It’s been a crazy fun start to this most unpredictable NHL season.
It’s been a crazy fun start to this most unpredictable NHL season.
We’ve seen a 9-8 final, a player put together an 18-game points streak, a 35-year-old legend surge into the top-10 in league scoring, a second-year franchise rocket up the standings … and, well, that’s all just happened in the past few days alone.
Get this: We’re also almost 30% of the way through the schedule.
That happened fast.
So what have we learned? Here are 10 things we think we know about the 2022-23 NHL season.
The NHL’s youngest franchise has taken a serious step in Year 2. Consider that they’ve reeled off 15 wins through 23 games after taking 46 games to reach that number during a difficult expansion campaign. What’s more, they’re doing it with the league’s second-worst overall save percentage (although those numbers may be skewed slightly by the wild 9-8 overtime win over Los Angeles on Tuesday).
So, what’s working? Red-hot rookie Matty Beniers looks like the real deal, their 5-on-5 play is among the best in the league and the off-season additions of Andre Burakovsky and Justin Schultz have provided a serious boost to the power play.
With no disrespect intended toward Karlsson’s Hall of Fame-worthy career, you wouldn’t have found many who thought it possible. Not at his age (32), with his injury history (vast), plus his cap hit ($11.5 million) and the number of years remaining on his contract (four seasons beyond this one).
That equation didn’t come close to adding up as recently as last summer. Except here Karlsson is looking like a challenger for the Norris Trophy again. His underlying numbers are solid on a struggling San Jose Sharks team, and he’s got 32 points in 26 games while playing 25 minutes per night. That contract is no longer an immovable object. There’s interest out there.
The former sixth-round pick has scored 0.89 points per game since 2020, and he’s ratcheted up that production this season while skating on the top line of the NHL’s second-best team.
The Devils hound the puck and Bratt is among their very best in shot share and expected goals metrics. He’s also due a new contract at season’s end and only has one RFA year remaining — arming his agent with the leverage needed to score a major payday. More league-wide respect is bound to come, too.
Jesper Bratt with some elite vision on this pass. 😮💨 pic.twitter.com/OHRqEe5OyK— NHL (@NHL) October 19, 2022
At this point, we should just rename the award given to the NHL’s best defensive forward after Bergeron. The man has been a Selke finalist 11 years running — winning five times — and the drive for a sixth is very much alive.
Bergeron nearly retired last summer before signing a one-year deal with the Bruins in August. He’s now played more than 250 minutes at 5-on-5 in his age-37 season and has been on the ice for just three goals against. No wonder Boston looks like a big-time Stanley Cup contender. Chasing another championship is the only thing on Bergeron’s mind, but he may pick up more hardware along the way.
Full disclaimer: It’s far too early to say this with certainty and there are probably 10 NHL teams that could raise the Stanley Cup in June. A couple of those play in Canadian cities. Still, the first stretch of schedule has largely been marked by disappointment in the Great White North.
At this stage, the Maple Leafs look like the truest contender after a November where they lost only one game in regulation, but they’ve got some major demons to slay before sniffing a championship. The Jets have had a solid bounce back under new head coach Rick Bowness, but they’re still in the Western Conference chase pack. Most alarming is the indifferent results out of Alberta, where it looks like Edmonton and Calgary might end up battling for the final playoff spot rather than in another best-of-seven series.
Alas, best-on-best is only a distant dream at this point. It’s still notable how well Hart has played behind a dreadful Philadelphia Flyers team — rebounding from a couple tough seasons to stop 13.5 goals above expected, according to MoneyPuck. That’s second in the league to Ilya Sorokin of the New York Islanders, who should be considered the early Vezina Trophy front-runner.
Speaking of a theoretical best-on-best event, Russia would be facing a tough decision in goal between Sorokin, Andrei Vasilevskiy and Igor Shesterkin.
Imagine making that prediction in September? Robertson has arguably been the league’s best story to this point, scoring an eye-popping 22 goals through 24 games for the Dallas Stars while amassing 39 points.
McDavid is still the favourite for an Art Ross Trophy he wins each year as a matter of course, with a four-point edge over Robertson and unmatched offensive gifts. But he’s bound to be pushed by a 23-year-old who has yet to hit his own ceiling. This looks like more than just a scorching hot stretch in Texas. Robertson has arrived.
Roughly 99% of NHLers would love to “struggle” in the manner the Maple Leafs sniper has this season, with 12 goals and 27 points in 25 games. Still, it was another slow-ish start for Matthews, who endured something similar a year ago before going parabolic and finishing with 60 goals in 73 games.
Auston Matthews rips home the tying goal 🚀 pic.twitter.com/Vo8Bliqr17— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) November 29, 2022
He’s got a lot of ground to make up on Robertson to claim a third straight Rocket Richard Trophy, but don’t rule it out just yet. Matthews is believed to have been playing through some nagging injury issues early in the year, but finished November with goals in three straight games and had the NHL’s ninth-best point total in the month. He’s trending up.
In fact, he’s making 35 look like the new 25 for NHL superstars. It’s insane that the Pittsburgh Penguins captain is producing the third best points per hour rate (3.64) of any NHL player at 5-on-5 — vastly outpacing established stars like Connor McDavid, Nathan MacKinnon, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and David Pastrnak, while even holding off the breakout campaigns from Tage Thompson, Jason Robertson and Jack Hughes.
Even though Crosby ceded the “best player in the world” crown in recent years, he’s still one of the absolute best there is in his 18th NHL season.
All 32 men who ran training camps remain employed today. By the first week of December a year ago, there had already been four changes behind the bench.
Now, that’s not to suggest it’s been a smooth ride for everyone. Bruce Boudreau has been publicly criticized by Canucks management, D.J. Smith’s boss in Ottawa has twice given him a dreaded vote of confidence, Gerard Gallant has taken some heat in Manhattan and even Sheldon Keefe took early-season questions about his job security in Toronto. It remains to be seen how long the league-wide grace period will last. Remember that Barry Trotz has indicated that he’ll be ready to work again by the middle of December.