6 NHL Teams Most Likely to Disappoint During the 2022-23 Season

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured Columnist IVSeptember 9, 2022

6 NHL Teams Most Likely to Disappoint During the 2022-23 Season

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    Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images

    Expectations are high for every NHL club entering a new season. Playoff contenders aspire to win the Stanley Cup. Rebuilding teams look for signs of real improvement and the anticipation of reaching the postseason. Clubs that struggled the previous season hope for a bounce-back performance.

    Not every team, like the six on our list, will see their wishes fulfilled when the season comes to an end.

    Some, like the Florida Panthers, are coming off one of the best seasons in franchise history. Others, like the Vegas Golden Knights, are former Cup contenders trying to regain their once-dominant form.

    In this slideshow, we'll examine the factors that could lead to disappointment in 2022-23. We've chosen three teams from each conference. You can express your views on this topic in the comments section below.

Florida Panthers

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    Florida Panthers (Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

    The Florida Panthers enter 2022-23 coming off their best regular season performance in franchise history. Averaging a league-leading 4.11 goals per game, they finished with a team record of 58 wins and 122 points to win their first-ever Presidents' Trophy.

    This is still a very good hockey team, one that should qualify for the 2023 playoffs. However, they will find it difficult to build upon last season's dominant performance.

    The departures of Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar will be a big factor. They were traded to the Calgary Flames on July 23 for power forward Matthew Tkachuk. Both played significant roles in the club's remarkable effort last season.

    One of the league's top playmaking forwards, Huberdeau was the Panthers' leading scorer with 115 points. Tkachuk will bring more goal-scoring punch and an agitating physical style that was absent during their second-round playoff exit to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Still, they'll miss Huberdeau's set-up skills.

    A late-blooming puck-moving defenseman, Weegar enjoyed a career-best 44-point season in 2021-22. The Panthers didn't find a suitable replacement via the trade and free agent markets to offset his departure. Gustav Forsling is projected to fill that left-side slot on their top defense pairing.

    Forwards Mason Marchment and Claude Giroux will also be missed. Marchment, 27, was an energetic physical winger who signed with the Dallas Stars. Acquired at the 2022 trade deadline, the versatile Giroux tallied 23 points in 18 regular season games for the Panthers. He signed with the Ottawa Senators as a free agent on July 13.

    Goaltenders Sergei Bobrovsky and Spencer Knight have yet to prove they can carry the Panthers on a deep playoff run. The 33-year-old Bobrovsky has won just two playoff series in his 12-year NHL career. Knight, 21, has appeared in just two postseason games.

Nashville Predators

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    Nashville Predators (John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)

    Since reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2017, the Nashville Predators have slowly declined into a marginal playoff team that hasn't won a playoff round since 2018. They were easily dispatched by the Colorado Avalanche in four straight games last spring.

    Predators general manager David Poile ensured he kept long-time left winger Filip Forsberg by re-signing him to an eight-year contract on July 11. He also acquired defenseman Ryan McDonagh from the Tampa Bay Lightning and signed free agent winger Nino Niederreiter.

    These moves should help the Predators remain a playoff club. However, their fans could end up disappointed if they're expecting a Stanley Cup run.

    Goaltender Juuse Saros' Vezina Trophy finalist performance, Norris Trophy finalist Roman Josi's 96 points, and 40-goal efforts by Forsberg and Matt Duchene ensured the Predators clinched a playoff spot. Still, it wasn't enough to overcome the Predators' lack of depth against the powerful Avalanche in the opening round.

    Saros, 27, is entering his prime as a goalie and should continue to shine. However, the 32-year-old Josi and 31-year-old Duchene will find it challenging to match last season's career-best performances.

    It remains to be seen how well McDonagh adjusts to his new club after winning two Stanley Cups with the Lightning and reaching the Final with them last season. The 33-year-old has played in 185 postseason games on top of his 783 regular-season appearances. That much action with little off-season rest could start to take its toll on his game.

    Younger forwards such as Tanner Jeannot (24 goals) and Yakov Trenin (17 goals) will also face heightened expectations after coming off solid performances last season. Meanwhile, the long-awaited breakthrough performance for promising winger Eeli Tolvanen has yet to materialize. After netting 22 points in 40 games in 2020-21, he had just 23 points in 75 games last season.

New York Islanders

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    New York Islanders (Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images)

    After reaching the 2020 Eastern Conference Finals and the 2021 Semifinals, the New York Islanders missed the playoffs last season. A combination of a season-opening 13-game road trip while awaiting their new arena to open and a COVID-19 outbreak in November scuttled their postseason hopes.

    On Aug. 22, Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello expressed confidence in his current roster. However, a lack of scoring punch could make things difficult for his club to return to the playoffs this season.

    Averaging 2.79 goals per game, the Islanders were 23rd overall last season. Brock Nelson and Anders Lee were the only players to exceed the 20-goal plateau. Nelson, Mathew Barzal and Noah Dobson were the only ones to reach 50 points.

    Lamoriello attempted to bolster his offense this summer. On July 13, the New York Post's Ethan Sears reported he attempted to acquire J.T. Miller from the Vancouver Canucks and tried to sign Johnny Gaudreau before he joined the Columbus Blue Jackets. A rumored signing of Nazem Kadri came to nothing as he went to the Calgary Flames.

    Those offensive stats could improve under new head coach Lane Lambert. Perhaps he can coax more production from winger Anthony Beauvillier and Oliver Wahlstrom after their disappointing performances last season.

    The Islanders have a solid goaltending tandem in Ilya Sorokin and Semyon Varlamov. They also possess a strong blueline corps anchored by Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech along with rising young rearguards Noah Dobson and offseason acquisition Alexander Romanov.

    Nevertheless, they will have a difficult time bouncing back from last season's disappointment if they can't put more pucks in the net. They might be able to grind out low-scoring victories but it won't translate into another deep playoff run if Lamoriello cannot find more scoring.

Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Pittsburgh Penguins (Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    The Pittsburgh Penguins ensured they kept long-time core players Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang in the fold, signing both in July to new contracts. They also re-signed trade deadline acquisition Rickard Rakell and swapped defensemen with the Montreal Canadiens by shipping them Michael Matheson in exchange for Jeff Petry.

    General manager Ron Hextall wants to surround Malkin, Letang and captain Sidney Crosby with a supporting cast capable of contending for the Stanley Cup. However, what he has on his hands is a team with an aging core that last won the Cup in 2017 and hasn't won a playoff round in four years.

    Crosby, Malkin and Letang are now in their mid-thirties. They're still very good players who can carry the Penguins into the playoffs, but they haven't been able to carry them on another Cup run over the past five seasons. Malkin has also battled injuries in recent years that have taken a toll on his performance.

    Forward Jeff Carter is 37 while defenseman Brian Dumoulin is 31. Petry is 34 and coming off the worst season of his career with the Canadiens. Jeff Zucker, 30, has struggled through injuries. Rust, also 30, enjoyed a career-high 58 points last season but also missed 22 games to injury.

    Goaltending is also a question mark for the Penguins. Starter Tristan Jarry bounced back last season from a sub-par 2020-21 campaign but struggled a bit down the stretch until sidelined by a lower-body injury. Meanwhile, backup Casey DeSmith has had difficulty with consistency.

    The Penguins also need more consistency from younger players such as winger Kaspari Kapanen and defenseman Marcus Pettersson. The 26-year-old Kapanen has yet to regain the promising 44-point form he displayed with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2018-19. Pettersson, also 26, endured defensive lapses and was a healthy scratch in six games last season.

Vegas Golden Knights

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    Vegas Golden Knights (Scott Rovak/NHLI via Getty Images)

    The 2021-22 season marked the first time in the Vegas Golden Knights' short history that they missed the playoffs. Losing key players such as Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, Robin Lehner and Alec Martinez to injuries contributed to their disappointing finish. So did the absence of Jack Eichel as he miss most of the season recovering from neck surgery.

    Having a healthy Eichel, Stone and Martinez will be crucial factors toward their hopes of regaining their playoff-contending form. However, they'll have to do it without Lehner as the 32-year-old goaltender is expected to miss the season recovering from hip surgery.

    To replace Lehner, the Golden Knights will turn to Logan Thompson, Adin Hill and Laurent Brossoit. Thompson, 25, showed promise late last season but has just 20 games of NHL experience. Acquired from the San Jose Sharks, the 26-year-old Hill has struggled to establish himself as an NHL starter. Brossoit, 29, is also recovering from hip surgery.

    Another concern is replacing Pacioretty's production. The Golden Knights traded the 33-year-old winger to the Carolina Hurricanes on July 13 in a cost-cutting move. On Aug. 3, he criticized his former club for its relaxed atmosphere contributing to a lack of accountability among the players for poor performances.

    The accountability issue could be rectified by the hiring of Bruce Cassidy on June 16 as their new head coach. The former Boston Bruins bench boss guided his former club to six straight playoff appearances, including a run to the 2019 Stanley Cup Final.

    Finding a suitable replacement for Pacioretty is another matter given their salary-cap limitations. They could end up shifting Chandler Stephenson from center to left wing, but he lacks Pacioretty's natural goal-scoring ability.

Winnipeg Jets

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    Winnipeg Jets (Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

    The Winnipeg Jets have been declining since reaching the 2018 Western Conference Finals. They missed the playoffs last season for the first time since 2017 despite carrying stars such as goaltender Connor Hellebuyck and scoring forwards Kyle Connor, Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler and Nikolaj Ehlers.

    General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff's only notable moves were hiring Rick Bowness as the new head coach and re-signing center Pierre-Luc Dubois to a one-year contract. He did little to replace departed center Paul Stastny other than sign journeyman Sam Gagner and didn't bring in anyone to shore up his blue line.

    Cheveldayoff seems to be counting on the coaching change plus the anticipated promotion of promising players such as forward Cole Perfetti and defenseman Dylan Samberg to get his club back on track. Whether they can, however, is another matter.

    Their defense corps still hasn't fully recovered from the departures of Dustin Byfuglien and Jacob Trouba in 2019. Their poor defensive play last season did no favors for the overworked Hellebuyck. Cheveldayoff also failed to find a suitable replacement for two-way forward Andrew Copp after trading him to the New York Rangers last season.

    Meanwhile, the Jets are playing in a division dominated by the Minnesota Wild, St. Louis Blues and the defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche. They'll have a difficult time jockeying with the Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators for the remaining playoff berths.

    With $5.5 million in projected cap room for the coming season, Cheveldayoff has sufficient space to make further additions later this season. He might just have to in order to get his club into playoff contention.

    Stats via NHL.com and Hockey-Reference.com. Depth charts via Cap Friendly.


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