It could be worse. This has been the motto of glass-half-full enthusiasts of the Detroit Red Wings for well over the last half decade. With the rebuild well on its way, it can be easy to sink into negativity. The light at the end of the tunnel can feel distant and dark. If it’s any consolation, there are teams in significantly worse places than the Red Wings. Optimism and hope will come in droves over the next few seasons for Detroit. But many of these teams will be in trouble for a very long time. These are five teams that are in a worse spot right now than the Red Wings.
5 Teams Worse Off Than the Detroit Red Wings
On paper, a few of these teams might appear better off. They might have more talent in their roster or better depth than Detroit. But, like the Red Wings teams of the early 2010s, it’s just simply not enough. They’re stuck in hockey purgatory; too bad to be good, too good to be bad. Thus, they wind up somewhere in the middle of the standings, forced to either lose in the first round of the playoffs or barely miss the playoffs. As Red Wings fans know, this can do some serious damage to a prospect pool. Constantly vying for that first-round exit or drafting late pushes a rebuild window further and further back. Due to this, a few of these teams will be in trouble for a long, long time.
1. San Jose Sharks
If you asked someone a few years ago if the San Jose Sharks would be in this position, you couldn’t fault them for thinking otherwise. They just signed Erik Karlsson to a huge contract. Brent Burns was playing astonishingly well. They had Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and had just made it to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2017. Now, they’re in the midst of what will be a brutal rebuild. For the next three seasons, $47.25 million of their cap will be tied to players ages 30 or older. Evander Kane will make $7M per year until 2025-26. Logan Couture will be 37 when his contract ends, making $8M per year until the 2027-28 season. Erik Karlsson, who was signed to a monstrous contract, makes $11.5M per year until 2027-28. He and the rest of the Sharks have played far, far beneath the value of their contracts. To say they’re in a bad place is an understatement.
2. Chicago Blackhawks
Another team stuck in playoff purgatory, Chicago appears to be in the midst of what the Red Wings were in the early 2010s. They’ve found a decent goalie in Kevin Lankinen. Alex DeBrincat is playing very well. Kirby Dach, Adam Boqvist, and Dominik Kubalik have all emerged as great players. But is that enough for a team in the midst of a rebuild? The Athletic ranks Chicago’s prospect pool 24th in the league. With Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Duncan Keith‘s contracts coming to an end soon, it appears a rebuild may happen soon. The older Blackhawks were upset by the idea of a rebuild and even vocalized their disapproval of the entire idea. Could that miscommunication lead to a delay in the rebuild timeline? By the time their contracts come to an end, DeBrincat will be 26, Kubalik will be 28, and Boqvist will be 23. Lankinen, their de facto starting goalie, will be 29. Who will fit in the rebuild picture for the Blackhawks? It’s hard to say. More questions than answers appear the more you look at the roster.
3. Anaheim Ducks
John Gibson is the only reason the Ducks aren’t in much worse shape. Just a few goals shy of the Red Wings, the Ducks ranked 31st in offensive production this season. An overhaul of their offensive and defensive cores will reshape the roster over the next few years. Trevor Zegras and Jamie Drysdale are nice pieces that will help to kickstart the Ducks’ rebuild. But as long as John Gibson is on the roster, the team will never bottom out and earn the top talent they need. He’s just too talented to let his team down. Trading Gibson is certainly an enticing idea, but it begs a bigger question: what are teams willing to pay for a starting netminder of Gibson’s exceptional talent? His contract is an absolute steal, but the cost may outweigh the return. After all, there’s always a chance he could become a Sergei Bobrovsky in his new home. As soon as they trade Gibson, their rebuild will begin. But, until then, they’re handcuffed to a team incapable of bottoming out.
4. Nashville Predators
The Predators made the playoffs this season. With some nice work done by Matt Duchene and Roman Josi, the team squeaked in, beating out the Blackhawks for fourth place in the Central Division. Shortly after, they found themselves in the same position as Chicago; out of the picture. It’s hard to tell what to make of Nashville. On one hand, they’ve got a slew of talented players that should be making more of an effort. On the other, they’re essentially in the same position that the Sharks are. Ryan Johansen hasn’t lived up to expectations and has four years left at $8M per year. Duchene will be 35 when his contract ends in 2026-27. Mattias Ekholm is a UFA after the 2021-22 season. Roman Josi will be around for a long time, but how long will he keep up the production he’s had over the last few seasons? It’s hard to tell when it’s time to start over or keep trekking. I don’t envy the position GM David Poile is in.
5. Buffalo Sabres
Okay, this one’s a bit of a throwaway, but you can’t mention better off without mentioning the Sabres. Superstar Jack Eichel wants out. Former 1st overall Rasmus Dahlin had an exceptionally bad season. The Sabres lost nearly every trade they made. The Sabres have moved on to their fourth head coach in six seasons since Eichel joined the roster. While they’ve secured the first overall pick in this draft, the fact that so many players want out begs a question: what difference does it make? What happens if Owen Power, or whoever they draft, wants out in four seasons? What do the Sabres need to do to right this perpetually sinking ship? How do you convince players to stay after watching Ryan O’Reilly thrive in St. Louis? On paper, this team should be much better off. You know they’re in a bad situation when Jeff Skinner‘s contract, the worst contract in the NHL, is a very small problem. If there’s any team that’s in the worst situation in the NHL, it’s Buffalo.