NHL

Weekend NHL rankings: 5 big-name busts, the Islanders are back, and a new bottom team

Weekend NHL rankings: 5 big-name busts, the Islanders are back, and a new bottom team

Weekend NHL rankings: 5 big-name busts, the Islanders are back, and a new bottom team

We’re five weeks into the season. How’s your team’s big summer acquisition doing?

No, it’s OK, you can pass judgment now. It’s still too early, so you could absolutely be wrong, but you won’t seem ridiculous for it like you would have after three games. You’re fine. Sit on your couch with a bowl of chips on your lap and scream “not good enough!” at your TV, it’s what fans are supposed to do.

The 2022 offseason was a fun one, with an unusually long list of big names switching teams. Some of those have worked out, with guys like Matthew Tkachuk, Johnny Gaudreau, Kevin Fiala, Kirby Dach, Ville Husso and others all at least living up to expectations. But other teams are still waiting for their return on investment to kick in. Let’s make that today’s bonus five.

Top five big offseason acquisitions that have been kind of a bust so far

5. Oliver Bjorkstrand, Seattle — The Kraken have been a nice early season story, and any negativity has mostly focused on the weird Shane Wright drama. Still, it’s worth noting that Bjorkstrand hasn’t really done much yet. That trade felt like a nice piece of work by Ron Francis, taking advantage of another team’s cap crunch to get a good player cheap. There’s lots of time for it to work out that way, but one goal so far from a guy who pushed 30 last year is a letdown.

4. John Klingberg, Anaheim — Nobody looks good on the Ducks right now, and it’s not like they had to give up anything to get Klingberg. But it’s fair to say he’s been just OK so far, with no goals and just four primary assists while posting lousy possession numbers. All of that has at least something to do with the lack of talent around him, but if you’re a Ducks fan and hoping that Klingberg would turn into the must-have rental target of the trade deadline, you haven’t seen much yet.

3. Alex DeBrincat, Ottawa — The star whose arrival signaled the beginning of Hot Pierre Summer had been pretty cold until Saturday. Coming off a 41-goal season, he had just two on the year, and one of those was into an empty net. Was he bad now? No, he was unlucky, shooting under four percent after being over 15 percent in five years in Chicago, and all the smart people knew the breakout was coming. Sure enough, he potted two against the Flyers, so maybe we can already put this one in the past tense. If not, the question might be how much money he costs himself while we wait.

2. Jonathan Huberdeau, CalgaryHe has just one goal on the year, and like DeBrincat that’s largely just bad luck. But he’s primarily a playmaker, and that hasn’t been clicking either, with just five assists on the year. A big part of Calgary’s success last year was the chemistry on the top line, and for whatever reason, Huberdeau hasn’t been able to replicate that yet. The Flames will need it to happen once he returns to the lineup.

1. Jack Campbell, Edmonton — I’m not sure there was much suspense here. Campbell has had some very rough nights so far, and this week’s disaster in Carolina dropped his save percentage on the year to an awful .873. It’s been bad, and Campbell knows it, calling his own play “pathetic” last week. That was before he got shelled for seven goals, by the way. The Oilers thought they’d finally found their long-term answer in goal when they landed Campbell in free agency. Now they’re locked in for five years, so there are some nervous times in Edmonton right now.

Honorable mention: Alex Stalock and Petr Mrazek, Chicago — You guys were brought in to do a job and you’re not doing it. Smarten up.

On to the top and bottom five, including one spot I just can’t figure out.


Road to the Cup

The five teams with the best chances of winning the Stanley Cup.

5. Pass — Can we just make it a top four?

That would be easy, as there’s one team in each division that I’m completely sold on. We can haggle over the order, but all four pretty clearly belong.

The five-spot, though? No idea. We’re basically stuck between two options: A preseason favorite that’s looked underwhelming, or a surprise team with a better record that may or may not hold up. The obvious pick from that second group would be the Devils, who have the league’s third-best win percentage and fantastic underlying numbers to back it up. But remember, this is about the five teams that are most likely to win the Cup. Are we really saying that the Devils are already there? The team with Vitek Vanecek and Mackenzie Blackwood in goal, one year removed from a 63-point season, is a top-five Cup favorite? I’m honestly not sure, and the Devils did crack the top five in the Other Rankings this week. But I’d rather be too slow than too fast, so I’m holding off on New Jersey for another week.

This was pretty fantastic, though. I wasn’t the only one who was wrong about the Devils in Week 1!

So what about the Jets? That’s an ever tougher sell than the Devils, although if you believe that the old Connor Hellebuyck is back then you could make the case. Dallas? I explained my reluctance last week, and they responded with a pair of losses before getting back on track against the Flyers. I’m obviously not going to trust a team like Detroit or Seattle any time soon.

So that leaves us with the preseason favorites. But the Rangers and Leafs haven’t been anywhere near consistent enough. Neither have the Wild or Oilers. The Flames look awful. And last week’s “safe” pick, the Lightning, had lost two straight before beating up the Capitals last night.

I hate it here.

5. Florida Panthers (8-6-1, +1 true goals differential*) — Nobody’s going to like this pick. I don’t like this pick. But they did shut out the Hurricanes this week, which was impressive. They also lost to the Oilers on Saturday, so who knows? In the end, I’m going with the team that’s coming off a 120-point season, even as they’re still trying to find their feet. They just got Aaron Ekblad back from injury, so they’ve got that going for them.

Can’t wait to watch them go 0-for-4 this week, including a 12-1 loss to the Blue Jackets.

4. Vegas Golden Knights (13-3-0, +22) — Jack Eichel posting a hat trick in Buffalo (and making sure the fans knew about it) was some A+ villain stuff. That’s a compliment, by the way. Look, if you’re going to turn your heel on the franchise you were supposed to save, at least embrace the role. Really twist the knife. Solid work by Eichel here.

But then they lost to the Blues, and nobody loses to the Blues. Sorry guys, no promotion for you.

3. Carolina Hurricanes (9-5-1, +2) — They’ve lost three of four, for the second time this season. Last time, they followed that stumble with four straight wins, and they’ve got a chance to get right tonight against the Hawks.

2. Boston Bruins (14-2-0, +29) — The fallout from the Mitchell Miller debacle continues, with the heart-breaking details from victim Isaiah Meyer-Crothers making the Bruins look even worse. But on the ice, the news has been all good, with Charlie McAvoy back in the lineup and four straight wins.

1. Colorado Avalanche (8-4-1, +13) — I get that my insistence on keeping the Avs in the top spot despite a middling record has been infuriating for a few of you, especially those that have somehow missed the three dozen disclaimers about this being a long-term view. For the record, I’d just like to point out that The Athletic’s hockey crew agrees with me … kind of. They still have the Avs in the top spot for their Cup picks, although they’re tied with the Hurricanes. Luckily for us, those two teams faced each other on Saturday, and the Avs won. Oh hey, look who’s back in first in their division, how interesting.

*Goals differential without counting shootout decisions like the NHL does for some reason.

Not ranked: New York Islanders So let me get this straight, it’s maybe a good thing when you get to play some home games before March?

OK, the Islanders didn’t have to stay on the road quite that long last year. And their season-opening 13-game road trip (while construction finished on their new rink) was far from their only issue, especially since they kept losing once UBS Arena was ready. Last year’s Islanders were just bad. The question was whether it was an outlier or a new normal, especially after Lou Lamoriello fired the best coach in the league and then basically took the rest of the offseason off.

So far, it’s fair to say the needle is drifting toward “outlier.” It’s been dicey at times, with a few big comeback wins mixed in. Those remain rare in today’s NHL, so you could call it a bit of record-boosting good luck. You could also call it an identity, as a team that a lot of us had written off refuses to back down, even against contenders like the Flames and Rangers.

Maybe the biggest story is that the Lane Lambert version of this team doesn’t look all that different from the best of the Barry Trotz era. They’re hard to score on, with good penalty killing and excellent goaltending from Ilya Sorokin. They score more than you think they do, with two top lines that can hurt you. They grind. And so far, they beat good teams, including the Avs and Hurricanes.

Then they lose to the Coyotes and you wonder a bit. But only a bit. With both Washington and Pittsburgh showing signs of closing windows, the path to a Metro playoff spot is looking clearer than we’d thought it would be. And remember, as bad as last season was, the Islanders still finished the year with 84 points, good for the ninth spot in the East. If that’s the worst-case scenario for this group, then the door is open for at least a postseason return.


The bottom five

The five teams that are headed toward dead last, and the best lottery odds for Connor Bedard.

It was Hall of Fame weekend in Toronto, leading up to tonight’s induction of Herb Carnegie, Roberto Luongo, Riikka Sallinen, Daniel Alfredsson and the Sedin twins. But the highlight of the weekend, and maybe the season so far, was this moment on Saturday:

The legendary defenseman had also appeared the night before, sharing an emotional moment with Darryl Sittler. Salming is battling ALS, and is no longer able to speak, and this was an opportunity for Toronto fans and the hockey world to express how much he’s meant to them. If you’re not familiar with Salming’s career and his place in hockey history, this piece is a good place to start. Keep fighting Borje, we’re all with you.

5. Vancouver Canucks (4-9-3, -12) — It’s a week of change in the bottom five, with a new team in the one-spot and the Canucks joining the ranks for the first time. That means no more Montreal, who drop off the list for the first time while continuing to churn along over .500.

The Canucks can only wish they could reach those heights, with three straight regulation losses burying them even further down the standings. A coaching change feels inevitable here, and it’s hard not to feel awful for Bruce Boudreau, stuck with a bad roster and a team president who seems to want to publicly shiv him at every opportunity.

Meanwhile, Drance lays out the case for a nobody-is-untouchable rebuild, contrasting the current Canucks plan to that of the Habs team they just replaced here.

4. San Jose Sharks (5-9-3, -11) — One of the feel-good stories of the first month was how rarely hockey fans had to endure a shootout. There have only been 11 all year, which is 11 too many but not too bad. But the Sharks account for four of them, including last night’s win over the Wild that saw them come back after being down 2-0 with six minutes left in regulation. What I’m trying to say is: Knock it off, San Jose.

3. Anaheim Ducks (4-10-1, -27) — Three losses, all in regulation, and 12 more goals against to add to their league-leading total. It’s bad. Oh well, at least Trevor Zegras is still scoring highlight-reel goals that don’t count because of one of the dumbest rules in sports.

2. Arizona Coyotes (6-8-1, -14) — For what it’s worth, our writers still think the Coyotes are the favorite to finish dead last. But that came before some injury news broke, so at the risk of getting out over my skis a little bit, I’m giving top spot to …

1. Columbus Blue Jackets (4-9-1, -23) — With Zach Werenski out for the year, I’ve seen enough. This season is officially a write-off for the Blue Jackets, and that means they should fire up the tank. They’ve already got lousy goaltending, and losing one of their best players means they can do what needs to be done with a clear conscience.

Not ranked: Calgary Flames — I didn’t give any serious thought to putting them in the bottom five, and won’t for a long time. But the fact that we’re even talking about them way down here is pretty incredible. I had them in the top five in each of the season’s first three weeks, and sure, I’m bad at this. But heading into the last week of October, the Flames were 5-1-0 and had already beaten the Avs, Oilers, Knights, Hurricanes and Penguins.

Then they lost seven in a row, a streak they finally snapped on Saturday with a win over the Jets.

I don’t get it. I’m not even sure where to start. Like just about every surprising NHL result, you can instinctively point to the goaltending, and it’s true that Jacob Markstrom has been bad. But why? He’s a good goaltender, and Darryl Sutter knows how to put a defensive system in place, so you think they could get a few saves.

They also can’t score, which is maybe a little less surprising but not by much given the talent that’s here. The special teams have been just OK. They look sloppy, which has never been a Sutter thing. They’re capped out and injuries haven’t helped, as Julian points out, and maybe it’s partly a chemistry thing after one of the most hectic offseasons in recent history.

But even when you add all of that up, the Flames’ losing streak didn’t make sense. They should be too good to lose this often, and I’m really not sure where they go from here. Sutter has a new extension, so you’d think he’s safe. Do you make a big trade if you’re Brad Treliving, especially after all that offseason chaos? Maybe the answer is that you just relax and trust the process, knowing you’re only a few points out of a playoff spot.

That’s probably the route I would take, but it wouldn’t be with much confidence. Flames fans, help me out, what’s happening here?

(Top photo of Blue Jackets coach Brad Larsen: Bruce Bennett / Getty Images)





#Weekend #NHL #rankings #bigname #busts #Islanders #bottom #team

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