NHL Teams That Are Doomed to Disappoint in the 2017-18 Season

Carol Schram@pool88Featured ColumnistAugust 1, 2017

NHL Teams That Are Doomed to Disappoint in the 2017-18 Season

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    Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

    In the NHL's salary-cap world, it's more important than ever for teams to use the offseason to make their most important changes.

    In-season trades are virtually impossible to pull off, so summer is the time to make the roster adjustments that hopefully lead to success. This year, general managers also had one more item than usual to handle thanks to the expansion draft to stock the roster of the Vegas Golden Knights.

    Like every year, there will be only so many points to go around in 2017-18, allowing for a little bit of variation thanks to three-point games for overtime and shootout wins. For every team that makes gains in the standings, points will be lost by one or more clubs on the other side. 

    Here's a look at the seven clubs that are most likely to disappoint their fans next season, including a breakdown of the offseason moves that will leave them one step behind.

Calgary Flames

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    The Situation 

    In 2016-17, the Calgary Flames finished 15th overall in the NHL, with 94 points—a 17-point improvement in their first year under new head coach Glen Gulutzan. The Flames returned to the playoffs after a one-year absence but were swept by the Anaheim Ducks in the first round.

    With 61 points and just four penalty minutes in his third full NHL season, winger Johnny Gaudreau won the Lady Byng Trophy, his first major NHL award. After winning the Foundation Player Award in 2016, captain Mark Giordano was nominated for the Mark Messier Leadership Award but lost to Nick Foligno.


    Notable Offseason Moves 

    The Flames have been one of the NHL's most active teams during the offseason. First, they acquired Mike Smith as their starting goaltender through a trade with the Arizona Coyotes, then added Eddie Lack as his backup. General manager Brad Treliving bolstered his blue line with the acquisition of Travis Hamonic.

    Last season's goaltenders, Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson, are both gone. Lance Bouma and short-term trade acquisition Ryan Murphy were bought out. Impending unrestricted free agent Deryk Engelland went to the Vegas Golden Knights, while Dennis Wideman, Ladislav Smid, Alex Chiasson, Jyrki Jokipakka and Brandon Bollig all became unrestricted free agents. 


    Why They'll Disappoint 

    The Hamonic trade is a good one—Giordano, Dougie Hamilton, T.J. Brodie and Hamonic make up an impressive top four on the blue line, with Michael Stone and Matt Bartkowski as an acceptable third pair. 

    The Flames were eighth in the league in shots allowed last season, at 28.7 shots per game, but ranked 14th in goals against (2.67) because of inconsistent play from their goaltenders.

    Smith and Lack are new faces in net, but are they better? Last year, Elliott ranked 40th among the 54 goalies who played more than 25 games, with a .910 save percentage. Johnson was 38th, at .910. By comparison, Smith was 31st, at .914, and Lack was 49th, at .902. The new guys are a long way behind the best goalies in the league.

    Good defensemen can only take a team so far. Flames fans should brace themselves for as many goals against in 2017-18.

Chicago Blackhawks

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    The Situation 

    In 2016-17, the Chicago Blackhawks finished first in the Western Conference and third overall, with 109 points. That marked a six-point improvement from one season earlier and their best regular-season performance in a non-lockout year since earning 112 points in 2009-10, when they went on to win their first Stanley Cup in 49 years.

    Despite their success, the Blackhawks were shut out of NHL Awards nominations. One year after winning the Art Ross Trophy, Patrick Kane tied Sidney Crosby for second in the NHL scoring race, with 89 points, 11 behind Connor McDavid.


    Notable Offseason Moves

    Let's start with Marian Hossa, the third-leading scorer on the Blackhawks over the past eight seasons, with 186 goals and 415 points in 534 regular-season games. Though he turned 38 during the 2016-17 season, Hossa finished behind only Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin in team scoring, chipping in 26 goals.

    Hossa, who has won three Stanley Cups in Chicago, will be out of the lineup next season after announcing that he's taking the year off to deal with a progressive skin disorder, per Shannon Ryan of the Chicago Tribune. His absence leaves a huge hole in the Hawks forward corps.

    The team's other big moves up front involve the return of some familiar faces. Brandon Saad came back in a multiplayer trade that saw Panarin dealt to the Columbus Blue Jackets, and Patrick Sharp signed as an unrestricted free agent.

    Free agents Tommy Wingels and Lance Bouma have been added for depth up front, while Marcus Kruger was traded to Vegas for cap relief before being moved to the Carolina Hurricanes. Defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk was selected in the expansion draft by Vegas before also being traded to Carolina.

    The Hurricanes continued their quest to become Blackhawks East when they acquired backup goaltender Scott Darling via trade, then signed him to a four-year contract with an eye toward making him their starter. Brian Campbell retired, Johnny Oduya left as a free agent and stalwart Niklas Hjalmarsson was traded to the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for the younger, slightly cheaper Connor Murphy.


    Why They'll Disappoint

    The Blackhawks have plenty of experience handling the loss of key players, but Hossa's departure creates a huge hole.

    So does Darling's in net. The backup ranked eighth in the league among goalies who played more than 20 games, with a save percentage of .924, and he delivered an impressive 41 points for the Blackhawks in just 27 starts. He went 18-5-5 in his 32 games, including five relief efforts, and wasn't pulled once all season.

    Whether head coach Joel Quenneville goes with Anton Forsberg (10 games of NHL experience) or J.F. Berube (21 games), it will be tough for the Blackhawks to deliver the same support that Darling offered. Starter Corey Crawford tends to run hot and cold over the course of a season. He also spends time on the injured list almost every year.

    Chicago will also sorely miss Hjalmarsson, who quietly anchored their second defense pairing from 2009-10 onward. He never scored more than 26 points in a season and was consistently overshadowed by Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, but Chicago's fourth-round pick from 2005 has averaged 20 minutes and 27 seconds of ice time per game since breaking into the NHL during the 2007-08 season.

    Last season, Quenneville did a good job of starting to integrate prospects like Ryan Hartman, Nick Schmaltz and Vinnie Hinostroza into his lineup. The young forwards will make more progress this year, but that won't be enough to counterbalance Chicago's big offseason losses.

Columbus Blue Jackets

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    The Situation 

    In 2016-17, the Columbus Blue Jackets finished fourth overall in the NHL, with 108 points—a franchise record and the team's first time breaking the 100-point plateau. Columbus also came within one game of tying an NHL record by stringing together 16 consecutive wins between November 29 and January 3.

    Coach John Tortorella won the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year for overseeing a 32-point improvement in the standings, goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky earned his second Vezina Trophy and captain Nick Foligno became the first player to win the Mark Messier Leadership Award and the King Clancy Memorial Trophy in the same year.


    Notable Offseason Moves 

    On June 23, the Blue Jackets pulled the trigger on a blockbuster trade, headlined by the acquisition of Artemi Panarin from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for a package that included forward Brandon Saad and goaltending prospect Anton Forsberg.

    The Blue Jackets also bought out Scott Hartnell and saw Sam Gagner and Kyle Quincey depart as unrestricted free agents. On Monday, Columbus signed Tortorella to a one-year contract extension through the 2018-19 season, per NHL.com.

    Columbus lost center William Karlsson to Las Vegas in the expansion draft and moved David Clarkson's contract to the Golden Knights, giving up a first-round draft pick in 2017 and a second-rounder in 2019 to free up cap space to keep more highly valued players safe from selection, according to Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch.


    Why They'll Disappoint 

    The Blue Jackets were extraordinarily good for the first three months of last season, but after their winning streak ended, their record of 23-19-4 the rest of the way ranked them a decidedly average 17th overall. Normally, fans in Columbus would be happy to see their team fighting for a playoff spot, but that would be a big comedown after their unexpected success last year.

    Also, keep an eye on Tortorella, for whom the campaign came right after his disastrous tenure with Team USA at last fall's World Cup of Hockey.

    The mercurial coach won his first Jack Adams back in 2003-04, when the Tampa Bay Lighting collected 106 regular-season points and won the Stanley Cup. In subsequent years, his Lightning teams posted seasons of 92, 93 and 71 points and won only three playoff games in two postseason appearances before Tortorella was relieved of his duties at the end of the 2007-08 season.

    Torts' successes tend to be short-lived. Expect to see him clashing with his players as soon as the Jackets start to struggle.

Detroit Red Wings

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    The Situation 

    In 2016-17, the Detroit Red Wings finished 25th overall in the NHL, recording 79 points—a 14-point drop from the previous year. Detroit missed the playoffs for the first time in 26 seasons, ending the longest active playoff streak in the four major North American professional sports.


    Notable Offseason Moves 

    The Red Wings signed defensemen Trevor Daley and Luke Witkowski as unrestricted free agents. Forward Drew Miller became an unrestricted free agent.

    The Red Wings lost their AHL playoff leading scorer, Tomas Nosek, to Las Vegas in the expansion draft.


    Why They'll Disappoint 

    It's going to be tough to muster much of a celebratory vibe when the Red Wings move into their new building, Little Caesars Arena, this fall. Detroit is bottoming out after winning four Stanley Cups during that 25-season playoff streak.

    It won't be pretty on the ice, but Wings fans will be most disappointed by how tough it will be for general manager Ken Holland to make moves to set his team back on a positive course.

    Despite their grim 2016-17 season, the Wings are sitting $3 million over the salary cap as of Monday and still need to sign RFA forward Andreas Athanasiou to a new deal. They'll get some relief when they move Johan Franzen's $3.95 million to the long-term injured reserve list when the season begins, but it'll take some maneuvering to become cap compliant on opening day.

    Even more worrisome, the Red Wings lead the entire league with 10 no-trade clauses on their roster, according to writer Colin Cudmore, using data from CapFriendly. If Holland wants to kickstart a rebuild, his options will be limited in terms of moving out veterans in exchange for draft picks, prospects and cap relief.

Montreal Canadiens

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    The Situation 

    In 2016-17, the Montreal Canadiens finished seventh overall in the NHL, with 103 points—a 21-point improvement from the previous year. In the playoffs, Montreal was eliminated by the New York Rangers in six games in their first-round series.

    Carey Price finished third in Vezina Trophy voting behind Bobrovsky and Braden Holtby.


    Notable Offseason Moves 

    As usual, there has been no shortage of dramatic offseason moves from Montreal general manager Marc Bergevin.

    Nothing is on the scale of last year's P.K. Subban-for-Shea Weber swap, but the acquisition of Jonathan Drouin from the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for a package that included defensive prospect Mikhail Sergachev definitely moved the needle. So did the eight-year contract extension for Price. 

    In addition to reupping RFA Alex Galchenyuk for three years, Bergevin also signed unrestricted free agents Karl Alzner, Ales Hemsky, Peter Holland, Mark Streit and Joe Morrow while letting a number of his UFAs go—Alexander Radulov, Andrei Markov, Brian Flynn, Dwight King and Nikita Nesterov.

    Rather than lose Nathan Beaulieu in the expansion draft, Bergevin dealt him to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for a third-round draft pick, then lost another blueliner, Alexei Emelin, to Vegas. A week after the draft, Montreal acquired defenseman David Schlemko from Vegas in exchange for a fifth-round pick in 2019.


    Why They'll Disappoint 

    For as long as Price has been working his magic in net, the Canadiens have struggled to score goals. Their 226 goals last season ranked just 15th in the league. The now-departed Radulov accounted for 18 of those, while Markov and Flynn each added six.

    Drouin scored 21 goals with Tampa Bay last season and will be counted on to provide offense, but it's not hard to imagine him squeezing his stick as he deals with the enormous pressure that comes with being anointed Montreal's next French Canadian superstar.

    Brendan Gallagher should bounce back from a subpar 10-goal season but is starting to look like a player who's going to miss at least 20 games a year because of injury. Will Paul Byron be able to match the career-high 22 goals he collected last year?

    Montreal's back end is also a concern. Markov, Emelin and Beaulieu respectively ranked third, fourth and fifth in average ice time among the Canadiens defensemen last season. They're being replaced by Alzner, Schlemko and some combination of Streit, Morrow and trade-deadline acquisitions Jordie Benn and Brandon Davidson.

    With Price in his prime, Bergevin knows now is the time for his team to win. He's not shy about changing up his lineup, but this year's Habs aren't even as good as last year's Habs, let alone good enough to win it all.

Nashville Predators

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    The Situation 

    In 2016-17, the Nashville Predators finished 16th overall in the NHL, with 94 points—a two-point drop from the previous year. In the playoffs, the Predators got past the second round for the first time in franchise history before falling to the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games in the Stanley Cup Final.

    David Poile won the General Manager of the Year Award, his first such honor.


    Notable Offseason Moves

    The Predators signed Nick Bonino and Hartnell as unrestricted free agents and acquired Emelin from the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for a third-round draft pick.

    Winger James Neal was selected by Vegas in the expansion draft, and center Colin Wilson was traded to the Colorado Avalanche.

    Poile has also been busy re-signing his restricted free agents: Ryan Johansen, Viktor Arvidsson, Pontus Aberg and Austin Watson.

    Vern Fiddler, PA Parenteau and Harry Zolnierczyk all became unrestricted free agents. Captain Mike Fisher also remains unsigned—Adam Vingan of The Tennessean reports Fisher is deciding whether to retire or return for one more season.


    Why They'll Disappoint 

    When you're at the top, there's nowhere to go but down. The Predators are stocked with young talent and captured the imaginations of hockey fans from coast to coast with their raucous trip to the Stanley Cup Final last term, but history shows the odds are stacked against them in terms of getting back to the Final anytime soon.

    Look at the follow-up seasons of the past nine Stanley Cup runners-up. The Pittsburgh Penguins are in a class of their own:

    • 2016: San Jose Sharks—lost in first round in 2017.
    • 2015: Tampa Bay Lightning—lost in third round in 2016, missed playoffs in 2017.
    • 2014: New York Rangers—lost in third round once, second round once, first round once.
    • 2013: Boston Bruins—lost in second round once, first round once, missed playoffs twice.
    • 2012: New Jersey Devils—missed playoffs five times.
    • 2011: Vancouver Canucks—lost in first round three times, missed playoffs three times.
    • 2010: Philadelphia Flyers—lost in second round twice, first round twice, missed playoffs three times.
    • 2009: Detroit Red Wings—lost in second round four times, first round three times, missed playoffs once.
    • 2008: Pittsburgh Penguins—won three Stanley Cups, lost in third round once, second round twice, first round three times.

    After the excitement of a long playoff run, Nashville might have a tough time getting up for games during the long regular-season grind, when they'll be subject to more scrutiny than ever before.

    The Preds are also coming off an unusually short summer after playing until mid-June. That could prove especially troublesome for the soon-to-be 35-year-old goaltender Pekka Rinne.

    The Predators went into the playoffs in the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference. With the likely resurgence of the Dallas Stars and the weight of sky-high expectations, they might find it tough to even get back to the playoffs in 2017-18.

Washington Capitals

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    The Situation

    In 2016-17, the Washington Capitals won their second straight Presidents' Trophy, with 118 points. Though they scored 11 more goals and allowed 11 fewer compared to 2015-16, they dropped by two points, recording one additional regulation loss. In the playoffs, the Capitals fell to the Pittsburgh Penguins for the second straight year—this time in seven games instead of six.

    After a win in 2016, Braden Holtby finished as runner-up to Sergei Bobrovsky for the Vezina Trophy.


    Notable Offseason Moves

    At this point, the only new face we'll see in the Capitals organization next season is Devante Smith-Pelly, who was signed to a one-year deal after he was bought out by the New Jersey Devils.

    General manager Brian MacLellan devoted his energy to re-signing impending unrestricted free agent T.J. Oshie and inking RFAs Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, Andre Burakovsky, Brett Connolly and Philipp Grubauer to new contracts. Meanwhile, UFAs Karl Alzner, Kevin Shattenkirk and Justin Williams departed for new teams.

    Daniel Winnik wasn't re-signed, and Marcus Johansson was traded to New Jersey in exchange for two draft picks.

    Defenseman Nate Schmidt was selected by Vegas in the expansion draft.


    Why They'll Disappoint

    The Caps went all-in during the past two seasons but still couldn't find a way to shake their reputation as a team that can't get past the second round of the playoffs.

    Salary-cap and expansion considerations mean they'll be coming back in the fall missing two key forwards—Williams and Johansson—as well as three important defensemen in Alzner, Schmidt and Shattenkirk. That's a Blackhawks-level purge.

    CapFriendly shows Washington has six roster spots left to fill and just $4 million in available cap space, so expect to see plenty of AHL call-ups get a chance to crack the team next season.

    In early July, MacLellan name-checked Nathan Walker to Tarik El-Bashir of CSN Mid-Atlantic as an AHL forward he expects to step up, while 2014 first-rounder Jakub Vrana should also see more ice.

    On the back end, MacLellan suggested defensive prospects Lucas Johansen, Christian Djoos, Madison Bowey, Aaron Ness, Tyler Lewington and Jonas Siegenthaler "all figure to get a shot next season, with as many as two sticking around full time."

    The Caps are still stacked with offensive talent and have arguably the strongest goaltending tandem in the league in Holtby and Grubauer. They'll make the playoffs and hold their own in the tough Metropolitan Division, but we'll see a new Presidents' Trophy winner at the end of the 2017-18 season.


    All stats from NHL.com. Contract information from CapFriendly.