Happy Thanksgiving to all those in America. We’re a little more than a quarter of the way through the NHL schedule now, so we can start putting a fair amount of weight on the numbers we’ve seen to this point.
That’s bad news for teams like the Buffalo Sabres and Edmonton Oilers, who were hoping to be competitors this season, but find themselves well out of a playoff position. The Sabres are in a far worse position than Edmonton, but the Oilers’ shortcomings have been a bigger story because they seemed to finally move past their era of perpetual rebuilding with their trip to the second round of the playoffs last season. Unfortunately, they’ve fallen right back down.
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Edmonton and Buffalo’s problems are numerous, but perhaps the most surprising has been each team’s lack of offense. The Sabres are the second worst squad in the league when it comes to goals per game and Edmonton ranks 25th overall. In both cases the Achilles’ heel in that regard has been secondary scoring. Buffalo only has five players with at least 10 points through 22 games while Edmonton has six. Contrast that with, say, Toronto, which has 11 players that have reached or surpassed the 10-point mark.
At least Connor McDavid has been living up to expectations with his 28 points in 22 contests. Jack Eichel is a little bit more of a mixed bag. He has six goals and 18 points in 22 contests, which is obviously outstanding, but is that good enough to justify his upcoming eight-year, $10 million salary? I’d think you’d want a bit more for that cap hit. It’s also not good enough to put Eichel in the NHL’s top-50 in scoring due to the league-wide increase.
In 2016-17 there was an average of 2.77 goals per team per game while we’re currently at 3.01 this season. That could decline as the campaign goes on – in fact it probably will – but that’s still impressive. Among those that have played in at least 15 contests, there are 40 players averaging at least a point-per-game and five that are above 1.3 points-per-game.
Steven Stamkos is still leading the charge with his 10 goals and 36 points in 21 contests, but he actually hasn’t been the most impressive player this month. In fact, while his four goals and 12 points in eight contests in November are enviable numbers, that doesn’t even put him in the top-10 for this month’s scoring title. So far it looks like that honor will go to Brayden Schenn, who has seven goals and 19 points in nine games. He’s been making the Blues’ acquisition of him from Philadelphia look like a steal.
Another forward that’s excelled this month is Johnny Gaudreau, who has seven goals and 16 points in nine contests in November, bringing him up to 31 points in 21 games overall. Tying it back in to the eight-year, $80 million contract Eichel got (or Leon Draisaitl’s eight-year, $68 million contract for that matter), consider that Gaudreau is in the second season of his six-year, $40.5 million deal. Calgary managed to get Gaudreau for amazing value and that’s going to be key for the Flames as they look to build around him in the coming years.
Additionally, if Edmonton has to be fairly concerned about its 8-12-2 record going into Thanksgiving, then by contrast Calgary should be pretty okay with its 12-8-1 record. The Flames still have room for improvement, but one of the most encouraging aspects of their season thus far has been their goaltending.
Mike Smith has been great with a 2.52 GAA and .925 save percentage. He’ll turn 36 in March so he can’t be the long-term solution in Calgary, but his presence has helped stabilize the goaltending situation for now. That’s been particularly critical given that Eddie Lack ended up being a bust with a 1-2-0 record, 5.29 GAA, and .813 save percentage. Lack was placed on waivers and while I’m not betting on him being claimed, if Antti Niemi has been claimed twice already this year (albeit at a cheaper price) so you never know.
One team that’s looked surprising good at the quarter mark has been Vegas with its 13-6-1 record. The Golden Knights were expected to be better than your average expansion team given the relatively favorable rules of the expansion draft, but I don’t think anyone was expecting them to be this good, especially when you consider the injuries they’ve endured. Maxime Lagace, who was supposed to be Vegas’ fourth-tier goaltender, has started in 10 straight games.
Lagace was initially leaned on in part due to necessity, but now Malcolm Subban is healthy, so the Golden Knights do have a viable alternative. However, Lagace has gotten hot, winning his last three starts while allowing just two goals in each game. I wouldn’t get too excited about Lagace though. This hot streak aside, he will likely fall back to Earth and then Subban will get his chance. Eventually Marc-Andre Fleury (concussion) should be back too, though that probably won’t happen any time soon. Similarly, Oscar Dansk (lower body) isn’t expected to be back in the near future.
Vegas’ injury woes aside, a big part of its success has come from its offense. James Neal has been a big contributor with 11 goals and 17 points in 20 games, but we’ve also seen David Perron record 19 points in 20 contests and William Karlsson score 10 goals and 18 points in 20 games. Karlsson is by far the biggest surprise as he never got more than 25 points in Columbus, but he’s been given an opportunity to play a much bigger role with Vegas and has run with it. If you picked up Karlsson early on then you should enjoy the ride, though keep in mind that there is always going to be the risk of him falling back to Earth and if you can trade him when his value is high for a safer option, then that would likely be in your best interests.