Roundtable: Teams that will fade; intriguing NHL awards races

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Which team having a good first month will fade as the season moves on?

Sean Leahy, NHL writer: Nashville. The Predators have enjoyed a solid first month-plus with a 10-7-1 record and a fourth-place standing in the Central Division. Points banked in October and November are important for when those up-and-down stretches hit every team during the season. What might catch up to Nashville is when the likes of Colorado and Dallas straighten things out and the current outrageous shooting percentages of top scorers Matt Duchene (12 goals, 21.4 SH%), Ryan Johansen (6 goals, 23.1 SH%), and Tanner Jeannot (5 goals, 16.1 SH%) come back down to earth. Juuse Saros has picked up where his Vezina-worthy 2020-21 season left off with an .932 5-on-5 save percentage through 15 games. He carried them to the playoffs last season, but he cannot be relied upon to handle that much responsibility for another five months of the regular season.

James O’Brien, NHL writer: New York Rangers. This feels as dangerous to say as Artemi Panarin is in open space, but the Rangers are just riding outrageous luck so far this season. They’re absolutely putrid in just about every fancy stat category. Not just on defense as many expected, but even at the deeper elements of offense. Talent-wise, they could figure things out. Their coach is still newly installed. But it feels like cheating to name a team that’s just-not-miserable, like the Sharks or Blue Jackets. The Rangers’ place is inflated, and if they don’t correct their process, they’ll flatten out in the crowded Metro.

(Side note: also, can’t risk drawing even more ire from Ducks Nation,™ can we?)

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: Detroit. The Red Wings have been a pleasant surprise, but I don’t see them as a playoff team when all is said and done. They are porous defensively and their early season success has been buoyed by a strong record against the Western Conference; against the Atlantic – the teams Detroit will face the most this year – the Wings have only won 2 of 8 games, getting outscored 34-21.

Adam Gretz, NHL writer: Anaheim. I think the Ducks finally have some long-term hope with guys like Trevor Zegras, Jamie Drysdale, and Mason McTavish, those guys have the potential to be franchise cornerstones and something you can build around. The Ducks have lacked those long-term building blocks and it really held back their long-term outlook. But I am not sure I fully buy into them being a playoff team right now. Maybe John Gibson turns into superman John Gibson and carries them there, but I still think they are a year or two away from reaching that point.

Michael Finewax, NBC Sports Edge Senior Hockey Writer/EditorAnaheim. I cannot see the Ducks continuing to play this well. While most predicted the Ducks to finish in the basement of the Pacific Division, even behind the expansion Seattle Kraken, Anaheim has raced off to a 10-5-3 start as of Sunday night, good for third place in the Pacific. While Troy Terry and Ryan Getzlaf have been outstanding offensively, I cannot see them staying even close to their production in the early going. John Gibson has been outstanding in net but he will not be able to keep up with the onslaught that will occur. Still, they have been a great story thus far.

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Which major NHL award race is the most intriguing early on?

Adam Gretz, NHL writer: Vezina. For me it is the Vezina because as of right not there are so many unexpected players at the top. Frederik Andersen‘s rebound is stunning to me, and how about Sergei Bobrovsky? Feel like that performance is not getting enough attention and if he keeps playing his way into that discussion you could be talking about a potential three-time Vezina Trophy winner. Only 12 goalies have ever done that, and 11 of them are in the Hall of Fame.

James O’Brien, NHL writer: Vezina. Plenty of interesting races, but the Vezina’s mix of variety and novelty is a thing to behold. Before Sunday’s action, Jacob Markstrom already has five shutouts, easily his career-high. Sergei Bobrovsky could go from albatross to Vezina finalist. Former Maple Leafs starter Frederik Andersen is a frontrunner, as is the goalie (Jack Campbell) who backed him up. It’s not odd that John Gibson is in the mix, but it’s unexpected that the Ducks are good enough not to waste his efforts. Goalies aren’t much more predictable than tornadoes, so don’t be surprised if we check back in another month and the Vezina list looks dramatically different.

[NHL Awards races: Calder Trophy / Norris Trophy]

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: Vezina. Even if Andrei Vasilevskiy will eventually run away with this award, there have been some intriguing performances so far. Does Jack Campbell become the first Maple Leaf to win the Vezina in over a half century? How about Toronto’s previous No. 1, Frederik Andersen, who has taken Carolina to the top of the standings? Or another old teammate of Campbell’s, Jonathan Quick, who is having a career renaissance for LA at age 35? We also won’t overlook Igor Shesterkin or Ilya Sorokin, fellow Russians who man the nets for rival teams in New York City.

Michael Finewax, NBC Sports Edge Senior Hockey Writer/Editor: Calder. All the awards should be interesting but the Calder should be the most. Right now, Detroit has the top two candidates in Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider but the play of New Jersey’s Dawson Mercer has really surprised me. Raymond was selected fourth overall in 2020 and has 19 points which is tied for ninth place as of Sunday morning in the NHL. Mercer was selected 14 picks later and was not thought to be ready for the NHL this season. He was also regarded as more of a two-way center who had second line upside, but he has surprised so many early on with his offensive output as he has six goals and 12 points in 16 games. I think Seider will win it as he has been a major reason why the Red Wings are off to such a good start.  There are not too many rookie defensemen who will lead their team in power play time on ice but that is exactly what Seider is doing as he has 13 points thus far in 20 games. I think by the end of the season it will be Seider, Raymond and Mercer with Seth Jarvis finishing fourth.

Sean Leahy, NHL writer: Calder. It’s not a crazy thought that three Red Wings could end up as finalists for the award. Certainly three of them could be worthy of it at the end of the season between Moritz Seider, Lucas Raymond, and Alex Nedeljkovic, who was a finalist in 2020-21. There also could be a decent crop of goalies in contention outside of the Detroit stopping. Jeremy Swayman and Spencer Knight might get games to play their way into the conversation. But the number of skaters having good starts will make it a fun race to watch. Dawson Mercer and Trevor Zegras are hot, while Cole Sillinger, Bowen Byram, Jonathan Dahlen, and Tanner Jeannot could make some noise if their production kicks up the rest of the way.

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What storyline has captured your attention the most so far?

Michael Finewax, NBC Sports Edge Senior Hockey Writer/EditorThe story that has intrigued me the most has been the play of the Seattle Kraken. So many people thought that it would be a repeat or close to it of the Vegas Golden Knights in their first season in 2017, but the Kraken have struggled mightily in the first six weeks of the season and have found themselves solidly behind most of the Pacific and in dead last with a 4-12-1 mark. They should have good goaltending with Philipp Grubauer and Chris Driedger but both have found out that playing with the Kraken is not the same as playing behind  the Colorado and Florida defense respectively. I thought at the start of the season that the Kraken would finish last because of a lack of offense, but their defensive play has been worse than I could have anticipated.

James O’Brien, NHL writer: Apologies for going with the obvious, but how can you top “What will Connor McDavid do next?” Every other game, he’s accomplishing things you’re simply not supposed to be able to do in the modern NHL. Couple that with Leon Draisaitl arguably making an even bigger impact, and the Oilers become so must-watch, they might create a popcorn shortage.

(Add all that with how Connor McDavid seems to make some fans mad in the same way that pre-Stanley Cup Alex Ovechkin did, and you’re gaining even more entertainment.)

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: Alex Ovechkin’s pursuit of history. Ovi has Wayne Gretzky’s career goals record in his crosshairs, and he’s showing no signs of slowing down at age 36, having moved from 7th to 4th on the all-time list already in the first month. An unexpected subplot this season is that he’s piling up assists as well, and is right up there among the league’s overall leading scorers. Beating out Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl for the Art Ross (an award he hasn’t won since 2008) would be another large feather in his cap.

Sean Leahy, NHL writer: While we don’t know the full 50-55-man long lists for the countries participating in the 2022 men’s Olympic tournament, watching the play of some players who are not guarantees to make their respective rosters has been fun. Andrew Mangiapane had a strong World Championship and is playing his way into contention for Canada; While long lists were due in mid-October, can Troy Terry potentially serve as an injury replacement after his red-hot start?; Andrei Vasilevskiy was one of Russia’s first three players named to the team. Who will join him? Two of Igor Shesterkin, Sergei Bobrovsky, Ilya Samsonov, or Ilya Sorokin will round out their goaltending trio in Beijing.

Adam Gretz, NHL writer: I think it is probably Vancouver, just because this team is such a consistent disappointment. You look at the top of the roster, and it should be a team with a good foundation that is ready to compete right now. But they have absolutely wasted so much salary cap space on the wrong complementary players and the wrong defense that it is just this perpetual state of mediocrity and they keep letting the same people lead them through it.

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