For every good story in the NHL this season, like the unexpected success of the Vegas Golden Knights and the quick turnaround of the New Jersey Devils, there are those on the other end of the spectrum.
There are teams who didn’t quite make the leap they thought they would, along with the half dozen teams who made the cut last year who will be sitting it out this time around.
No matter which category you fall into it’s always disappointing to miss the playoffs, but it’s especially painful for these five teams:
The best in the West from just a season ago find themselves 19 points out of a playoff spot and long eliminated from post-season contention. Even though Chicago was bounced in the first round last year, they were still expected by many to earn a spot in the Central Division or at least finish with a wild-card berth. Neither of these happened for the perennial playoff participant.
For starters, the move for Brandon Saad did not pay off anywhere near what the Blackhawks were expecting. Despite being a fixture on Chicago’s top line, Saad has taken a step back with only 18 goals and 35 points after being good for 20-30 goals and 50ish points the last four seasons. Panarin, meanwhile, has hit 70 points for the third straight season, which along with the loss of Marian Hossa has hurt the bottom line of Chicago’s offensive output.
The bigger issue has been the injury to starting goaltender Corey Crawford. Up until Crawford last game on Dec. 23, the team sat at a respectable 17-12-5. Since their netminder’s absence, they have mustered a flimsy 14-24-5 record. The two shining lights on this team have been rookie Alex DeBrincat, who has proven he can produce at the NHL level this year with 27 goals so far, and second-year centre Nick Schmaltz, who has taken a nice leap forward.
After getting a taste of the NHL playoffs last season, the youthful Oilers seemed poised to feast this season. Instead, they were served up a heaping helping of humble pie.
As someone who has always been a fan of Milan Lucic’s game, he hasn’t provided a whole lot of anything for the Oilers. The power forward has been limited to one goal in his last 42 games. Forty two! That is a lot of games. Goaltending has also plagued the Oilers this season. Cam Talbot is having the worst season of his career, while the team as a whole ranks 28th in the league in goals against per game (3.22). To make matters worse, the Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson trade looks horrendous in Year 2 while Jordan Eberle has just about doubled the production of Ryan Strome. At least Connor McDavid is still doing his thing.
Last off-season was a busy time for the Montreal Canadiens. The Habs pulled off a blockbuster deal for Jonathan Drouin which saw them ship top prospect Mikhail Sergachev to the Lightning. The team also signed All-Star goalie Carey Price to an eight-year extension with an annual cap hit of $10.5 million. While some issues were due to circumstances beyond the team’s control, both moves did not pan out as expected in 2017-18.
Jonathan Drouin was viewed as a solution for the team’s lacklustre offence. Instead, the Canadiens have seen their offence drop from 2.72 goals per game (15th in the NHL) to 2.52 goals (29th in the NHL). That’s obviously not all on Drouin, but he hasn’t been a significant difference maker and is currently outscoring Sergachev by only three points.
But it’s been disappointment by committee in Montreal. Max Pacioretty has had an abysmal year, Alex Galchenyuk didn’t progress and Carey Price (.902/3.07) has some of the worst numbers in the league. Shea Weber’s injury has also been a major concern for the Canadiens at both ends of the ice.
Dallas brought a whole new meaning to everything is bigger in Texas when it acquired 6-foot-7 goalie Ben Bishop from the Los Angeles Kings in the summer. All they needed was for him to stay healthy, something he struggled to do in 2016-17. Unfortunately for Bishop and the Stars, he wasn’t able to make it to the finish line.
Since Bishop was injured during Dallas’ game against Ottawa on March 5, including the two games Bishop was rushed back, the Stars whipped off a 2-8-2 record and sewered their playoff hopes with longtime goaltender Kari Lehtonen between the pipes. Lehtonen can’t shoulder all the blame, however, as the offence has only averaged 2.09 goals per game during this stretch.
Aside from Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau, the Calgary Flames have not seen the spike in offence they expected from their young crop of forwards. Defensively, the Flames have not seen the return they were hoping from Travis Hamonic when they acquired him and a fourth-rounder from the Islanders for a 2018 first-round pick and two second-rounders.
Much like the Stars, the loss of their starting goalie hurt the Flames at a crucial time. With Mike Smith on the shelf for a month, the Flames won just five of 13 games to all but sink their playoff chances. It didn’t get any better once he returned, as Smith struggled to find his groove. But he hasn’t gotten much help either, as the Flames have gone 1-8-0 since Smith returned while scoring only 11 goals over that span and getting shut out three times.
So not only did the Flames come up short in their quest for a second straight playoff berth, they also gave the Islanders a potential top-10 pick in the draft. Ouch.
Honourable Mentions: Carolina Hurricanes, New York Islanders