the season. Its splashy free agent continues to struggle. The first-ever captain already plays for another team.
It was never going to be Vegas, but the two stories don’t even share a smidge of overlap.
Vegas Golden Knights
Preseason points projection: 106.5
Actual pace: 93.5
There’s still hope for Vegas, yet. The Golden Knights are just a single point out of a postseason berth, but have played three more games than the Dallas Stars. The most attainable option seems to be the Pacific Division’s third seed, for which they are four points back of the Los Angeles Kings with 10 games to play.
Still, this team had a Presidents’ Trophy upside and risk missing the postseason for the first time in franchise history altogether.
How did it get to this point? It’s almost as though they wanted it too much. Yeah, we can quibble with the decision to trade for Evgenii Dadonov and more inconsequential rosters decisions.
But, in reality, in an effort to be great, the Golden Knights spread themselves too thin and became vulnerable. It was admirable, and still could be the path through, but the full-measures approach to being their best might be what undoes the Golden Knights.
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