Expectations are one thing, but you actually have to play the games too.
Just as we see teams we had written off prior to the season surprise us to the upside, there are teams every season that make our preseason predictions look silly to the downside. Teams that are built to win on paper fail us every season and that has been blatantly obvious again this time around.
We have already tackled five NHL teams that have surprised us in the early going, but now we need to take a look at some clubs that have blown up preseason hype with terrible performances to start the season.
Let’s dive into these five disappointing clubs and see how they’ve failed expectations to this point.
*Odds courtesy of TopBet
St. Louis Blues
The Blues were listed at +400 to win the Central Division entering the season, however, they have absolutely plummeted to +1500 to win the Central which shows just how poorly the season has begun for Mike Yeo’s club.
I hate this one as I had the Blues as a trendy pick to take down the Central Division while competing right alongside the Predators and Jets. So far, it’s hasn’t been pretty.
After falling one point shy of a playoff berth on the final game of the regular season last year, Blues GM Doug Armstrong gave his club a much-needed makeover in the offseason. He went out and acquired the top centerman on the trade market in Ryan O’Reilly from the Buffalo Sabres while he further bolstered his disappointing offense by signing veterans Tyler Bozak, Pat Maroon and David Perron in free agency.
While the new-look Blues offense has been good with 3.60 goals per game, tied for 4th in the league, it’s the typically-stout Blues defense that has been the issue so far.
After a solid 3-0 win over the Maple Leafs in Toronto last Saturday, St. Louis held a 3-1 advantage over the Jets on Monday before yielding three third period goals and losing 5-4 in overtime. They jumped out to an early 2-0 lead against the Blue Jackets at home on Thursday, only to give up seven of the next nine goals scored in a 7-4 loss. That said, they did bounce back with a solid 7-3 win over the Blackhawks this Saturday.
Yeo’s job security is in self-proclaimed jeopardy just 10 games into this season, and the Blues are in an early hole with the second-lowest point total in the west. They’re at the top of the list of disappointing teams alongside the…
Los Angeles Kings
The Kings are right there with the Blues as one of the most disappointing teams in the league this season. I believed they had plenty of value to win the Pacific Division at +600 prior to the season, but the Kings have also fallen to +1500 to with their division.
Prior to Erik Karlsson being traded to the Sharks, I thought the Kings had a shot at this division.
As it stands right now, they look more like a team headed for a lottery pick.
The Kings have stumbled out of the gate to the tune of a 3-7-1 start through 11 games while their seven points are the second-fewest in the NHL, only one better than last-place Detroit. Their -17 goal differential is also the second-worst mark in hockey, only one goal better than the Red Wings’ -18 marks.
While the Blues’ problem has mostly been on the back end, the Kings’ issues are two-fold. Their 2.00 goals per game rank them dead last in offense while their 3.55 goals against per game rank them in a 23rd-place tie with the Flames. We are used to seeing some below-average offense from the Kings, although not to this magnitude, but it’s the complete lack of defense that is perplexing.
Maybe the Kings have missed the veteran leadership of Dustin Brown as he’s suited up for just one game and scored one goal. That said, there just hasn’t been any sort of consistent offense on this club and it’s hard to imagine Brown’s return changing any of that at this point in his career.
It’s been a good year to start slow in the surprisingly weak Pacific Division, but the Kings better turn this thing around in a hurry if they plan on playing meaningful games in the new year.
The Panthers were white-hot down the stretch last season which I took as a sign they can compete for a playoff spot this time around as a team with young players with another year of experience under their belts.
Florida entered the season as huge +1300 underdogs to win a division that includes the Bruins, Lightning, and Maple Leafs, but as massive +4000 underdogs now, we can see their start to the season as not been ideal.
Once again, this writer looks silly as I was all-in on the Panthers getting into the postseason this year after falling just one point shy a season ago.
The Panthers needed Roberto Luongo to be healthier this season to have a shot, and that hasn’t been the case as Luongo has played just 32:21 so far this season before leaving the season opener with a lower-body injury. In his absence, the Panthers have been brutalized on the back end.
Florida’s 3.67 goals against per game rank 26th in the league and they have received a .867 Sv% from mostly James Reimer and Michael Hutchinson so far, good for 30th league-wide. We couldn’t expect Luongo to be a full starter’s workload at the age of 39 this season, but him getting hurt on opening night was precisely what this team couldn’t afford to happen.
The saving grace for the Panthers is that they are actually winning the possession battle. Florida is outshooting teams by an average of 7.8 shots per game while their 55.4% Corsi For% at even strength ranks fourth in the league. If Luongo can return healthy, there’s no reason why they couldn’t turn things around, which is what we saw down the stretch from this club a season ago.
There’s nothing to worry about on this team up front. Statistically, they have been a league-average offense with their 3.00 goals per game ranking in a 16th-place tie, but this is a vastly talented top-six group that will score enough goals to get wins.
They just need to prevent goals and get their starting goaltender back healthy before it’s too late to turn around their 2-4-3 start.
Philly had some increased expectations this season thanks to landing the second-most expensive free agent in James van Riemsdyk returning to the team that drafted him.
Along with that came with decent +450 odds to take down the Metropolitan Division. Now, the Flyers sit at +1200 to win the Metro, an indication they have severely disappointed in the early going.
Similar to the Panthers, the Flyers have stumbled out of the gate thanks in large part to their inability to keep the puck out of their net.
Philly’s 4.18 goals against per game ranks dead-last while the .856 Sv% they have received from their goaltending is also dead-last in the league. They too have injury concerns in goal as Michal Neuvirth is just now returning from a lower-body injury to begin his season. Brian Elliott has not fared well in his chance to lock down the Flyers’ number one goaltender position.
Aside from goaltending, the Flyers haven’t been good enough in other areas. First, it’s not like their offense is lightning the league on fire as their 2.82 goals per game rank 23rd in the league. Against good defensive teams this season in the Islanders, Sharks, Golden Knights (twice), Avalanche (twice) and Bruins, the Flyers have averaged 1.57 goals per game in seven games. Against teams that have struggled defensively in the Senators, Panthers and Blue Jackets, the Flyers have averaged 6.33 goals per game. They better hope the healthy return of James van Riemsdyk helps in this area.
They’re also losing the special teams game again this season. Despite a wealth of talent on that top power play unit, the Flyers’ 15% clip on the man advantage ranks in a 23rd-place tie with Florida. After finishing 29th in penalty killing last year, the Flyers are last with a brutal 67.5% success rate this season. While you can put some of that on Elliott, he can’t shoulder all of the blame.
Special teams play can be one area to judge coaches, and the Flyers haven’t been good in either area for some time despite owning the talent required to get the job done. Dave Hakstol’s name should very much be in the conversation of coaches on the hot seat. Nonetheless, this Flyers team is falling behind the pack far too early in the season.
Detroit Red Wings
This wasn’t a team that was going to compete this year but considering their odds to win the Atlantic have gone from +4400 to a whopping +50000 since the start of the season, it’s safe to say they haven’t managed to meet even the lowest of expectations.
Not too many people had the Red Wings playing hockey in mid-April, however, I doubt many folks out there saw this coming from Hockeytown this season.
It was a given that Detroit would struggle on the back end this year as Mike Green began the year on the IR as did veterans Nicklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson. This pushed many young rookies into the lineup early in the year and the end result is 3.82 goals against per game through 11 games, good for 28th.
Preventing goals was going to be difficult, but a step forward for this team’s offense should have been expected with some nice young talent aboard, however, Detroit has scuffled to just 2.27 goals per game, tied for 29th league-wide. The retirement of Red Wings icon Henrik Zetterberg certainly did not help as it was determined his back was unfit to go prior to the beginning of training camp.
Nothing has worked since. Detroit is being outshot by an average of 6.7 shots per game and their 48.9% Corsi For% at even strength ranks 20th. Receiving a .889 Sv% from their goaltenders hasn’t helped as that figure checks in at 23rd.
Still, if you polled hockey fans in the passionate Red Wings’ fan base, disappointment would run rabid. I can’t help but feel the rebuild has taken a step back this year, which is the most disappointing aspect of all of this.
Better days lay ahead, but for now, this Red Wings club is full of disappointment.
Who Can Roar Back?
Of the five disappointing clubs above, the team most likely to turn things around and push for a postseason berth would be the St. Louis Blues.
That leaves defense as the area of need. The Blues have been a top 10 defense in this league in six of the last seven years and have been a top-five defense in four of those years. They have largely returned the same group that tied for sixth in team defense last season, and although they’ve struggled out of the gate, they will come around.
If goaltender Jake Allen can simply provide league-average goaltending, this team is going to compete. Their win on Saturday was the statement they needed to make and I expect the Blues to trend forward as the season marches on.