It's not too early to panic for these five clubs

Updated: October 31, 2006, 1:56 PM ET
By Linda Cohn | Special to ESPN.com

Want to know what you always can count on whether you own, run, coach or play for a team? You're always on a mission to live up to the expectations others have for you. It just goes with the territory of the job. You might not like it, you might choose to ignore it, but you're always reminded of it.

But like you, the so-called others have a job to do. It comes with the territory. So, as long as we're talking about reaching expectations, lets talk about the handful of teams that have come out of the gate without their skates laced up, five teams that are lacking what they so desperately need to compete like many believed they could.

Jarome Iginla
Phillip MacCallum/Getty ImagesLinda Cohn believes the Flames still don't have someone to feed the puck to Jarome Iginla.

And don't tell me it's too early in the season to be concerned. That's what the regular season is for -- seeing a problem, fixing it, fine-tuning it by April.

Philadelphia Flyers

We begin with the most obvious question mark, the Philadelphia Flyers. When Peter Forsberg told then-coach Ken Hitchcock early in the season that he didn't want to take part in a shootout against the rival Rangers, it could only be bad news in the City of Brotherly Love.

Are you kidding me?!

It only got worse from there. As you know, Hitchcock was fired and GM Bobby Clarke resigned following the team's worst start (1-6-1) in 17 years.

Said Simon Gagne: "It's like training camp all over again" under the guidance of new coach John Stevens and interim GM Paul Holmgren. Credit owner Ed Snyder for being proactive, not waiting for the problems to just go away.

The good news is the regular season is long enough that Gagne and the rest of the team can make up for lost time, especially in the Atlantic Division, which, on the whole, is not as good as advertised at the moment.

Which brings me to the …

New York Rangers

Where would the Rangers be right now without Brendan Shanahan? The team would be a lot worse that it is now.

Jaromir Jagr is still up there in points (he has two goals and 12 assists in nine games), but there is still something missing on this team.

A season ago, the Rangers seemed like they were having fun. This season, they seem uptight, especially at home, where they have gone 2-4-0 through Thursday's games. Their special teams haven't been special; through Thursday, they are tied for 11th in the league with an 18.9 power-play percentage and they are tied for eighth in penalties taken (57).

The Rangers' defense has also suffered, allowing four or more goals in seven of their nine games. It only hurts goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who doesn't seem the same after a stellar rookie season.

There is just too much talent for this malaise to continue. Watch for the Rangers to snap out of it on the road, where they really can relax.

Phoenix Coyotes

I know life can't be bad when you make your living in gorgeous Phoenix. But the Coyotes are fortunate that the NFL's Arizona Cardinals are in such turmoil under coach Denny Green, because not many have noticed the disappointing start by Wayne Gretzky's squad.

The Coyotes are 3-8, have lost four of their last five and they already are drowning in the highly competitive Pacific Division, where you can't have an off night against a divisional opponent.

And speaking of disappearing, has anybody seen Jeremy Roenick and Owen Nolan? Here are two veterans who were brought in for leadership, not necessarily scoring, and neither player has delivered in either category. They have combined for three goals and two assists in 10 games. Before this season, Nolan hadn't played since 2003-04, skipping last season to recover from knee surgery.

I can't help but expect more from a Gretzky-led team. He always will be a winner and I just assume those around him would do everything in their power to be winners, as well.

GM Mike Barnett has put together a team that might not win a Cup, but with additions Ed Jovanovski and Georges Laraque, didn't we expect them to be more competitive than this?

Calgary Flames
Before the season started, I thought it was kind of dicey that the Flames' front office believed the only help it needed, the only big move it needed to make was acquiring Alex Tanguay.

Tanguay, a free agent who played with the Avalanche last season, has been lukewarm so far, posting two goals and three assists in eight games. His best season came in 2003-04, when he had 25 goals and 54 assists in 69 games, and he hasn't played all 82 games since the 2002-03 campaign.

Is he really the answer? What were the Flames thinking?

We knew there would be no issues in goal -- Miikka Kiprusoff keeps his team in games. But when was the last time a one-man show won you a Cup? Uh, try never.

The team has changed a lot since it reached the Cup finals in 2003-04. Role players such as Ville Nieminen and Craig Conroy are out. Jarome Iginla needs players around him to help take the pressure off him. Is the answer to that Tanguay or Jamie Lundmark?

A player such as Iginla is anchored by having to do everything himself. If he's feeling that way now, he's going to be drained by April. Where will that leave the Flames?

Columbus Blue Jackets

For those who might be surprised that I put a team that has never made the playoffs on my list of underachievers, you haven't been reading my columns. For shame!

I'm not saying there still isn't time, but I'm a bit surprised the Blue Jackets haven't gotten off to a better start. With the personnel they have this season, a mix of winning veterans and youthful standouts, I believed they would avoid the lengthy slumps that have plagued them in the past.

The return of Sergei Fedorov (out since Sept. 19 with a shoulder injury) could give Columbus a needed boost. And I am sticking with my pick -- I still like them to sneak into the postseason.

Hooked on hockey, Linda Cohn is an anchor for ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNEWS. She has been with the network since 1992 and promises a gluttony of glove saves in her weekly column.

Linda Cohn

SportsCenter anchor
Linda Cohn joined ESPN as an anchor in 1992, was a SportsCenter staple and still hosts select SC shows. She has expanded her role with the network, hosting ESPNEWS' NFL Blitz and College Football Saturdays on ESPN2. She's also hosted coverage from the Super Bowl, WNBA Finals and the X Games.