The Biggest Winners and Losers From the 1st Week of the NHL Season | News, Scores, Highlights, Stats, and Rumors
The Biggest Winners and Losers From the 1st Week of the NHL Season
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Alika Jenner/Getty Images
And just like that, the playoffs are only 173 days away.
OK, the NHL’s regular season hasn’t reached the point where postseason berths are being clinched and lost, but it has seemed like barely an eye-blink since the start of training camp and where we are now, one week into the 2022-23 schedule.
Some things have gone as expected since pucks were dropped in the Czech Republic and subsequently across North America, but many others have not—positively and negatively.
Given that reality, the B/R hockey writing staff decided to wade in to compile a list of the league’s most prominent winners and losers from the first week of play.
Click through to see what we came up with and drop a line or two of your own in the comments section.
Winner: Coach ‘Torts’
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Coach John Tortorella is off to a winning start with his fifth NHL team, the Philadelphia Flyers (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
The Philadelphia Flyers skidded into irrelevance after entering the 2020 playoffs as a top seed in the Eastern Conference, while coach John Tortorella has been hired and fired (or mutually agreed to part ways) in four NHL cities.
Coach “Torts” arrived to Philadelphia this summer with a reputation of demanding a lot from his players, and it was guaranteed that his tenure with the Flyers would be a must-watch to see how long it would take the maximum-effort message to take hold.
The early returns have been surprisingly good. The team burst from the gate with defeats of the New Jersey Devils, Vancouver Canucks and Tampa Bay Lightning to get off to a 3-0-0 start for the first time since 2011-12.
The Flyers allowed just six goals across the three victories, signaling a possible return to elite status for goalie Carter Hart, who was spectacular in winning 40 of his first 70 NHL starts before plummeting to 22-35-12 across the last two seasons.
He stopped 99 of 105 shots against the Devils, Canucks and Lightning and entered the weekend among the league leaders in both goals-against average (2.00) and save percentage (.943).
Losers: Big-Ticket Goalies
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Things haven’t started out so well this season for Minnesota goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who signed a two-year, $7 million deal in the summer (David Berding/Getty Images)
Marc-Andre Fleury, to some, was the missing piece.
The Minnesota Wild had depth and talent across the roster and needed a proven goaltender to mount a legitimate challenge for the franchise’s first Stanley Cup.
So when general manager Bill Guerin got Fleury, a three-time Cup champ, at the trade deadline last spring, it seemed like the immediate competitive future was sound in the hockey-mad state.
And with Cam Talbot traded to Ottawa in July and the veteran having a full offseason to settle in after inking a two-year, $7 million contract, fans in Minnesota were justifiably excited for 2022-23. The signing of Fleury may ultimately be worthwhile, but the early days haven’t been great.
Now about month away from turning 38, Fleury has been shaky at best through his initial three starts while allowing 14 goals on 75 shots. That translates to the sort of save percentage (.813) and GAA (5.96) that’d have a borderline player on the next bus to the ECHL.
Joining him on the initially suspect list is Edmonton’s Jack Campbell, who came over from Toronto as a free agent and signed a five-year, $25 million contract that’d presumably get Oilers fans over the nightmares caused by the inconsistency of Mike Smith.
It’s been a similar story for the 30-year-old, though. He allowed three goals in an opening-night game with Vancouver and gave up four more on 11 shots before being yanked for Stuart Skinner in the first period of a loss to Calgary.
Campbell stopped 36 of 40 shots as Edmonton knocked Carolina from the ranks of the unbeaten with a 6-4 win on Thursday, but the optics aren’t good for a team that hoped to progress beyond outscoring defensive mistakes after its offseason prize fished 11 pucks out of the net after just 87 shots.
Winner: Brad Treliving
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Calgary GM Brad Treliving is looking pretty smart these days for a series of offseason moves that were initially panned (Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
No matter how you look at it, Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving is a first-week winner.
It was under his watch that Johnny Gaudreau skipped out of town to sign in the non-traditional hockey market of Columbus, Ohio. And when fellow forward Matthew Tkachuk indicated he’d not stay with the team when his free-agent number came up, the competitive forecasts looked bleak across Southern Alberta.
But that’s when Treliving went to work.
He swung a deal with Florida that sent Tkachuk there for a package that included 115-point forward Jonathan Huberdeau and stalwart defenseman MacKenzie Weegar. Both players have since signed eight-year extensions.
Then, as the free-agency period ticked into its final premium hours, he snatched up gritty forward Nazem Kadri on a seven-year deal worth $49 million, reinjecting the sandpaper element that Tkachuk had provided while adding Kadri’s recent Stanley Cup pedigree after his 87-point season with the Colorado Avalanche in 2021-22.
The Flames hit the ice as a cohesive unit and burst from the gate with three straight wins, defeating Colorado, provincial rival Edmonton and the perennial Pacific Division contender Vegas Golden Knights before finally falling 6-3 to Buffalo on Thursday.
A showdown with Eastern Conference powerhouse Carolina awaits on Saturday, but early returns suggest Treliving’s reassembled team is built for the long title-chasing haul.
Losers: Anxious Canadian Fans
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Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe hasn’t been shy when it comes to being critical of his superstar players (Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
It’s in the DNA of Canada-based hockey fans, particularly ones in Toronto and Edmonton: There’s enough tradition surrounding each franchise for the fanbase to expect perennial title contention but enough recent irrelevance and/or crunch-time disappointment to create angst at the slightest downward turn.
That’s been the case in 2022-23 for both the Maple Leafs and Oilers.
Lest anyone forget, Toronto hasn’t hoisted a Stanley Cup since 1967 and hasn’t so much as escaped a first-round playoff series since 2004, often losing in excruciating fashion.
That continued with a blown 3-2 series lead against Tampa Bay last spring, and it’s begun this season with an uneven start.
A 4-3 defeat by the hated Montreal Canadiens on opening night wasn’t a good sign. And things got even worse when offseason goaltending arrival Matt Murray, a two-time Cup winner in Pittsburgh, suffered an adductor injury that’s kept him out of action since.
Another 4-2 loss to the visiting Arizona Coyotes five nights later prompted a claim from coach Sheldon Keefe that the team’s stars haven’t performed like it.
“Our best people have not found a rhythm,” he said. “The difference between us and Arizona is that we have elite players. And our elite players didn’t play like elite players.”
Meanwhile, it’s been a similar roller coaster about 3,300 kilometers west in Edmonton, where the Oilers trailed by three goals before rallying for an opening-night win against Vancouver. But then they pulled their goalie in the first period of a loss to Calgary and followed it up with a defeat to visiting Buffalo in which they took 48 shots and scored twice.
Aforementioned goalie Jack Campbell, who played for the Maple Leafs during last spring’s blown series lead against the Lightning, is toting a 5.08 GAA and an .874 save percentage even after the team’s bounce-back win over Carolina on Thursday.
That’s prompted some of the steeliest fans to wonder whether the net is in better hands than it was with Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen.
Add to it an injury to preseason hero Dylan Holloway, who left Tuesday’s loss to the Sabres with an injury that has kept him off the ice since, and salary-cap/roster issues are real in the City of Champions.
Winner: New York, New York
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Artemi Panarin and the New York Rangers are off to a good start in 2022-23 after a deep postseason run last spring (Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images)
How good is it to be a New York sports fan these days?
The Yankees are in baseball’s playoff final four, the Jets and Giants are a combined 9-3 through the first six weeks of the NFL season, and it’s going pretty well on ice too.
The New York Rangers and Islanders have admittedly different expectations as the NHL gets into full swing, but both have shown significant signs of life early on.
The Rangers got within a series win of the Stanley Cup Final last spring and are 3-1-1 to begin their follow-up season, getting scoring from both established and upstart players while leaning on Vezina-winning goalie Igor Shesterkin.
Winger Artemi Panarin had a league-best 11 points through Thursday night’s games, and center Mika Zibanejad was just a few spots behind in a tie for fourth with eight.
Recent high draft picks Alexis Lafrenière (first overall, 2020) and Kaapo Kakko (second overall, 2019) got in on the act too, combining for three goals and a plus-three rating while averaging nearly 32 minutes of ice time.
The good vibes are wafting onto Long Island as well, where the Islanders—who’d reached two straight playoff final fours before missing the 2021-22 postseason—split their first four games while scoring goals at a respectable 3.5 per-contest rate after managing an anemic 2.79 per game in 2021-22.
Five players have accounted for 11 of the 14 goals—including two apiece from defensemen Noah Dobson, Robin Salo and Scott Mayfield—as the group settles into the game plans concocted by new coach Lane Lambert after Barry Trotz was sent packing last May.
A two-game road trip to face the Lightning and Florida Panthers precedes the first Islanders-Rangers matchup this season Wednesday at UBS Arena.
“I don’t think our identity has changed that much. It’s still strength in numbers. It’s a full-team effort,” captain Anders Lee told Kevin Kurz of The Athletic. “Hard to play against. All the stuff we’ve commented on over the years. I don’t think any of that is changing at all. That’s who we are.
“We’re a hard-nosed team that plays the game the right way and puts ourselves every night in a position to win a hockey game. Up and down our lineup we have a lot of depth, we have great goaltending. You’ve got to put it all together and back that up.”
Loser: Western Conference Coaches in Their 1st Full Seasons
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It’s been a rough return to the NHL so far this season for San Jose coach David Quinn (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
It’s never easy to take a new job, even if it’s not your first time.
But for Bruce Boudreau and David Quinn, who’ve had success as NHL coaches in other cities, it’s got to be particularly difficult to stomach.
Quinn was hired in July to lead the San Jose Sharks after they’d skidded to a 77-point finish, missed the playoffs for a third straight season—a first for the 30-year-old franchise—and parted ways with Bob Boughner after parts of those same three seasons.
Given that recent track record, it’s probably no surprise that the Sharks would struggle to start the 2022-23 campaign, but Quinn, who coached the Rangers for three seasons, would presumably have expected better than what he’s got.
San Jose lost each of its first five games and was beaten by three goals in three of them, coming out on the wrong side of a 19-8 goal differential before a trip to Madison Square Garden to face the Rangers resulted in a 3-2 overtime win.
The Thursday night win in New York left Boudreau’s Canucks as the only team in the league without a regulation win heading into Friday night.
It’s particularly surprising for the 67-year-old, who actually took over the team amid chaos last season when both coach Travis Green and GM Jim Benning were let go. Boudreau led the group to 74 points in 57 games, and though it wasn’t enough to secure a playoff berth, it prompted a sizable level of British Columbia optimism.
Five games in and Vancouver is 0-3-2, and it became the first team in league history to drop four straight games in which it had a multi-goal lead. And the Canucks’ mettle was called out by the same coach whose sunny demeanor had sparked the in-season turnaround last winter.
“I think right now, ‘mentally weak’ would be a good assessment,” Boudreau told reporters after the third defeat. “When you’re on a roll, you’re waiting for good things to happen. When you’re in something like this, you’re waiting for something bad to happen.”
It’s been a mediocre but probably less surprising start in Chicago as well after Luke Richardson took over in June following a season in which the Blackhawks stumbled to 27th overall under Jeremy Colliton and his interim replacement Derek King.
Heading into play Friday, Chicago was 1-2 and had scored just seven goals in three road games.
Nevertheless, it’s likely to be a prolonged rebuilding struggle for Richardson, with a roster gutted by offseason moves in which established players were jettisoned for draft picks and with superstars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews in the final years of their contracts.