Each NHL team’s biggest concern a month into the 2022-23 season, from ‘everything’ to ‘too good to tank’

A month in, the 2022-23 NHL season is no longer fresh and fun for many franchises and their fan bases. Concerns that this won’t be the season they envisioned in the preseason are beginning to mount.

Case in point: When The Athletic asked its NHL staff this week for each team’s biggest concern at this point in the season, one reporter covering a preseason-projected playoff team asked if he could submit a response of “Everything.”

Another said the team he covers now regrettably seems too good to tank.

It’s a full spectrum of concerns. Here are the biggest ones for each team.

The horrendous penalty kill: You could have your pick of concerns here — John Gibson being annihilated nightly, Mason McTavish’s Calder candidacy never getting off the ground, Dallas Eakins’ coaching, etc., etc. — but when you continually take penalties and can’t kill them, it destroys any momentum you do build. The Ducks’ 4.63 penalties per 60 minutes isn’t the most in the NHL (Ottawa is at 5.80), but they’re atrocious at erasing them. They’ve allowed a league-high 15 power-play goals, and their 61.5 percent kill rate is flat-out unacceptable. Gibson (.768 shorthanded save percentage) isn’t covering up the leaky kill like he used to. Guess replacing Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson is harder than you think. — Eric Stephens

How to survive their upcoming 14-game road trip: The Coyotes have been an unexpectedly tough out most nights this season, but the greatest challenge comes now — a record stretch of no home games between Nov. 5 and Dec. 7 that will be the ultimate test for the resiliency that coach Andre Tourigny is trying to instill in his talent-thin roster. Arizona’s 3-6-1 record could be about to get worse in a hurry. — Eric Duhatschek

How they will clear space for Charlie McAvoy: McAvoy (shoulder) is scheduled to return around Thanksgiving. But he is currently on long-term injured reserve. Assuming the rest of the roster is at near or full health when McAvoy is cleared, the Bruins would have to create cap space to accommodate his $9.5 million average annual value. They have already placed Nick Foligno ($3.8 million AAV) and Mike Reilly ($3 million) on waivers. Both cleared, indicating that the Bruins would have to part with assets to clear either salary. Craig Smith ($3.1 million) is unrestricted after this year. But the right wing has been injured and is averaging a career-low 11:48 of ice time per game. — Fluto Shinzawa

Injuries on defense: Buffalo is off to a 7-3 start and has been playing without its top three defensemen for the past week. Mattias Samuelsson is out for at least a few more weeks. Henri Jokiharju is getting closer to a return, as is Ilya Lyubushkin. But the Sabres’ depth on the blue line has been tested. While they’ve gotten strong goaltending and decent play from those who have filled in, they’ll have a much stabler situation when the lineup is back at full strength. — Matthew Fairburn

Jonathan Huberdeau: Through nine games, the star forward and prize acquisition has just one goal, and he has gone pointless over his past three games. Only one of his five points has come at five-on-five. Huberdeau is trying to shoot more and create plays, but it hasn’t all clicked just yet. Meanwhile, Darryl Sutter is trying to figure out if Elias Lindholm or Nazem Kadri should be his center, going forward. There’s still time for Huberdeau to get going, but he’ll need stability. — Julian McKenzie and Hailey Salvian

An uncharacteristically mediocre penalty kill: Much of the griping by Hurricanes fans has been about the team’s power play, which had converted on 17.8 percent of its chances through Friday’s win over the Sabres but has failed numerous times in key situations. The real concern, though, is Carolina’s vaunted penalty kill. Since Rod Brind’Amour took over as coach in 2018, the Hurricanes have the league’s best cumulative penalty kill (84.5 percent), ranking eighth or better each season and leading the NHL at 88 percent a year ago. This year, it’s at 77.3 percent, has allowed at least one goal in eight of the team’s first 11 games and hasn’t looked nearly as stingy. — Cory Lavalette

Being too competitive for their own good: Look, we all know that players and coaches don’t tank. Nobody in the Blackhawks locker room is sitting there waiting around for a teenager to come take their job and save the franchise. But to Kyle Davidson and the Blackhawks brass, the whole point of this season was to be bad enough to guarantee a top-three pick next summer, with Connor Bedard in mind. Through 11 games, the Blackhawks aren’t necessarily “good,” but they appear far too competent, far too competitive and far too well-coached to be as bad as they’re supposed to be — and as most think they need to be. It’s fun right now, but finishing in 10th or 11th place in the Western Conference is truly the worst-case scenario for management. — Mark Lazerus

Depth forwards and secondary scoring: Colorado has leaned heavily on top forwards Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Valeri Nichushkin. Aside from those three, Evan Rodrigues (four goals), Logan O’Connor (two) and Artturi Lehkonen (two), no other forward on the team has more than one goal. Alex Newhook is still adjusting to added responsibility, and the team hasn’t been able to replicate the production lost when Nazem Kadri and Andre Burakovsky left in free agency. Plus, Jared Bednar has not found a fourth line he trusts. — Peter Baugh

Goals allowed: The Blue Jackets spent all summer looking at ways to cut down their goals-against after allowing a franchise record 298 in 2021-22. Whatever they came up with, it hasn’t worked. A combination of leaky goaltending and maddening defensive breakdowns have spelled doom in the early season. The Jackets have allowed 50 goals through 11 games, including 23 over their past four. If this doesn’t get markedly better and quickly, they are a lottery team. — Aaron Portzline

Injuries: The Stars are still mostly in the honeymoon phase of the Pete DeBoer era in terms of results. They’re scoring goals, not letting too many in and when they have an off performance, they respond well. However, the injury bug has shown up and given a glimpse as to how much of an issue it can be. Miro Heiskanen, the team’s best player, missed three games, and during that time, the power play went freezing cold. Jake Oettinger began the season at a Vezina level but has been out for a week. Not only are injuries players of this caliber tough to deal with, but the Stars are also strapped against the cap. Though they have organizational depth, Oettinger’s injury has forced the team to carry only 12 forwards for cap reasons. Things are going well for the Stars, but injuries have the potential to derail things. — Saad Yousuf

Turnovers and sloppy puck play: In some ways, the Red Wings have taken real steps forward defensively this season — needed ones after an abysmal showing in 2021-22. Their penalty kill is improved, and their new additions (both at forward and on defense) have helped make them tougher to play against. But they are still turning too many pucks over, especially in important parts of the ice. Their inconsistency in trying to cleanly exit the defensive zone is a big part of that, and it’s leading to extended time on offense for their opponents. The Red Wings have managed to start 5-3-2 anyway, but they have already started to pay for those mistakes on the scoreboard — and the record will follow if they can’t clean it up. — Max Bultman

The penalty kill: Maybe Thursday’s perfect 3-for-3 performance is a sign that things are on the mend. The Oilers have to hope so. The PK hasn’t been good enough this season. Edmonton has allowed at least one goal while shorthanded in nine of 11 games and stymied opponents’ power plays just 75 percent of the time. That success rate had them in the bottom quarter of the league entering play on Friday. The Oilers have Stanley Cup aspirations. The PK work isn’t close to that level. — Daniel Nugent-Bowman

The power play: It’s not a new issue for the Panthers — a near-total power-play outage was part of the reason their season ended in the second round of the playoffs. The personnel is different, though; Jonathan Huberdeau and Claude Giroux are gone, Aaron Ekblad and Anthony Duclair are injured and the unit is struggling even more. Florida is 31st in the league with a 10.6 percent conversion rate (5-for-47), ahead of only Columbus (0-for-25). Florida is getting its share of opportunities (tied for second in the league), and Ekblad’s return will help, but both factors can only go so far. — Sean Gentille

Consistently being inconsistent: The Kings’ 6-6-1 record says it all. They aren’t the only club that’s still trying to figure it all out, but they just wrapped up a 1-1-1 road trip with an overtime loss at Chicago, a defeat in which they managed to put only one shot past goalie Arvid Soderblom, who had three NHL starts and no wins to his name coming in. Ironically, it isn’t the offense that’s an issue. The Kings score enough (3.31 goals per game) but haven’t put stretches together of defending consistently through 60 minutes. Paired with that is Jonathan Quick (.889 save percentage) and Cal Petersen (.868) not stealing games. Every step or two forward is met with one or two backward. — Eric Stephens

Injuries to big forwards: The Wild are suddenly inundated with injuries, notably to four big, physical forwards: Jordan Greenway, Ryan Hartman, Marcus Foligno and Brandon Duhaime. This is a smallish team to begin, and the injured players’ absence was felt and seen during Thursday’s shutout loss to Seattle. Greenway is close to returning, but it’s unclear how long the others will be out, particularly Hartman, who scored 34 times last season. — Michael Russo

Generating value with trade assets: Considering the low expectations, you could say the Canadiens picking up points early is a deterrent to fetching a high draft pick next June. But since this is not their prime goal, we’ll go with the lack of value being generated by the players they’re hoping to flip at the trade deadline. You could hope that players like Evgenii Dadonov, Sean Monahan, Jonathan Drouin, and to a lesser extent Mike Hoffman, would be able to generate good returns, but so far, the chances of that happening look a bit grim. — Marc Antoine Godin

Young players who aren’t developing: Cody Glass goes from camp pleasant surprise to top-six look to healthy scratch. Eeli Tolvanen from early success to top-six look to healthy scratch. Dante Fabbro from top-four start to healthy scratch. Philip Tomasino from presumed top-six opportunity to the AHL. And he’s still there. This is supposed to be the foundation of the future. — Joe Rexrode

Getting the goaltending to keep up in the Metro: There’s a lot to like about the Devils’ start. After a couple of disappointing games to open the year, this team has been crushing it at five-on-five, is weathering the loss of Ondrej Palat and is getting results from the John Marino addition. But the goaltending — which isn’t perfect to start with — may get dicey depending on Mackenzie Blackwood’s status. The Devils are doing well to protect their goalies, but they need to find a way to balance Vitek Vanecek’s workload enough that they can keep the pace down the stretch. There’s a lot of competition, from last year’s playoff teams to squads like the Islanders pushing for a return. That was already a challenge for New Jersey, but it may have gotten a bit more challenging with the latest injury. — Shayna Goldman

New York Islanders

The power play: There isn’t much that’s gone wrong lately for the Islanders, who got their fifth straight win, all in regulation, in St. Louis on Thursday. If there’s one area for improvement, though, it’s the power play, which is just 5-for-34 and often looks motionless. If the Islanders can get that going while maintaining what has been an outstanding penalty kill, they could take their place among the NHL’s elite teams in short order. — Kevin Kurz

Their luck: The Rangers lead the league in expected goals through 12 games. They are 28th in shooting percentage at five-on-five, though, so they are last in expected goals-versus-actual goals differential. Everything else in their game is good or at least good enough, but there’s been very little luck on their side. It can’t last, right? Right? — Arthur Staple

Lack of consistency from the defensive pairings: Heading into the season, we knew Ottawa’s biggest potential weakness was its blue line. Ten games into the season, those fears have come to fruition. The Senators have yet to find consistency in their defensive pairings, and the recent injury to Artem Zub has only magnified the issue. The Senators will need to address this issue soon if they don’t want the season to slip away. Recalling prospect Jacob Bernard-Docker on Friday is a potential internal solution, but that’s a lot of pressure to place on a young defender. Ottawa’s blue line will certainly be under the microscope over the next 10 games. — Ian Mendes

They barely ever have the puck At first glance, the Flyers sure look like they’re exceeding expectations. Through ten games, they have a solid 5-3-2 record, and going purely by points percentage, they’re actually sitting in a playoff spot in the loaded Eastern Conference. The problem? They’re getting absolutely crushed nightly, and Carter Hart is the primary reason they’re winning any games at all. Hart’s .943 save percentage and regular heroics deserve praise, but the skaters in front of him don’t. So far, the Flyers have collected just 36.6 percent of the expected goals (per Evolving-Hockey) at five-on-five, good for 31st in the league, and 38 percent of the shot attempts (dead last). In other words, they’re playing defense for nearly two-thirds of their games. Unless Hart continues to produce historically fantastic results, the floor is going to fall out from under the Flyers if they don’t fix this major issue — fast. — Charlie O’Connor

Irresponsible play with the puck: The Penguins are giveaway machines early this season, which has exposed a subpar defense corps and goaltending that has taken a step back. Forwards are sending blind passes through the offensive zone at an alarming rate, and neutral-zone turnovers are a regular occurrence. Coach Mike Sullivan is frustrated with his club’s careless puck play, and rightfully so because it’s contributed to a losing streak that soured a promising beginning. — Rob Rossi

An improved process not leading to results: The Sharks started 0-5 but have played significantly better since then. Erik Karlsson has been fantastic, other top players have improved and they’ve cleaned up some major issues from the bad start … but San Jose is also just 3-3-2 since then and has won just one game in regulation. We don’t know if the club can continue to play this well for a long stretch of games, or how it will react when there are problems like injuries or dips in performance that are inevitable. The Sharks haven’t banked enough points when the times are good to absorb another stretch when the times are bad. — Corey Masisak

Goaltending depth, especially after the Philipp Grubauer injury: It’s not like the Kraken came into the season without concerns in net, but the Grubauer injury only puts more pressure on an area of weakness. Anytime a team has to rely on Martin Jones as a starter, there’s reason for concern. While Joey Daccord is in the fold now, he only has so much NHL-level experience. The bright side is that Seattle really does have the goal support it was missing last year, which is helping it come back in games. But the Kraken’s goaltenders have allowed more goals than expected and only have so high of a ceiling. — Shayna Goldman

Everything (except the goaltending): After a 3-0 start, the Blues are on a slide that hasn’t been seen in St. Louis since the end of the 2013-14 season. They’re 0-6 and their next game is at the league’s top team, Boston (10-1). There was hope that general manager Doug Armstrong addressing the team earlier this week would turn the tide, but two days later, the same issues — limited scoring and defensive lapses — led to a 5-2 loss to the Islanders. The Blues are now last in goals for (2.33 per game) and No. 28 in goals against (3.89). They’re probably better than they’ve shown, but it could get to a point soon where Armstrong has to decide if a trade can help salvage the season or if it’s time to begin the rebuild. — Jeremy Rutherford

The blue line and penalty kill: The Lightning blue line underwent a makeover in the offseason, and they are still trying to make up for the loss of Ryan McDonagh. They also had to replace Jan Rutta, and Zach Bogosian has been out. It’s telling that Tampa Bay is in the middle of the pack in goals allowed (16th, 3.09 goals-against average) while having the best goalie in the world. They’re giving up too much defensively, as Andrei Vasilevskiy’s 52-save effort showed in Thursday’s shootout loss. There’s still plenty of time and the Lightning can figure it out. They just need to adjust to their new players in different roles. — Joe Smith

The state of the defense: The Leafs’ biggest struggle in the opening month — shockingly — was the offense, particularly from the stars. They just weren’t producing as usual nor looking all that dangerous. Inevitably, Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner will heat up. John Tavares came up with a hat trick the other night in a hopeful sign of things to come for the stars up top. The defense is more uncertain. Jake Muzzin is out indefinitely and may not return this season. Justin Holl has struggled. Mark Giordano is the oldest defenseman in the league. And Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren are both young in their careers. There are a lot of question marks here. About the only two defenders the Leafs can completely rely on are Morgan Rielly and T.J. Brodie. And they’ve had to split those two up in the name of balance. — Jonas Siegel

The penalty kill: Where do you begin? The Canucks rank 31st in the NHL by team save percentage, 27th in points percentage, 20th by expected goals percentage (score adjusted). So we could go on and on with this. But we have to pick the penalty kill, which has surrendered 14 goals against and has the worst kill rate in the league. Only one team has surrendered more power-play goals against — the Ducks — and only by one, and they’ve spent 17 more minutes shorthanded than Vancouver has. If you adjust to goals against per hour rate, the Canucks are surrendering over 20 goals per hour and the Ducks — who are second-worst — are at about 15 goals per hour. In other words, Vancouver’s penalty kill is about 33 percent worse than the next worst team in the league through the first few weeks of the season. Yikes. — Thomas Drance

The special teams: The Golden Knights rank 17th in the league in both power-play and penalty-kill percentage through 12 games. We knew entering the season both would be works in progress, as Bruce Cassidy and assistant coach John Stevens attempt to improve Vegas’ struggling special teams, and so far it’s been just that. The good news is Cassidy has already shuffled the power play several times, and it’s looked much better since he put Jack Eichel on his strong side and Mark Stone in the bumper spot. The penalty kill is coming along, successfully killing 11 of the past 12 (91.7 percent) after a rough 11-of-16 (68.8 percent) start. Still, both units will need to be better moving forward. — Jesse Granger

Washington Capitals

$35 million in salaries on injured reserve: Before the season, I asked a top Caps executive what keeps him awake at night. His answer: “Injuries.” Not even a month in, a nightmare scenario is playing out. As of Friday, Nicklas Backstrom ($9.2 million), John Carlson ($8 million), T.J. Oshie ($5.75 million), Tom Wilson ($5.17 million), Connor Brown ($3.6 million), Carl Hagelin ($2.75 million) and Beck Malenstyn ($762,000) were on some form of IR. Goaltending — last year’s biggest deficiency — is vastly improved. But scoring is down and down significantly. After years of outrunning Father Time, it’s hard not to wonder if he’s finally caught up to the veteran-laden Caps. — Tarik El-Bashir

Self-inflicted wounds: Winnipeg has forechecked better, backchecked better and more or less maintained better defensive coverage early this season when compared to last. Good news, right? Yes, and … 1) Last year’s process is a low bar to clear, and 2) Despite showing signs of improvement, the Jets continue to throw the puck away at their own blue line. Whether the decision-making is slow, the support is missing, or Winnipeg is fleeing the zone in search of offense, the Jets are making the kinds of puck-management mistakes that take the air out of their overall improvements and bury the team in its own zone for long stretches of play. If you could snap your fingers and fix it, Winnipeg is good enough at everything else to be quite a competitive team. — Murat Ates

(Top photo of Ryan Lindgren and Igor Shesterkin: Bruce Bennett / Getty Images)

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