Tuesday, October 15, 2019

The 10 types of bad starts to an NHL season (and which one your team is having)

We’re now two weeks into the season. How’s your team doing?

We asked that question one week ago, as part of a post that was all about optimism. Bad starts aren’t always fatal. Some teams recover just fine. There’s a chance that everything will turn out OK.

But that was a whole week ago. We were all so young and full of hope back then. Now that we’re two weeks in, any teams that are still underachieving might be wondering if it’s time to start panicking. And the answer is yeah, it might be.

But like any bad situation, the first step is to figure out what we’re dealing with. Not all bad starts are created equal, after all. Today, let’s get those struggling teams into triage, as we work our way through ten types of bad starts to an NHL season.

The “Maybe we should have seen this coming” bad start

What happens: A team that isn’t very good suddenly stumbles into some optimism. Maybe they add a player or two during the offseason, maybe it’s a new coach, or maybe it’s just one of those weird cases of collective amnesia that fans sometimes get. Either way, everyone decides that the team is good now. Then the season starts, and it turns out they are not.

The outlook: These starts are never fun, and they can lead to the sort of overreactions that set a franchise back. But under the right circumstances, they can be a positive – the sort of wakeup call that a team might need, or at least a reminder of the work still left to do on the long road ahead.

Historical precedent: Coming off a lackluster 81-point season, the 2011-12 Blue Jackets loaded up for a quick turnaround. Rather than go full rebuild by trading Rick Nash, they swung a blockbuster trade to get him a top center in Jeff Carter. They also added James Wisniewski to shore up the blue line and welcomed rookie Ryan Johansen as a Calder contender. With a significantly increased payroll and plenty of pressure to make the playoffs, it felt like better times were ahead. Then they lost their first eight games and thirteen of their first fifteen on their way to finishing dead last. Oops.

Potential current example: The Devils. They had a great offseason, and that led to some justified optimism. But this was still a team coming off a 72-point season with an unproven coach and unsettled goaltending situation. Lining up for playoff tickets might have been premature.

The “Everybody Hurts” bad start

What happens: On paper, the lineup should be decent. But we haven’t seen it yet, because several players are out with injury. We can’t say what the real lineup can do, because we haven’t had a chance to see it yet.

The outlook: It all depends on what sort of injuries we’re talking about. If the star goalie or leading scorer has a torn ACL, well, better luck next year. But if it’s just a case of a few key guys being banged up, there’s at least some room for optimism once everyone is healthy – as long as you haven’t already fallen out of the race by then.

Historical precedent: After years of rebuilding, the 2016-17 Sabres went into the season hoping to contend for a playoff spot. But Jack Eichel suffered a high-ankle sprain the day before the season and Evander Kane went down with a rib injury in the opener. With Kyle Okposo missing time with a knee injury and Ryan O’Reilly playing through back spasms, the Sabres limped out of the gate with one win in their first six games and were dead last in the Atlantic by the time Eichel returned in late November.

Potential current example: The Stars. While their very best players have been healthy, they’ve been missing at least a few guys just about every night. They lost three players in the season opener, including Roman Polak being stretchered off, and are still waiting on Corey Perry to make his debut. And while it’s not an injury, Julius Honka isn’t there either. Those absences haven’t been the team’s only problem – that list is a long one – but they sure haven’t helped.

The “Critical flaw exposed” bad start

What happens: A team heads into the season feeling pretty good about themselves, aside from one nagging doubt. It could be weak goaltending, or a lack of a game-breaker up front, or a blue line that keeps springing a leak at the worst possible time. You’re left to wonder whether that one flaw is going to spell doom yet again. Soon the hockey gods answer: Yep, it sure is, and you were right to worry.

The outlook: A lot of this depends on just how big of a flaw we’re talking about, and how easy it is to fix. If goaltending is the issue, is there a prospect ready to come up and save the day? If the offense is missing a piece, can it be added through a trade? If there’s an answer out there, and the GM is willing to be aggressive in finding it, there may be hope.

Historical precedent: We could use last year’s Blues for a bunch of these, but they fit especially well here. Heading into the season, everyone figured they were at least borderline contenders. But all of that optimism came with a caveat: They needed a solid year from Jake Allen. Not necessarily a great one. Just decent. They didn’t get it, to the tune of a 3.99 GAA in October. Everything fell apart, people lost their jobs, and the next thing you know they had a former ECHL guy in net. I can’t remember what happened next, it probably wasn’t important.

Potential current example: Their start hasn’t been as bad as some of the other teams we’ll get to, but the Maple Leafs’ shaky play in their own zone keeps popping up at the worst possible times. If Mike Babcock hasn’t been able to fix it by now, you wonder if he ever will.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free seven-day trial.)

No comments:

Post a Comment