This post originally appeared on Puck77.com as a four-part post from November 23-28, 2018.
It’s the day after American Thanksgiving. Yesterday was filled with such happiness and joy. Yet after eating more Turkey in one sitting than our forebears could have ever imagined possible, and consumed enough beverages to drown a small Pacific nation, regret presses upon our soul like a cheap Tomas Plekanec turtleneck. Suddenly, there appears much in our current situation to be unthankful for. Let’s not go through this agony alone. Surely the suffering of others will make our own pain fade into the background. It’s my pleasure to provide at least one reason for each NHL team to be unthankful.
Yes, they are currently sitting within touching distance of a wildcard spot, but Carolina can’t outscore their problems. 58 goals in 23 games isn’t great. Also, I love the guy, but if Curtis McElhinney is statistically your best goalie by merely maintaining his career average save percentage, buckle up. Things could get uglier than a Dougie Hamilton floss dance competition.
Columbus Blue Jackets
To an outsider, it’s all sunshine and rainbows for Columbus, a well-balanced team that sits atop the division. But fans of the team see two huge storm cells rapidly approaching, threatening to turn this idyllic environment into a chaotic disaster zone that would make scenes from the movie 2012 look like mere sun showers. Those storm cells take the form of Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky, and more specifically their expiring contracts. The pain for fans if they fail to win the Stanley Cup and lose both core pieces for nothing at the end of the season, will be unimaginable. Part of me wants to see them both sign in Pittsburgh just to see the John Tortorella presser. Sorry Columbus fans.
New Jersey Devils
Firstly, if Brian Boyle scoring a hat-trick on hockey fights cancer night a year after being diagnosed with leukaemia doesn’t make you get a case of the warm and fuzzies, I don’t know what will. I was bawling my eyes out while watching the game.
For that alone, New Jersey should get a pass. But they don’t, so, Cory Schneider. If as a goaltender you’re giving up over 4 goals per game, that’s worthy of unthankful thoughts.
New York Islanders
I just heard that they lost some guy in free agency that’s on pace to score over 50 goals this season. But that’s in the past. A more recent cause for un-thankfulness would be Michael Dal Colle. There’s still time for him to succeed, but it’s looking increasingly unlikely for the 5th overall pick in the 2014 NHL draft. When you consider some of the forwards that went after him, William Nylander (don’t worry Islanders fans, I suspect we’ll see this name a little later), Nikolaj Ehlers, Kevin Fiala and Jakub Vrana, the pain intensifies. Also without a certain centre, Anders Lee is projected to rack up around 25 goals this season. An acceptable total, but a far cry from the 40 and 34 he posted the past two seasons.
New York Rangers
Their D could be a little better. That’s about it. It would be nice if Kevin Shattenkirk and Brady Skjei provided more points from the blue-line, and Anthony DeAngelo taking a step forward would be great, but it’s hard to be unthankful about a team most thought were at the early stages of a rebuild, and yet the Rangers are tied for the division lead at the quarter point of the season. I think I’m going soft. Perhaps there’s plenty to be thankful for after all…
When I first saw Gritty, I immediately assumed he was named “Mascot most likely to re-offend” at whatever training facility mascots go to these days. Also their power play has been disappointing. The return of James van Riemsdyk should help, but a team that can ice Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek, Claude Giroux, Shayne Gostisbehere and Sean Couturier should be converting at more than a 15.9% rate, 25th in the league. If you thought that was bad, their penalty kill is even worse. Opponents score 31.5% of the time with the man advantage. Only Ottawa has a worse penalty kill. Just a heads up Philadelphia, that’s not great company.
Goaltending. Last year I won my fantasy keeper league with Matt Murray. He was below average, but Pittsburgh could outscore their problems. With a GAA of 4.08, even a team as talented as Pittsburgh is having difficulties. And more importantly, so is my fantasy team. As a result, the Penguins find themselves tied with Philadelphia at the bottom of the division, and five points out of a playoff spot.
Some, including yours truly, thought the Capitals would struggle to start the season. The way they celebrated winning the Stanley Cup, I thought they would be hungover until April 2037. Add in a new coach, and there was potential for teething problems. But Washington, buoyed by the ineptitude of their traditional division opponents, are doing fine. Their penalty kill could be better, but they are outscoring the difference on their power play. They have some minor injuries to be unthankful for with Brooks Orpik, T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov all missing some time, but that’s it.
Although the Bruins are in a wild card spot, the next few weeks will be difficult. Their omnipresent star center Patrice Bergeron, and shutdown defenseman Zdeno Chara, will miss the next month due to injury. Those are definite causes for unthankfulness. Also, David Backes is on pace to collect four points this season. For a player earning 6 million against the salary cap that’s not good value. It’s kind of like paying a kid $150 to mow your lawn, and he whipper-snippers your flower garden instead.
At the time of writing this article, Buffalo is sitting second in the division and third overall in the league. I’ll give you a moment to process that sentence. For around half a decade, Buffalo has been the laughing stock of the league. But, times have changed and now the Sabres potentially have a 60 goal scorer as Jeff Skinner on pace to score 60 goals. The one thing to be unthankful for would be the fact that the forward group is not generating offense outside of the top line of Jack Eichel, Jason Pominville, and the aforementioned Jeff Skinner. Buffalo fans have been through a lot and they deserve a competitive team.
Detroit Red Wings
Despite winning nine of their last twelve games, the Red Wings are still five points outside of the final wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference. Detroit fans can be unthankful for an atrocious start to the season prior to this run. Goals have been hard to come by this season, Detroit sits fourth last in the league in goals scored. Gustav Nyquist and Thomas Vanek have two apiece, and two-time 20+ goal scorer Frans Nielsen has zero, which puts him on pace to score as many goals as me this season. Uh, Frans, that’s not good.
In a division that includes the Ottawa Senators, the Florida Panthers are in last place. If that isn’t embarrassing enough, consider many pre-season predictions had Florida as a playoff team. There’s a lot of options as to where you could pin the tail of blame on this donkey, but let’s go with General Manager Dale Tallon. Trading Reilly Smith to Vegas at the expansion draft and then leaving Jonathan Marchessault unprotected for Vegas to select wasn’t a case of a school bully (Vegas) taking a quiet student’s (Florida) lunch money. It was more like said student seeking out and asking the bully to please take his lunch money, and also voluntarily handing over the keys to his parents’ luxury vehicle.
Carey Price is the highest paid goalie in the league. He’s earning 10.5 million dollars each year over the next eight seasons, and he’s 31 years old. These are facts. Montreal has allowed the third most goals in the league, and Price has a GAA of 3.17, and a save percentage of .896. Those numbers aren’t good, heck, they aren’t even mediocre, at this point fans can only dream of mediocrity. The same can be said for their power play, ranked 28th in the league. The good news is that despite all of this, Montreal still finds itself clinging to the last wildcard spot.
Congratulations to the first team in the league to allow 100 goals. They are on pace to allow 356 goals this season. To put that into context, the last team to score more than 300 goals in a season was the 2009-10 Washington Capitals with 318. To find a team that scored more than 356 goals in a season, you have to go all the way back to the 1995-96 Pittsburgh Penguins who scored 362. So Ottawa is making every team that plays them look like the 1995-96 Penguins juggernaut with Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Ron Francis and Petr Nedved. Well done Ottawa, this overshadows Eugene Melnyk’s antics, and a league worst penalty kill. Your 2018-19 Ottawa Senators, in the words of their GM Pierre Dorion, they’re ‘a team’.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Andrei Vasilevskiy’s foot. After breaking his foot, the star goaltender is out indefinitely for the Lightning. Despite this, Tampa Bay should be fine. They have a top five power play league wide, and have lit the lamp more than any other team with 86 goals. Maybe you could ask for more than seven goals from Steven Stamkos, but that’s being picky. Let’s face it, being angry with this team because of that would be like being frustrated with the bus fare on your way to collecting your Powerball winnings. Speaking of frustration…
Toronto Maple Leafs
What to choose, an unsigned William Nylander? Auston Matthews’ shoulder? The media creating trade proposals sending away Nylander for every depth forward, salary dump and depth defenseman in the league? I’ll take all three thanks. In a season that should be full of joy and optimism with Toronto solidly in a playoff spot, and leading the entire league at points this season, the focus has instead been away from the standings. This should come as no surprise. Before the ink dried on the contract that brought Toronto the biggest free agent signing in the salary cap era in John Tavares, sections of the media tried to push the narrative that incumbent star Auston Matthews was displeased. I know years of despair has jaded you Leafs fans, but hang in there. Good things can happen.
The days of the Blackhawks perennially competing for the Stanley Cup seem to be over. The firing of former head coach, Joel Quenneville has not immediately improved their record. We could talk about their league worst power play and third worst penalty kill, but one glaring thing for fans to be unthankful for is being in the Central Division, arguably the most competitive in the league. Even if their record improves, they will be fighting tooth and nail for the final wildcard spot. It has the feeling of being asked to climb Mount Everest immediately after having an appendectomy.
With 86 goals, they are tied with Tampa Bay for the league lead. Their top line of Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog have combined for 39 goals. Los Angeles Kings have scored 45 as a team. When you consider their league best power play, things look pretty swell in Colorado. One minor concern would be the lack of scoring outside of the top line. Tyson Jost, for example, has a mere 8 points this season. It may be seen as picky, but fans could ask for more from the former top prospect.
Looking over this Dallas roster, one word came to mind. Celery. Outside of the top line of Alexander Radulov, Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, there’s a lot of mediocrity. It’s not terrible, but it’s not exciting either. Celery. I’m sure Stars fans would have been expecting more secondary scoring from Radek Faksa, Mattias Janmark and Valeri Nichushkin, but I’m sure they’ll be happy sitting in a playoff spot regardless.
Currently sitting second in the division, there are a lot of positives for the Wild. However they should be ungrateful for the production of Charlie Coyle (11 points), Joel Eriksson Ek (4 points) and Jordan Greenway (8 points). And no, I’m not bitter because I have them on my fantasy team. I’m bitter for so many other reasons. Minnesota has had excellent production from their top forwards and defensemen, but that won’t always be the case. Like a secondary parachute, you want to be confident it will work if the primary chute fails. If the top line scoring dries up, Minnesota could disappear from the playoff picture faster than a toupee in a hurricane.
The leaders of the division, Nashville are definitely one of the favourites to win the Stanley Cup this season. Goaltender Pekka Rinne looks like a Vezina candidate once again, as a team Nashville has allowed only 55 goals all season, tied with Boston for least in the league. However, their power play has been disappointing, converting only 13.8% of the time with the man advantage. Only Los Angeles and Chicago have a worse conversion rate.
St. Louis Blues
Less than two months into the season the Blues have a new coach, but the same problems. Against the Jets, their defense was shredded more than my previous accountants’ paperwork prior to an audit. It’s probably an oversimplification to place all the blame on the goaltending, but it’s the easy choice here. Jake Allen and Chad Johnson both own save percentages under .900, which is tolerable in the short term if you are able to outscore your problems. St Louis hasn’t been able to, which is why they are last in the Central Division, and second last in the entire league.
Although they are currently sitting in a wildcard spot, the Winnipeg Jets should challenge for the division title. However, like Minnesota, Winnipeg could use some secondary scoring from their bottom lines. Also, their league leading power play masks their failure to dominate at even strength, something you would expect a team hoping to compete for the Stanley Cup to be doing with consistency. They have scored 52 even strength goals, and conceded 46, a positive difference of only 6.
Starting goaltender John Gibson and backup Ryan Miller have been sensational in goal for the Ducks, which has been necessary as the team in front of them has created a guard of honour for opposing players to the net. It may not be a popular opinion, but Anaheim fans should actually be unthankful for the superb goaltending. Why? A quick glance at the standings shows a team tied with Vegas for the final playoff spot in the Pacific. However, glance at any other statistical category and you will find them towards the bottom of the league. The most glaring issue is shot totals. Anaheim averages 26.7 shots per game, worst in the league, and gives up 35.6 shots per game. Only Ottawa gives up more. That’s a 33% difference. This has long been an issue with Randy Carlyle coached teams. If Anaheim was getting merely league average goaltending, they would be further down the standings, but Randy Carlyle would either be forced to change his systems, or be out of a job, which quite honestly may be the best thing for the franchise.
With 52 goals in 22 games, only one other team in the league has been more inept at putting the puck in the net. Thankfully that team is in their division (looking at you, Los Angeles). A look at the player stats must be depressing. Max Domi was traded to Montreal for Alex Galchenyuk in the off-season, and Domi has been averaging over a point per game. Galchenyuk has nine points. Goaltending has been fine, they are fairly even in shot share, but they just cannot score. If they don’t fix it quickly, the Coyotes could be in the draft lottery race yet again. General Manager John Chayka’s seat must be getting warmer. Speaking of flames…
Top of the division? Check. Top five in the league in goals? Check. Marquee free agent signing James Neal producing as expected? Not so much. The 31-year-old winger signed a 5 year contract in the off-season that pays 5.75 million per year. It seemed like a fairly safe bet at the time, after all Neal had scored at least 20 goals each season since 2011. This season he is on pace to score 10. That’s nowhere near good enough. Head Coach Bill Peters has tried to find a fit for him in the line-up, but nothing seems to be working thus far. This contract could become an expensive mistake. A quote from Bill Veck comes to mind. “It’s not the high price of stars that is expensive, it’s the high price of mediocrity.”
Like the Titanic and an iceberg, Edmonton General Manager Peter Chiarelli and bad decisions come together with spectacular results. Chiarelli took a team with the greatest player of his generation, and has carefully and methodically made the team worse around him. Whether it’s giving out anchor contracts to Milan Lucic and Kris Russell, or trading away talented players for mediocrity, there is nothing Peter Chiarelli will not do to make this franchise worse. He has already pulled every GM’s get out of jail free card in firing the Head Coach, one has to think that if things do not improve quickly in Edmonton, Chiarelli is toast.
Los Angeles Kings
Last year Anze Kopitar recorded 92 points (35 goals, 57 assists) to lead my fantasy team to victory, and less importantly his team to the playoffs. This season he is on pace to score only 48 points, just over half his total from last season. Lack of offensive production has plagued the Kings, and it has resulted in them currently sitting in last place in the entire league. Kings fans will have expected much more from their captain.
San Jose Sharks
San Jose will make the playoffs, that’s pretty much guaranteed in a division as weak as the Pacific. However fans will likely be disappointed with the performance of two players in particular. Goaltender Martin Jones, and star defenseman Erik Karlsson. Jones has a GAA of 3.00, and a save percentage of .892. Both numbers are worse than the league averages of 2.87 and .909 respectively (Courtesy of hockey-reference.com). Meanwhile, Karlsson has 15 points so far this season (0.63 points per game), far from terrible, but well below his career point per game average of 0.83 points per game. If San Jose wants to beat the likes of Winnipeg and Nashville to advance to the Stanley Cup final, they need better play from their star players, particularly this duo.
To say Vancouver’s defense has been terrible is kind of like saying that invading Russia in the winter is a bad idea. It’s obvious to any casual fan. Starting goaltender Jacob Markstrom has to apply sunscreen prior to each start, as his defense has left him hanging out to dry way too often. Vancouver fans will no doubt be pleased with the play of their young offensive superstars Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser, but when the only team letting in more goals than you is Ottawa, there’s a serious problem.
Vegas Golden Knights
After a slow start to the season, the Golden Knights are back in a playoff spot. It’s hard to put the blame on any one player. Whereas last season it seemed like every player had a career best season, every player this season seems to be struggling. They’re not terrible by any means, but just slightly worse. Backup goaltender Malcolm Subban has struggled when given the start, yet to pick up a win all season, and sporting an ugly GAA of 4.03. William Karlsson scored 43 goals last season, but he’s on pace to record about half that total. Anywhere you look in the line-up you find a similar narrative. Vegas can be ungrateful for teamwide regression.
That concludes our unthankfulness series, for which you can be immensely thankful. Thanks for reading. Let me know your thoughts in the comments section. Also feel free to let me know what you think on Twitter. @CanStrayan