Yeah, I'm not writing about the Shane Pinto contract dispute and cap crunch anymore, to heck with that. Let's turn our attention to some other teams. Particularly those who made the playoffs last season, and one of which the Ottawa Senators will need to leapfrog if they want to qualify this time around. Here are some of the candidates to get slapped with the highest HockeyViz Sadness score this year.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning are not the team they once were – the squad that won back-to-back Stanley Cups and followed with a third consecutive Finals appearance. Since then, they've lost a top-six forward in Ondrej Palat without a significant replacement, lost in the first round to the regular-season juggernauts, and lost a second top-six player in Alex Killorn, again, without an adequate substitute to play in his role. Their defence corps still features elite talent in Victor Hedman and Mikhail Sergachev, but there isn't much to fawn over after that. The injury to Andrei Vasilevskiy is incredibly unfortunate for them, but even if he's healthy, those 20 games they give the backup will be much harder to win with an overall weaker roster. The Senators have now outplayed the Lightning in three consecutive games, going 3-0-0 and outscoring them 19-8. It may very well be time for Tampa to pay the piper for their success.
New York Islanders
Otherwise known as "Ilya Sorokin & Friends", the Islanders are one of those teams that really makes you appreciate the value of a quality goaltender. Kind of like what the Sens did last season, except in not so much of a sick, twisted way. I mean, how else do you explain their wild-card berth last season? As far as legitimate top-six talent, Mat Barzal, Bo Horvat, Anders Lee, and Brock Nelson form a solid core, but the best they can do to round it out are Kyle Palmieri, Pierre Engvall, and Oliver Wahlstrom, the latter of whom hasn't panned out as of yet. Their depth forwards are mostly the same folks from their ECF runs in 2020 and 2021 except a few years older, and their defense, led by Adam Pelech and Noah Dobson, is good, but not great. With an aging roster anchored by a franchise goaltender and a couple of elite players, it's the Lightning without the cups.
You can call me crazy for including the reigning Eastern Conference champs on this list, or sensible for including the team that was a loss away from missing the playoffs last year. Either way, the Panthers have some issues, and they're punctuated by a long-term injury to the cornerstone of their defense, Aaron Ekblad. Brandon Montour and Sam Bennett also being out short-term won't help their cause in the opening weeks of the season, either. They're still more likely than not to make the playoffs in my opinion – at full health they have the best forward corps in the division, including Aleksander Barkov, Sam Reinhart, Carter Verhaeghe, and an MVP-caliber player in Matthew Tkachuk. However, some Ottawa-esque injury luck combined with the always mercurial Sergei Bobrovsky could leave the Cats vulnerable this year.
Yes, we've predicted for them to fall off for years and they always seem to perpetually crank out One Last Ride, but come on, folks. Look at the talent lost over the offseason – Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Taylor Hall, Dmitry Orlov, and Connor Clifton. Their top two centers are Charlie Coyle and Pavel Zacha!!! I'm taking Tim Stutzle and Ridly Greig all day. Of course, even with the improvement on Ottawa's part, they just don't stack up to Boston in terms of defense and goaltending. Charlie MacAvoy is probably one of two defencemen in the entire Atlantic Division who represents a best-case scenario for Jake Sanderson's development, and you can't bet against a tandem of Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman. It's going to be a question of goals scored – we know David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand will bring it, but how much will they be affected by the downgrades down the middle?
Granted, it's not just last year's playoff teams we need to worry about. The Pittsburgh Penguins and Buffalo Sabres will need to be jumped as well, and both have also gone through improvements with the goal of making it this year. The Detroit Red Wings? Yeah no. They're going to Ben Chiarot in the basement for another year.
But at minimum, the Sens will need to punt a tough team to the moon to get to the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons. Let us know who you think is ripe for the picking.