In this week’s NHL Power Rankings we take a look back at the 2021-22 regular season and 15 of the biggest surprises that took place.
These surprises range from league-wide trends in goal scoring, to team performances, to surprising coaching changes, to individual performances
It is also important to keep in mind that not all surprises are positive.
Which performances make the cut?
To this week’s NHL Power Rankings!
1. The NHL’s goal scoring surge continues. This seems like a fairly important development because it might dictate which way the league goes in terms of playing style. Skill and offense are starting to take more of a priority, resulting in a league average of 6.3 goals per game, the highest mark in 26 years, equaling the 6.3 per game average from the 1995-96 season. This scoring surge resulted in the Florida Panthers averaging more than four goals per game, eight 100-point scorers (and one 99-point player: J.T. Miller), four 50-goal scorers, and a 60-goal season from Auston Matthews.
2. The Islanders fire Barry Trotz. You have to go back to the early 1980s dynasty to find a more successful run of hockey for the New York Islanders than the Barry Trotz era. Prior to his arrival the team made the playoffs just seven times in the previous 23 years and won just a single playoff series during that stretch. In Trotz’s four years they made the playoffs three times, won five playoff series, and reached back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals. They took a clear step backwards this season and missed the playoffs, mainly because of an 11-game losing streak in November when their schedule and roster was disrupted by COVID. Outside of that stretch they were 37-27-7 on the season. Even if you can not remove that stretch and accept the season long result, it is still a very quick change for the second-most successful coach in franchise history.
[Related: Islanders fire coach Barry Trotz]
3. Vegas is not good. At the start of the season the Golden Knights seemed like a clear Stanley Cup contender and a slam-dunk Pacific Division champion. That only increased when they acquired Jack Eichel early in the season. But salary cap issues, injuries, and some questionable decision-making resulted in a bitterly disappointing season that saw the Golden Knights shockingly miss the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. The changes already began with the firing of head coach Peter DeBoer.
4. But the Kings are good! The Kings took an absolutely massive step forward in their rebuild, adding Viktor Arvidsson and Phillip Danault to their roster, while also getting huge performances from returning veterans like Drew Doughty, Jonathan Quick, Adrian Kempe, and Alex Iafallo. It resulted in a surprising playoff berth and taking Edmonton to a seventh game in the First Round. This development, combined with the young talent they still have on the way, makes for an extremely bright future in Los Angeles.
5. The Canadiens are the league’s worst team. There was always an expectation that Montreal was going to take a step backwards this season after their stunning Stanley Cup Final run. Not sure anybody expected the Canadiens to be the league’s worst team. Carey Price missed most of the season, Shea Weber missed all of it and is probably done as a player, while their top young players struggled with misuse from former coach Dominique Ducharme. Perhaps the most surprising development of them all was the hiring of Martin St. Louis as head coach.
6. The Blues become an offensive powerhouse. Always one of the league’s best defensive teams, the Blues transformed into one of the league’s top offensive teams this season. Vladimir Tarasenko sticking around and returning to elite scorer status certainly helped, but so did the addition of Pavel Buchnevich and huge breakout seasons from top young players Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou.
7. Paul Maurice resigns. After parts of nine seasons in Winnipeg, making him one of the longest tenured coaches in the NHL, Maurice abruptly resigned as head coach of the Jets in the middle of the season, sighting the team’s need for a new voice. Maurice seemed to be on the hot seat every year but always managed to stick around, and then it was ultimately him that made the decision to step away. The new voice did not really help the Jets.
8. Chris Kreider: 50 goal-scorer. When the Rangers signed Kreider to a seven-year contract extension two years ago they obviously believed he still had a lot of good hockey ahead of him and could be a part of their rebuild. They probably did not anticipate him scoring 50 goals in a season. Before this season his career in a single season was 28, and in his age 31 season he erupted for 52 goals (including a league-best 26 power play goals) to finish in the top-five of the goal race.
9. Tage Thompson‘s breakout season. Speaking of unexpected seasons, how can we ignore Tage Thompson? One of the key players acquired in the Ryan O'Reilly trade with St. Louis a few years ago, Thompson looked like he was never going to develop into a key player for the Sabres, scoring just 15 goals in his first 104 games with the team. He erupted this season with 38 goals in 78 games. Can he repeat it? Was it just a fluke? Or is he now suddenly a part of the Sabres’ core and able to salvage something from the O’Reilly trade?
10. Troy Terry‘s breakout season. Thompson was not the only mid-20s player to come out of nowhere with a big season. Terry’s career path has been almost identical to Thompsons, scoring just 15 goals in 127 games over his first three seasons with the Anaheim Ducks. His underlying numbers were always strong, but it never really produced consistent results. This season it did to the tune of 37 goals in 75 games, helping him become a part of an impressive young Ducks core alongside Trevor Zegras and Jamie Drysdale.
11. Matt Duchene: 40-goal scorer. Before this season the Nashville Predators had never had a 40-goal scorer in a single season. This season they had two, with Filip Forsberg and Matt Duchene both reaching that mark. Duchene is probably the most surprising of the two because his first two seasons with the team were so disappointing. It reached the point where they left him unprotected in the expansion draft for Seattle. The Kraken passed on taking that contract and Nashville was rewarded with a career year (43 goals, 86 total points) from Duchene.
12. Michael Bunting‘s Calder candidacy. After a solid showing in his first look with the Arizona Coyotes a year ago, Bunting was not tendered an RFA contract and allowed to become an unrestricted free agent. Toronto pounced on it and signed him to a two-year contract worth $1.9 million (total; only a $925,000 salary cap number per season). He ended up being one of the biggest free agency steals of the year, scoring 20 goals and 63 total points and becoming a finalist for the Calder Trophy.
13. Joe Pavelski still has it. Jake Oettinger emerging from the pack of goalies to become the team’s starter is also a small surprise, but as a recent first-round pick he was always seen as the future of the position. The bigger surprise in Dallas might be the simple fact that Pavelski is still an impact player, so much so that he was rewarded with a contract extension to keep him in Dallas beyond this season. This has turned out to be the rare UFA contract signing for a mid-30s player that has worked out exceptionally well. He finished this season with 27 goals and 81 total points.
14. Tuukka Rask’s return, and then retirement. There was a ton of mystery surrounding Rask in the offseason and once the season began as to whether or not he would return to the Bruins and what he would look like when he did. He eventually rejoined the team in December, played four games, struggled, and then called it a career. It was an outstanding career, but it probably did not end the way anybody envisioned it.
15. Josh Norris making Karlsson trade look like win for Senators. The Senators have to take the wins where they can get them. It is not often you trade a player as good as Erik Karlsson and get a great return, but the Senators may have achieved that with the Karlsson deal. They not only got the draft pick that resulted in Tim Stützle, but they also acquired Norris who had a fantastic year this season. He scored 35 goals in 66 games and looks like a key part of their long-term plan.