It has been my experience here at The Hockey News that every year at least one team per conference in the NHL has an inexplicably bad season, one rarely predicted by pundits in the summer and made even stranger by the team’s seemingly strong foundation.
Call it the “Debacle List.”
Last season the Tampa Bay Lightning, whose vaunted Big Three was broken up when Brad Richards was traded at the deadline, but whose problems stemmed from a freak accident that shelved defenseman Dan Boyle early on, was in that boat. As were the St. Louis Blues, a borderline playoff team in the minds of some thanks to the addition of Paul Kariya, 2006 No. 1 pick Erik Johnson and the re-acquisition of Doug Weight, but a lottery team in reality.
The season before that, you can recall the horror show that was the Philadelphia Flyers, not to mention the dark horse Phoenix Coyotes turning out to be broken-down nags.
This year, as you may have guessed, those teams appear to be the Ottawa Senators and Dallas Stars.
The Stars are in the most trouble. Goaltender Marty Turco is dead-last in NHL save percentage (.872) and bottom-four in goals-against average (3.49). Given that Dallas tends to win games by preventing goals rather than scoring them, the fact the Stars have given up more tallies than any team in the league other than Toronto (who have managed to score 11 more times than Dallas) is a bad omen.
Which makes captain Brenden Morrow’s knee injury that much more catastrophic. Morrow is expected to miss about six months, which, for all intents and purposes, is the season.
The rugged left winger is a top-line player tied for second in team scoring (15 points) on a squad that only has four other players in double figures so far and is physical play was always an energizer. For a team struggling to put things together, his on-ice absence may be the death knell for Dallas’s season.
In the East, Ottawa is a team similar to Tampa last year, where on paper you would think they had enough offensive horses and collective experience to be solid. Sufficed to say, they are not. The Senators are last in the Northeast Division right now and the culprit is largely the offense.
As much ado has been made about goaltending, the Sens have scored the least amount of goals in their division (48 through 20 games), so it’s hard to fault Alex Auld or Martin Gerber on this one.
Simply put, the Ottawa offense is more top-heavy than ever. Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley are all scoring, albeit not at their best paces ever, which makes secondary offense that much more important.
With that in mind, the next-highest amount of points by a Senators forward is six. Mike Fisher, Jarkko Ruutu and Nick Foligno have all reached that lofty plateau.
If this trend continues, Ottawa will struggle even worse as the season goes on, since teams will put even more of a defensive blanket on the top guns, knowing the reserves are firing blanks.
Barring a major turnaround, these teams are looking at much higher draft picks than they’re used to – and the “Debacle List” will claim another two seasons.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and Wednesdays, his column – The Straight Edge – every Friday, and his features, The Hot List and Prep Watch appears Tuesdays and Thursdays.
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