What is the NHL’s biggest tire fire?
Greg Wyshynski: There is a collection of very worthy (unworthy?) candidates for the season’s most scorching early tire fires. Some teams have struggled through significant injuries, such as the Edmonton Oilers and Minnesota Wild. Some teams have struggled because a series of franchise-redefining moves haven’t exactly panned out; but hey, Montreal, at least GM Marc Bergevin is signed through 2022, right?
The Arizona Coyotes (0-8-1) are a little bit of both. Antti Raanta, acquired in the offseason to be the No. 1 goalie, has been limited to 90 minutes this season because of injury. Louis Domingue and Adin Hill have been terrible in his absence, leading to the team’s NHL-worst minus-18 goal differential.
But for a team that has a collection of solid core players (Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Max Domi) and a stellar rookie (Clayton Keller) and high-profile offseason augmentations (Raanta, Derek Stepan, Niklas Hjalmarsson) and a new coach (Rick Tocchet) imported from the defending Stanley Cup champions … well, they should maybe have a win after nine games.
Instead, they’re plummeting down the standings, posting mediocre puck-possession numbers and positioning themselves for yet another lost season in the desert. But hey, good thing they moved on from Shane Doan.
Emily Kaplan: I’m piggybacking off Greg here: The Coyotes are in the worst situation in the NHL. And it’s not just that they are the only winless team three weeks into the season. Rather, it’s the same old Coyotes who have frustrated us for the better part of this decade — after an offseason when we were promised otherwise. A new coach, a new No. 1 goalie, a new No. 1 center, a new stud rookie, a new top-four defenseman … and we’re left with a team with a long way to go. At this point last season, 13 of the 16 postseason teams were already cemented. Although anything can happen — the Western Conference-champion Nashville Predators leapfrogged from the outside — the Coyotes have an extra large hill to climb. Oh, and in the backdrop of all of this is the state of the franchise from a business perspective: whispers of relocation after decades of dysfunction and bankruptcy and near-bankruptcy in the desert.
While we’re piling it on poor Arizona, perhaps this is the time to rehash this anecdote. Before the 2015 draft, then-Arizona coach Dave Tippett and GM John Chayka took Auston Matthews to lunch. The team explored trade options to snag Matthews from the Leafs and the No. 1 pick. “We tried every different angle, remotely, we could,” Tippett told a radio station in 2016. Arizona knew Matthews could do wonders for the team, on and off the ice. What could have been.
Chris Peters: The Habs and Coyotes are obviously strong candidates here, but I’ve got to go with the New York Rangers on this one. Goalie Henrik Lundqvist has so often been the firefighter when things go bad for this team. So far, he hasn’t been able to tamp down the flames and on occasion has been part of the problem. He should not shoulder all of the blame, though.
The Rangers were a tough team to read coming into the season based on changes they made over the summer. Losing Derek Stepan has left a hole in the Rangers’ lineup that was never adequately plugged, as Greg detailed last week. Mika Zibanejad has been excellent, but they need more than that down the middle in order to compete. Finding someone to fill the gap is going to be awfully difficult on the trade market.
It is unclear to me what the long-term plan is for the Rangers, which is what makes a start like this all the more concerning. While Lundqvist needs to be better right now, how can this organization not do everything it can to keep itself in a position to compete and contend for him? The Rangers made the big splash by signing defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk over the summer, and that was as sure a sign as any that New York was going for it.
I think we’ll see The King bounce back, and if he does, things will start improving as he puts the firefighter helmet back on. But if it doesn’t turn around quickly for the Rangers and they really are still attempting to compete and contend this season, how much longer can GM Jeff Gorton wait before making some kind of move, whether it’s behind the bench or to the roster?
Ben Arledge: The Montreal Canadiens secured their second win of the season on Tuesday, a 5-1 victory against the Florida Panthers, but that win ended a seven-game losing streak. To put it kindly, the Habs have struggled to score. With just 18 goals, Montreal is in the Eastern Conference basement.
Where do I begin? Alex Galchenyuk is back buried on the fourth line after a brief stint on a scoring line and is averaging just over 15 minutes of ice time. Max Pacioretty has produced just two points. Coach Claude Julien also dropped Brendan Gallagher off the top line, and Gallagher has seen less than 15 minutes of ice per game. There isn’t a whole lot of production across the board. I mean, not a single Canadiens player has a positive plus/minus. Not one. What’s more, goalie Carey Price hasn’t been able to carry the team on his back like we have become accustomed to — he’s posted a 3.95 goals-against average and .881 save percentage, punctuated by two swinging hacks of his stick to the post following a goal against in Friday’s game against the Anaheim Ducks. It’s a disaster.
Sure, the acquisition of Jonathan Drouin has brought early success, and Shea Weber scored his second and third goals of the season on Tuesday, but otherwise, there isn’t much else exciting happening in Quebec. The Habs lack punch and identity, and if a turnaround doesn’t come soon, you’ll see some management changes.