We are nearing the halfway point of the 2016-17 NHL season. And man, do things ever look different from a year ago.
If the playoffs were to start today, there would be six new playoff teams. Four Canadian teams would be in the postseason after all seven missed it last year. The Columbus Blue Jackets would be the NHL’s best team and the Edmonton Oilers would end an 11-year playoff drought. The Tampa Bay Lightning wouldn’t even be in the playoffs after being the most popular pick to win the Stanley Cup in 2017.
Also, many NHL superstars will be coming off their worst seasons as pros if they don’t start turning things around soon. There have been plenty of surprising disappointments so far this season. But there is plenty of time for struggling players and teams to turn things around.
But those turnarounds don’t happen overnight. A lot has to go right to make it happen. Here are the NHL’s 15 biggest disappointments so far in 2016-17, and how they can be repaired.
15. Loui Eriksson: First Line Minutes
The Vancouver Canucks put the full rebuild on hold by signing 31-year-old Swedish forward Loui Eriksson to a six-year deal worth $36 million. He and the Sedin twins flourished for Team Sweden at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. It was as if the Canucks had a bonafide top line going into the season.
Well, Eriksson, a great two-way forward with 25-goal consistency, has just eight tallies, 18 points and a minus-nine rating. He’s looked lost with the Canucks and didn’t find the chemistry with the Sedins. He was demoted to the second line and Jason Megna (who?) has been playing with Daniel and Henrik.
If the Canucks want to get their money’s worth, Eriksson is going to have to go back to the top line with the Sedins. Playing with second-liners isn’t going to do any wonders for him.
14. Anthony Duclair: Change of Scenery
The prized 21-year-old was traded from the New York Rangers to the Coyotes in exchange for Keith Yandle. Anthony Duclair seemed to embrace his time in the desert, scoring 20 goals and 44 points while posting an excellent plus-12 rating on one of the league’s worst teams. If Duclair could just avoid the sophomore slump, then there’d be a lot for Coyotes fans to be excited about.
That’s not the case in 2016-17. Duclair has just three goals and four assists with an awful minus-five rating. Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos reported in November that the Coyotes were fielding offers for the young forward.
Duclair doesn’t have a lot of talent around him; Max Domi is also developing his game and there aren’t any stud veterans to help Duclair out. The best for him would be to get traded to a contender and have a proven first-liner work with him. The Coyotes could also get a nice return for Duclair.
13. Anze Kopitar: Wait For It…
The Los Angeles Kings top forward always scores 20-plus goals and 60-plus points a season, but 2016-17 hasn’t been the best season for Kopitar. In 33 games (as of this writing) he has just three goals and 14 assists with a minus-two rating. His 21:0 time on ice per game is his highest since the 2011-12 season, and it’s clearly taking a toll on his body.
The thing is, we know how great Anze Kopitar is. He’s a real leader, slick two-way player and usually brings his best game in the playoffs. The Kings are barely getting by with third-stringer Peter Budaj in net as Jonathan Quick battles a groin injury. Los Angeles wasn’t exactly a scary team heading into the 2012 and 2014 NHL Playoffs, yet they wound up hoisting the Stanley Cup both years.
For the Kings, they don’t have the salary cap space to make big moves. They just have to let their franchise star rediscover his game. There’s no reason to believe he won’t do it – for now at least.
12. Daniel and Henrik Sedin: Trade Time
The Vancouver Canucks have somewhat accomplished their goal of not relying on the Sedins so much. Bo Horvat is the team’s goals and points leader and Sven Baertschi is second on the team in tallies. But that comes with a price to pay – as Daniel and Henrik Sedin are finally showing their age (36).
Henrik is on pace for just 53 points and Daniel is on pace for 47. That would be the lowest for both (in an 82-game season) in over a decade. It’s clear these two aren’t fitting into the Canucks youth movement, and a chance to win a Stanley Cup elsewhere would be best for them. They would be ideal second-liners on another team.
The Canucks aren’t going to trade them, though. The Sedins have expressed their desire to stay, and president Trevor Linden won’t orchestrate it unless they ask for it. The reality is, though, that these two won’t turn it around unless they get a fresh start.