Every NHL season has its surprises, and the 2017/18 campaign is no different. There are always teams that leap forward, while others take a few steps back.
Several squads that were expected to progress at the start of the season didn’t live up to the hype. Some have declined recently, while others have hung around in the league basement for a while.
The following is an analysis of the NHL’s 10 most underwhelming teams of 2017/18, in no particular order.
The Buffalo Sabres have been rebuilding since around 2014. They’ve sold off assets in return for prospects and picks, and some have been promising, like Rasmus Ristolainen and Jack Eichel.
The Sabres have also unsuccessfully tried bringing in veterans such as Ryan O’Reilly, Kyle Okposo, Jason Pominville and Nathan Beaulieu, among others, to help mentor the young guys. Weak goaltending from Robin Lehner and Chad Johnson has made things worse.
This year has been no different than the last four, despite Buffalo being highly touted to at least escape the cellar in 2017/18.
Perhaps the Sabres tried too hard to compete before they were ready, but either way, this season and rebuild have arguably been colossal failures.
The Edmonton Oilers are another example of an all but failed rebuild.
The Oilers had one strong finish last year after a decade of futility, but perhaps their strong 2016/17 campaign was a mere flash in the pan, just like the team is a heavy Stanley Cup favourite earlier in the season was way off.
It’s sad that star forward Connor McDavid hasn’t had the supporting cast to lead Edmonton to the promised land so far. His statistics putting him in the Hart Trophy race means little if the Oilers can’t make the Stanley Cup Playoffs or get it done when they do reach the big dance.
This year, netminder Cam Talbot also hasn’t been the beast he was last season. Huge contracts signed by general manager Peter Chiarelli for McDavid, Leon Draisatl and Milan Lucic won’t make it easier to put a good team in front of him either.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is also locked up for $6 million a year until 2020/21.
On defense, the Oilers have $19.1 million tied up in four players for at least the next four years. Oscar Klefbom alone is owed $4.16 million until 2022/23.
Below Lucic and Ryan Strome, the Oilers’ point production trails off, meaning they likely played way over their heads last season.
The Ottawa Senators have been a dumpster fire on and off the ice this season. They’ve lived up to their track record of inconsistency in recent years.
Team owner Eugene Melnyk threatening to move the Senators if fans don’t support them on the eve of an outdoor game looked bad enough, but the Matt Duchene trade hasn't panned out so far either.
Ottawa is likely regretting that move now that Kyle Turris has flourished with the Nashville Predators, who look well-poised for success soon.
Trading one massive contract in Dion Phaneuf to the Los Angeles Kings for another bad deal in Marian Gaborik was even more mind-boggling, although Ottawa did retain some of Phaneuf's salary.
While Edmonton made a surprise second-round appearance in last year’s playoffs, the Senators likely took the biggest step back this season after finishing one goal shy of reaching the 2017 Stanley Cup Final.
The Arizona Coyotes looked to be going all-in last summer when GM John Chayka made several moves suggesting that the perennial cellar-dwellers were finally ready to win now.
We all know how that worked out. When the team went 1-11-1 in their first 13 games, their latest of several runs to the bottom was well underway.
Clayton Keller has been solid with 63 points (23 goals, 40 assists) in 79 games, and Derek Stepan has been good with a 55-point campaign, but several other key players have regressed this season.
Louis Domingue’s rough start in net before being waived and replaced by Antti Raanta and Darcy Kuemper was another dagger in the Coyotes’ hopes of improving. There's always next year, however.
Many fans have seen the Montreal Canadiens’ decline coming for years. The team has struggled to score consistently for a few seasons, and their blueline has been weakened by GM Marc Bergevin’s questionable trades and signings.
His facepalm-worthy deals and the Canadiens’ heavy reliance on star goalie Carey Price have been part of their undoing too. Price has had an off year, and so has the whole team.
Montreal did have a 103-point campaign in 2016/17, but their regression this season has been due to many of their key players underachieving.
A minor retool or lengthy rebuild may be in order before the Canadiens bounce back.
For several years, the Vancouver Canucks have tried tweaking on the fly and rebuilding through the draft. Neither strategy has worked so far, and they’ll miss the playoffs again this season.
Fans have been left scratching their heads with the Loui Eriksson, Bo Horvat and Brandon Sutter signings, and the defence and goaltending situations have been iffy as well.
Vancouver has picks in six of seven rounds of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, so they’ll need to make those count if they hope to climb the standings ladder anytime soon. At least they can move forward with more cap space with twins Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin announcing they'll retire after the season ends.
The Chicago Blackhawks’ playoff reign ended this year after several key players showed signs of decline. Their three Stanley Cups from 2010 to 2015 make them a modern-day dynasty, but now they could be paying the price for that success.
This rough season could be an anomaly, as goalie Corey Crawford has been hurt and GM Stan Bowman’s cap management is catching up to the Blackhawks. Their young guns haven't all blossomed either.
Whether Chicago will rebound next year remains to be seen.
The Calgary Flames, Detroit Red Wings, New York Islanders and New York Rangers' woes this year could be a whole other article on their own.
What do you think of this list of disappointing teams in 2017/18? Which teams do you think will recover soon? Which ones will struggle for a while yet? Have your say in the comments section below.