The 2015-16 NHL is season is underway, and every team throughout the League enters the campaign hoping to improve upon their prior season. Off-season changes play a big role in this process, with trades and signings retaining the ability to point a given franchise in the right direction, as we have already seen:
However, for a select few franchises, given trades and signings, or a lack thereof, can instead result in unexpected regression in overall play, leading to a decreased playoff seeding, or much worse, missing the postseason entirely.
For the five teams listed below in no particular order, such is the case. Although the majority of these teams have enjoyed recent success, the future remains much more uncertain:
2014-15 Record: 41-27-14 (5th in the Atlantic Division)
After failing to reach to postseason in 2014-15, the first time in the past eight years, the Boston Bruins appear poised for regression following an offseason defined by drastic changes.
Long-time Bruins Gregory Campbell, Milan Lucic and Daniel Paille are now departed, and so too are budding young stars such as Dougie Hamilton and Reilly Smith, who were rather surprisingly moved during this past summer. Conversely, the Bruins were insufficient in replacing their losses, as other than draft picks, Matt Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes were the only notable additions to the Bruins roster.
As a result, the Bruins have struggled out of the gate, opening the season with a 2-3-0 record while allowing 21 goals in those games. Sure, the Bruins have been hit by the injury bug, as key players Brad Marchand and Zdeno Chara have missed time, however, the Bruins roster has considerably less depth than in seasons passed, and are undoubtedly suffering as a result.
Due to a considerably weaker roster of lesser depth, the Bruins, despite retaining their trademark competitiveness, will in all likelihood struggle to reach the playoffs in 2015-16. Cashing in on one of the strongest draft classes in recent history this past June was a smart decision, and in doing so they solidified a strong future, however they have compromised the present in doing so.
2014-15 Record: 43-27-12 (4th in the Metropolitan Division)
It was a tale of two seasons for the Penguins in 2014-15. After starting the season with incredible success, at one point retaining a 22-10 record, the Penguins began to fall apart, both literally and figuratively. Injuries wreaked havoc on the Penguins’ lineup as the season wound down, and so too did poor and inconsistent play.
Due to their faltering, the Penguins nearly missed the playoffs entirely, managing to squeak into the postseason by a mere two points.
One of the Penguins’ most pertinent issues in 2014-15 was their defense. Although the blue line was plagued by injuries, it also suffered from a lack of depth, an issue which has become more apparent due to the Penguins lack of offseason changes. Minute-eating defenders Paul Martin and Christian Ehrhoff both left town, yet the Penguins did little to replace them. Instead, they added to their potent offense, which, despite the acquisition of Phil Kessel, has been incredibly quiet, scoring a mere seven goals over five games.
Opening the season with a 2-3-0 record is not how the Penguins envisioned their season would begin, however it could become much worse in Pittsburgh if the current roster fails to generate sufficient chemistry.
2014-15 Record: 48-29-5 (2nd in the Pacific Division)
The Canucks had yet another successful season in 2014-15, finishing second in the Pacific Division with 101 points. However, it all came to a sudden end at the hand of the upstart Calgary Flames, who eliminated the Canucks in the first round of the playoffs.
In terms of the Canucks roster, a large number of changes were made during the offseason, the majority of which featured familiar faces leaving town via free agency or trade. Kevin Bieksa, Nick Bonino, Shawn Matthias and Eddie Lack were amongst most notable players to leave Vancouver, who added Brandon Sutter, Brandon Prust and Matt Bartkowski in exchange.
As a result, the Canucks are relying now more than ever on their young prospects to make an impact at the NHL level. In fact, Bo Horvat, Jake Virtanen, Jared McCann, Sven Baertschi and Ben Hutton have done just that, having all not only made the Canucks out of training camp, but also having made an early impression on both offense and defense.
Despite a good start at 3-1-2, the Canucks roster as a whole continues to age, with those relied upon most to produce regressing in terms of their annual production. The Canucks could certainly reach the playoffs again in 2015-16, however, it could be for the final time in the near future as Vancouver continues its shift to a youth-laden roster.
2014-15 Record: 45-30-7 (3rd in the Pacific Division)
The Calgary Flames stunned the hockey world in 2014-15 by not only reaching the playoffs, but by defeating the favored Vancouver Canucks and proceeding to the Western Conference Semifinals. Although they were eventually defeated by the Anaheim Ducks in five games, the Flames, especially their young players, showcased the tremendous potential of the team.
With expectations now sky-high in Calgary, the Flames’ young players are once again being counted on, quite possibly too heavily, in order to repeat the success of their past season. Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan will be relied upon to produce elite offence, while the Flames’ defense saw great improvement this offseason thanks to the arrival of defenseman Hamilton from Boston.
Unfortunately for the Flames, past success does not guarantee future results, and such has been the case early on this season. Off to a 1-4-0 start, the Flames have stumbled out of the gate, allowing a Western Conference-worst 19 goals against in their first five games. Part of the issue thus far has been a lack of consistent goaltending, as both Jonas Hiller and Karri Ramo have had poor starts to their seasons.
Although the Flames remain a good, if not improved, team from last season, reaching the playoffs in 2015-16 is quite likely out of the picture, as an over-reliance on both younger players of lesser experience, as well as an offensively over-productive blue line will likely result in inconsistent play in the long run, as has been witnessed thus far this season.
Los Angeles Kings
2014-15 Record: 40-27-15 (4th in the Pacific Division)
After winning the Stanley Cup in 2014, the Los Angeles Kings became the first team to miss the postseason following a championship victory since the Carolina Hurricanes did so in 2007-08.
Unfortunately for the Kings, this regression in play has continued into 2015-16, the reasoning for which due to the numerous departures during the offseason from last year’s roster. Andrej Sekera, Justin Williams, Martin Jones and Jarret Stoll all moved on to new clubs via either free agency or trade, yet the Kings did very little to replace these losses. In fact, Milan Lucic and Christian Ehrhoff were the only new additions to the Kings, and both of which have gotten off to poor starts in Los Angeles.
As a result, the Kings are lacking the characteristic depth with which their team has become well-known for over the past years, an aspect which has made them a consistent threat in the Pacific Division and led to two Stanley Cups.
After dropping their first three games of the season with a combined score of 12-2, the Kings have since bounced back and have won two straight close games. However, it appears as though the Kings could once again find themselves on the outside looking in come the end of the 2015-16 season. Not only are the Kings weaker than in previous years in terms of team depth, but the Pacific Division is also becoming increasingly competitive, as no longer are the Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames or even the Arizona Coyotes easy victories.
What does remain, however, is the fact that the Kings retain a tremendously skilled and experienced core of high-end players, as well as Jonathan Quick in net. Sure, they boast a good amount of raw young talent, but if anyone can help quicken and direct the maturation process of these young stars into elite NHL players, it is the Kings.
Brett Slawson is a four-year veteran of The Hockey Writers who covers the Toronto Maple Leafs, NHL prospects, and the OHL’s Mississauga Steelheads.
Contact Brett on Twitter @brettslawson92, or by email at email@example.com.