There are some teams that have wasted no time establishing themselves as contenders early in the 2017-18 NHL season.
You would be hard pressed, for example, to find anyone who thinks the Tampa Bay Lightning aren’t bound for a run at the playoffs thanks to their incredibly productive start.
And yet, as is often the case so early in the season, there are also plenty of teams that have yet to find their identity. Even beyond that, there are a few that simply don’t look anything like we thought they would, for better or worse, and that group starts with one of the NHL‘s Original Six:
This starts with Carey Price. Few people batted an eye when the Habs handed him a new eight-year contract averaging more than $10 million over the offseason because, well, he’s Carey Price, annual Vezina contender and one-time Hart Trophy winner. But he hasn’t been the same Carey Price through 13 games. We knew the Canadiens would teeter on boom-or-bust status after overseeing a big swap of Alexander Radulov and Andrei Markov for Jonathan Drouin and Karl Alzner, but Price’s lackluster play in net has made things even worse. You can’t pin the blame on just one player, even the stud goalie, but the consensus was that, as long as Price stayed healthy, Montreal would be competitive. Let me tell you: The Habs are not competitive (yet). If it weren’t for the lowly Arizona Coyotes, Montreal would have the absolute worst goal differential in the NHL, and that’s no easy statistic to fix.
They’re like 40 percent who we thought they were, because, in reality, it was hard not to like what New Jersey did over the summer, stockpiling youth and finally putting some long-term promise alongside Taylor Hall. And yet we would be lying if we said we expected the Devils to race out to a 9-2 start and sit atop the Metropolitan Division a month into the season. The team is on its best season-opening run ever, and things only keep getting better if you’re a fan. This week, on a rare off night for the Devils’ deep and balanced scoring attack, Cory Schneider played the hero role with his first shutout of 2017-18, and that came against a streaking Vancouver Canucks club that hasn’t been shy about lighting the lamp lately. It’s not out of the question to suggest the Devils, so early in their big rebuild, have one of the conference’s top core of prospects — Will Butcher is already in action, Nico Hischier is just getting started and 19-year-old Jesper Bratt is helping pace the offense.
They take the cake when it comes to underwhelming out of the gate. (And that’s saying something considering Montreal’s record and the New York Rangers‘ similarly disappointing 5-7-2 start.) Maybe we all did them no favors by proclaiming them Stanley Cup Final favorites simply because of how often Connor McDavid reminds us he runs the rink. But no one really foresaw such drastic struggles out of Edmonton, even though the team hasn’t played quite as many games as its Pacific Division foes. Are we already seeing the painful results of the Oilers’ salary-cap sacrifices, which made possible big-money deals for McDavid and Leon Draisaitl? Milan Lucic has been up and down after a good start to his Edmonton career, and all of a sudden, this team looks devoid of guys who can step up when McDavid isn’t single-handedly skating the Oilers to victory. Cam Talbot’s errors in net haven’t helped. Their minus-12 goal differential is worse than all but one team in the West.