Expectations can be crushing. Not only to the players and teams who crumble under the weight, but also to the fans whose optimism turns to despair in a torrent of under-performance. There’s myriad reasons that can lead to such a precipitous fall, but none sting any less. Just ask anyone involved with these five clubs, which entered the season with justified optimism, but haven’t lived up to their billing.
It wasn't supposed to be this bad. There were certainly going to be some pains after GM Stan Bowman was forced to pluck several feathers off his Stanley Cup-winning roster in the summer due to salary cap constraints, but the thought was none of the departures were major pieces and stars still in place would keep the Hawks among the West's elite (THN picked them fourth in our pre-season predictions and many among the group wanted them first or second, winning the Central). But Marty Turco, the man brought in to replace Antti Niemi, floundered and much of the roster appears to be suffering a championship hangover. Meanwhile, Chicago's in a fight to avoid joining the infamous list of teams who miss the playoffs a year after claiming the Cup.
The Kings have been great of late, winning eight of their past 12 and getting points in the three of the four losses as well, but it was touch-and-go there for a while. L.A. sat in 12th less than a month ago, far below the No. 5 slot THN believed they would occupy come season's end. The problem? Perhaps it was early to think the relatively young Kings were ready to join the West's top dogs, but the underwhelming play of two prodigies hasn't helped. Drew Doughty jumped to mind for most when picking the front-runner for the Norris Trophy this year. Things haven't played out as thought, however, as a concussion sidelined the blueliner for six games early on and he's yet to get back on track. In the crease, Jonathan Bernier was expected to supplant, or at least supplement, Jonathan Quick, but it's been a rough year overall for the 22-year-old (6-8-2, 2.72 goals-against average, .904 save percentage).
With one of the world’s elite snipers in Ilya Kovalchuk and burgeoning star Zach Parise leading the way up front and Martin Brodeur coming off yet another impressive season, not even a rookie coach could keep the Devils from reaching the playoffs for their 14th straight season and 20th time in 21 years, right? Oops. It quickly became a perfect swamp storm with the team, especially Kovalchuk, not reacting well to coach John MacLean’s systems, Parise hitting the IR after Game 12 and Brodeur playing more like Karl Friesen (look it up). The Devils plummeted to the bottom of the standings quickly, but perhaps more disappointing for fans is their play of late, which will keep them from a top-three draft pick.
To borrow from a terribly overused adage, there’s only three reasons the Blues haven’t lived up to the hype: Injuries, injuries and injuries. Heading into Friday’s game, the Blues had lost a whopping 203 man games, many of which were accrued by the team’s key components - Andy McDonald (24), T.J. Oshie (31) and David Perron (45 and counting). The future’s not any brighter, either, with No. 1 goalie Jaroslav Halak landing on the IR with a hand injury. What figured to be a breakout campaign has turned into wreck under the Arch.
The Avs surprised everyone last year by reaching the playoffs and putting a scare into San Jose in the first round. But this season's been one fitting of their location, with ups and downs resembling the Rocky Mountains. One of the league's highest-scoring bunch (seventh at 2.93 GPG) could not find a way to lock it down in their own end and when the goals dried up (14 in the past 10 games, all losses), their league-worst defense (3.41) resulted in a drop to 14th in the conference, a far cry from when they woke up the morning of Jan. 5 to find themselves in fourth place. Oh and team legend Peter Forsberg caused a huge stir by attempting a comeback only to retire two games in, while future star and leading scorer Matt Duchene went on the shelf two days later with a hand injury. How quickly they fall.
Edward Fraser is the managing editor of The Hockey News. His blog appears regularly.
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