We’re a month deep into the season now and there’s been some big surprises so far. One of the most noteworthy has been the struggle of the New York Rangers, who are 4-7-2 going into Tuesday’s game against the Eastern Conference-leading Tampa Bay Lightning.
I had mixed feelings about the Rangers going into this season. The Derek Stepan trade seemed to me like the move of a team hedging towards a rebuild, which sounds a bit out of place for a team that made the playoffs seven consecutive seasons and was coming off a 48-28-6 campaign, but wouldn’t have been without merit either. Henrik Lundqvist started to show his age last season and that’s a big concern because his $8.5 million annual cap hit through 2020-21 has the potential to be a big roadblock to the Rangers being competition in the short- and mid-term. So perhaps using the final years of his contract to rebuild wouldn’t be the worst idea.
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That ultimately wasn’t the route the Rangers went though. After trading Stepan, the Rangers were able to land Kevin Shattenkirk to a reasonable four-year, $26 million deal, which made the prospect of them competing through Lundqvist’s twilight years seem more plausible. And it still may be. While the Rangers obviously had a rough October and Lundqvist has an uninspiring 3.21 GAA and .898 save percentage, there is still time for them to turn the campaign around. Lundqvist might also rebound, though at the age of 35-years-old (36 in March), I wouldn’t expect him to be more than an average starter and it wouldn’t be surprising if he remains subpar in 2017-18.
Another disappointment thus far has been the Montreal Canadiens. They’re also dealing with the burden of an expensive goaltender as Carey Price inked an eight-year, $84 million contract over the summer. Price’s contract doesn’t begin until 2018-19, but you have to wonder if part of the reason Montreal has nearly $7 million in cap space this season is in preparation for Price’s upcoming pay jump.
Price is a different case than Lundqvist though. Price should still be in the prime of his career at the age of 30, but so far, he has a terrible 3.64 GAA and .883 save percentage in 10 starts, which is part of the reason for the Canadiens’ 4-7-1 start. After all, Montreal is built around the premise that Price is a superstar and when he’s anything less than that, the Canadiens don’t have the talent to compensate. He should bounce back though and once Price gets going, he could go through a stretch where he’s practically unbeatable, so Price owners shouldn’t jump the gun and make a desperation trade now while his value is diminished.
On the plus side, Jonathan Drouin is off to a strong start with two goals and nine points in 12 contests. The 22-year-old seems on course to develop as the Canadiens’ offensive centerpiece in the years to come, although his acquisition from Tampa Bay is bittersweet given that the defenseman Montreal dealt to get Drouin, Mikhail Sergachev, has been one of the league’s top rookies thus far with four goals and 11 points in 13 contests despite being limited to 13:22 minutes per game. Montreal could use that kind of talent from its blueline right now as the Canadiens aren’t generating much offense from their defensemen outside of Shea Weber, but that ship has sailed.
Another team that has disappointed thus far has been the Edmonton Oilers with their 3-7-1 record. For Edmonton the big issue has been its offense as its 2.18 goals per game is at the bottom of the league. That’s a startling problem for a team with as much talent as the Oilers to have.
The problem has been the Oilers’ depth though. Connor McDavid, Patrick Maroon, Leon Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins have all performed as advertised, but Edmonton has gotten almost nothing offensively out of the rest of the squad. Outside of those four forwards, the entire Oilers’ team has scored a mere six goals. Contrast that with Tampa Bay, which is currently headlined by the powerhouse duo of Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, who have both already surpassed the 20-point milestone. Even there, Tampa Bay’s success can partially be attributed to its depth as it has six players with at least four goals and 10 players with at least five points.
Among the disappointments for the Oilers thus far has been Ryan Strome, who has a goal and four points in 11 games. The Oilers were hoping to get something of a diamond in the rough with Strome as he was coming off a pair of rough campaigns with the Islanders, but his offensive upside remained high. As things stand though, it’s looking like the Islanders go the far better end of that one-for-one swap as Jordan Eberle has two goals and nine points in 12 contests thus far. I did think Strome had sleeper potential this season, but I’m growing increasingly pessimistic. At this point I wouldn’t recommend having him on your squad in a standard league, though I would still at least keep an eye on him to see if he starts to heat up.
One team that had been a pleasant surprise, but has been struggling recently is of course the Vegas Golden Knights. This situation has revolved around goaltending injuries as Marc-Andre Fleury was great, but he suffered a concussion so Malcolm Subban took over and looked good until he sustained a lower-body injury, which led to Oscar Dansk surprising everyone with his superb play until he too was hurt. That means that Vegas is down to its fourth-string goaltender, Maxime Lagace, and Dylan Ferguson, who is a 19-year-old called up from the WHL on an emergency basis.
It’s highly unlikely that Ferguson will actually get a start given his complete lack of pro experience, which leaves Lagace as Vegas’ only current option. Thus far Lagace hasn’t been able to maintain Vegas’ streak of strong goaltending as he has a 6.35 GAA and .813 save percentage in two contests. Despite that, GM George McPhee said he’s not looking to acquire a goaltender, so it seems Lagace will be a safe bet to start in the near-term, even if he’ll probably continue to put up subpar numbers.
Vegas’ other high-profile situation has centered around Vadim Shipachyov. Fantasy owners were naturally hopeful about his offensive potential given that he scored 26 goals and 76 points in 50 KHL contests last season, but his tenure with Vegas has been a mess. He only played in three games with the Golden Knights and when sent to the minors he refused to play, which has led to him being suspended. At this point he’s returned to Russia, but can’t play in the KHL yet because he’s still under contract with Vegas. He apparently wants to have his contract terminated, but in order to do that Vegas would need to put him on unconditional waivers and that might not happen if McPhee believes there is a chance another team would simply claim him. It’s not clear how long this situation will take to resolve, but at this point there is little hope of Shipachyov playing in another NHL game this season. If you drafted him, you’re unfortunately in a situation where you should just drop him now to cut your losses.