With the 2019-20 NHL season a quarter of the way through, we are starting to get an idea of what each of the 31 teams should be capable of.
Some teams are exactly what we expected them to be on the good side (Washington, Boston, St. Louis) as well as the bad side (Ottawa, Los Angeles, Detroit).
Others have so far been better than we expected, and some significantly so (Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg).
This is not about any of those teams.
This is about the 10 teams that have been a disappointment so far this season. There is still time for some of them to turn things around and accomplish something significant. But they better start that process sooner rather than later because it can be incredibly difficult to make up lost points as the season goes on.
With that in mind, these are the 10 teams that have disappointed us so far.
1. Toronto Maple Leafs. No team has defined “disappointment” this season more than Toronto.
After a third straight third-place finish and a third straight Round 1 exit, the Maple Leafs made more dramatic changes to their roster this offseason by dumping Patrick Marleau, Nazem Kadri, Nikita Zaitsev, and Connor Brown and replacing them with Tyson Barrie, Alexander Kerfoot, Cody Ceci and Jason Spezza.
The early results are not positive.
They remain one of the worst defensive teams in the league and have not yet had the goaltending that can mask those flaws that have existed for more than three years now. Even worse, the team seems stale under the leadership of coach Mike Babcock, who is too often looking lost and being outplayed. This has been a .500 team through the first quarter of the season, and it needs some dramatic changes — both systematically and to the roster — to get to where it wants to be.
Babcock’s seat is almost certainly getting hotter, and we cannot ignore the fact that a team coached by him has not made it out of Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs since the 2012-13 season. Since then 28 different NHL coaches have won at least one playoff round, including two (Barry Trotz and Mike Yeo) who have won playoff rounds with multiple teams.
By this point in their development, the Leafs should be Stanley Cup contenders. Not only is this team not quite reaching that level, but it seems to be slipping further away from it.
2. San Jose Sharks. The Sharks are high on this list because they had an absolutely dreadful start. They were not just disappointing but literally one of the worst teams in the league through the first month.
The same goaltending duo that failed them a year ago is back and still struggling, their two big names on defense have not been as dominant as in the past and they started with one of the league’s worst records. To their credit they are starting to play their way out of that early hole by winning six in a row after a 4-10-1 start. If there is a team that could potentially duplicate what the St. Louis Blues did a year ago, this might be it because of the strong core in place. The Sharks’ biggest weakness is still in net, and the most disappointing part is they do not seem to have any interest in trying to fix it.
3. Vegas Golden Knights. Had they simply been able to not give up four power play goals on a five-minute power play in a Game 7, this is a team that probably could have gone on another lengthy postseason run a year ago. They brought back largely the same roster, which should have been even better because they were going to get Mark Stone — arguably the team’s best all-around skater — for a full season. The early results have been disappointing though, as they find themselves near the bottom of the Western Conference standings in mid-November. Their big problem: goaltending.
Marc-Andre Fleury is still an excellent starter, but they have not found any sort of capable backup to give him a rest, which is forcing Fleury to play entirely too many games for an almost 35-year-old. They can’t expect him to play 60 regular-season games and be fresh for the postseason.
4. Tampa Bay Lightning. A record-setting regular season in 2018-19 was followed by the most disappointing postseason performance in recent league history — maybe the entire league history. The Lightning followed that up by opening the 2019-20 season in rather underwhelming fashion, winning just nine of their first 17 games and not really carrying the play in any of them. They are showing signs of getting back to their 2018-19 level, but they are not consistently there. Nobody should have ever expected them to win 62 games again, but this roster is still way too talented be barely above .500 a quarter of the way through the season.
5. Calgary Flames. A lot of things went right for the Flames a year ago to allow them to — shockingly — climb to the No. 1 spot in the Western Conference. Some regression should have been expected. But this much? Probably the most disappointing aspect of this team in response to its Round 1 playoff exit to Colorado was to try and get more physical by trading for Milan Lucic instead of trying to counter the speed of a team like the Avalanche. Some of Calgary’s top players are off to slower-than-expected starts (Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Mark Giordano), but if they can get back on track it will go a long way toward getting the Flames to where they should be.
6. Nashville Predators. Losing Filip Forsberg for six games was a big blow, but the overriding issue here is the fact the goaltending duo of Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros has been subpar. That can sink an otherwise great team, and right now it is holding the Predators back. One positive development so far: The power play unit that was an insult to hockey has dramatically improved this season. If they can get the netminding back to its normal level, there still might be a potential lengthy playoff run here.
7. New York Rangers. The Rangers went all in this summer with the additions of Artemi Panarin, Jacob Trouba, Adam Fox and the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, Kaapo Kakko. It seemingly accelerated their rebuild and raised expectations dramatically, but as it turns out, maybe a little too much. They still have major flaws on the roster, especially at defense and center. Even with that, it still feels like this team should be a little better than what it has been. The Rangers may not be a playoff team just yet, and they have been overmatched in too many games.
8. New Jersey Devils. The Devils were one of the teams to win the offseason thanks to some draft lottery luck (getting the No. 1 pick and Jack Hughes), a couple of huge trades (P.K. Subban and Nikita Gusev for next to nothing), an intriguing free agent pick up (Wayne Simmonds) and the return of a healthy former league MVP (Taylor Hall). The problem is they forgot to address their biggest issue, which is in net. The lack of a top-tier starting goalie has played a huge role in some terrible late-game meltdowns that have seen them surrender several multi-goal leads (they have lost four games they led by two goals or more, including two games with three-goal leads) to turn a potentially competitive team into one that is right back near the bottom of the standings. With Hall’s contract status uncertain after this season, returning to the playoffs would have been significant, but they have a long way to go before they are in that discussion.
9. Minnesota Wild. Former general manager Paul Fenton was on the job for only one year but still managed to leave quite a mess behind for new general manager Bill Guerin. The team lacks star power, has too many big-money players over the age of 30 and made some misguided trades a year ago (specifically the Nino Niederreiter for Victor Rask swap). The playoffs always seemed to be a long shot, but through their first 20 games they have the second-worst points percentage in the league, ahead of only the Detroit Red Wings. This team is not particularly good, but it should not be this bad.
10. Dallas Stars. So far this has been a tale of two teams. The Stars were big spenders in the offseason once again, signing Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry as free agents to hopefully fix the depth of what was one of the league’s most top-heavy teams a year ago. Things did not get off to a smooth start.
They won just one of their first nine games, Pavelski had a miserable start, the goaltending struggled and their top duo of Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn could not find the back of the net.
Suddenly, though, things are starting to get back on track. Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin are stopping everything in net, Pavelski has started to produce, Seguin and Benn are waking up offensively and the team went on a 10-1-1 run after a 1-7-1 start. Keep in mind that this was a team that was a double overtime Game 7 loss on the road from reaching the Western Conference Final a year ago. There is talent here and a potential contender. The Stars make the disappointment list for their rough start, but they are starting to become the team they should be.