There are 16 teams looking forward to the grind of what could be two months of playoff hockey.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are 15 clubs left with nothing but question marks about their future.
For the St. Louis Blues, Dallas Stars and Florida Panthers, who all gave it a good fight right to the very end, there is hope for next year.
But, clearly there are 12 teams that have to be wondering just what they need to do to weather an 82-game schedule and get back to being relevant — if they ever were.
In Canada, the disappointment is palpable. Just two teams, Toronto and Winnipeg, made it into the post-season. Not a great development, considering five teams from north of the 49th parallel were playoff bound in 2017.
Now that we’ve had a look at players to watch in the 2018 playoffs, it’s time to look back on the most disappointing teams and players from an entertaining 2017-18 season. Here are 20, in no particular order.
20. Edmonton Oilers
We might as well start with the most disappointing team in Canada, in our opinion. Not a year after posting a 103-point season and taking the Anaheim Ducks to seven games in the second round of the playoffs, the Oilers hit a wall. Name something that went wrong in northern Alberta, and it did. Suspect goaltending, shoddy defensive play and lack of secondary scoring all combined to thwart any attempt by Edmonton to repeat its success. The only right thing was Connor McDavid’s monster offensive year and second straight scoring title. As a team, they were woeful, finishing dead last in powerplay efficiency, scoring on just 31 of 210 opportunities (14.8 percent). The Oil were also a dismal 25th in penalty killing, surrendering 57 goals in 245 times shorthanded. A year ago, Edmonton was fifth best on the powerplay and 17th in penalty killing. An all around miserable year in the “City of Champions.”
19. D Kevin Shattenkirk – New York Rangers
The Rangers season circled the toilet bowl long ago, putting into effect a house-cleaning that saw Rick Nash, Michael Grabner, J.T. Miller, Ryan McDonagh and Nick Holden all jettisoned. One player safe from that purge was free agent signee Kevin Shattenkirk, who, as of the end of the season was the Blueshirts second highest paid player behind goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. In Shattenkirk’s defence here, he missed almost half the season with a meniscus tear in his knee. Otherwise, when he did play, New York didn’t get full value for its $6.5 million outlay to the New Rochelle, NY native. Offensively, he chipped in 23 points in 46 games, which put him on pace for a fairly pedestrian 41 points (15 below the career high 56 he recorded in 2016-17). Defensively, Shattenkirk was -14, which matched his career low from 2015-16 in St. Louis. He was also awful in the takeaway-giveaway department, where he stole the puck 24 times but was stripped of it 61 times for the worst differential of his nine-year career. We don’t even need to go into his lousy Corsi and Fenwick numbers.
18. C Sam Bennett – Calgary Flames
The development of a young star can take years. But, in today’s salary-capped NHL that focuses on youth and speed, the window is shorter for a first rounder to make an impact. In the case of 2014 fourth overall pick Sam Bennett, the Flames have yet to realize his full potential. Put it this way, the only player from the top 10 in that draft who is more disappointing is the Islanders Michael Dal Colle, who’s played just four games. While there wasn’t any regression, statistically speaking, in Bennett’s game this year, there wasn’t any improvement either. He scored 26 points for the second season in a row and was -18 after being -16 in 2016-17. We guess more was expected from a guy who had 36 points his rookie season. His ice time on the second line has stayed static and he has been given opportunity on the first powerplay unit, which makes his lack of production even more galling. He is still just 21, so there is time.
17. Buffalo Sabres
After seasons of 81 and 78 points, I guess we just expected more from the Buffalo Sabres in 2017-18 than being the first team ever to finish 31st in the NHL. Somehow the Sabres managed to make themselves worse than Arizona, despite having arguably more talent. Yes, Jack Eichel did miss 15 games, but that is barely an excuse for how this squad tanked. We think that some of the blame can be placed on the shoulders of new GM Jason Botterill and head coach Phil Housley, but only so much. Collectively, the team scored the fewest goals in the NHL at 199 and had the biggest differential at -81. The offensive problems didn’t stem from their powerplay, but rather from 5-on-5 where they were dead last in the league with just 140 goals. And they were also horrid at even strength defensively, surrendering 216 in 5-v-5 situations. The Sabres also finished 21st in shots on net and were also tied for last in shooting percentage with Montreal at 7.7 percent. They were also 10th in shots against and third last in save percentage (.896). Well, at least they have the best shot at the first pick in the 2018 draft.
16. LW Milan Lucic – Edmonton Oilers
When Edmonton brought in Stanley Cup winner and dynamic forward Milan Lucic in 2016, he came pretty much as advertised. The Vancouver native scored 23 goals (12 on the powerplay) and 27 assists, while doling out 202 hits and playing all 82 games. He would chip in another six points in 13 playoff games. This year was pretty much a bust for the tough customer. He did dish out 254 hits (the second most in a season), but his production fell way off. He scored but 10 goals in 82 games, with just three of those markers coming on the powerplay. As far as two-way play, Lucic registered a new low in plus-minus at -12. What made Lucic’s mediocre season even more dispiriting was the fact that over his last 41 games, he had just seven points, with one goal and six assists. The Oilers are on the hook for $6 million a season to Lucic until 2022-23. They better hope he bounces back.
15. RW Bobby Ryan – Ottawa Senators
When the autopsy is done on the corpse that was the Ottawa Senators cruddy 2017-18 season, it will show some deterioration in the hands. Especially the mitts belonging to expensive 31-year-old winger Bobby Ryan. He is soaking up the highest yearly salary on the Sens at $7.25 million and delivered so little in 62 games. For that kind of cash, he should still be in the 25-30 goal range, but fired just 11 goals and added 22 assists. By comparison, Alexander Radulov, who had a lower cap hit at $6 million, scored 69 points in 82 games (Ryan would have totaled 43 points if he’d played all 82). There were far too many stretches this season where Ryan was invisible. It took him 16 games to score his first goal and by that time Ottawa sported a hideous 4-7-4 record. In one terrible stretch for the team between Dec. 30 and Jan. 30 when they went 2-8-1, Ryan had just a goal and four assists. He’s a buyout candidate, at this rate.
14. Dallas Stars
The fact the Stars missed the playoffs by just three points doesn’t help sugar coat the fact that this campaign was a major disappointment in Big D. Much more was expected from a team that picked up Alexander Radulov in the off-season and traded for premier netminder Ben Bishop. Those two players did deliver, but the team had two too many rough patches that saw their playoff fortunes evaporate. The first was a streak in early December that saw them lose six of eight. Then, when Bishop went down with an injury in early March, the Stars really didn’t play well with Kari Lehtonen between the pipes. Between Mar. 5 and Mar. 25, Dallas won just one of 11 games for a 1-7-3 mark. They did win four of their last six games after that, but too little too late. The Stars, like so many non-playoff teams, didn’t do well 5-on-5, scoring just 177 that way, good only for 23rd in the league. They were middle of the road on the powerplay and penalty kill, which pretty much summed up their season. OK, but not near good enough.
13. C Jonathan Drouin – Montreal Canadiens
The only leeway we will give Jonathan Drouin on his disappointing 2017-18 campaign was the fact the pressure to perform in the pressure cooker that is Montreal is immense. The Habs figured they were shoring up a problem area — scoring — when they sent young defenceman Mikhail Sergachev and a 2018 second rounder to Tampa Bay for Drouin and a sixth-round selection this year. A third overall pick himself, Drouin finally broke out with the Bolts last year, scoring 53 points in 73 games. At the final bell on a distinctly distasteful Montreal Canadiens season, Drouin left a lot on the table, scoring 13 times and adding 33 assists in 77 games, but also logging a terrible -28. By contrast, Sergachev had 40 points (nine goals) in 77 games for the Lightning. Drouin didn’t excel in any area, winning just 42.5 percent of his face-offs and recording a sub-par PDO of 96.2. Making matters worse is the fact the Habs signed him to a six-year, $33 million contract before the season started.
12. D Duncan Keith – Chicago Blackhawks
For the first time in 10 years, the Chicago Blackhawks didn’t qualify for the playoffs. That can’t sit well with the fans, team executives or the players, a few of who won three Stanley Cups with the team in intervening seasons. Least of all veteran defenceman Duncan Keith, who is part of an aging core that includes Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Brent Seabrook and Corey Crawford. Keith had the worst year of his 13-year career in the Windy City, scoring just twice (both on the powerplay) on 187 shots and adding 30 assists to log his lowest point total in a full season since his third year in the NHL. To top it off, he was an abysmal -29. Not much went right for Chicago’s premier offensive defenceman, including a PDO that dipped from 102.9 in 2016-17 to just 97.0 this year. Keith, who will be 35 before the 2018-19 season starts, has five years left on a contract that pays him a shade over $5.5 million per season. The Hawks have decisions to make, going forward.
11. New York Islanders
If it weren’t for a last minute surge by the New Jersey Devils, no New York area team would have made the post-season. The Islanders, of the two teams with New York in their name, were most disappointing. The Rangers were a team getting long in tooth and needed a rebuild, so they can be forgiven a bit. The Isles, though, had no such excuses. Their leading scorer, rookie Matt Barzal, is just 20, while usual top point-getter John Tavares, is all of 27. Every one of the team’s top nine in scoring is under 30, for argument’s sake. So, how did the Islanders manage to cock up a season they should have made the post-season in? Their goaltending was no great shakes, starting with Jaroslav Halak (3.19 goals against average. 908 save percentage) and extending to back-up Thomas Greiss (3.82 GAA in 27 games, .892 save percentage). The most scored upon team in the league also went to sleep at the wrong time too, going 3-9-3 in March after posting a 4-6-2 mark in February, putting them way out of playoff contention. Things won’t get any better if UFA Tavares doesn’t re-sign, either.
10. G Cam Talbot – Edmonton Oilers
The only good thing we can say about the forgettable campaign that Cam Talbot has is that he is just the 22nd highest paid goaltender in the NHL. Other than that, the 30-year-old from Caledon, Ontario had no answers for the mediocre work he put in. He went from bonafide Vezina contender in 2016-17 to shell-shocked gatekeeper this season. He did tie Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck for games played this year at 67, but that is where any and all similarities end. Hellebuyck will be in the Vezina conversation, while Talbot will need a monster rebound in 2018-19 to make everyone forget this season. Talbot finished with a 31-31-3 record and allowed the most goals against 188, for below average goals against of 3.02, which was 10th worst overall. His save percentage was .908 and he had just one shutout after recording seven a year earlier. He was a very streaky goalie and what did his season in were his first 20 starts. He posted a 8-11-1 record, with 57 goals allowed on 573 shots (.900 save percentage). He was yanked from two of those losses after giving up five goals on a combined 10 shots and allowed four or more goals in a game seven times in that stretch.
9. G Scott Darling – Carolina Hurricanes
It may seem like we are unfairly picking on goalies, but in the case of Scott Darling and Cam Talbot above, much, much more was expected heading into the 2017-18 season. We say it’s a good thing, then, that the Hurricanes didn’t over-spend on Darling, who was brought in as low cost ($4.15 million per season until 2021) insurance for impending UFA Cam Ward. At the beginning of the season, it was thought that three-year veteran Darling, who was very good as a back-up in Chicago, might actually take over starting duties from 34-year-old Ward. Darling did play a career high 43 games for Carolina this season, however, his goals against average ballooned from 2.38 to 3.18 and his save percentage dipped to league low .888 from .924 a year ago. Darling’s 2017-18 campaign was punctuated with too many sub-par performances to count. His two worst were the 8-1 drubbing he suffered at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs on Dec. 19 and then a 7-3 shellacking from visiting Edmonton on Mar. 20. Tellingly, he gave up five or more goals six times in 43 games this year, after being beat for five or more only twice in 75 contests with Chicago.
8. Calgary Flames
The regret bandwagon is filling up across Canada and it includes many thousands of disgruntled Flames fans. Not only does the city face the prospect of possibly losing their team — unless a new arena is built with public money — but the Flames sputtered out over the last two and half months of the season. On Jan. 14, Calgary had just won their seventh in a row to push their record to 25-16-4 and putting them third in the Pacific Division. Over the course of the rest of the season, the Flames went 12-19-6 to fall out of the playoff picture. That mark could have been so much better, since they lost in regulation nine times in their last 11 games of the season. March, for the record, was probably one of the worst in franchise history, as the Flames went 4-9-1. Calgary was abysmal 5-on-5, scoring 166 of 218 goals at even strength, which was sixth worst overall. Their powerplay was lousy too, as the Flames clicked on just 15.99 percent of their opportunities, which was 29th in the NHL.
7. RW Kyle Okposo – Buffalo Sabres
The Buffalo Sabres, who typically penny-pinch when it comes to free agents, went out and signed big fish Kyle Okposo in the summer of 2016 to a fat seven-year, $42 million contract. It seemed a good idea the time, as the big right winger was coming off a 64-point season with the Islanders. In 2016-17, he recorded 45 points in 65 games and the Sabres missed the post-season. That got the GM and coach fired. It only got worse this year, as Okposo and the Sabres underachieved in a big way. In 76 games, Okposo had just 44 points, his lowest total in a full season since the 45 he put up in his fourth big league campaign in 2011-12. Adding credence to our argument here was Okposo’s horrible plus-minus of -34, which was second worst in the NHL this year. That was -27 worse than his -7 in 2016-17, when he was playing nearly two full minutes more per game on average. All in all, Okposo’s season was a lowlight.
6. LW Brandon Saad – Chicago Blackhawks
How’s this for a one-sided trade? Last summer, the Blackhawks dealt Artemi Panarin, Tyler Motte and a 2017 sixth round pick to Columbus to get Brandon Saad back, along with goalie Anton Forsberg and a fifth round selection in this year’s draft. The principles, Saad and Panarin, couldn’t have had more disparate seasons. While they both earn $6 million per year, Panarin until 2019 and Saad until 2021, the similarities end there. Panarin, 26, led his playoff bound team in scoring with 82 points and was +23. Saad, 25, had his lowest output in a full season with 35 points, which was 18 points lower than the 53 points he put up in each of the two previous seasons. Adding salt to that wound was a -10 rating, really bad for a guy who got a Selke trophy vote or two in 2016-17. He also averaged nearly a half minute more ice time per game than 2016-17. The only saving grace is that Forsberg may become a goalie of the future — or not.
5. Ottawa Senators
Things are so bad in Canada’s Capital that the embattled owner of the Senators, Eugene Melnyk, will be holding town hall meetings in the near future with disgusted season ticket holders. Horrid season aside, Melnyk angered many a diehard Senators fan when he cryptically talked about relocating the team in January, if attendance didn’t improve. After reaching the Eastern Conference finals last year, much was expected of a fairly deep and talented Ottawa club. The Sens season started off fairly well and on Nov. 5, 2017 they had a 6-3-5 record. But, that day they traded Kyle Turris to Nashville in a three-way deal that brought Matt Duchene to Ottawa. They won their first two games with Duchene in the line-up, then went into the tank the rest of the month, losing seven of seven. December was even bleaker, with Ottawa sporting a lousy 4-8-2 record to slip further down the standings. January was worse (3-7-1) and February only marginally better at 6-7-1. After winning three straight in mid-March, Ottawa closed the season by going 2-10-1. The whole team, from the net out, had as serious an implosion as could be. Erik Karlsson could be playing his final season in 2018-19 in Ottawa, too.
4. C Jason Spezza – Dallas Stars
After just missing the playoffs, when many expected them to get in easily, what do the Dallas Stars do with under-achiever Jason Spezza? The longtime NHL veteran has one more year on his contract at $7.5 million, which is second highest on the team, but clearly on a downward spiral offensively. He was the eighth most productive forward on the team, with just 26 points in 78 games, his worst season by a mile. He was only a plus on the face-off dot, winning a healthy 55.8 percent of his draws. Those 26 points were nearly half the 50 he recorded in 2016-17, done in 10 fewer games, too. It was a stark downturn for the normally very productive Spezza, who averaged 52 points per season his first three years in Big D. On Feb. 5, Spezza had just recorded an assist in win over the Rangers to give him 24 points in 53 games. Over his last 25 contests, however, he was nowhere to be found on the score sheet most nights, scoring one goal and one assist. Stars management might be crunching the numbers now to see if they can buy him out.
3. G Craig Anderson – Ottawa Senators
The lightning rod for much of the fan criticism during the Senators woeful 2017-18 campaign was directed at beleaguered netminder Craig Anderson. A year ago, Anderson got all kinds of good will for playing brilliantly while taking time off to help his wife deal with cancer. The 36-year-old veteran played like a champ, going 25-11-4 in 40 games and posting a .926 save percentage and 2.28 GAA. In the team’s extended playoff run Anderson was 11-8, with a 2.34 goals against and .922 save percentage. With a clean slate in 2017-18, there was anticipation in the air in Ottawa. It never materialized, as Anderson got off to a tepid start. On Oct. 30, he was shelled for six goals on 15 shots and yanked in a loss to Montreal, dropping his early season record to 4-2-3. Four days later, Vegas zipped him for five goals in another loss. That was pretty much a microcosm of a season that saw Anderson post terrible numbers, including a 23-25-6 record, 3.32 goals against average and poor .898 save percentage (fourth worst in the NHL). The Sens are stuck with Anderson, who will be 37 to start the next season, for two more years at $4.25 million.
2. D Niklas Kronwall – Detroit Red Wings
There is a rebuild afoot in Detroit, where the Wings have missed the playoffs for a second straight season after going to the Big Dance in 25 consecutive campaigns. Where astute GM Ken Holland may want to start chopping is in the veteran group, including long-time defenceman Niklas Kronwall. No disrespect to the 37-year-old warrior, but the time has come for Detroit to fish or cut bait when it comes to his future inclusion on the blue line. He has one more year at $4.75 million, which is only made palpable for the fact that Mike Green ($6 million) is UFA and likely done in Motown. As for his 2017-18 season, Kronwall had yet another sub-par offensive year, recording 27 points and a -14, which was his second worst plus-minus ever. He played nearly one full minute less on average than 2016-17 and his ice time has been cut nearly five and a half minutes since his last best offensive season in 2014-15 (44 points). Holland has many big decisions to make on personnel this off-season.
1. G Carey Price – Montreal Canadiens
We can’t lay all the blame for Montreal’s lousy 2017-18 campaign at the feet of all-world netminder Carey Price, but he sure is in line for a heaping helping of scorn. In an injury-plagued season, Price was merely mediocre. He had his worst numbers in any season that he played at least 40 games in, recording a 16-26-7 mark, .900 save percentage and 3.11 goals against average. Put it this way, he didn’t steal many games, like he usually does. In his first 20 games, Price was uncharacteristically beat for four or more goals in a game eight times. In just the second game of his season, he was yanked after giving up four goals on 14 shots in a 6-1 loss to Washington. Two weeks later, Anaheim shelled him for six goals on 45 shots in a 6-2 loss. There would be, unfortunately, many more nights like that, the worst of which was a lacklustre effort in a 5-2 loss to lowly Arizona on Feb. 15, when he allowed all five goals on just 21 shots. Price, who is 30 and showing signs of rust, also gets a pay boost to $10.5 million per season after making $6.5 million this year — and he’ll get that until 2026.