NHL’s first-month winners, losers: Bruins make both sides after controversy
Boston Bruins players were the NHL’s top story, and then management made the team the story for the wrong reason.
Amid a franchise-record 10-1 start for the banged-up Bruins, the team announced on Friday that it was signing controversial defenseman Mitchell Miller to an entry-level contract. That put Boston in position to make both the winner and loser lists for the first month of the 2022-23 NHL season
Miller, 20, had admitted in juvenile court that he had bullied a Black classmate with developmental disabilities when he was 14. That included tricking Isaiah Meyer-Crothers into licking a candy push pop that Miller and another boy had wiped in a bathroom urinal.
It was a signing the team didn’t have to make, players questioned the move and commissioner Gary Bettman said, ‘I can’t tell you that he’ll ever be eligible to come into the NHL.’ Sunday, the team said it was rescinding its offer.
The bad publicity took attention away from the play on the ice. The start of the season had the potential for disaster after offseason surgeries for winger Brad Marchand and defensemen Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk.
But David Pastrnak is making his case for a lucrative extension with 19 points over 12 games, Marchand and Grzelcyk returned early and McAvoy is back at practice. The Bruins hold the Atlantic Division lead and new coach Jim Montgomery is an early favorite for the Jack Adams Award.
The NHL season completed its first full month on Sunday. Here are the early winners and losers:
Philadelphia Flyers coach John Tortorella
Back after a year out of coaching, Tortorella vowed to make the Flyers tougher to play against. He has done that, and the wins are following, putting the Flyers (6-3-2) into the mix of the feel-good Philadelphia sports story (8-0 Eagles and Phillies and Union reaching the championship round). The Flyers still have work to do, considering they’ve been outshot (sometimes badly) in all but two games. Goaltender Carter Hart (6-0-2, .946 save percentage) has kept them in games and the Flyers have five comeback wins after getting only nine last season.
Vegas Golden Knights goaltending
Many people were writing off the Golden Knights after they announced that goaltender Robin Lehner would have hip surgery and miss the season. But Logan Thompson outplayed Lehner down the stretch at times last season. The rookie and offseason acquisition Adin Hill had sub-2.00 goals-against averages until each gave up four goals in their last wins. The Pacific Division-leading Golden Knights have also been aided by a healthy Jack Eichel (14 points in 13 games).
New Jersey Devils forward Jesper Bratt
He opened the season with an 11-game point streak before it ended on Saturday, important for him in a contract year as a restricted free agent with arbitration rights. It’s also important for the Devils, who lead the Metropolitan Division after missing the playoffs the past four seasons and nine of the last 10. The Devils are also aided by a team defense that allows the fewest shots per game.
San Jose Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson
During the Sharks’ three-year playoff drought, there were concerns about the big contracts of defensemen Brent Burns ($8 million cap hit) and Karlsson ($11.5 million). GM Mike Grier dealt Burns, and Karlsson has benefited from the extra ice time. He’s leading NHL defensemen with 19 points, and his 10 goals match his best full-season total from the past five seasons.
Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews
He sat out two seasons ago with chronic immune response syndrome and struggled with a career-worst 12 goals last season. His seven goals in 12 games is a good sign about his health. His surge has helped the Blackhawks be better than expected after a major offseason rebuild. And if Chicago decides to deal the captain and/or fellow pending unrestricted free agent Patrick Kane, Toews is upping his trade value.
The Central Division-leading Dallas Stars are getting production beyond their top line, with veterans Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin having strong starts. … The second-year Seattle Kraken have seven wins, a total they didn’t reach until Nov. 27 last season. … Golden Knights forward Phil Kessel broke the NHL ironman record and needs five games to reach 1,000 consecutive games. … Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin (787 goals) broke Gordie Howe’s record for most career goals with one team. … Dominik Kubalik, not given a qualifying offer by the Blackhawks, is averaging more than a point a game with the Detroit Red Wings.
The Penguins kept the Big Three of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang together, but since a promising 4-0-1 start, the team is 0-6-1. It’s the Penguins’ first seven-game losing streak since 2005-06, when Crosby was a rookie. Though Crosby and Malkin are putting up points, Pittsburgh is getting little production from its bottom six during the slide. Their penalty kill is the sixth-worst in the league. Tristan Jarry had a .941 save percentage in his first four games and .867 in his last four.
Their offseason re-signing of J.T. Miller says they’re going for it, but a 3-6-3 record isn’t a good start. Their power play is clicking at 30.2%, third best in the league, but their penalty kill is the league’s worst (60.5%) and the concern has been holding leads. They’ve blown a three-goal lead twice and a two-goal lead three times. They’ve been outshot 156-114 in the third period and overtime and outscored 24-13. Thatcher Demko, who had a .915 save percentage last season, is at .879.
St. Louis Blues
The Blues opened 3-0 but have lost six in a row. They rank last in goals per game and 28th in goals-against average. Jordan Kyrou (three points, -15 plus-minus rating), Ryan O’Reilly (one goal, -12) and goalie Jordan Binnington (3.40 GAA, .879 SV%) are off to slow starts, and the Blues don’t have Ville Husso to spell Binnington after dealing the backup to the Red Wings.
Columbus Blue Jackets
They landed the top free agent in Johnny Gaudreau, but they have four fewer wins through 12 games (3-9 vs. 7-5) than last season. They were overwhelmed by the Colorado Avalanche in the two games in Finland. Gaudreau and Patrik Laine haven’t had a chance to build chemistry because Laine was hurt in the opener and missed the next six games. They have the league’s worst power play (6.1%), rank 30th at five-on-five play and have allowed the fourth-most shots per game. Goalie Elvis Merzlikins, whose worst career save percentage was .907, is at .863 and ranks last in goals saved above expected, according to moneypuck.com.
Calgary Flames forward Jonathan Huberdeau
Matthew Tkachuk is off to a strong start with the Florida Panthers (17 points in 12 games, though he’s sitting out two games with a suspension). Huberdeau, the key forward acquired by the Flames in the deal, is off to a slow start. He has five points in 10 games, after getting 115 points last season. He has one even-strength point after finishing sixth in the NHL last season with 72. Huberdeau, who signed an eight-year, $84 million extension after the trade, has averaged 1.2 points a game the past four seasons, so this could just be getting used to new linemates.
The Capitals‘ injuries are piling up, with T.J. Oshie, John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov joining Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson. Evgeny Kuznetsov has no goals after getting 24 the season before. … The schedule makers didn’t do any favors to the Arizona Coyotes, who share 5,000-seat Mullett Arena with Arizona State. They played their first six games on the road before a four-game homestand. Now, they’re on a 14-game trip. … The Matt Murray acquisition didn’t pan out for the Toronto Maple Leafs as the oft-injured goalie played one game before being hurt. Ilya Samsonov was hurt on Saturday, though No. 3 Erik Kallgren has played well in his two appearances since then. … New Oilers goalie Jack Campbell is 5-3, but has a 4.20 goals-against average.