By JD Lagrange – All teams have expectations at the start of a season and those vary based on several factors. Injuries and a bad season by key players are only a couple of examples of that. With the parity in the league now, it doesn’t take much to derail the hopes and dreams of a team and its fan base. Here’s a look at seven teams who didn’t live up to their hopes and the changes they’re facing.
1- Montreal Canadiens
After reaching the Stanley Cup finals last season, the Canadiens have lost Phillip Danault, Corey Perry and Eric Staal to free agency. They have also lost Jesperi Kotkaniemi to an offer-sheet and Shea Weber’s career might be over, he who hasn’t played a game since the finals. Carey Price, Joel Edmundson and Paul Byron missed most of the season and the team has shattered a record for man-games lost in a season. While they did sign free agents David Savard, Mike Hoffman, Mathieu Perreault, Cédric Paquette and Chris Wideman, the team had lost too much leadership in the off-season and to injuries to make up for the losses.
As a result, a team that was thought to be in the playoffs by most people has failed miserably, leading to the firing of General Manager Marc Bergevin and one of his assistants and long time amateur scouting expert Trevor Timmins. This firing led to the resignation of another assistant-GM Scott Melanby and eventually, the firing of head coach Dominique Ducharme.
Changes: By trade deadline, the Canadiens had traded four players: Tyler Toffoli is in Calgary, Ben Chiarot is in Florida, Artturi Lehkonen is helping Colorado while Brett Kulak is trying to earn a contract in Edmonton. Jeff Petry has been unhappy and has requested a trade a while ago, and new GM Kent Hughes will try to accommodate his request.
Off the current roster, Perreault, Paquette, Wideman, Tyler Pitlick and William Laggeson are pending UFAs. Rem Pitlick, Michael Pezzetta, Alexander Romanov, Kale Clague, Corey Schueneman and Samuel Montembeault are pending RFAs who will be needing a contract. Hughes still needs to shed some serious salary cap as the Canadiens have a projected $81.5 million cap with a roster of 17 players for next season.
2- New York Islanders
The Islanders had a .634 winning percentage a year ago, only losing four games all season on home ice. Them dropping to barely playing .500 hockey and missing the playoffs has to be a big disappointment for the organisation.
Their offense this season was led by two men for the most part: Brock Nelson had 36 goals and team captain Anders Lee managed 26. Nelson led the team with 58 points, followed by Mathew Barzal with 53 points. The Islanders need more offense as they finished the season 25th with 2.74 goals per game. They are one of the league’s best defensive teams, allowing 2.77 goals per game. Noah Dobson was a pleasant surprise on defense. The 22 year-old had a breakout season with 45 points while playing over 21 minutes a game.
Changes: Defensemen Zdeno Chara, Andy Greene and Sebastian Aho are the team’s only pending UFAs, while Dobson, Kieffer Bellows and Otto Koivula are pending RFAs. The Islanders have cap space and many feel like they’re not far off returning to the playoffs. Expect them to be players in the UFA market this summer.
3- Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers’ organization will be the first to say that them missing the playoffs was unexpected to say the least. So dropping into the bottom five teams in the entire NHL does not sit well with them. Flyers’ GM Chuck Fletcher raised some eyebrows not long ago saying that he wanted to retool and get back to the playoffs next season.
Cam Atkinson and Travis Konecny are the only two Flyers barely reaching the 50 points plateau. They have one of the worst offense and defense in the entire NHL and missing Sean Couturier and Ryan Ellis long term has not helped. Linus Högberg, Zack MacEwen, Morgan Frost and newly acquired Owen Tippett are pending RFAs while Martin Jones, Keith Yandle, Kevin Connauton, Nick Seller and Nate Thompson are pending UFAs.
Changes: It will be difficult to predict what Fletcher will do this summer. Many felt he would go with youth but you don’t get to the playoffs’ fast by doing it that way. Expect a few trades and for the Flyers to be aggressive on the UFA market this summer.
4- Vegas Golden Knights
Raise your hand if you thought that the Vegas Golden Knights would be missing the playoffs… (crickets). What a disappointment it must be for Sin City and their fans. For the rest of us, who feel like the NHL overdid it by tipping the scale so far, that an expansion team made it all the way to the Stanley Cup finals in its first year, we smile. We smile thinking of Gary Bettman’s face, imagining steam coming out of his ears…
According to capfriendly.com, the Golden Knights have a projected cap hit of $83 million on 18 players next season. Disgruntled goaltender Robin Lehner still has three years remaining at a $5M cap hit. Defenseman Zach Whitecloud is starting his new contract next season, going from $725,000 to $2.75M.
Changes: The only key pending UFA they have from their roster are Reilly Smith ($5M) Mattias Janmark ($2M). GM Kelly McCrimmon will have to be very creative shedding some salary as he has no less than eight players on his team with some sort of no-trade clauses.
5- Anaheim Ducks
The Ducks were up to a surprisingly good start. In fact, by the end of December, they were ninth overall in the standing with a .603 points percentage. But 2022 came around and everything changed. Since January 1st, Anaheim is the second worse team in the NHL with a .359 points percentage. Only the Philadelphia Flyers have a worse record (.296) in 2022.
The Ducks have a few great young players to build around. Troy Terry and his 36 goals is a prime example, as are Trevor Zegras and Jamie Drysdale.
Changes: Captain Ryan Getzlaf has announced that this was his final season. Thankfully for them, they have plenty of cap space to work with. According to capfriendly.com, the Ducks have just over $42 million invested in 12 players for next season. Ryan Kesler’s $6.875 million will also come off the LTIR books. Maxime Comtois has had a rough year and his name has been in rumours all season.
6- San Jose Sharks
Earlier this month, Sharks long time GM Doug Wilson announced his resignation after 19 years in San Jose. He is leaving his team in cap hell, with several heavy and long term contracts. If Habs’ fans are mad at Marc Bergevin for the few contracts he signed, they should look in San Jose.
They are also still paying $2.4 million next season and $2.9 million the following season for the Martin Jones buyout.
Changes: The Sharks’ new GM will have his work cut out for him. It is difficult to know what they will do exactly until a permanent GM is in place. It is not impossible to see one or two of the above-mentioned contracts being traded, although it won’t be an easy thing to do for some of them. They do have some cap flexibility next season.
7- Winnipeg Jets
The Jets have had this core for a while now and they just can’t seem to get over the hump. After being swept on four consecutive games at the hands of the Canadiens in last year’s playoffs, they were not close to making the playoffs this season.
Blake Wheeler, Kyle Connor, Mark Scheifele, Nikolaj Ehlers, Josh Morrisey, Nate Schmidt, Neal Pionk and goaltender Connor Hellebuyck all make over $5.8 million and Pierre-Luc Dubois ($5 million) is a pending RFA with arbitration rights. Then they have Adam Lowry ($3.25M), Brenden Dillon ($3.9M) and Dylan Demelo ($3M) all taking substantial cap space.
Changes: In his post-season meeting with the press, team captain Mark Scheifele was very non-comital to the organization, saying that he needs to know the direction management will be taking. I wouldn’t call them rumours yet, but there are rumblings that the Jets may not be able to afford Dubois’ new contract. Just last week, the Jets signed GM Kevin Cheveldayoff to a 3-year extension so the workload will be on his plate.
As history has shown, more teams will join the seven mentioned above, as premature playoffs’ exits are bound to happen. This being the first “normal” off-season since COVID started in 2020, teams will have more time to assess and address their needs. We are pretty much back to regular programming.