Along with every collection of surprise teams in the NHL each season, there is also a healthy selection of disappointments. Last year, some of those teams included Tampa Bay, Dallas, Florida and even Los Angeles. All four of them made the playoffs in the 2015-16 season, but missed out for one reason or another in 2016-17.
Knowing that there are new disappointments each season, here are three possible NHL duds for 2017-18.
San Jose Sharks
For the first time since “MMMBop” was a hit, Patrick Marleau is no longer with the San Jose Sharks. That’s really weird. What also may be weird is how the Sharks may not be considered a playoff team for the first time in two decades. How could that be? They still have Brent Burns, Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture and others who forged the backbone of a Western Conference winning team two years ago.
Watching their series against the Edmonton Oilers from last year, you realize just how much older and slower the Sharks are now.
In the four games they lost to Edmonton, the Oilers were able to easily outskate the Sharks and San Jose had no way to match that. There isn’t a lot of top talent in the pipeline to help fix that speed deficit. In order for this team to be successful, they’ll need not only the best from their stalwarts, which didn’t happen in March and April last season, but great performances from Tomas Hertl, Timo Meier and even Kevin Labanc for this team to even make the postseason.
The good news is that the West is down from its peak, so being the fourth-best team in the Pacific may not be that difficult for a team with such a pedigree. The bad news is that their window is clearly closing, and it may be closing faster than Doug Wilson and company want to admit.
Ottawa was one goal away from the Stanley Cup Final last year. How could they possibly be on a list of teams that may fail to meet expectations when they came so close just a few months ago?
There are multiple factors that may contribute to a Senators slump this year. The first is that Guy Boucher often gets the best out of his teams in his first season, but his grating defensive style wears on players beyond that. In his first job with the Lightning at the beginning of this decade, the Bolts also reached a Game 7 in the Eastern Final, like the Sens did, but couldn’t come anywhere close to replicating that success afterwards. That was a Tampa Bay team with Steven Stamkos, too.
This Ottawa team has to deal with an Erik Karlsson injury to start this season, which could see them end up in a hole they can’t dig out of. There isn’t much if anything behind Karlsson on that blueline who inspires confidence. (35-year-old Johnny Oduya? Nope.) And there isn’t much better up front either. Colin White is on injured reserve, while Bobby Ryan, Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone have all failed to truly be consistent year-to-year. There just isn’t a ton of top-end talent on that roster.
With many suggesting that only three teams from the Atlantic will make it to the postseason this year, thanks to the stacked Metro Division, this puts a team like Ottawa in trouble — especially if their Karlsson-less start dooms them.
Bruce Boudreau seemed to be just the right coach for this group last year, and had them off to a flying start. But come February, March and April, the Wild couldn’t come anywhere close to finding themselves again. The expansion draft was brutal on them, causing them to lose Erik Haula and to trade Marco Scandella to Buffalo. Additionally, their lack of draft picks couldn’t help reload a system that needs a little infusion of new blood.
This is not a bad team, by any means. Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno aren’t bad players, but they don’t help a team that is starting to get a little long in the tooth in the top six. The blueline without Scandella is obviously not as good as it was. This is a team trending down, even though their present is still promising. It wouldn’t be at all surprising to see this team miss the playoffs, which would force Chuck Fletcher and company to have to ask some very difficult questions about aging players who have cap hits which are going to prevent this team from truly starting over.
After failing to go to the playoffs in two consecutive seasons, they did just barely make it last year thanks to a new coach bump from Bruce Cassidy and good performances from stalwarts down the stretch. But, this is still a team that is getting older, that hasn’t drafted particularly well and one that has a ton of questions in its bottom six and particularly on the blue line.
Looking at their cap situation, David Krejci’s contract is a disaster, Matt Beleskey and David Backes are overpaid and there isn’t a ton of young talent behind them that offers up hope to balance the lineup. On the blueline, Zdeno Chara is 40, Torey Krug is injured and that puts a lot of pressure on Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo. Probably too much for defensemen who are 19 and 20 respectively.
Like all of the teams on this list, Boston is caught between a future that hasn’t quite crystallized yet, and a past/present they aren’t willing to fully give up on. This makes contending in a difficult conference difficult, because injuries to one or two key players means their season could be off the rails.
But if they miss the postseason for the third time in four years, there are going to be some major uncomfortable questions asked of Don Sweeney, Cassidy and Bruins brass.