As we approach the halfway point of the 2022-23 NHL season, there have been some major surprises around the league.
The New Jersey Devils’ climb to the top of the league standings, Dallas emerging as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender and the Seattle Kraken looking like a potential playoff team all stand out at the top of the list.
But if there are positive surprises, it stands to reason that there have been some letdowns. Those are what we are focusing on here today as we look at seven of the biggest disappointments in the league.
Disappointments can range from individual players that are having unexpectedly bad seasons, offseason additions that have not yet panned out and even entire teams that are underperforming.
At the top of the disappointment list we have the Florida Panthers.
A year ago, this team looked like they were setting themselves up to be a consistent Stanley Cup contender. They won the Presidents’ Trophy with the NHL’s best record, were the first team since the 1995-96 season to average more than four goals per game in an 82-game season and then made one of the biggest splashes of the offseason by acquiring Matthew Tkachuk from the Calgary Flames.
But that Tkachuk acquisition came at a big price, as it cost them Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar in the trade and also had to say goodbye to Claude Giroux and Mason Marchment in free agency. As if that wasn’t enough, they lost Anthony Duclair for the first half of the season because of an injury. That’s a lot of talent either out the door or on the shelf, and the Panthers haven’t been able to recover.
A dismal defense and a significant regression from big-money goalie Sergei Bobrovsky have only made things worse. That combination has made the Panthers one of the worst goal-prevention teams in the league.
You also cannot overlook the decision to part ways with interim head coach Andrew Brunette and bring in Paul Maurice. Maurice is one of the most experienced coaches in the league, but his teams have been consistently mediocre at every stop. He has missed the playoffs in 16 of his 25 seasons as a head coach.
Add all of that up, and you have a team on the outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture that is going to have an uphill fight in the second half.
The Calgary Flames as a team might be considered a disappointment given the excitement that came from their offseason.
They lost their top two players from a year ago with Johnny Gaudreau bolting in free agency and Matthew Tkachuk getting dealt to Florida. But the Tkachuk deal brought another superstar in Jonathan Huberdeau and a top-four defenseman in MacKenzie Weegar, and then they went and added Nazem Kadri in free agency.
There was reason to believe the Flames would be an even stronger contender in the Western Conference. They had the defense, they had the goalie and Darryl Sutter is a proven winner behind the bench.
They have struggled to live up to that hope, and one of the biggest reasons is a down year from Huberdeau.
Between 2018 and 2022, Huberdeau was one of the most dominant offensive players in the league with 346 points during that stretch. That number was good enough for fourth-best in the league, behind only Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Patrick Kane, while he averaged a 29-goal, 99-point pace per 82 games.
Halfway through the 2022-23 season, though, he is on pace for less than 20 goals and 60 points. That’s fine production for a run-of-the-mill first- or second-line forward. But it’s a massive disappointment when those numbers are coming from a proven star who is poised to start an eight-year, $84 million contract extension next season, especially one like Huberdeau who was brought in to help lift the Flames to Stanley Cup contention.