It’s safe to say that, after the year that just was, everybody could use a little extra positivity in their lives, right?
And for fans of the NHL’s most beleaguered squads, that’s doubly true. Sports, usually, are our pleasant escape from the harsh realities of life. But it’s hard to get much escapism from the season when your team is losing. And while the prospect of getting Shane Wright in the draft this July is enticing, a little instant gratification is always nice too.
So, let’s get 2022 started on the right foot by looking at one reason each of the NHL’s current bottom 10 teams can be happy right now. Though they may be trending toward an early spring, that doesn’t mean there isn’t cause for hope in the future. And hey, while things may not be looking great for 2021-22, keep in mind that the St. Louis Blues were famously last in the NHL in early January 2019 before ultimately winning the Cup that June.
And since COVID cancellations have continued to have an outsized impact on the schedule, we’re going to take the NHL’s current bottom 10 teams by points percentage rather than total points.
Arizona Coyotes (.250 points percentage)
We start at the bottom. There has been much tumult recently, both on and off the ice in the desert, but at least the full-time return of the Kachina branding/jerseys means the team looks good. The only thing keeping the rebrand from being perfect is abandoning the crescent moon as the center-ice logo at Gila River.
As for the team, the ’Yotes already have up to eight picks in the first 64 selections of the 2022 draft, plus deadline fodder in Phil Kessel, Shayne Gostisbehere and even Jakob Chychrun. GM Bill Armstrong appears to have them on the right path.
Montreal Canadiens (.265 points percentage)
Former GM Marc Bergevin was wise to include top-10 protection for the first-rounder he sent to the Arizona Coyotes as part of the Christian Dvorak trade.
It’s been a rough season for a club coming off its first Cup final appearance since 1993, but at least they won’t suffer the fate of the 2018-19 Ottawa Senators or the 2019-20 San Jose Sharks – falling to the basement knowing they’d be giving away a top-five pick on a silver platter.
Plus, they’ve had enough bad injury luck for a lifetime this year. Maybe it will be out of the way by 2022-23.
Ottawa Senators (.345 points percentage)
Though the deal appeared dead for a while, rumors emerged in early December that the National Capital Commission and the Senators could still strike an agreement for the club to build a new arena at LeBreton Flats, just west of downtown Ottawa.
That would be a boon for a fan base seemingly tired of trekking to suburban Kanata to see a team that’s failed to make the playoffs four straight seasons.
With a strong prospect pool already making waves, a new arena project could spur an excitement not felt in the city since the Pizza Line (Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley) electrified in Ottawa.
And though Jake Sanderson got into just one game before the WJC’s cancellation, earning Team USA’s captaincy was still meaningful.
Seattle Kraken (.364 points percentage)
The NHL’s newest squad has struggled early on, especially compared to their expansion predecessors from Vegas. But the Kraken aren’t playing as poorly as their 10-19-4 record and minus-30 goal differential would suggest.
Per naturalstattrick.com, Seattle ranks middle of the pack in most 5-on-5 possession metrics. They don’t generate much offensively but rank fourth in the NHL with just 2.18 expected goals against per 60. If they got even league-average goaltending, their numbers would be much more favorable. Philipp Grubauer has floundered but is a talented stopper who could still turn things around in the new year.
On the prospect front, Matty Beniers has 22 points in 20 games for the powerhouse Michigan Wolverines. He could bring a title to Ann Arbor before turning pro.
Buffalo Sabres (.394 points percentage)
First and foremost, the Jack Eichel saga is over.
Beyond that, Buffalo has some promising prospects percolating around the globe. In mid-December, Mason Black released his ranking of the top 30 NHL prospects of the season by PNHLe, a metric that attempts to measure point potential at the NHL level, adjusted for league, position and age. The Sabres boasted two of the top three players and four of the top 30.
That group’s ace, Owen Power – chosen first overall in 2021 – had a hat trick in his first WJC game before the tournament’s ultimate cancellation. He’ll be in Buffalo soon.
Chicago Blackhawks (.406 points percentage)
The Blackhawks are a perfect 3-0 in shootouts this season, with Patrick Kane going 2-for-3 on shootout attempts and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury stopping all eight shots he’s faced in the post-overtime skills competition.
However you feel about Seth Jones and his contract extension kicking in next season, that he’s put up 23 points in 32 games is pleasant to see. If nothing else, offensive production will always entice a few league GMs, keeping him movable.
New York Islanders (.464 points percentage)
After falling to the second round of the 2021 draft, Isles prospect Aatu Raty had a brilliant World Junior Summer Showcase tournament with Team Finland. He’s followed that up with a strong showing playing against men in the Liiga. Raty has 14 points in 14 games since moving from Karpat to Jukurit. He’s quickly reminding people why he was once thought of as a potential first-overall pick.
And though the confines of UBS Arena haven’t been friendly so far, the Isles finally have a long-term home to call their own.
Best of all, Mat Barzal is, in fact, not lost.
New Jersey Devils (.470 points percentage)
Fresh off three consecutive multi-point games, Jack Hughes now has 16 points in 16 games this season. The 20-year-old center, who battled a dislocated shoulder early in the year, recently inked an eight-year, $64-million deal to remain in New Jersey long term. With Hughes and blueliner Dougie Hamilton locked in through 2029-30 and 2027-28, respectively, the cornerstones are in place in Newark.
Rookie Dawson Mercer (19 points in 33 games) has impressed since “forcing” the Devils to keep him with the club out of training camp.
Jesper Bratt (29 points in 32 games) ranks twelfth in the NHL points per 60 at 5-on-5 (minimum 300 minutes).
Detroit Red Wings (.500 points percentage)
After four straight bottom-five finishes in the overall standings, the Red Wings have begun to slowly make headway on their rebuild this year, amassing a .500 points percentage through 33 games.
In Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider, the Wings have two Calder frontrunners. Blueline prospect Simon Edvinsson – who comes from the same Frolunda program as Raymond – has 12 points in 24 games while playing over 20 minutes a night in the SHL. He’ll help too.
Philadelphia Flyers (.500 points percentage)
Carter Hart has rebounded well from his nightmare 2020-21 and, at 23, looks like a legitimate NHL starter again. Per moneypuck.com, Hart is 10th in the league in goals saved above expected per 60 (minimum 10 games played). In 19 starts, he’s 7-8-4 with a .918 save percentage and 2.74 goals-against average.
If captain and 2022 UFA Claude Giroux is indeed playing his final season in the City of Brotherly Love, his swan song has been sweet. The 33-year-old has 11 goals and 29 points in 32 games and has won over 60 percent of the 473 faceoffs he’s taken.