From the Anaheim Ducks to the Winnipeg Jets: October Grades for NHL Teams
The NHL has now finished the first month of the season. There are always two great things about October hockey—new players and time.
After a long off season, the fans, players, coaches and front offices finally get to see what they have. The long summer without hockey is done and players are racing up and down the ice. Everybody gets to check out the new offseason acquisitions, as well as whatever young guns have made the team.
Also, it is only October. If a team starts badly, the players still have a long time to make for it. Stanley Cup championships are not handed out for wins in October. In the same vein, no team is eliminated from the playoffs in October.
Of course, a good start is always an advantage. It is important to get the team in the right mindset—winning definitely helps that.
Grades, in October, are about more than just won-loss records. Remember math class? Your teacher wanted more than just the right answer, you also had to show your work. Along the same lines, NHL grades are based on the work so far.
After the first month of the season, it is time to grade each team.
Initially, Anaheim seemed to have put together a solid start to the season, with four wins in the first five games. Since then, the team has lost four out of five.
Corey Perry has been streaky to start the season. He followed a three-game goal scoring streak with a three-game assist streak. But he has been off the score sheet in the rest of the team’s games.
The ageless Teemu Selanne is showing that, at 41 years old, he still has plenty left. He leads the team with 10 points.
The team's defense has been decent—11th in goals against and 16th in penalty kills. Their goals for and power plays though, are both ranked in the bottom 10 of the league. Their faceoffs rank last in the league as well.
October Grade: While the wins were good, there have been too many areas of concern for the Ducks to earn a higher grade; the recent slide is very worrisome.
The defending Stanley Cup champions are far from achieving the level of play they had this past spring. They are last in the Eastern Conference, with only three wins in their first 10 games.
Tim Thomas has been good in the net and has given up only 2.14 goals per game. Unfortunately, the team can’t seem to score. They are ranked 26th, with an anemic 2.1 goals per game.
One bright spot has been the play of Tyler Seguin. After a solid rookie season, he was expected to take on a bigger role with the loss of Mark Recchi and Michael Ryder. He has stepped up nicely so far and leads the team in goals and assists. Sadly, he is the only weapon the team has at this point.
Thomas and Seguin are doing everything they can, but the rest of the team needs to step up.
October Grade: A hot goalie and scorer can carry a team through a playoff run, but not through an entire season. The Bruins are defending champs and they need to play like it.
The Sabres were busy in the offseason. They signed free agents Christian Ehrhoff and Ville Leino, as well as trading for Robyn Regehr.
The moves appear to have paid off as the Sabres have six wins in the first nine games. Ryan Miller has bounced back from an injury-plagued season that saw his game suffer. His goals-against average dropped from 2.59 to 2.01 so far this season.
The team does it all—they are sixth in points per game and fifth in goals against. That type of all-around team performance will help them come playoff time.
Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville are also among the league leaders.
October Grade: The team is doing it all right now. But the recent 1-3 slide suggests that they still need to learn how to finish games.
The Calgary Flames have been average at best. They have come back from a slow start and now sit around the .500 mark.
They are the epitome of a middle-of-the-road team; they don't do anything great and are not especially horrible at any facet of the game. In team rankings, the Flames generally can be found near the middle of the pack in goals for, goals against, penalty kills and power plays.
Team captain Jerome Iginla has had a slow start to the season. The team does have some promising depth and is willing to roll with all four of the lines. If Iginla can regain his form, Calgary should be able to improve its goal scoring.
Mikka Kiprusoff looks to have returned to his former stellar play. His 2.02 goals-against average bodes well for the team.
October Grade: The team has a hard time putting together a full game. There is some promise here, but that won't matter until it comes to fruition.
The Hurricanes currently sit fourth in the Southeast division. Their 4-4-3 record shows promise—but one has to wonder how they even have that many wins so far. They have given up more goals then they score; the special teams are not that good.
Despite a slow start by team leader Eric Staal, the Hurricanes have earned 11 points in their first 10 games. Caw Ward is playing solidly per usual, and is keeping the team in games.
Regardless of the stats, the team is getting wins. The big question is: are those stats an indicator of what the team really is? If so, a falloff is near. Perhaps the stats mean that they can still win despite struggles. They might be even better once they fully get going.
October Grade: This is a tough team to get a handle on. What is the real Hurricane team? Their point total means a higher grade, their stats say otherwise. In the end, it averages out.
The Chicago Blackhawks have won seven of their first 11 games and lead the Central divisions.
Their power play has not been good; they are ranked 27th in the league. Despite that, the team is fourth in goals per game. Their defense has been solid—they are among the league leader in goals against and penalty kills.
One question at the beginning of the season was whether goalie Corey Crawford could avoid the dreaded sophomore slump. While it is still early, so far he has played very well. His .921 save percentage and 2.19 goals-against average has helped steady the team.
The team is seeing solid play from several players. Last season, Chicago faltered after winning the Stanley Cup. Preseason predictions left them out of the Stanley Cup favorites. With they way they are playing however, they have been putting themselves into the conversation.
October Grade: The team still has talent left over from their 2010 Stanley Cup championship year. With strong goalie play, they should remain near the top.
Colorado has been a strange team. Despite winning seven times in their first 11 games, only one win has come at home.
Even stranger is that out of their four home games, two came against backup goalies. Despite playing against backups, the Avalanche have been outscored 11-6 at home this year.
There are two ways to look at their record: Worry about the ineffectiveness at home or be impressed with the play on the road. This is a young team—seven players on the roster are 23 or younger. For them to be able to play so well on the road is a positive.
Ryan O’Reilly (20), Paul Stastny (25), Erik Johnson (23) and Gabriel Landeskog (18) are the leaders of the youth movement and also lead the team in points.
October Grade: The young guns have been impressive, but can they keep it up? They will need to learn to play at home.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Columbus has been a disappointing team so far this season.
After a busy offseason—in which they brought in Jeff Carter, James Wisniewski, Vinny Prospal and Radek Martinek—the team fell flat on their face and lost their first eight games. They finished the month with only two wins.
Of their offseason acquisitions, only Prospal has really helped the team. His five goals and five assists lead the now. Carter and Martinek have missed games due to injury and have had a difficult time getting up to speed.
Wisniewski started the season serving an eight-game suspension. The team won a game when he came back, but then lost their next two.
It appears that it is time to declare goalie Steve Mason a one-hit wonder. After a remarkable, Calder Trophy-winning rookie season, he has been one of the worst starting goalies in the league.
After 33 wins and 10 shutouts that first season, Mason has 45 wins and eight shutouts in the two-plus seasons since. With his goals-against average sitting at 3.11—and a lowly save percentage of .890—he is not helping his team.
October Grade: When the goalie can’t stop anything, and the players you are counting on are injured, your team is in trouble. A team in a division with Detroit and Chicago cannot fall this far behind.
Dallas, like a few teams, is looking to forget a collapse from last season.
The Stars led the Pacific division midway through last season only to see bad play and the injury bug wreck their chances. They would end up falling to last in the division and would miss the playoffs when they could not win their last game.
The offseason saw superstar Brad Richards leave via free agency. The team brought in Adam Pardy, Michael Ryder, Eric Godard, Jake Dowell, Radek Dvorak, Sheldon Souray and Vernon Fiddler. The thinking seemed to be that many players were better than one great player.
So far it has worked for them. The Stars have won eight of their first 11 games.
They are good defensively, but rank in the bottom half of the league offensively. Loui Eriksson has been their only solid goal scorer so far this year. That will need to change if they are to maintain their position.
October Grade: Goalie Kari Lehtonen has been impressive, but can he continue to hold up the disappearing offense?
Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings have had an odd schedule to start the season. It is not often you see a bye week in hockey, but that is essentially what it was when the Wings had six days off between games. They have played a league-low nine games.
They started fast, winning their first five games. Then a blowout loss to the Capitals sent them into a tailspin. They gave Columbus the Avalanche's first win of the season, then lost to San Jose and Minnesota to round out a four-game losing streak.
Jimmy Howard has been great in net, allowing only 1.82 goals per game. Backup goalie Ty Conklin has played in two of the four losses.
The goal of bringing in Conklin was to give Howard a solid backup. Conklin will need to improve his play or Howard will see another marathon season.
One area of concern was Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. Neither of them has played up to their usual greatness; Zetterberg has especially struggled.
Jiri Hudler started the season on fire, with a point in each of the team’s first four games. However, he has zero points since then.
October Grade: The defense is playing better than last year and it is only a matter of time before Datsyuk and Zetterberg go off…right?
The Oilers have been a surprise team. They have scored at least one point in nine of their 11 games. After finishing last in the league for the past two seasons, they now sit at the top of the Western Conference.
The team is all about defense and ranks first in the league in goals against. Devan Dubnyk and Nikolai Khabibulin have split time in net and both have played well.
The team has a nice mix of youth and veterans. At 18 years old, rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins leads the Oilers in goals, while 21-year-old Jordan Eberle leads in points and assists. Meanwhile, veterans Ryan Smyth and Shawn Horcoff have also played well.
The main concern about this team is their complete lack of offense. At 2.2, they rank near the bottom in goals per game. More players will need to find the back of the net if the Oilers are to continue their hot streak.
October Grade: You are playing with fire when you expect the goalie to stand on his head in every game. The team's record deserves an A, but the horrific offense makes this look like a short-lived run
Hockey hasn’t been fun in Florida for many years now. This year though, there is some hope. The Panthers have had a solid start and have won six out of 11 games.
The Panthers added many new players in the offseason. One of those players, Kris Versteeg, leads the team in goals and points. Another, Brian Campbell, has helped solidify the defense and leads the team in assists.
Jose Theodore and Jacob Markstrom have both been in net for the team. Theodore has one shutout in six games while posting 2.53 goals against. Markstrom has posted 2.11 goals against in his four games. Between them, they have the team ranked 17th in goals against.
This is still very much a middle-of-the-pack team, but based on the team’s history, that is an improvement.
October Grade: The team gets a plus for exceeding the bar set in past seasons.
Los Angeles Kings
The Kings have scored in eight of 11 games. They are top 10 in both ends of the power play, but their offense is in the bottom 10 for goals scored.
Although not a high-scoring team, they do have depth. Five players have already scored at least three goals.
The big story is Jonathan Quick and his play in the net. He has played in nine games—putting up shutouts in three of them. He has a 1.52 goals-against average and a .950 save percentage.
The team went into the season hoping for a more consistent presence from Jack Johnson; so far he has not disappointed. Offseason additions of Mike Richards and Simon Gagne have paid off as well.
October Grade: The team is trying to move from the rebuilding stage to possible contender. They are off to a good start.
Minnesota has been known for a slow, deliberate style of play for many seasons. They do not score or give up too many goals.
During the offseason though, they tried to change that by bringing in Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi. They hoped these two players would jump start the team’s offense.
Heatley and Setoguchi—along with Mikko Koivu and Matt Cullen—are the only scoring threats for the team. The Wild need other players to step up.
Defensively, they are still a very good team as they give up less than two goals per game. They have points in seven of 11 games, but only four of those have been wins.
October Grade: While single points for overtime losses will not secure a playoff win, it does show that this team is in most games. Now they need to turn those close games into wins.
The Canadiens had a slow start and a 1-5-2 record, but have won their last three games.
The team was expecting Erik Cole to play a bigger role this season and live up to his contract. After a very slow start, he has picked up his pace in the past couple of games. The team needs him to continue in that role.
One bright spot for the team has been the return of Max Pacioretty. Pacioretty had a season-ending concussion following last year's hit from Zdeno Chara. He has bounced back nicely with four goals and five assists.
Carey Price has not been his usual sharp self; while his playing is not bad, he is a little bit off of his pace from last season.
October Grade: The team ranks at or near in the bottom half of the league in all major categories. The fact that they have managed to get at least one point in six of 11 games is a surprise.
Nashville entered the season with lots of hope. Last year, they finally won their first postseason series. They started the season with two wins, but then dropped their next five out of six.
Mike Fisher missed the first seven games of the season while he was recovering from surgery. In only two games, he has already moved up to fourth in team scoring.
While Fisher's two goals and two assists are a great start, it also shows how underachieving the rest of the team has been.
October Grade: No team with Pekka Rinne should be in the bottom half of the league in goals against. The Predators sit 21st and have given up more goals than they score.
New Jersey Devils
The Devils are a middle-of-the-road team. They are 4-4-1, with two of those wins coming in shootouts.
Zach Parise has played well—scoring four goals and five points. Patrik Elias has been scoring as well. After those two though, the scoring is sporadic; the team ranks 27th in goals per game.
Martin Brodeur has only played in two games due to injury. Johan Hedberg has played in his place and has done well. His 2.28 goals-against average and .920 save percentage has kept the team in games.
October Grade: You have to score to win and this team just does not score enough. It is surprising that they have as many wins as they do.
New York Islanders
The Isles started out 3-1, only to lose their next five games. They have bounced between goalies Evgeni Nabokov, Rick DiPietro and Al Montoya.
The goalie swap has worked, as the team is 10th in goals allowed. Unfortunately, they cannot seem to swap enough players to get their anemic offense going. John Tavares seems to be their only offensive weapon; the team scores just two goals a game.
October Grade: Unless this team can start scoring, they will remain near the bottom of the league.
New York Rangers
Due to renovation work on Madison Square Garden, the Rangers started the season with a seven-game road trip. All three of their wins were on the road. They were able to get a point in three of their six losses by forcing an overtime.
Defensively, they have been as expected. Henrik Lundqvist has a .930 save percentage and 2.14 goals-against average. Lundqvist's numbers have helped the Rangers maintain the league's sixth best goals-against average.
The offense though, is nowhere to be found. The Rangers won the free agent lottery when Brad Richards signed with the team. He started slowly, with one goal in eight games; a two-goal outburst against Ottawa will hopefully get him going.
Only Marian Gaborik has been able to score with any regularity.
October Grade: This team should be able to score. Once they wake up from their offensive slumber, they should be all right. It'll be interesting to see what effect Sean Avery has on the team.
Not much was expected from the Senators this season, as they have gone through a major roster overhaul. Yet here they are, 14 points after 10 games and second in the Northeast division.
Daniel Alfredsson has come back from an injury from last season and already has seven points. Jason Spezza, Milan Michalek and Erik Karlsson are each in double digits for points. They have joined Alfredsson as the veterans leading the team.
The team can score, but they can’t stop anybody. They have the worse goals-against average in the league. They have already given up at least five goals in five of their games. Despite being fifth in goals scored, they have the third worst goal differential in the league.
Things got worse for the Senators when Peter Regin was injured after playing in only five games. He will be out for roughly two months, which throws some instability into this lineup.
October Grade: One positive is that this team does not quit. They have twice won a game by scoring a goal with less than five seconds left on the clock.
The Flyers were busy in the offseason and traded away several key players. The hope was that these moves would help them win their first Stanley Cup since 1975.
This was a team that was third in scoring last season. However, since the team let go of so many of the scorers in the offseason, many have wondered how much the scoring would suffer.
So far it hasn’t. The Flyers are second in goals per game and seventh in the power play.
Their defense is hurting. The trade for Ilya Bryzgalov has been a bust so far. He has given up at least four goals in six games this season, including the last three in a row. His goals-against average has ballooned up to 3.16, but he has only stopped .880 percent of the shots he has faced.
On the plus side, Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell and Danny Briere have taken up the offensive slack. They have combined for 15 goals and 20 assists so far this season. Jaromir Jagr has made a successful return to the league and already has 11 points on the season.
October Grade: Their offense prowess versus defense struggle was evident in the 9-8 loss to Winnipeg. With Chris Pronger out with an injury, the defensive problems will likely continue.
With Ed Jovanovski and Ilya Bryzgalov no longer on the team, the Coyotes were looking to fill some holes. As expected, Shane Doan, Ray Whitney and Martin Hanzal have led the offensive charge, while Keith Yandle has held down the blue line.
Although not usually a high scoring team, the Coyotes have vaulted to fifth in goals per game. Their defense has lapsed though, as they sit 21st in the league for goals allowed.
New goalie Mike Smith has been solid, but nothing special. After giving up six goals in his first game, he has settled down and has only allowed four goals in his next four games.
The team is 5-3-2 with 12 points.
October Grade: If the goal play can continue to improve, then the team could make a run in the tight Pacific division.
The Penguins proved that they are more than just two players last year when they played the last half of the season with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Despite losing in the first round of the playoffs, they had a surprisingly strong finish to the regular season.
Crosby is still out, but the team has not needed him. James Neal has scored nine goals already to lead the league. Jordan Staal and Kris Letang have continued their strong play to help lead the team.
Marc-Andre Fleury has been great in goal, posting one shutout and a 1.86 GAA. Backup goalie Brent Johnson has shown in his four games that he is more than capable.
The solid offense and strong defense has helped to catapult the team to the best record in the league; the Penguins earned eight wins and 18 points in October.
October Grade: As well as the team has played, one has to wonder what effect Crosby will have when (or if) he returns.
San Jose Sharks
The Sharks started the season 1-3, but turned it around with an impressive five-game winning streak on the road.
The Sharks are one of two teams where the regular season numbers do not matter that much. It is all about a Stanley Cup for them. After years of not making the finals, they believe that they have what it takes this season.
Martin Havlat was brought in during the offseason and, despite only playing in five games, he already has five points. Joe Pavelski has started hot, with seven goals in nine games. The rest of the team plays solid on both ends of the ice.
Antti Niemi has played well in net. His 2.18 GAA and .920 save percentage have helped put the team in eighth place for average goals allowed. Combined this with a solid defense and the Sharks have a good team.
October Grade: The five-game winning streak is impressive and quickly erased memories of the three-game losing streak that started the season.
St Louis Blues
St. Louis was expected to be in the mix for a playoff spot this season. After years of adding young players, the team has mixed in veteran players Jason Arnott, Scott Nichol and Jamie Langenbrunner to add leadership and depth this year.
The special teams are doing badly; they can’t score on the power play and they rank last in the league. They also can’t seem to stop anybody on the power play and rank 28th in penalty kills.
The main issue right now for the Blues is goaltending. Jaroslav Halak was supposed to be the clear-cut starter. He has not lived up to expectations though, and now seems to be fighting for his spot.
Backup goalie Brian Elliott has outplayed Halak. Halak owns a 1-5 record with a 3.58 GAA and .840 save percentage, while Elliott is 4-1 with a 1.67 GAA and a .940 save percentage.
Elliott had started four straight games; the team won three of those games. Halak started the last game and the Blues lost 4-2. But Elliott has never seen this kind of success in his career. So is it just a flash in the pan or has he developed into a starting goalie?
Alex Steen has been very good for the team. He leads the players with six goals and has scored a point in eight of 11 games. Jason Arnott seems to be rejuvenated with his new team and is also off to a good start.
Hopefully, it's only a matter of weeks before David Perron returns to the team. If he and Andy McDonald can return quickly, it will certainly give the team a boost.
October Grade: This is a different team right now depending on who is in net.
Tampa Bay Lightning
If you like high scoring games, then Tampa is the place to be.
The Lightning are one of the top scoring teams in the league—but they can’t seem to stop anyone, either. Combined with their opponents, they play in some of the highest scoring games in the league.
Steven Stamkos is a scoring machine, but he is not alone. Martin St Louis, Vincent Lecavalier, Ryan Malone and Teddy Purcell make this a potent lineup.
Marc-Andre Bergeron serves as a great QB with his ability to quickly set up plays for his shot makers.
The team has bounced between goalies Dwayne Roloson and Mathieu Garon, with Garon playing better statistically. The team plays differently with each in net. Despite Garon being well over a goal per game better than Roloson in net, the team scores much less often when he plays.
When Roloson is in net, the team averages roughly a half a goal more per game. It is early still, but it will be interesting to see if that is just a statistical anomaly or a sign of bigger issues.
October Grade: The expectations are high for this team, but the sluggish start is not good.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs, the Chicago Cubs of hockey, have had a strong start to the season.
They were the fourth-best team in the east during the second half of last season. Their slow start was too much for them to overcome though, and they missed the playoffs. But they have been able to carry their momentum into the new season and the team has won seven of 11 games.
How they have started that well is a bit of a mystery—they give up just as much as they score. This means that they have a lot of one-goal games (seven so far). They have won five of those, which can be seen as good sign for the team in that they know they can win tight games.
Phil Kessel is leading the league in goals, while Dion Phaneuf is among the highest scoring defensemen. This has pushed the team up to third in the league in goals.
If their defense can settle down, the team will be in the mix all season.
The starting goaltender, James Reimer, had only one loss, which came in overtime. He was injured in his sixth game, which put Jonas Gustavsson in the net.
While Gustavsson has put together a winning record at 3-3, his goals-against average is a worrisome 3.72. Reimer is scheduled to return to start in November and that should give the team a boost.
October Grade: This is a team that people just expect the bottom to fall out on. Will this year be different?
Like San Jose, the regular season does not mean much to the Canucks. They are all about the postseason and erasing the past.
After dominating the regular season last year, the Canucks struggled during the playoffs. They lost the last two games of the finals and handed the Stanley Cup to Boston.
The team has started out flat this season. While the regular season is not as important, they do need to play well to repair their psyche after last season’s disaster. Their defense has been nowhere near as dominating as last year’s team and they have fallen to 23rd in the league.
Chris Higgins is not known as a big scorer, but he leads the team with five goals. That is a surprise. One would expect either Kessler or either of the Sedin brothers to be leading the team. Both Sedins are right there on the stat sheet. Kessler is coming back from an injury and has only played in six games.
Of all of the players that need a good start to erase last season, goalie Roberto Luongo may need it the most. He has not been playing well. His 3-3-1 record is lucky—he has only stopped .870 percent of his shots and has a 3.54 GAA. Backup goalie Cory Schneider has a 2-2 record, but with a 1.97 GAA and .930 save percentage.
October Grade: The defense is hit and miss. They have been shut out three times already, yet are third in goals.
The Capitals were the last undefeated team in the league this year. They rattled off seven wins to start the season, but ended the month with two road losses. They finished with a 7-2 record.
The team has had a quality goaltender in young Michal Neuvirth and added Tomas Vokoun in the offseason. The move has worked—Vokoun has six of the team's wins, a .930 save percentage and a 2.15 GAA.
Alex Ovechkin has played like his usual superstar self. Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson have put together solid starts as well.
The Capital's scoring comes from everywhere; 10 players have at least two goals in nine games. This has vaulted the team to the top in terms of their goals-scored average.
October Grade: The team has been very good in all areas of the game. Is this two-game losing streak just a small bump in the road?
Welcome back to the league, Winnipeg. Sorry that your team stinks.
Most of the blame falls on the Winnipeg offense; only Boston and Columbus have fewer points so far this season.
The team has either not scored or only scored once per game in six of 11 games. A nine goal outburst in a win against Philadelphia has made their offensive players look better than they really are. Take away that one game and this team averages less than two goals per game.
Alexander Burmistrov and Nik Antropov have been a couple of rare bright spots for the team so far.
October Grade: Unless they can find that magic of that nine goal game a little more often, the Jets are in for a long, long season.