The Top 5 Worst Decisions from the 2021-22 NHL Season
When looking back on past seasons, it's always easy to pick out the high points and shrewd moves and reminisce about the fun and excitement that played out. All of that is especially true for Colorado Avalanche fans right now.
However, not every team is the Avalanche. Looking back at this past season, many fans can just as easily dredge up painful memories of missed opportunities, frustrating decisions and the gut-wrenching losses that resulted from them. For some teams, those squander chances last season could have ripple effects for years to come.
How general managers and coaches handle their rosters can make all the difference between making or missing the playoffs, or becoming an annual contender for the Stanley Cup as opposed to lottery team. While we love to praise the best moves, ruminating over the poor ones can serve as a valuable lesson of what not to do when team-building.
With that said, some mistakes are bigger than others, and that's where we'll focus our attention as we look back at the five worst decisions of the 2021-2022 season.
Blackhawks Continue Hanging on to the Past, Delay Rebuild
To say that things have been rough for the Chicago Blackhawks over the past few seasons would be a vast understatement. The once-dominant Hawks have missed the playoffs in four of the past five seasons, and that one appearance came during the pandemic-shortened season in 2020 in which the field was expanded to 24 teams (Chicago was No. 23).
Despite all of that, they've acted like they must rebuild on the fly while they’ve still got Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Although new GM Kyle Davidson is getting things back on track with a purpose, former GM Stan Bowman was still hanging onto the glory days by trying to continue to build around Toews and Kane—each in their mid-30s now—while the rest of the roster crumbled around them.
Heading into the 2021-22 season, Bowman traded two first-round picks and a second-round selection to Columbus for defenseman Seth Jones. To the team's credit, Jones did well this season while playing a ton of minutes. Still, the Blackhawks wound up with the third-worst record in the Western Conference, and a bottom-dwelling team giving up picks is great way of staying there for a long time.
Letting go of a dynasty is hard, especially when there are great memories attached to popular players, but that's why the GM position is difficult. Toews and Kane won't be part of the next great Blackhawks teams, and hanging onto them through last season's trade deadline—though Davidson was still only a month into his tenure—will only make the rebuild take longer.
Golden Knights Further Mortgage the Future Trading for Jack Eichel
In the NHL, there's always a sky-high premium put on winning, but in classic Las Vegas style, the Golden Knights take their drive to win to another level. Since advancing to the Stanley Cup Final in their first season, the bar has been forever set.
As a recent expansion franchise, though, they don't have a lot of prospects in the pipeline. After trading picks to add experienced players each of the past couple seasons, they're running even lower on young talent. That's why last season's move to acquire Jack Eichel from the Buffalo Sabres was so startling.
Vegas was beset by injuries to key players all season, and giving up Alex Tuch, Peyton Krebs, and a first-round pick for an elite player coming off an artificial disk replacement further raised eyebrows.
By the time Eichel was ready to play after rehabbing his neck, star forward Mark Stone was done for the season (back surgery). Additionally, goalie Robin Lehner played only 44 games thanks to separate lower and upper body injuries, and Max Pacioretty was held to 39 games because of various ailments.
The Golden Knights were so cap-strapped that making any moves was nearly impossible, not that they had to depth to overcome that spate of injuries, anyway.
In the end, the Knights missed the postseason for the first time in their existence, which cost Pete DeBoer his job as coach. They then traded Pacioretty to Carolina this summer for "future considerations" to free up salary space, and they added Shea Weber’s contract to give them long-term injured reserve relief to get under the cap this season.
Adding Eichel didn’t derail their 2021-22 season–and it may work out in the end–but the trade was just another example of how Vegas is selling out its future to win right now. Eventually, that will catch up to them.
Ottawa Senators GM Declares Rebuild Is Over; Team Finishes 26th in NHL
Senators GM Pierre Dorion has had to deal with a lot during his tenure in Canada's capital city. The team has been run on a tight budget, its luck in developing prospects has been hot and cold and some of its trades -- IE the Matt Murray trade -- have been dubious to say the least.
But after four straight seasons out of the playoffs and following the additions of Brady Tkachuk and Tim Stützle as star forwards to go along with young defenseman Thomas Chabot, Dorion declared "the rebuild is done" at the outset of the season.
Time to plan the parade? Not just yet.
Ottawa's .445 points percentage in 2021-2022 was their second-highest mark since their last playoff season in 2016-2017. The catch? The best mark came in 2020-2021 at .455, so they actually moved backward this past season.
The Senators' offense was a major issue, as they were 25th in the NHL in scoring. Outside of Tkachuk (67 points), Stützle (58), Josh Norris (55 goals), and Drake Batherson (44, who missed 36 games with injury) there was no scoring depth. No other player cracked 40 points, and only three had more than 30.
Flyers Trade For, Extend Rasmus Ristolainen
If there's a common truth about the Philadelphia Flyers, it's that they're always on the hunt for the next big, bruising, game-changing defenseman. Since Chris Pronger's career ended in 2011, they've consistently tried to land the next big defenseman. Their choice last summer was Rasmus Ristolainen.
The Flyers traded their first-round pick in the 2021 draft (14th overall) and more to Buffalo to acquire the 6'4", 220-pound Ristolainen. At that point, they likely felt their days of fretting over who would lay the body on the back end were over. While the Flyers focused on Ristolainen’s physical attributes and his hit and point totals, the deeper statistics told a very different story.
From 2018-2021, Ristolainen had the 11th-worst expected goal percentage among defensemen with 2,500 or more minutes played in 5-on-5 scenarios (46.3 percent, via NaturalStatTrick.com), and he also had the fifth worst CorsiFor percentage (46.3). In short, despite playing tons of minutes (nearly 18 minutes per game at 5-on-5 alone) he struggled to possess the puck regularly and was on ice for more quality scoring chances allowed than produced.
Despite those numbers and along with some other struggles at the start of his Flyers tenure, Philadelphia GM Chuck Fletcher rewarded Ristolainen with a five-year, $25.5 million extension in March.
Ristolainen's numbers stayed virtually the same as they'd been in his previous three seasons in Buffalo. The Flyers got the exact player they traded for, but how they view him couldn't be more different from how many others do.
Rangers Opt Not to Go Harder on Defensemen at the Trade Deadline
Thanks to spectacular, Vezina-winning play of Igor Shesterkin and explosive offensive production from Artemi Panarin (96 points), Mika Zibanejad (81 points), Chris Kreider (52 goals, 77 points), and Adam Fox (74 points), the New York Rangers surprisingly wound up one as of the top four teams in the Eastern Conference.
Despite those strengths, one thing they never figured out was defense.
Among Rangers defensemen who played 300-plus minutes last season, one player had a CorsiFor above 50 percent at 5-on-5 (K'Andre Miller, 50.1), and one had an expected goals rate above 50 percent (Fox, 50.6). They had Jacob Trouba and Ryan Lindgren within range of Miller and Fox in those areas, but still didn't provide Shesterkin with enough relief.
The Rangers sole addition at the trade deadline on defense was Justin Braun from Philadelphia giving up a 2023 third-round pick to get him. Braun immediately was a positive addition to the group in defensive regards to close out the season, but regressed hard in the playoffs.
Despite the fact the Rangers advanced to the Eastern Conference Final, they did so while allowing the most High Danger Scoring Chances in the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Their shot attempt differential was fifth-worst (46.95), and only one team below them advanced past the first round (St. Louis). No Rangers defenseman had a positive shot or expected goal percentage.
That the Rangers were two wins away from the Stanley Cup Final is incredible. Now think of how well it could've gone had they shored up the back line a bit more.