Which struggling NHL teams need to hit the panic button?

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Earlier this week we looked at some NHL teams that have maybe exceeded expectations in the early part of the season and tried to determine which ones are for real.

This is the opposite end of that spectrum.

Here we are taking a look at some teams off to rough starts and which ones need to consider hitting the panic button. Nobody wants to panic a week-and-a-half into the season, but sometimes you can get a sense for when things are just not going well with your team and the roster is all wrong. Some teams might already be there.

Montreal is a mess

Not only did they fall to 0-5-0 with Thursday’s loss to Carolina, continuing one of the worst starts in franchise history, they got embarrassed on home ice with offer sheet twins Sebastian Aho and Jesperi Kotkaniemi combining for three goals in the 4-1 decision.

There is a lot going on here because the 0-5 start just after a trip to the Stanley Cup Final is definitely staggering. But a lot of things had to go right for Montreal to reach the level it reached a year ago. They had to play in the right division to allow them to even make the playoffs. Get the right playoff matchups (again the result of the division). Get the white-hot goaltending for three rounds.

[Related: Should Canadiens be concerned about slow start? ]

Now they are back in a division and conference loaded with Cup contenders, and a lot of players that helped make that run possible a year ago are no longer on the ice. Carey Price is sidelined. Shea Weber is done for the season, and maybe for his career. Phillip Danault, Kotkaniemi, and Tomas Tatar are playing for new teams. The result has been four goals in five games, zero wins, and a lot of ugliness.

Is it time to hit the panic button? In the sense of them making the playoffs? Yes. That was always going to be a struggle and it is clear this team has some issues. But it is not this bad. You hope that Price is able to return soon. Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki are great young talents that will be better. There is some talent on this team. It will get better. Just probably not enough to make the playoffs in a tough division and conference.

Chicago is an even bigger mess

At least the Canadiens have some excuses.

What’s Chicago’s excuse? The Blackhawks got their No. 1 center back, made big splash after big splash over the offseason in terms of adding players and spending money, and they are still lousy.

[Related: Looking at Blackhawks’ lousy start]

Through five games they are 0-4-1, have been outscored 21-9 overall, 17-3 at even-strength, been booed off the ice in their only two home games, and perhaps even more shockingly, have yet to play a single second with the lead this season. They have either been trailing or tied all year. And given how early they have given up goals in games, they have spent the majority of their time playing from behind. How much time? They have trailed for 225 minutes this season. They have played 301 minutes of hockey. That is literally 75% of the season.

The only other teams that have trailed for more than 130 minutes this season are Montreal (200 minutes) and Seattle (174 minutes).

Is it time to hit the panic button? Most definitely. They should be slamming it. This is not a team missing people, or dealing with injuries, or a team that is less than 100 percent. This is the team as it was supposed to look. But what is staggering about that is nobody should have had any illusions that things would be dramatically better. They have missed the playoffs three out of the past four years, only sneaking in one time because of the Return To Play bubble when they were the 23rd ranked team in the league. Their solution for the offseason was to throw a monstrous contract at a declining defenseman, acquire a 37-year-old goalie that was going from a Cup contender to a defensive sieve of a team, and Tyler Johnson. Even the good moves had serious questions. Bad times ahead here.

Things are going as planned in Arizona

Okay, maybe Coyotes management will not come out and admit that, but this season is clearly not about winning hockey games. It is about tearing things down and accumulating as many future assets as possible.

Mission accomplished.

Is it time to hit the panic button? No need to at any point this season. Nobody should have had any thoughts about this team contending after trading Darcy Kuemper, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Christian Dvorak, and Conor Garland over the offseason. The only thing that should cause a panic here is if they do something outrageously stupid, like trade Jakob Chychrun.

What’s up with the Islanders?

Despite their recent playoff success the Islanders have never really been a great regular season team. They have that one 15-game stretch every year where they go 12-0-3, bank a ton of points, and then fumble along at a .500 pace the rest of the year before wrecking the playoffs for everybody.

But one thing they always do well is defend.

And that is not necessarily happening this season. At least not yet. And that is probably the most concerning development about their 1-2-1 start. They are not really playing like the Islanders yet.

Is it time to hit the panic button? No, probably not. This is still a good team with great goaltending, a great coach, and an outstanding defense. And even though they are not a dynamic team offensively it is still a team with a deep collection of forwards with few weaknesses. They will get there. The one thing that might be a little bit of a concern is the 13-game road trip to open the season that has them criss-crossing North America. You do not want to get off to a slow start that many games into the season. That can be tough to get out of.

Colorado will be fine

Maybe the most surprising start is the Colorado Avalanche being 1-3 through four games, including a three-game losing streak.

This is a team that only had two three-game losing streaks all of last season — a three-game streak late in the regular season, then losing four games in a row to the Golden Knights in the playoffs.

They have not yet been at 100% this season, with Nathan MacKinnon missing two games, Gabriel Landeskog being suspended for two games, Valeri Nichushkin being sidelined, and Devon Toews not yet playing.

Is it time to hit the panic button? Not even close. This is still the best roster in the league on paper and it is only a matter of time until they get rolling again. Especially once we see them at full strength.

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    Stars expect to open camp without unsigned scorer Jason Robertson

    Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

    FRISCO, Texas — Young 40-goal scorer Jason Robertson is expected to miss the start of training camp for the Dallas Stars because the team and the restricted free agent haven’t agreed on a new contract.

    General manager Jim Nill said there’s been steady, ongoing negotiations over the last couple of weeks with Robertson and his representatives. Nill wouldn’t say what has kept the two sides from reaching a deal, adding there have been “very good discussions.”

    The Stars, with new coach Pete DeBoer, open camp Thursday in Cedar Park, Texas, at the home of their AHL team. They have three days of work there before returning to North Texas for their exhibition opener at home on Monday night. They open the regular season Oct. 13 at Nashville.

    “I think he’s disappointed he’s not at camp, we are too,” Nill said before the team departed for the Austin area. “I think it’s very important for a younger player and as you mentioned, the (new) coaching staff. … We do have some time on our side, but we wish he gets here as soon as he can.”

    Robertson had a base salary of $750,000 last season, the end of a $2.775 million, three-year contract. He still has five more years before he has the opportunity to become an unrestricted free agent.

    The left wing turned 23 soon after the end of last season, when he had 41 goals and 38 assists for 79 points in his 74 games. Robertson joined Hockey Hall of Famer Mike Modano, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin as the only 40-goal scorers since the franchise moved to Dallas in 1993.

    A second-round draft pick by the Stars in 2017, Robertson has 125 points (58 goals, 67 assists) in his 128 NHL games. He had one goal and three assists in his first postseason action last season, when Dallas lost its first-round playoff series in seven games against Calgary.

    DeBoer said he looks forward to coaching Robertson, but that the forward’s absence won’t change his plans for camp.

    “It doesn’t impact what I’m doing,” DeBoer said. “Listen, I laid awake at night with the excitement of coaching Jason Robertson, 40-plus goals, but he’s not here. So, you know, until he gets here, I can’t spend any energy on that.”

    Nill said the Stars are open to a long-term extension or a bridge contract for Robertson, who was part of the team’s top line last season with veteran Joe Pavelski and Roope Hintz. They combined for 232 points, the second-most in franchise history for a trio.

    “We’re open to anything. But other than that … I’m not going to negotiate through the media,” Nill said. “As I said, we’ve had good conversations. We’ll see where it goes.”

    Training camps open around NHL after another short offseason

    Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

    Training camps open around the NHL after another short offseason, a third in a row squeezed by the pandemic. That doesn’t bother Colorado Avalanche star Nathan MacKinnon one bit.

    For one of hockey’s best players and his teammates, it’s already time to get back on the ice and defend their Stanley Cup title, less than three months since they knocked off the back-to-back champion Tampa Bay Lightning.

    “I still feel like I just was playing,” MacKinnon said. “I took two weeks off, and then I started skating again. It’s just fun. I enjoy it, and I like the short summer. It feels like the season’s just kind of rolling over again.”

    The NHL rolls into fall coming off an entertaining playoffs and final with the chance to finally get back on a normal schedule. That means full camps for teams that got new coaches and the benefits of a regular routine.

    That means a mere 88 days between Game 6 of the final and the first-on ice practice sessions.

    “We’re kind of used to it now,” Tampa Bay goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy said after he and the Lightning lost in the final for the first time in three consecutive trips. “It’s a little harder, of course, because you don’t have that much time to rest. It’s basically a few weeks and you have to get back at it. But, yeah, I can’t complain. You want your summers to be short every year.”

    It was a little longer for Connor McDavid and the Oilers after losing to Colorado in the West final. Despite the lack of downtime, McDavid “wouldn’t trade that in for anything” and aims to make it even further since Edmonton shored up its goaltending situation by adding Jack Campbell.

    A few spins of the goalie carousel ended with the Avalanche acquiring Alexandar Georgiev from the New York Rangers and Cup winner Darcy Kuemper landing with Washington. Joining new teammates, many of whom hoisted the Cup in 2018, Kuemper is not worried about less time off.

    “It was definitely a very unique summer,” Kuemper said. “With how short it was, you start getting back into the gym and you’re kind of a little bit worried that your training’s going to be so short. But you kind of felt like you weren’t getting back into shape. You were already there.”


    The Oilers are one of several teams settling in for training camp under a new coach. Jay Woodcroft took over as interim coach in February but has the full-time job now.

    “Looking forward to a camp with him,” McDavid said. “He did a great job coming in during the middle of the season, but it’s never easy on a coach, for sure. I’m sure there’s things that he wanted to touch on that you wasn’t able to kind of in the middle of the year, so he’ll be able to to touch on all of it this year.”

    The same goes for Bruce Boudreau in Vancouver, 11 months since being put in charge of the Canucks. Philadelphia’s John Tortorella, Boston’s Jim Montgomery, Vegas’ Bruce Cassidy, Dallas’ Peter DeBoer, Florida’s Paul Maurice, Chicago’s Luke Richardson, Detroit’s Derek Lalonde and the New York Islanders’ Lane Lambert are all starting the job fresh.


    Roughly 40 players are attending a camp on a professional tryout agreement with the chance to earn a contract for the season. James Neal has that opportunity with the Blue Jackets, and Derek Stepan returned to Carolina to seek a job with the Hurricanes.

    The most intriguing situation involves 37-year-old center Eric Staal, who agreed to the tryout with Florida the same time brother Marc signed a one-year contract. Younger brother Jordan was with Eric and Marc on the 18th green at Pebble Beach to witness the occasion.

    “They’re both just super pumped, as was I,” said Jordan Staal, who is the captain of the Hurricanes. “Eric is excited about the opportunity and Marc, as well. Really cool. Really cool thing.”


    Before the puck drops on the NHL season in North America on Oct. 11, the Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks play twice in Prague on Oct. 7 and 8. And those are not exhibitions.

    “We still play two important games,” said Sharks forward Tomas Hertl, who is a native of Prague. “It’s not just preseason where you coming here to warm up.”

    Colorado and Columbus will also play two games in Tampere, Finland, on Nov. 4-5 as part of the NHL’s Global Series.

    And just as the league gets used to a regular schedule, work is ongoing between the league and NHL Players’ Association to stage a World Cup of Hockey in February 2024, which is popular among players even if it knocks the calendar off kilter again.

    “I think they missed out on a huge, huge portion of the international game that’s really going to be missed,” McDavid said. “We need to figure out a way to get an international tournament in as quickly as possible.”

    Matthew Tkachuk, Panthers ready for 1st training camp together

    Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

    CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. — Aleksander Barkov was sound asleep at his home in Finland when the trade that brought Matthew Tkachuk to the Florida Panthers was finalized, which isn’t surprising considering it was around 4 a.m. in that part of the world.

    He woke up and read texts from friends reacting to the deal.

    And it wasn’t too long before he got a message from Tkachuk.

    “The first message was `(expletive) right’ and how he was excited to come to Florida,” Barkov, the Panthers’ captain, said at Florida’s media day. “`Let’s take this next step, let’s be a winning team for many years to come.’ That’s who he is. He wants to win. He wants to bring that character to this organization. And I think he’s done some damage already.”

    With that, Barkov was sold.

    And after a few weeks of informally skating with one another, the Panthers start the process of officially seeing what they have in Tkachuk when the team’s training camp – the first under new coach Paul Maurice – opens.

    “We’ve basically had everybody here for a few weeks,” Tkachuk said. “I feel like I’ve been in training camp for a couple of weeks. So today doesn’t feel that new to me. I’ve gotten to know everybody … so let’s get these games going. I’m sick and tired of just practicing and working. I want to start playing some games. I think everybody feels the same way.”

    Maurice was hired over the summer as well, inheriting a team that won the Presidents’ Trophy last season and went to the second round of the playoffs — the first series win for Florida since the run to the Stanley Cup Final in 1996.

    He’s as eager as the players are for the first formal practice, calling it “our first Christmas.”

    “The house is bought. Most of the boxes are unpacked,” Maurice said. “I’ve got two kids that kind of came with me; one’s in Coral Gables, one’s in Estero. Their places are unpacked. They’re out of our house. Once you get down here, for me, you spend most of your days at the rink. So, experiencing all of South Florida, we haven’t gotten to that yet.”

    As part of the deal that went down on July 22, the 24-year-old Tkachuk signed a eight-year, $76 million contract. That’s not the only big cost that the Panthers had to agree to while executing the trade; they also sent Jonathan Huberdeau, the franchise’s all-time scoring leader, and defenseman MacKenzie Weegar to the Calgary Flames in exchange for a left wing who had career bests of 42 goals, 62 assists and 104 points last season.

    “I wish all the best to Huby and Weegs,” Barkov said. “They’re great. Everyone loved them. Only good things to say about them. It happens, and for sure, it was best for the team and organization to do this. We move on, and we’ll get ready for a new season.”


    Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky is Russian, still makes his home in St. Petersburg, and went there for the bulk of his offseason.

    He said it was not logistically difficult to travel there (or return to the U.S.) this summer, even as the war that started when Russia invaded Ukraine continues. Bobrovsky said last season that he was not trying to focus on anything but hockey, and when asked if it was difficult to be back in Russia as war continues he kept the same approach.

    “I had a good summer,” Bobrovsky said. “I saw friends, I saw family. It’s all been fine. I don’t want to talk about what’s going on. I’m not involved in that stuff.”


    Florida is opening camp with 56 players – 31 forwards, 19 defensemen and six goalies. That group includes brothers Eric Staal and Marc Staal; Marc Staal signed as a free agent in July; Eric Staal is with Florida on a tryout contract.

    Coyotes sign Barrett Hayton right before training camp

    Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
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    SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The Arizona Coyotes signed forward Barrett Hayton to a two-year contract right before the start of training camp.

    Terms of the deal were not released.

    The 22-year-old Hayton was a restricted free agent and not initially listed on Arizona’s roster for camp.

    Hayton had 10 goals and 14 assists in 60 games with the Coyotes last season, all career highs.

    Arizona drafted the Peterborough, Ontario native with the fifth overall pick of the 2018 NHL draft. He has 13 goals and 18 assists in 94 career games with the Coyotes.