It’s easy to worry about struggling players or get excited over a team’s strong start, but it’s important to also keep everything in context. We’re not even a fifth of the way through the season yet, so the rollercoaster ride is just getting started.
In that spirit, today we’re going to look at four that wouldn’t make the playoffs if they started today, but still have a good chance of having a solid campaign. Please note that the goal isn’t to dismiss the remaining 10 teams as hopeless or deserving of their non-playoff spots. This is just meant to highlight some of the squads that have underperformed so far this season.
After they failed to make the playoffs in 2013-14, Capitals owner Ted Leonsis felt it was time to make some substantial changes. Washington went into this season with a new GM (Brian MacLellan), head coach (Barry Trotz), and two pricey new blueliners (Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik).
So far the results have been mixed and the Capitals are consequently off to a 6-5-3 start. For all the changes they made, the Capitals decided to stick with Braden Holtby as their starting goaltender and he’s been largely mediocre. Niskanen hasn’t lived up to expectations so far either and those hoping Evgeny Kuznetsov would immediately shine in the NHL after excelling in the KHL have been largely disappointed.
At the same time, Washington has looked very good from an advanced statistics perspective, to say nothing of the fact that they still have two elite forwards in Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, a promising rookie in Andre Burakovsky, and – for the moment at least – a healthy and excelling Mike Green. There’s plenty to like about this team and if Holtby can step up – which isn’t out of the question – then the Capitals might turn some heads as the season progresses.
New York Rangers
The Rangers have gone 1-2-2 in their last five games and that’s temporarily put them on the outside in the battle for a playoff berth. New York’s 3-1 loss to Edmonton on Sunday was particularly disheartening as the Rangers tripped over themselves to bash their effort following the contest.
On the plus side goaltender Henrik Lundqvist had a strong game and is starting to bounce back from a shaky start to the season. This team is built around the premise that Lundqvist is an elite goaltender and given that’s historically been the case, it should just be a matter of time before his 2014-15 numbers reflect that.
The Rangers should also start to benefit from having Derek Stepan back now that he’s recovered from a fractured fibula. Combine him with Rick Nash, who has rebounded nicely from his 2013-14 campaign, Martin St. Louis, who is doing a great job of delaying the aging process, and a strong supporting cast and the Rangers’ offense shouldn’t be an issue this season. Their defense will look pretty good too once Ryan McDonagh and Dan Boyle are healthy.
All-in-all, this is a strong team that’s just had a mediocre start.
This one almost doesn’t need to be stated as I don’t think there’s many people out there that expect Chicago to miss the playoffs. Then again, in the tough Western Conference, there’s no such thing as a sure-thing.
Still, when you look at the elite, deep group of forwards the Blackhawks have, their strong defense, and wealth of experience thanks to their multiple deep playoff runs over the previous six campaigns, it’s hard to get too worried about Chicago over a 8-6-1 start.
On top of all that, Brad Richards has started to turn things around after a slow start in Chicago. He hasn’t been playing with Patrick Kane, as was originally hoped, but he nevertheless has two goals and eight points in his last 11 contests.
Chicago isn’t a team to panic over, although things might get a bit worse before they get better as seven of the Blackhawks’ remaining nine November contests will be played on the road.
Minnesota is a team that really highlights just how young the season is because at the beginning of the month, they were cruising along, but all it takes are three bad games at this stage of the campaign to make the team a mediocre 7-6-0.
The Wild only scored two goals over their last three games and the fact that Zach Parise (concussion) was unavailable for two of those contests was certainly a contributing factor. At the same time, he’s already resumed practicing with the team, so while his return isn’t imminent, he might not be out for too much longer.
Still, it’s fair to say that the Wild need more out of their supporting cast and their young forwards in particular. Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle, and Mikael Granlund each have six or fewer points this season and at this point of their development, each of their production should be at least a bit higher. More glaring though has been Mikko Koivu’s struggles as he has just three points in 13 contests.
It’s just a matter of time before Koivu turns things around though and the same can be said about the Wild’s recent slump. They should be a serious contender in the Central this season, although to be fair, that could be argued for any team in that deep division.