What Went Wrong 2022

Was 2021-22 just a hiccup for Islanders, or did their window close?

Was 2021-22 just a hiccup for Islanders, or did their window close?
David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

PHT’s “What Went Wrong?” series asks that question about teams who’ve been eliminated from the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Why did this team fall short, and how surprising was that fall? Are there signs that things might go right next season? This series tackles those questions, and more. In the latest edition of “What Went Wrong?,” PHT breaks down the 2021-22 New York Islanders.

When it was abundantly clear that the 2021-22 Islanders wouldn’t make the playoffs, Barry Trotz hammered home the point that there were “no excuses.”

Yet, if the Islanders want to put a positive spin on this failed 2021-22 season, wouldn’t it be best to write off worries by blaming, say, a 13-game season-opening road trip? One person’s “excuse” is another person’s reason.

Ultimately, it’s crucial for the Islanders to assess their failed 2021-22 season properly. Was this a hiccup, or did the window close on an act with a small margin for error?

2021-22 Islanders’ larger failures (and bad luck?) hides elite season from Sorokin

If there’s one thing that snuck under the radar about the 2021-22 Islanders, it was how impressive their goaltending was.

Look at the Goals Saved Above Average ranks, and Igor Shesterkin‘s historic 44.85 leads all goalies, but Ilya Sorokin was second with an outstanding 29.8. There’s a very valid argument that Ilya Sorokin (26-18-8, .925 save percentage, .712 quality start %) should finish as a 2022 Vezina Trophy finalist.

While Semyon Varlamov wasn’t as dominant, he also generated a positive GSAA (4.65).

Although stats like GSAA attempt to account for the defenses and structures in front of them, you might surmise that Barry Trotz’s schemes boost the numbers of his goalies. That’s probably true.

But it’s reasonable to wonder if the Islanders will enjoy the same elite goaltending next season after tremendous work in 2021-22. Conceivably, they could see a drop-off there while cleaning up more messes than usual on defense.

Look at a variety of defensive metrics, and you’ll note that this team wasn’t locking down opponents to the same degree. This Hockey Viz heat map captures some of the story. This wasn’t about allowing a ton of volume, but protecting the high-danger areas. Instead, the Islanders bled chances from the high-priced real estate in 2021-22:

Like others, I’d assume that Trotz & Co. will tighten some or all of these issues up next season. If not, things could stay ugly.

2021-22 Islanders season: fluke or sign of things to come?
(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Islanders face key offseason questions

Heading into the offseason, it’s not all doom and gloom. There are, however, some important questions to answer.

Add to some strengths on defense and in net?

There’s a solid chance that the Islanders unearthed a real find in Sorokin, who’s merely 26, and who carries an appealing $4M cap hit through 2023-24.

They’ll need to hash out an RFA deal with rising 22-year-old defenseman Noah Dobson. Once they do that, the Islanders can find some comfort in their “trident” of Dobson and a strong pairing of 27-year-old defensemen in Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock.

Beyond re-signing Dobson, the Islanders’ offseason questions begin to form around the rest of that defense. Aging blueliners Zdeno Chara and Andy Greene are UFAs, and retirement is a strong possibility for one or both. Aside from Scott Mayfield, the Islanders lack much in the way of clear depth defensemen. They’ll need to decide if prospects can fill the void; if not, trades and free agency will need to do the trick.

Cap Friendly estimates that the Islanders will have about $12.26M in cap space, with 18 roster spots covered. After a 13-goal, 51-point season, Dobson figures to eat up a healthy portion of that room.

If there’s an urge to create more space, would the Islanders try to trade Semyon Varlamov, a 34-year-old whose $5M cap hit expires after next season? (Not an outrageous question to ask if you think Barry Trotz can prop up a cheaper goalie.)

How much is left is in the tank for veteran forwards; Will they extend Barzal, and find him some help?

Offensively, it’s difficult to imagine the Islanders hanging with the rising tide of NHL scoring juggernauts.

Really, the hope is likely just that an old-but-not-ancient group doesn’t get too creaky.

All of those questions are interesting, but the most interesting forward-related question for the Islanders revolves around Mathew Barzal. In 2022-23, Barzal carries a team-friendly $7M cap hit, setting him up for restricted free agency (with arbitration rights).

Do the Islanders believe they can extend Barzal at an affordable clip? Would that be better than waiting out a contract year?

Also, can they find Barzal some help in free agency? You’d think it would be almost certain that he’d put up bigger numbers (59 points in 73 games) if he had more help. To say nothing of the daydream of Barzal in a more dynamic offensive system.

Replenish for the future, or keep selling for today?

During previous trade deadlines, the Islanders traded away significant draft capital (and allotted substantial cap space) to land Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Kyle Palmieri.

Though debatable in terms of sheer value, those moves were understandable: the Islanders were going for it.

Then comes the bill. From at least two pundits’ perspectives, the Islanders farm system only ranks ahead of the nascent Seattle Kraken prospect pool.

The full context of the Islanders’ situation presents a conundrum. Do you try to rebuild that prospect pool by making a better-than-usual draft pick, or do you explore packaging that pick to try to improve for the present?

The logic of possibly going for it extends beyond the aging elements of the Islanders’ core (not to mention 59-year-old Trotz and 79-year-old Lamoriello). It’s unclear how much Sorokin will cost after 2023-24, but the Isles have a chance to take advantage of two more seasons of an elite goalie at $4M per year. With that in mind, this may represent their last great window to contend under this current setup.

Naturally, that’s assuming that the 2021-22 season was a mere blip, and not a sign that the Islanders may no longer have the stuff to be elite defensively.

Overall, there are signs pointing both ways, including the mantra of “At this point do you really want to doubt Trotz?” Of the teams who missed the playoffs, the Islanders may face some of the most daunting long-term challenges, but they rank alongside the Golden Knights as teams most likely to rebound back to the postseason. They may even be Stanley Cup contenders again.

Or maybe their window already closed.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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    Long-standing problems doomed Jets in 2021-22; What can they fix?

    Long-standing problems doomed Jets in 2021-22; What can they fix?
    Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images

    PHT’s “What Went Wrong?” series asks that question about teams who’ve been eliminated from the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Why did this team fall short, and how surprising was that fall? Are there signs that things might go right next season? This series tackles those questions, and more. In the latest edition of “What Went Wrong?,” PHT breaks down the 2021-22 Winnipeg Jets

    After making it to the 2018 Western Conference Final, it seemed like the Winnipeg Jets were a team with one of the brightest futures in all of the NHL. Considering the younger parts of that roster, it looked like they were set up for even bigger successes down the line. The 2021-22 season may be the bleakest reminder that the Jets haven’t hit that mark, but this franchise’s foundation has been wobbly for much longer.

    After this painful 2021-22 season, the Jets are forced to reckon with a question many of us have been asking on and off since 2018-19.  How much of their failures fall on coaching vs. players who may simply be flawed defensively?

    As with many debates in life, the truest answer could be somewhere in the middle. There are also other areas to consider, such as how the Jets develop prospects.

    That said, there’s only so much you can improve during on offseason, particularly with limited cap space and a market that’s not exactly beloved by free agents. It’s crucial for the Jets to learn as much as they can from the 2021-22 season, as there’s still at least some room to dream about getting that aircraft back on its once-promising trajectory.

    Jets defense didn’t get much better in 2021-22

    By adding a competent defenseman like Brenden Dillon and hoping for a Nate Schmidt redemption, the Jets approached 2021-22 with hope for an improved blueline.

    To some degree, you could argue that Winnipeg improved a bit on defense. Unfortunately, you’d measure the upgrades by baby steps instead of leaps. Check their 5-on-5 defensive Hockey Viz charts side by side:


    Fundamentally, the 2021-22 Jets were left relying on a familiar, failing formula. Hope your skilled players outscore their mistakes, and ask Connor Hellebuyck to clean up far too many messes.

    Blake Wheelers’ two-way flaws have been fodder for a while now. There have also been rumblings about Mark Scheifele‘s mix of terrific offense and arguably terrible defense. It’s jarring, though, to ponder Wheeler, Scheifele, Kyle Connor, and even Nikolaj Ehlers struggling to such extremes.

    Don’t take that as a total condemnation, mind you. Generally speaking, Connor, Ehlers, and Scheifele bring more to the table than they take away. The Athletic’s Player Cards capture the overall gains from that push-and-pull.

    Winnipeg must hope that it’s the system

    If nothing else, the 2021-22 Jets and other recent iterations already emphasized sheltering Connor, Scheifele, and others defensively. At least this isn’t a case of Paul Maurice (and then Dave Lowry) deploying poor two-way players as if they were Selke candidates.

    So, it circles back to a question of structure. Maybe there’s only so much you can do with the likes of Connor, Ehlers, Wheeler, Scheifele, and a similarly-performing Pierre-Luc Dubois. But it’s troubling to see a decline for a supporting cast member like Brenden Dillon.

    Can a coach turn that around? Will they find the right balance between improving that defense without stifling some skilled forwards too much? Some hope for another Darryl Sutter-type turnaround, but for all we know, Sutter might’ve struggled with this collection of players.

    Jets only have so much room for offseason movement

    Finding a coach to install a sturdier system is the overarching dream for the Jets after the 2021-22 season.

    There’s also a pragmatic element to emphasizing coaching as an area of improvement. At the moment, it doesn’t look like the Jets have a lot of wiggle room to get better via trades or free agency.

    Via Cap Friendly, the Jets approach the offseason with about $16.2M in salary cap space. That number is deceptive, however.

    For one thing, that projected $66.3M in cap spending is only penciled in for 15 roster spots. Pierre-Luc Dubois accounted for a $5M cap hit this season, and he’s a pending RFA with arbitration rights. The Jets will either need to pay up in some form for a new contract, or possibly trade Dubois. They also might want to bring back steady 36-year-old forward Paul Stastny on another 35+ contract.

    Trades may be the easiest option, but not easy, either

    Improving their defensive personnel might come down to trading someone.

    At the moment, the Jets have the same $26.8M earmarked for defensemen that they handed out in 2021-22. Would they part ways with someone like Nate Schmidt ($5.95M), Neal Pionk ($5.875M), Brenden Dillon ($3.9M), or Dylan DeMelo ($3M)? For what it’s worth, Schmidt’s the only defenseman in that group with any sort of trade clause.

    It’s fair to at least ask if the Jets might broach the subject of a change of scenery for Blake Wheeler, too. Wheeler, 35, has significant trade protection on a deal that carries an $8.25M cap hit through 2023-24. Considering his season-ending comments, maybe Wheeler would be on board with a trade, and open up to more than five teams?

    In some — if not all — of those cases, the Jets may struggle to gain much value in return. To trade Wheeler, they may need to bribe someone in hopes of merely gaining cap space.

    Barring something bold like a Jakob Chychrun trade, there are only so many moves that would really make a positive difference. The dream once again returns to a coach waving a magic wand and installing a better system.

    Not a ton of answers for Jets in free agency

    Let’s say the Jets either gain some cap space via trade, or set things up for a single free agent splurge. Would that even be a wise decision?

    • A desperate Jets team might take a swing at John Klingberg. Yet, at this point in his career, you could argue that Klingberg profiles as a microcosm of the Jets themselves. Generally, Klingberg still provides offensive skill, but his defensive game is lacking. Perhaps the Jets could just really go for broke, hoping they can replicate some of the Florida Panthers spirit. But would that plan too easily dismiss what Florida does well?
    • Out of context, Nazem Kadri is the sort of efficient player who could tie the Jets’ roster together in a more cohesive way. In the context of Kadri’s incredible All-Star season, he’s likely to drive his price up to the point where whatever team who signs him will then ask him to do far too much.

    Now, there are scenarios where a free agent splash might make sense for the Jets. If the price isn’t too steep for Claude Giroux, he could conceivably help this team with his sharp two-way acumen. And if you’re just throwing a Hail Mary, Johnny Gaudreau‘s a legit star who has some chance of hitting the free agent market.

    Realistically, the Jets should try to patch up weak depth by making savvy moves in the bargain bin. (One of the many areas where it’s fair to wonder if GM Kevin Cheveldayoff is the right person for the job.)

    While there’s room to work on the fringes, the central discussion remains the same. The Jets need to improve from within, by getting better results from players up and down their roster. Ideally, they’d pull that off while Connor Hellebuyck still ranks among the NHL’s best goalies.

    The best way to do that is to find a coach to stitch it all together. Frankly, it’s fair to wonder if the Jets have ever had that going for them.

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

    Blue Jackets in a tricky spot after 2021-22 season

    Blue Jackets in a tricky spot after 2021-22 season
    Juan Ocampo/NHLI via Getty Images

    PHT’s “What Went Wrong?” series asks that question about teams who’ve been eliminated from the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Why did this team fall short, and how surprising was that fall? Are there signs that things might go right next season? This series tackles those questions, and more. In the latest edition of “What Went Wrong?,” PHT breaks down the 2021-22 Columbus Blue Jackets.

    Without context, you’d always want your team to be “better than expected.” Right?

    Sure, but when it comes to planning for the future of a team, sometimes there’s a risk of being a victim of even fairly modest success.

    To the credit of Brad Larsen and others, the Columbus Blue Jackets were a lot better than expected in 2021-22. Instead of tanking alongside the Coyotes and Sabres, the Blue Jackets seem slated to be the second-highest-ranked Eastern Conference team outside of the playoffs.

    At 35-36-6, the 2021-22 Blue Jackets are close to the NHL’s wonky version of a “.500” team. Considering their fire sale during the last trade deadline, Seth Jones‘ departure, and the dire end of the John Tortorella era … hey, not awful.

    Yet, with all of that positivity, the Blue Jackets ended up mathematically eliminated from the playoffs with two weeks remaining in the 2021-22 season.

    [Read the latest PHT Power Rankings]

    So, you face a tug-o-war of optimism and pessimism. How much should the Blue Jackets weigh a respectable 2021-22 season? Should they grumble about falling in “puck purgatory” by being too good for the best draft lottery odds, but too bad to make the playoffs?

    If Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekäläinen reads too much into the positives of the 2021-22 season, he could risk rushing things along. That said, Kekäläinen also must grapple with the finite nature of patience. He can only sell so much of a long rebuild, particularly considering how long he’s been around (Columbus hired him as GM in 2013).

    Whether you’re working through the present results of the 2021-22 season or trying to make plans for the future, the Blue Jackets face some intriguing challenges.

    2021-22 Columbus Blue Jackets: The bad, the good, and maybe the not-as-good-as-you-think?

    Again, considering the cellar-level expectations of the Blue Jackets, Brad Larsen & Co. should be lauded for icing a team that could upset others on many nights.

    An optimist will view this as laying down a foundation for future success. Yet, a more pragmatic breakdown may inspire some doubt about the team’s structure. Glance at the 2021-22 Blue Jackets Team RAPM chart from Evolving Hockey:

    This chart summarizes some of the Blue Jackets’ larger trends.

    • On one hand, they scored quite a few more goals than they were expected to, at least at even-strength.
    • Countering that, their goaltenders allowed more goals than expected, too. Big-picture, they probably received a few extra lucky bounces this season (mainly on offense).
    • Their special teams weren’t very good. Their underlying numbers were mainly that of a below-average, sometimes bad team. But not a disaster. Faint praise or not, things could’ve been worse. They just weren’t quite as promising as you might guess from a team that kinda sorta slightly hovered in the East playoff bubble. (Kinda, sorta.)

    The deeper you delve, the more troubling things look for the 2021-22 Blue Jackets on the defensive side. Hockey Viz paints the bleakest picture:

    Look up and down the Blue Jackets roster, and you won’t see a lot of great options on defense. Even a skilled player like Zach Werenski brought value more in range of a “nice top-pairing defenseman” rather than a true No. 1 ace.

    As with most larger problems for NHL teams, it’s often not about personnel or coaching; it’s often some combination of both. It’s up to the Blue Jackets to decide if another season of Larsen makes sense — even if, deep down, it’s to tank — or if a more experienced coach might at least bring the Blue Jackets’ underlying numbers closer to average.

    While it’s debatable if it was totally worth the offensive sacrifices, it’s staggering to consider how much stingier the Blue Jackets were as recently as 2019-20. That was even when Seth Jones was becoming more of a polarizing all-around player:

    Patrik Laine and other key Blue Jackets free agent/offseason questions

    So, so many factors play into how the Blue Jackets may handle the pending RFA status of Patrik Laine. Let’s collect some of the key elements.

    • Patrik Laine just turned 24. He’s a pending RFA with arbitration rights. It won’t hurt that he’s on a point-per-game pace (56 in 56) and already has three 30+ goal seasons, could reach that in 2021-22 (26 now), and nearly got there in 2019-20 (28 goals).
    • Don’t blame Patrik Laine if he wants stability. This season, he’s been on a one-year deal. His previous contract only covered two, and before that, it was his rookie contract. Sooner or later, players with his numbers tend to land term when they want it.
    • Yet, the Blue Jackets might benefit from seeing if he can truly grow his game. For all the strides Laine’s made to improve his offensive production, the same questions remain about his all-around value. His Evolving Hockey Player Card captures some of the pros and cons.

    Based on estimates from The Athletic’s Shayna Goldman and Dom Luszczyszyn (sub required), Patrik Laine’s recent work would translate to $5.2M in market value. In a nutshell, Laine’s defensive game is weak, and while he remains a fearsome shooter, his playing style doesn’t always translate to a volume of high-danger scoring chances for his teams.

    We’ve discussed Laine’s traditional stats, what would be an understandable drive for stability, and red flags about his overall impact. What about the Blue Jackets’ side, though?

    On one hand, the Blue Jackets made a brave move last offseason. Presented with Seth Jones’ trade request, they traded out a player with iffy underlying numbers and big contract demands. Despite the hockey world knowing that the Blue Jackets couldn’t keep Seth Jones, the Blackhawks still sent an enormous trade package Columbus’ way.

    However you feel about Jones’ value, it was the wiser move for the Blue Jackets.

    Frankly, I wondered if why the Blue Jackets didn’t at least consider trading Patrik Laine at the past deadline. (Perhaps there’s a chance they did, but word never surfaced?)

    Theoretically, the Blue Jackets could’ve tried to rekindle the spirit of that Jones trade: get key rebuilding pieces for a talented-but-perhaps-flawed player who was soon to cost a lot more money. (Or, if Laine doesn’t cost more, he’s likely to carry riskier term.)

    That said, there’s a different factor to consider. The Blue Jackets have struggled to retain stars for years now. Jones continued an exodus that included Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky, and even a deadline pickup like Matt Duchene. Pour in painful Rick Nash memories, and Blue Jackets fans may just want the “win” of Columbus keeping a big name like Patrik Laine around.

    Handing Zach Werenski a big contract extension last offseason may only accomplish so much.

    More on the offseason, rebuild for Blue Jackets

    To review: the Blue Jackets have a huge decision to make with Patrik Laine. Signing him could be a PR move as much as a push to score goals.

    If they’re savvy, they’re also wondering about coaching and their team structure.

    Consider a few other factors for the Blue Jackets heading into the offseason, free agency, and next steps of their rebuild.

    • Laine isn’t the only contract situation of note. Jack Roslovic is a pending RFA. Could the Blue Jackets trade Joonas Korpisalo‘s rights before he becomes a UFA? Adam Boqvist, a key part of the Seth Jones trade, is also an RFA.
    • Cap Friendly estimates more than $28M in cap space for the Blue Jackets, with 15 roster spots covered. That circles back to how important it is for the Blue Jackets to take a sober look at 2021-22. Bolstering the lineup is wise; over-reaching could be dangerous, as they’re likely not a Nazem Kadri or John Klingberg away from being a viable contender.
    • The 2022 NHL Draft Lottery will be something to watch, as it’s not yet clear which of the Blackhawks’ first-rounders will go to the Blue Jackets.
    • Ratings vary as wide as 16th to 6th, but either way, the Blue Jackets infused their prospect pool with real value after trading the likes of Nick Foligno, David Savard, and Seth Jones. Will management decide to trade away some of their upcoming draft surplus for more immediate roster help, or take a patient approach. (Again, that’s why it’s so important that the Blue Jackets assess their 2021-22 season honestly, rather than overly positive or negative.)

    Whether it’s Kekäläinen or a new GM running things for the Blue Jackets, it will be fascinating to see how they handle decisions like Laine’s contract, possible creative trades, and generally how aggressive to be in free agency.

    Because, in this case, the answer to “What went wrong?” is “more than some might think.”

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

    If 2021-22 season doesn’t inspire Sharks rebuild, what will?

    If 2021-22 season doesn't inspire Sharks rebuild, what will?
    Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images

    PHT’s “What Went Wrong?” series asks that question about teams who’ve been eliminated from the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Why did this team fall short, and how surprising was that fall? Are there signs that things might go right next season? This series tackles those questions, and more. In the latest edition of “What Went Wrong?,” PHT breaks down the 2021-22 San Jose Sharks.

    Read through enough of these “What Went Wrong?” features, and you may become fluent in failures. You may even identify “flavors.”

    With teams like the Sabres and Red Wings, there’s the bitter of the present with a hope for a sweet future. There are the mystery flavors of the collapsing Canadiens and a Ducks team that started strong, then went sour.

    Then there are the teams who make you wonder if they have tastebuds at all. The 2021-22 Flyers and Sharks send similar messages. Rather than embracing a rebuild, teams like the Sharks continue to swear by their current recipe.

    That’s not an ideal formula when you’ve missed the playoffs three seasons in a row, and in each case, by a mile.

    2021-22 Sharks: Not even close

    No doubt, it would have been uncomfortable to trade a player as gifted as Tomas Hertl. Yet, by adding yet another long-term risk to what was already a heap of questionable contracts, it’s fair to wonder if the Sharks learned from 2021-22, and other recent failures.

    Now, sure, the Sharks began the 2021-22 season on a higher note than anticipated. If anything, that really just highlights how far this franchise has fallen. Even in a weak Pacific Division, the Sharks weren’t even close to a playoff berth in 2021-22.

    By April 6, the Sharks were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. That’s more than three weeks before their last regular season game (April 29 vs. the Kraken).

    Are there scenarios where things could have worked out better? Sure, but you’d really be daydreaming if you gave them too much time. For the future, one of the scarier things about the 2021-22 Sharks is how much went right.

    2021-22 Sharks can only blame so much on bad luck

    These things went San Jose’s way, and may not work out quite so well again.

    • There’s a strong chance that one or both of the Golden Knights and Canucks will be sturdier next season. The 2021-22 season may have been the best window for the Sharks to swipe something like the third spot in the Pacific Division
    • The good news is that Brent Burns and especially Erik Karlsson rebounded to some extent. The bad news is that it’s unclear if they’ll maintain already-compromised level of play. Karlsson’s “an old 31,” being that he’s dealt with a slew of lower-body injuries. Somehow, Brent Burns is already 37.
    • Tomas Hertl’s been great … after a couple years where injuries dragged him down, from a mainstream perspective. As fantastic as he is, this season marks just his second 60+ point season … in fact, it’s also just his second 50+ point season. While Hertl is a prime example of points not being everything, it’s also plausible that the Sharks signed him at the peak of his value. Between injuries and regression, Hertl could slip a bit — he’s already 28.
    • Speaking of wildly underrated Sharks forwards breaking through, Timo Meier recorded his second-career 30+ goal season (33) and already easily set a career-high with 73 points. His second-best year was 66 points in 2018-19. Third-best: 49 points, otherwise a couple of 30+ point campaigns.

    To be clear, this isn’t Hertl and Meier bashing; they’re really good.

    [What went wrong for the Montreal Canadiens]

    It’s just that the 2021-22 Sharks enjoyed the best years of their careers … and still missed the playoffs by a mile. Seems like a bad sign.

    With career years from rising stars, rebounds from expensive veterans, and even good bang-for-your-buck in net, the 2021-22 Sharks still missed the playoffs by a wide margin, and endured a -45 goal differential.

    Not sure there’s much here that screams “keep the gang together.”

    (You’d need to project William Eklund as, say, Superman to think there’s much help coming.)

    It may not be Boughner’s fault, but Sharks only have so many options if they won’t rebuild

    For all that went right for the 2021-22 Sharks, let’s be honest: they still stunk. Check this Evolving Hockey Team RAPM chart, and you’ll note that they couldn’t even really capitalize on an unexpectedly effective penalty kill.

    This brings us to a tough question: how much of this is on Sharks head coach Bob Boughner?

    As with most teams, it’s not especially easy to separate team results from coaching impacts. This isn’t the NFL, where an obsessive coach can watch 100 hours of video a week, sleep in their office every night, and will a mediocre roster to the playoffs.

    That said, we’ve seen some transformations around the NHL. Whatever’s in the secret sauce with coaches like Darryl Sutter and Bruce Boudreau, their teams took off once they took over.

    Could a true difference-making coach turn the Sharks into a dominant 5-on-5 team? Look up and down that roster, and it’s difficult to imagine San Jose playing shutdown, Barry Trotz-style hockey. Yet, with salary cap limitations and what seems like a refusal to truly rebuild, the Sharks might need to throw a Hail Mary and hope some coach can make a feast with flawed ingredients.

    Call it hockey’s answer to Chopped.

    (On that note, maybe the real key is to simply make it entertaining?)

    Sharks offseason preview: the rebuild may only happen for their front office

    After Doug Wilson’s resignation, the Sharks need a new GM. If the Sharks wanted to sell some kind of more immediate change, a head coaching tweak may be in order. Obviously, these choices could create ripple effects throughout the roster and the front office.

    There are rumblings that the Sharks aren’t in a rush to hire a new GM, and that the search could extend through the offseason.

    To some extent, it’s wise to find the best candidate(s) possible. Yet, even if you ignore the possibly wise idea to change the Sharks’ head coach, this team should explore some tough questions during the offseason.

    Timo Meier: Hertl situation repeat? Try to trade who you can? And other Sharks offseason questions

    Even before the 2021-22 season and the Tomas Hertl extension, a Sharks rebuild looked difficult because of the already-imposing stack of long-term contracts.

    With the Tomas Hertl extension, some might feel that the Sharks are kind of stuck. Cap Friendly estimates the Sharks’ cap space at about $9.68 million, with 18 roster spots covered. Most immediately, they’d need to make decisions, including possible contracts for RFAs Kaapo Kähkönen and Mario Ferraro.

    Frankly, the bigger decision is one that could be put off. What should the Sharks do with Timo Meier?

    Meier, 25, will see his $6M cap hit expire after the 2022-23 season. He’s a pending RFA, and who has arbitration rights.

    In several ways, Meier parallels Tomas Hertl. A contending team could easily justify extending Meier, much like Hertl, risks and all.

    But the Sharks? Despite backing themselves into a corner over and over again, the Sharks might be wise to trade Meier to help (cough) jump-start a rebuild.

    [Meanwhile, the rival Anaheim Ducks look light years ahead of the Sharks]

    Theoretically, a Meier trade could be just part of a rebuild-focused Sharks offseason. Consider a few options:

    • Again, it’s kind of hard to believe that Brent Burns is already 37, but he is. His $8M cap hit runs through 2024-25. There may never be a better time to trade Brent Burns.
    • Logan Couture’s another sneaky-old Sharks player at 33, and his $8M cap hit goes through 2026-27. Also like Burns, Couture’s contract features a list of just three teams he’d accept a trade to. That’s where a larger message of a Sharks rebuild could help. If Burns and Couture (understandably) wouldn’t want to be part of a rebuild, maybe they’d be more flexible with their trade lists? Comfortable or not, the Sharks need to be having these types of conversations.
    • Should the Sharks buy out Marc-Edouard Vlasic, even if it would only provide limited savings?

    A possible Meier trade and that bulleted list could make your head spin, and that’s just a taste of what the Sharks are up against. (Again, they must also answer immediate questions, like what to do with  Kähkönen.)

    Overall, the Sharks look like one of the biggest messes in the NHL, especially if a prospective GM had little room to rebuild. After the 2021-22 season, it would help if the Sharks at least acknowledged the mess for what it is.

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

    Flyers need to learn the right lessons from 2021-22 meltdown

    Flyers need to learn the right lessons from 2021-22 meltdown
    Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images

    PHT’s “What Went Wrong?” series asks that question about teams who’ve been eliminated from the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Why did this team fall short, and how surprising was that fall? Are there signs that things might go right next season? This series tackles those questions, and more. In the latest edition of “What Went Wrong?,” PHT breaks down the 2021-22 Philadelphia Flyers.

    The Philadelphia Flyers weren’t alone in suffering through an awful 2021-22 season. That’s basically what this “What When Wrong?” series is all about.

    So, they’re not the only team with problems. The uncomfortable thing about the Flyers, though, is that they don’t seem to be reacting to the failures of 2021-22 in the most promising ways.

    They’re not pulling off the Band-Aid and rebuilding like the Ducks. Instead, it feels more like the Flyers view the 2021-22 season as more of a hiccup or blip. While the message can change, Chuck Fletcher and others pointed toward a plan to “aggressively re-tool,” implying a push for a playoff berth next season.

    Is that a wise direction after an astoundingly bad 2021-22 season for the Flyers? And, if there’s truly a lane for this to work out, is Chuck Fletcher really the person to guide Philly out of this mess?

    Because, make no mistake about it, this was a disaster. And the early signs point to Fletcher doubling down on some of the decisions that doomed the Flyers in 2021-22.

    Selective accountability

    When Mike Yeo and the Flyers ended Keith Yandle‘s ironman streak with the whimper that is a healthy scratch, it felt tacky. It’s one thing if allowing Yandle to approach 1,000 games played in a row threatened a playoff berth. Instead, the Flyers scratched Yandle long after any playoff hopes were up in smoke.

    Now, sure, there’s the argument that playing in the NHL is a right, not a privilege. But it doesn’t exactly feel like accountability gets doled out in fair portions.

    Let’s be honest. At this point, Mike Yeo and Chuck Fletcher resemble the management equivalents to fringe NHL players. Even with an interim tag, it was jarring to see Mike Yeo as an NHL head coach again after rarely ascending above the level of “meh.”

    And if Chuck Fletcher isn’t merely replacement level as a GM, shouldn’t we have seen something more promising by now? Between his Wild and Flyers runs, he’s been an NHL GM since May 2009.

    In that time, his most memorable moves have mostly blown up in his face in ways that evoke Wile E. Coyote. His signature blunder was signing Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to matching 13-year contracts at $98 million apiece. But Fletcher’s taken many big swings over the years, and he’s largely struck out.

    You can gain some entertainment thumbing through Fletcher blunders like people used to leaf through bargain bin CDs at record stores. “OK, sure, the case is cracked, but this greatest hits collection has Thomas Vanek’s eventual buyout.”

    It would be one thing if those big whiffs were just from the Wild days. Really, it would be refreshing if he learned hard lessons, and nailed his second chance. Unfortunately, it seems like he’s just piling up mistakes.

    Look at how the Flyers perceive Rasmus Ristolainen alone, and Fletcher’s stacked investments nearly to the defenseman’s towering height.

    Chuck Fletcher’s big offseason gambles went bust

    To be fair, not every error evoked a chorus of agonized groans.

    When it came to trading for Ryan Ellis, there were obvious risks. He really wasn’t healthy in 2020-21. But there are worse gambles than hoping that Ellis could find his Norris-range-form from a year before.

    Whether you chalk it up to bad luck, excessive optimism from medical staffers, or a lack of due diligence, the bottom line is that Ryan Ellis only played four games for the Flyers in 2021-22.

    And there really aren’t a lot of excuses for the staggering amount of resources the Flyers sunk into Rasmus Ristolainen. Here’s the quick version.

    • It cost the Flyers a first-round pick, a second-rounder, and Robert Hagg to trade for Rasmus Ristolainen.
    • They also gave up a second-rounder to clear room for Ristolainen by trading Shayne Gostisbehere.
    • Somewhere, you can probably debate Gostisbehere vs. Ristolainen until your face turns blue. But it can’t feel great to ponder the possibility that Gostisbehere was Ristolainen’s equal, or maybe even a bit better, this season.

    Don’t take more of the wrong lessons from 2021-22 – or – Flyers should not trade Travis

    While it feels unlikely, there’s the chance that the Flyers end up looking smart with their copious investments in Ristolainen. Stranger things have happened. Defensemen can sometimes be tricky to judge.

    Again, though, I’d say it’s more realistic that the Flyers fell in love with the idea of Ristolainen. Maybe they were preoccupied with style over results.

    Two things are clear:

    1. The Flyers deflected criticisms of Ristolainen’s often-terrible underlying results. In other words, they ignored “the nerds.”
    2. Right or wrong, the Ristolainen extension happened.

    Not ideal, but the Flyers can still show that they’re not taking all the wrong lessons from 2021-22. Maybe they just need a simple mantra.

    Don’t trade Travis.

    Amusingly enough, Fletcher could restore some faith (from me, at least) if he didn’t trade Travis Sanheim and Travis Konecny during the offseason.

    In the case of Travis Sanheim, it’s simple. He’s the sort of defenseman the Flyers are tearing a quad to try to get. He’s steady, underrated, and in his prime. Frankly, if perceptions are low on Travis Sanheim, the Flyers might even be able to sign him to a team-friendly extension this summer. They might just ink him before people catch on that the 26-year-old is a hidden gem.

    The advice with Travis Konecny is more nuanced. If they’re determined to trade Konecny, fine. But don’t do it now, when his stock is basically at an all-time low.

    You see it time and time again. Less-savvy teams sour on a player, trade them for pennies on the dollar, and then everyone has a good laugh on Twitter. Sometimes you can see it coming from a mile away with a talented player whose shooting percentage goes cold.

    The Oilers turning Jordan Eberle into Ryan Strome and then Ryan Spooner is a textbook example of such short-sighted blunders.

    [What Went Wrong for the Devils this season]

    This season, Travis Konecny’s shooting percentage is 6.8%, by far the lowest of his career. It’s almost half of his career average of 11.6-percent. All things considered, his offensive output (13 goals and 45 points in 71 games) could be worse.

    For a time, Konecny looked like a star in the making. Now, it feels like he’s dangling on the edge of a trade where the Flyers would sell low.

    Is Konecny perfect? No.

    Just look at how perceptions can change. Last offseason, the Blues couldn’t find someone to trade for Vladimir Tarasenko. Now, he’s enjoying one of the best seasons of his career.

    If Konecny has to (eventually) go, why not let him rebuild his reputation?

    The 2021-22 Flyers didn’t look like a team just an offseason away from contending

    So, the Flyers should keep calm about certain elements of the 2021-22 season. Yet, the calls for a rebuild weren’t outrageous: this Flyers team was very, very bad.

    When you glance at the 2021-22 Flyers using Evolving Hockey’s Team RAPM charts, there’s not much to do except noting where they were bad vs. even worse.

    It’s not as though you can just pass this off as a strange fluke.

    From 2012-13 through 2019-20, the Flyers rotated seasons where they missed and made the playoffs. During that time, they only won playoff series during one run, and that was the oddball 2019-20 bubble season.

    Now it will be two straight seasons where they missed the playoffs, and this time, it wasn’t close. In 2021-22, the Flyers clearly ranked as one of the worst teams in the NHL.

    [PHT’s Power Rankings]

    How much can that change with coaching? Fletcher’s the person who chose Alain Vigneault, and this isn’t the first time he’s leaned on Mike Yeo. Are we anymore confident Fletcher will choose the right coach than we are that he’ll ace free agency?

    Ignore the numbers and the season for a minute. Instead, scroll their team page at Cap Friendly. There are some solid players, sure, and one could picture rebounds/better health from Ellis, Hayes, and so on. Maybe Carter Hart goes on a heater next season.

    Really, though, is there much there to make you think the Flyers are an offseason — even a splashy, bold one that evokes the days of Iya Bryzgalov … only successful this time — away from turning this around?

    They already burned a great opportunity to speed up what should obviously be a rebuild with their trade deadline decisions. The uncomfortable truth is that the 2021-22 season and larger outlook continue to gesture toward the obvious need for a Flyers rebuild.

    If the Flyers truly don’t have a stomach for that, then they better hope that this situation is a lot better than it looks.

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.