major 2022 23 nhl season narratives real

#major #NHL #season #narratives #real

To trust or not to trust? We’re almost a third of the way through the 2022-23 NHL season, and we’re starting to get a true sense of what the league is right now: the contenders, the pretenders, the breakouts, the busts.

With the calendar turning over to December, which trends across the league look sustainable? Which are not to be trusted even this deep into the year?

Time to play the fact or fiction game.

1. The New Jersey Devils and Boston Bruins are WAGONS.

Maybe someone had a hunch that the Devils would perform above expectations with even a slight improvement in their goaltending or that the Bruins could overcome their early-season injury woes with the emotional motivator of a “Last Dance” narrative.

But no living human, not even the parents of all the players on both teams, would’ve guessed they’d combine for a 38-7-1 record through Dec. 1’s action. The Devils have been a juggernaut in controlling the play with wave after wave of speed, generating an unbelievable 63.42 percent of the 5-on-5 scoring chances in their games so far. Jack Hughes continues to ascend toward superstardom, Nico Hischier looks like one of the better two-way forwards in the game right now, John Marino seems reborn on defense and, most of all, anyone between the pipes, from Vitek Vanecek to Akira Schmid, has been a revelation for New Jersey.

The Bruins, meanwhile, weathered the storm and waited out surgery recoveries for top left winger Brad Marchand and No. 1 blue-liner Charlie McAvoy, boosted by David Krejci’s return as the No. 2 center and inspired work from Hampus Lindholm on defense, and they might win new coach Jim Montgomery the Jack Adams Award if they keep this up.

Both clubs look legit, but we know who the Bruins are at this point given their roster is so similar to last year’s, so the Devils have the more intriguing ceiling for the balance of the season.

Verdict: FACT

2. Jason Robertson has evolved into a demigod.

After Thursday’s hat trick, Robertson has a downright silly 22 goals in 24 games this season. He leads the NHL in 5-on-5 scoring per 60. He’s second only to Connor McDavid in the scoring race even though McDavid plays 5:13 more than Robertson per game! Incredible.

Robertson has 56 goals and 100 points in his past 82 games dating back to last season. He ranks top-three in points per 60 since his NHL debut in 2020-21. It’s not a stretch to call him a top-five player on the planet right now. He won’t keep his current 75-goal pace up, but he has a real chance to break some Dallas Stars/Minnesota North Stars single-season records. Dino Ciccarelli and Brian Bellows share the goals record at 55, Neal Broten owns the assists record at 76 and Bobby Smith holds the points record at 114. Robertson’s current pace: 75-58-133. Not bad for a guy who missed training camp and the preseason.

Verdict: FACT

3. Battle of Alberta? We might see neither team make the playoffs.

It was such a high watching the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames lock horns in the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs, wasn’t it? That series had so much skill and physicality and drama, not to mention real stakes, as it felt like both teams were evolving into long-term Stanley Cup threats.

Right now, in early December? The Oilers cling to a wild-card spot, while the Flames sit outside the playoff picture. For each franchise, goaltending has been a problem. With Jack Campbell and Jacob Markstrom struggling mightily, the Oilers and Flames sit in the bottom third of the NHL in team save percentage. Have these teams regressed to the point where the playoffs aren’t a guarantee?

Not necessarily. Campbell has disappointed, but it’s not like the Oilers got great goaltending last season with Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen. They can consistently score their way out of trouble, and that should continue to be the case with the McDavid and Leon Draisaitl show. The Flames are tied more to a defense-first identity, so it’s more alarming to see them having trouble keeping pucks out, but they remain an above-average play-driving team. They have one of the league’s lowest shooting percentages, perhaps a symptom of an inability to gel with new additions Jonathan Huberdeau, Nazem Kadri and MacKenzie Weegar replacing Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk. Chemistry should come in time, this team remains deep and, even if Markstrom continues to falter, the Flames have good organizational goaltending depth if they reach a point of desperation. I think they figure this out.

Verdict: FICTION

4. Start engraving a third Norris Trophy for Erik Karlsson.

What. A. Season. Among NHL blue-liners to date in 2022-23, Karlsson ranks first in goals, assists, points, 5-on-5 goals per 60 and 5-on-5 primary assists per 60 and second in 5-on-5 points per 60. He has been the most dominant offensive weapon at his position this season, period, and while he always inspired debates about his defensive play in his best years, I’ll use the same defense I did then: By having the puck and pushing the play toward the other team’s net so well, he is defense by offense. His all-around impact is undeniably excellent.

If we were to hand out the Norris Trophy right now? He’d get my first-place vote, but so much has to go right between now and the rest of the season for Karlsson to capture a third Norris. First off, he has to stay healthy, which has been a tall order for him ever since he had major ankle surgery in the 2017 offseason. He hasn’t missed a game in 2022-23 but missed 27 percent of San Jose’s games in his previous four seasons due to various injuries. It’s tough to bet on him making it to 82 or even 75 games.

Secondly, winning the Norris may require a midseason trade to a contender, which won’t be easy to execute given he has an $11.5 million cap hit to lug around for another four seasons after this one. At full price, it’s a nonstarter to acquire him, and with salary retained, it’s hardly palatable for the Sharks. If Karlsson doesn’t end up moved and spends the entire season on the Sharks, that’ll mean he’s a virtual lock to miss the playoffs. Only one defenseman in NHL history has won the Norris on a team that missed the playoffs. It did happen only two years ago, though. It was Adam Fox of the New York Rangers. So the modern voter base isn’t completely against the idea, but Karlsson will have to be head and shoulders above every other D-man to warrant consideration when ballots are cast in April.

Verdict: FICTION

5. The Seattle Kraken have arrived as a contender.

The 2021-22 Kraken couldn’t live up to the 2017-18 Vegas Golden Knights in Year 1. It was an impossible ask, but the Kraken in Year 2 look completely reborn with so many of GM Ron Francis’ offseason additions paying off, from leading scorer Andre Burakovsky to goaltender Martin Jones to defenseman Justin Schultz — and that’s without Oliver Bjorkstrand really catching fire yet.

So are the Kraken, led by Calder Trophy favorite No. 1 center Matty Beniers, capable of keeping up their tremendous start? It’s complicated. This is undoubtedly a deeper team than last year’s. The Kraken sit top three in goals per game and have the league’s No. 6 power play. They actually grade out as one of the better teams in the NHL at suppressing shots and high-danger scoring chances at 5-on-5. On the other hand, they have a putrid penalty kill at 68.9 percent, and it’s difficult to trust Jones and Philipp Grubauer as a tandem given just how bad they were last season. The Kraken lack a go-to star at any position to boot.

Maybe it would be intellectually dishonest to place the Kraken in the fact or fiction bin. Their reality probably lies somewhere in between. Even if Seattle lacks a star, its depth can win games. Even if it’s tough to trust the goaltending, the team in front of Jones and Grubauer is keeping the workload manageable. Perhaps this ends up being a 90-point team battling on the playoff periphery and threatening to squeak in as a low seed.

Verdict: SOMEWHERE IN BETWEEN

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