The 7 Biggest Disappointments in the NHL so Far This Season

Adam GretzJanuary 9, 2023

The 7 Biggest Disappointments in the NHL so Far This Season

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    SUNRISE, FL - JANUARY 03: Matthew Tkachuk #19 of the Florida Panthers celebrates a goal during the game between the Florida Panthers and the Arizona Coyotes at FLA Live Arena in Sunrise, FL on January 3, 2023. (Photo by Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    As we approach the halfway point of the 2022-23 NHL season, there have been some major surprises around the league.

    The New Jersey Devils' climb to the top of the league standings, Dallas emerging as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender and the Seattle Kraken looking like a potential playoff team all stand out at the top of the list.

    But if there are positive surprises, it stands to reason that there have been some letdowns. Those are what we are focusing on here today as we look at seven of the biggest disappointments in the league.

    Disappointments can range from individual players that are having unexpectedly bad seasons, offseason additions that have not yet panned out and even entire teams that are underperforming.

Florida Panthers

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    DETROIT, MI - JANUARY 06: Head coach Paul Maurice of the Florida Panthers watches the action from the bench against the Detroit Red Wings during the second period of an NHL game at Little Caesars Arena on January 6, 2023 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)
    Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images

    At the top of the disappointment list we have the Florida Panthers.

    A year ago, this team looked like they were setting themselves up to be a consistent Stanley Cup contender. They won the Presidents' Trophy with the NHL's best record, were the first team since the 1995-96 season to average more than four goals per game in an 82-game season and then made one of the biggest splashes of the offseason by acquiring Matthew Tkachuk from the Calgary Flames.

    But that Tkachuk acquisition came at a big price, as it cost them Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar in the trade and also had to say goodbye to Claude Giroux and Mason Marchment in free agency. As if that wasn't enough, they lost Anthony Duclair for the first half of the season because of an injury. That's a lot of talent either out the door or on the shelf, and the Panthers haven't been able to recover.

    A dismal defense and a significant regression from big-money goalie Sergei Bobrovsky have only made things worse. That combination has made the Panthers one of the worst goal-prevention teams in the league.

    You also cannot overlook the decision to part ways with interim head coach Andrew Brunette and bring in Paul Maurice. Maurice is one of the most experienced coaches in the league, but his teams have been consistently mediocre at every stop. He has missed the playoffs in 16 of his 25 seasons as a head coach.

    Add all of that up, and you have a team on the outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture that is going to have an uphill fight in the second half.

Jonathan Huberdeau

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    CALGARY, AB - DECEMBER 27: Calgary Flames Right Wing Jonathan Huberdeau (10) skates during the first period of an NHL game between the Calgary Flames and the Edmonton Oilers on December 27, 2022, at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, AB. (Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    The Calgary Flames as a team might be considered a disappointment given the excitement that came from their offseason.

    They lost their top two players from a year ago with Johnny Gaudreau bolting in free agency and Matthew Tkachuk getting dealt to Florida. But the Tkachuk deal brought another superstar in Jonathan Huberdeau and a top-four defenseman in MacKenzie Weegar, and then they went and added Nazem Kadri in free agency.

    There was reason to believe the Flames would be an even stronger contender in the Western Conference. They had the defense, they had the goalie and Darryl Sutter is a proven winner behind the bench.

    They have struggled to live up to that hope, and one of the biggest reasons is a down year from Huberdeau.

    Between 2018 and 2022, Huberdeau was one of the most dominant offensive players in the league with 346 points during that stretch. That number was good enough for fourth-best in the league, behind only Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Patrick Kane, while he averaged a 29-goal, 99-point pace per 82 games.

    Halfway through the 2022-23 season, though, he is on pace for less than 20 goals and 60 points. That's fine production for a run-of-the-mill first- or second-line forward. But it's a massive disappointment when those numbers are coming from a proven star who is poised to start an eight-year, $84 million contract extension next season, especially one like Huberdeau who was brought in to help lift the Flames to Stanley Cup contention.

Moritz Seider

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    DETROIT, MICHIGAN - JANUARY 06: Moritz Seider #53 of the Detroit Red Wings looks to pass in front of Ryan Lomberg #94 of the Florida Panthers during the first period at Little Caesars Arena on January 06, 2023 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    There was real reason for optimism for the Detroit Red Wings coming into this season, and two of the biggest reasons why were forward Lucas Raymond and defenseman Moritz Seider.

    They were coming off dynamic rookie seasons that saw them both compete for the Calder Trophy (Seider won it). They looked like the type of franchise-changing cornerstones the Red Wings rebuild had been lacking.

    But halfway through the season, they are both going through a bit of a sophomore slump.

    Seider's drop-off is the more alarming and eye-opening of the two. His offensive production has been cut in half, and he has struggled alongside veteran free-agent addition Ben Chiarot.

    Seider and Chiarot have played next to each almost exclusively this season, and it has been one of the least productive defense pairings in the the league.

    Some numbers via Natural Stat Trick: Of the 115 defense pairings that have played at least 150 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey this season, the Seider-Chiarot pairing ranks 105th in total shot attempt share, 96th in expected goal share, 110th in scoring chance share, 97th in high-danger scoring chance share, and 100th in goal differential.

    Is that Chiarot's style of play holding things back for Seider? Is it Seider taking a step back in his second season? Maybe it's a combination of the two? Whatever the answer, this season has been disappointing for the reigning rookie of the year.

Jack Campbell

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    EDMONTON, CANADA - JANUARY 5: Jack Campbell #36 of the Edmonton Oilers tracks the play during the game against the New York Islanders on January 5, 2023 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)
    Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images

    The Edmonton Oilers have had a lot of problems that have held them back in the Connor McDavid-Leon Draisaitl era, and goaltending has been one among the most pronounced.

    They attempted to address that this offseason by signing Jack Campbell to a five-year, $25 million contract in free agency.

    It has been, to this point, a nightmare.

    Entering play on Monday, Campbell has been one of the league's worst goalies with an all-situations save percentage of only .878 in his first 18 starts. That ranks 41st out of the 43 goalies that have appeared in at least 15 games, and it's a big reason the Oilers are flirting with .500 and on the playoff bubble in the Western Conference instead of sitting with the legitimate Stanley Cup contenders.

    The Oilers have forward depth issues beyond their top three or four players and they have problems on defense, so this is not meant to put it all on Campbell. But he has performed better in the past, and the Oilers were hoping for a lot more from him. At the moment, he is getting outplayed by Stuart Skinner and losing playing time to him.

Elvis Merzlikins

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    COLUMBUS, OHIO - JANUARY 5: Goaltender Elvis Merzlikins #90 of the Columbus Blue Jackets defends the net during the second period of a game against the Washington Capitals at Nationwide Arena on January 5, 2023 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Ben Jackson/NHLI via Getty Images)
    Ben Jackson/NHLI via Getty Images

    The highpoint of the Columbus Blue Jackets' season came over the summer when they made the stunning move to sign Johnny Gaudreau in free agency.

    Everything since then has been a mess, with no true No. 1 center emerging and injuries piling up to key players all over the roster.

    But their biggest problem for the second successive year has been in goal, where Elvis Merzlikins has continued to struggle. He has managed only an .863 save percentage in his first 16 appearances this season, ranking him 43rd out of 43 goalies to appear in at least 15 games this season.

    The most concerning part of that number is that it's dramatically worse than the .907 mark he had a year ago in what was considered a down year for him. During his first two years in the league, he looked like he was on his way to being a strong starting goalie and helped keep the Blue Jackets in the playoff race each year.

    Even with the goaltending struggles a year ago, the Blue Jackets still made a solid second-half playoff push. The addition of Gaudreau, as well as a bounce-back in net, seemed like it could have been enough to make them an under-the-radar playoff sleeper this season. None of that has worked out.

Vancouver Canucks

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    VANCOUVER, CANADA - JANUARY 5:  Logan O'Connor #25 of the Colorado Avalanche tries to tip the puck on goalie Collin Delia #60 of the Vancouver Canucks while battling with Quinn Hughes #43 of the Vancouver Canucks NHL action on January, 5, 2023 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
    Rich Lam/Getty Images

    The 2021-22 season was a tale of two teams for the Vancouver Canucks.

    There were the Travis Green Canucks that were one of the NHL's biggest disappointments and won just eight of their first 25 games before he was fired and replaced by Bruce Boudreau.

    It was at that point that the Canucks' season completely took off.

    They finished the year on a 32-15-10 run under Boudreau. That record would have been good enough for a 106-point pace over 82 games, and it nearly pushed them to a stunning playoff berth in the Western Conference.

    With a talented young core led by Elias Pettersson, Bo Horvat, and Quinn Hughes, as well as a full season of Boudreau, it seemed like that could be enough to make the Canucks a playoff team in a completely wide-open Pacific Division.

    It has not played out that way.

    Even though Pettersson and Horvat have had huge years and free-agent signing Andrei Kuzmenko has been one of the best offseason finds in the league, the Canucks have been one of the league's worst defensive teams and have received terrible goaltending. As of Monday, they are allowing 3.90 goals against per game, which is bad enough for 31st in the league. Only the Anaheim Ducks (4.00 goals against per game) have been worse.

    Their playoff hopes are slipping away, and unless something dramatic changes over the next couple of months, Horvat seems like a top trade-deadline candidate.

    Instead of a return to the playoffs, the Canucks are now looking like a team loaded with bad contracts, no depth and on the verge trading one of their few bright spots.

Ryan O'Reilly

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    ST. LOUIS, MO - DECEMBER 12: St. Louis Blues center Ryan O'Reilly (90) as seen during a NHL game between the Nashville Predators and the St. Louis Blues on December 12, 2022, at Enterprise Center in St. Louis, MO. (Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    The St. Louis Blues have been a constant contender for the better part of the past decade, but they have taken a significant step backward this season.

    Some of the problems are obvious. They lack a true No. 1 defender, and Jordan Binnington has not been the goalie they thought he would be when they signed him to a long-term contract extension last year.

    But at this point, we probably should have expected those things to be an issue.

    What is a bit of a surprise this season has been how big of a regression we have seen from the team offensively, especially as it relates to top center Ryan O'Reilly.

    O'Reilly has been one of the league's top two-way centers for years, and his arrival in St. Louis helped bring the city its first Stanley Cup championship during the 2018-19 season. But his 2022-23 season has been one of the worst offensive seasons of his career, and it has played a big role in the Blues going from one of the league's top offensive teams a year ago to a middl-of-the-pack team this season.

    Entering play on Monday, he is 10th on the team in scoring, is on pace for his lowest point total since he was 19 years old and even his defensive play seems to have taken a step back.

    Both O'Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko are pending unrestricted free agents after this season, and given where the Blues are in the standings, it might be time to start a small rebuild by sending them away ahead of the trade deadline.