B/R NHL Roundtable: Which Team Has Been the Biggest Disappointment This Season?

Bleacher Report NHL StaffFeatured ColumnistJanuary 26, 2022

B/R NHL Roundtable: Which Team Has Been the Biggest Disappointment This Season?

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    Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    It was supposed to be so different for these NHL teams.

    An offseason filled with hopes and dreams of a Stanley Cup run melted into a nightmare season of despair and bitter disappointment.

    Take the Montreal Canadiens for example. After a magical run to the Stanley Cup Final last season, the Habs are languishing at the bottom of the NHL while franchise goalie Carey Price's status up in the air.

    Or what about the Edmonton Oilers? A red-hot start to the season has completely faded. Despite having the best player in the league in Connor McDavid, Edmonton is on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoffs, with coach Dave Tippett on the hot seat.

    The B/R NHL staff came together for another weekly roundtable to discuss teams that have failed to live up to their lofty expectations as they search for answers to mounting questions.

    Disagree with their takes? Share your thoughts on disappointing teams around the league in the comments section!

'Habs' Not: Canadiens Enduring a Nightmare Campaign

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Stanley Cup finalists usually experience a slow start to a new campaign after a shortened offseason. Becoming the worst team in the league, however, is almost unheard of. But that's what the Montreal Canadiens have accomplished this season. With just eight wins and 23 points in 41 games, they are dead last in the overall standings.

    Losing superstar goaltender Carey Price to offseason knee surgery didn't help matters. The absence of captain Shea Weber to career-threatening injuries and last summer's departures of veterans such as Phillip Danault and Corey Perry took away invaluable leadership and experience.

    The Canadiens were also walloped by an outbreak of COVID-19. Injuries to other core players such as Tyler Toffoli, Josh Anderson, Brendan Gallagher and Jeff Petry also played a part in the club's demise. Younger players such as Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield and Alexander Romanov, meanwhile, are struggling to play up to heightened expectations.

    Biggers issues seem more at work here than just injuries, illnesses, bad puck luck and a reduced offseason. With a healthier lineup earlier in this season, the Canadiens bore little resemblance to the tight-checking, well-oiled machine from the 2021 playoffs. They are having difficulties at both ends of the rink and seem to go into a funk whenever they fall behind.

    On Jan. 21, the Montreal Gazette's Stu Cowan wondered whether head coach Dominique Ducharme would be replaced in the offseason. Two days later, his colleague Jack Todd made the blunt assessment that there were "disaffected veterans with little or no interest" in playing for Ducharme.

    The Canadiens' woes cost Marc Bergevin his job as general manager in November. With Jeff Gorton hired as their executive vice president of hockey operations and Kent Hughes recently named as their new GM, there could be changes coming to the roster and perhaps behind the bench.

    None of this was foreseen when the Canadiens opened this season. Though they were underdogs throughout last year's postseason, the fact that they have fallen so far so fast makes them unquestionably the most disappointing club of 2021-22.


    Honorable Mention: Ottawa Senators

    Ottawa Senators GM Pierre Dorion proclaimed in September that the rebuilding was over for his club, adding he felt they were stepping into another zone. Turns out it's the same twilight zone near the bottom of the overall standings that they have been stuck in since 2017-18. A lack of reliable goaltending and a leaky defense make them one of this season's biggest disappointments.


    Lyle Richardson 

Oilers' Season Implodes After Strong Start

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    Go ahead. Mention it to an Edmonton Oilers fan.

    And then be prepared to duck.

    On Dec. 2, after a 5-2 defeat of the Pittsburgh Penguins in which Connor McDavid had four points and Mikko Koskinen made 32 saves, the Oilers were 16-5-0 and had the league's top points percentage (.762).

    McDavid was up to 40 points by then. Running mate and fellow MVP Leon Draisaitl had 41.

    And the patchwork goaltending tandem of Koskinen (12) and Stuart Skinner (two) had combined for 14 of the 16 wins in the nearly full-time absence of would-be No. 1 netminder Mike Smith.

    Since then, well, to say the Oilers have fallen off would be a colossal understatement given that they now stand 18th in points percentage stat (.553) and have long since been evicted from the Pacific Division penthouse, plummeting to sixth place.

    If the playoffs started today, Edmonton would not be on anyone's travel itinerary.

    As a result, McDavid's future has become popular grist for the hockey conspiracy mill. Draisaitl has been branded "pissy" by a Hall of Fame writer. And the talk about whether or not Detroit Red Wings dynasty architect Ken Holland still has the stuff of a big-time general manager is getting louder by the day.

    Thanks to a stint in COVID-19 protocols, coach Dave Tippett has been behind the bench for just two of the four wins the Oilers have recorded during the post-Penguins slide. But even when a roster pockmarked by injuries and other COVID-19-related absences is intact, the question marks won't disappear.

    Outside of McDavid and Draisaitl—who have combined for 49 of the team's 123 goals (39.8 percent)—only four players have scored more than five times, and the fearsome power play that was operating at 50 percent through the first 10 games has cooled to a more mortal 30.5 percent.

    And given the team's lack of significant wiggle room beneath the salary cap—CapFriendly reports the Oilers have no cap space—it's unlikely any deal Holland could swing, unless it involves a trade partner retaining heavy cash, would be the sort of needle-mover to significantly change what's been northern Alberta reality in recent months.

    Not exactly the dreams dancing in Edmontonians' heads when they went to bed on Dec. 1.


    Honorable Mention: Seattle Kraken

    Let's go ahead and say it: The Vegas Golden Knights spoiled things for everyone.

    When the NHL's 31st team not only reached the playoffs but advanced to the Stanley Cup Final in its first year, it set the bar absurdly high for any expansion team that followed.

    That said, even hardcore realists probably expected more from the Seattle Kraken in Year 1.

    Seattle plucked a legitimate No. 1 goaltender in Philipp Grubauer and assembled a veteran defensive corps around him through the expansion draft and free agency, and the crop of veterans and youngsters added to the forward mix—including Jordan Eberle and Yanni Gourde—figured to be enough to least be in the Western Conference postseason mix if not actually qualify for it.

    Instead, the goaltending has been porous—the team is 30th overall in goals allowed per game (3.60)—while the offensive's rate of 2.64 goals per game is better than those of only seven teams. And not a single Kraken player was among the league's top 127 scorers.

    In a word, meh.


    Lyle Fitzsimmons 

Islanders Unable to Overcome Challenges Not of Their Own Making

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    Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    The 2021-22 NHL season would have been challenging for the New York Islanders no matter what else was going on at the time. They began the campaign with 13 straight road games while their new home rink, UBS Arena, was being completed.

    That's a remarkably difficult way to find your sea legs after the past two seasons have been so topsy-turvy and abnormal to begin with. The Islanders did the best they could in the circumstances. They managed a decent 5-6-2 record that could have allowed them to get back into the playoff picture once they debuted at home following the second-longest road trip in the history of the league.

    Once they finally made it back to Long Island, however, the health of their roster totally gave way. Over the next 14 contests, few teams in the NHL struggled to ice a team more than the Islanders did. New York needed to make up lost ground in the standings during its next 20 games, with 16 of those coming at home.

    That hasn't happened, though, in part due to not being able to ice an NHL-caliber roster on some nights. Even their recent 7-2-1 run hasn't helped their playoff odds much, and they have only just gotten back above .500. It's not the way this year was supposed to go given that the Islanders were a fashionable pick to win the Stanley Cup during the offseason.

    It's not a lost cause just yet. MoneyPuck.com gives the Islanders a 10.8 percent chance to make the postseason, which is somewhat remarkable given their start. Still, this was a team with high expectations entering the year, and numerous challenges have prevented them from coming close to meeting them.

    That has pundits wondering who could be traded away at the March 21 deadline instead of whom the Islanders could bring in to boost their odds of winning the Stanley Cup.

    Their underlying numbers haven't been particularly encouraging, even when healthy, and one has to wonder whether the team will look to retool a bit over the summer after the Zach Parise and Zdeno Chara acquisitions more or less flopped.


    Honorable Mention: Chicago Blackhawks

    Over the summer, the Chicago Blackhawks decided to push a lot of chips into the middle of the table to try to go on one more championship run with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews in the fold. That is not how the year has unfolded.

    They lost their first nine games, and while some bad puck luck was involved there, as Hockey Reference shows, they were getting cratered at even strength. That opening stretch pretty much torpedoed Chicago's playoff chances and cost former head coach Jeremy Colliton his job.

    They have gone 14-10-5 since then, but their possession stats are still among the worst in the league and they have less than a 5 percent chance of making the playoffs, per MoneyPuck.com. That is a disaster of a campaign for an organization that wanted to make one more run with aging pillars.


    Franklin Steele