Fantasy Nuggets Week 5

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Going into this season you could debate about how much offseason additions of Seth Jones, Marc-Andre Fleury, Tyler Johnson, and the return of Jonathan Toews would help the Chicago Blackhawks in 2021-22, but at the least there was the perception that they were a team trending in the right direction. Then the season actually started and nothing went right.

They were 1-9-2 through Nov. 5. Patrick Kane was his typical stellar self with five goals and 11 points in eight contests, Jones had already contributed 10 assists, and Alex DeBrincat had chipped in six goals, but the rest of the team was lackluster. Toews got off to a slow start with six assists through 12 contests and despite having some standout performers, Chicago was averaging just 2.17 goals per game, which put them 29th in the league.

As woeful as their offense was though, their defense was far worse. Fleury, fresh off a Vezina Trophy winning season in Vegas, couldn’t save the team. Not even close. He had a 4.11 GAA and .881 save percentage in eight starts. Kevin Lankinen wasn’t faring meaningfully better with a 3.56 GAA and .882 save percentage in five contests.

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Given their preseason expectations, it’s not shocking that their horrendous start led to head coach Jeremy Colliton’s dismal on Nov. 6. Derek King took over on an interim basis and so far things have been better. It hasn’t been night-and-day change, but a 2-1 overtime win against Nashville on Sunday and a 3-2 shootout victory over Pittsburgh on Tuesday have provided the team with reasons for optimism. Their defense has certainly been better under King, but the sample size is still awfully small. Still, the talent has been there from the start, which makes it easier to buy into the idea that this is a sign of things to come.

If nothing else, there’s certainly enough time for them to dig out of their hole if they continue to respond positively to the coaching change.

One team far less likely to become competitive is the Arizona Coyotes. They should do better than this though – I mean, how could they do worse? They have a 1-11-1 record this season, only winning their first game on Nov. 6. That puts them on track to have the worst season in NHL history. Odds are they won’t end up being the worst team ever, but it certainly would be surprising if they ended up bouncing back to the point where they were in the running for a playoff spot.

Karel Vejmelka is okay for a rookie goaltender. If nothing else he doesn’t deserve his 0-8-1 record, but he’s also not up to the task of carrying the team. At the very least, if he’s a problem, he’s not the main problem. No, that’d be their offense or almost complete lack thereof. They’ve averaged a mere 1.62 goals per game, which is significantly worse than any other team in the league.

Shayne Gostisbehere has two goals and 11 points in 13 games, which is great for a defenseman and has shown that the change of scenery from Philadelphia has done him some good, but no forward on the Coyotes has come even close to matching him. The next best player on the Coyotes has six points. On top of that, only two Coyotes players - Lawson Crouse and Clayton Keller – have scored at least three goals through 13 games. To put that into context, the Philadelphia Flyers are in the middle of the pack offensively with 2.91 goals per game. They have six players with at least three goals and three of those players, Cam Atkinson, Claude Giroux, and Sean Couturier, have more goals than any Coyotes player.

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There are some glimmers of hope to be found with Arizona. Nick Schmaltz, Ryan Dzingel, Alex Galchenyuk are all injured and while having them available wouldn’t transform this forward core from bad to good, they would at least provide the team with some scoring depth. Phil Kessel, even at the age of 34, should also be capable of more than he’s done so far. He’s been limited to two goals and five points in 13 contests. After recording 41 points in 56 contests last season, it also wouldn’t be surprising for Jakob Chychrun to heat up after registering just an assist so far in 2021-22.

Even if all those things break the Coyotes way though, they still don’t look like a great team. The good news is they presumably were never meant to be. While Arizona’s front office probably expected them to be better than this, no one went into 2021-22 assuming this would be the Coyotes’ time to shine. They have an eye towards the future with 10 combined first and second round picks over the next two drafts and that’s before any additional trades they make over the season. The only noteworthy Arizona players sign beyond this season are Clayton Keller, Andrew Ladd, Chychrun, Gostisbehere, and Schmaltz, so they should be very open to trading veterans away at the deadline.

Given that we’ve been talking about struggling teams this week, let’s close out with the Ottawa Senators. They got off to a 2-1-0 start, but have dropped eight of nine games since. The Senators wanted to move beyond the rebuilding phase this season and while they do have a promising young core, their ambitions might have been a bit premature.

It’s hard to judge the Senators too harshly though. A huge chunk of their team is in the COVID protocol and while their struggles predate that, we aren’t seeing the Senators at anything close to full strength right now. With Matt Murray and Alex Formenton being the latest additions to Ottawa’s COVID protocol list, there are now eight Senators players unavailable. The NHL has been reluctant to postpone any games this season due to COVID though, so the Senators are pushing forward with the players available and at the time of writing, it looks like they’re still going to play Thursday against the Kings.