Sometimes the holidays bring you gems, and sometimes you get a lump of coal.
That’s been the case this year in the National Hockey League. Some teams have hit it big with their moves, and others, well, haven’t.
Each “best” and “worst” acquisition on this list must have been an off-season or early-this-season move — hence why there’s no Steve Mason or Ben Bishop on the best list — and moves are being judged for on-ice performance not entertainment quotient, which is why Ray Emery is absent.
Take umbrage with whatever you deem worthy, remember it’s just one man’s opinion.
Without further ado, let’s start with the worst.
7. Cal Clutterbuck, New York Islanders. The first Islander on the list — man, they had a horrible off-season. The added proverbial kick here was New York made this deal simply to cut ties with Nino Niederreiter, yet Niederreiter has more than five times as many points as Clutterbuck in only eight more games. You could sense this trade was a disaster from the start, but it got made anyway.
6. Shane O’Brien, Calgary Flames. Jay Feaster said of O’Brien while announcing this trade: “O’Brien is a hard guy to play against, knows how to get under the skin of the opposition and stands up for his teammates.” O’Brien is big and physical, yet he hasn’t really been used by Calgary. The Flames have allowed 111 goals in 35 games, and O’Brien has averaged just 10:32 in ice time per game and was a healthy scratch in two affairs in November. The Flames can probably get more than that for $2 million.
5. Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Islanders. Many would put Thomas Vanek’s acquisition high on the list, but anyone who reads this space knows how I feel about Vanek’s deal. Bouchard’s acquisition actually was worse, as the 29-year-old forward signed for $2 million but posted only nine points in 28 games and was waived earlier this month.
4. Henrik Tallinder, Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres have been quite a mess this year, and it certainly hasn’t been all Tallinder’s fault. Tallinder angled his way out of New Jersey, then was a healthy scratch in five games under former coach Ron Rolston. Tallinder, despite being named an alternate captain under Ted Nolan, has just five points in 29 games, is minus-11 and has taken 20 penalty minutes while averaging 19:13 of ice time — a Sabres low for blue-liners.
3. Nathan Horton, Columbus Blue Jackets. You might recall that Horton signed a massive, seven-year, $37.1-million deal this off-season, but the Blue Jackets have not seen any return on that investment thus far. Literally. Horton had shoulder surgery and has not played even one game with Columbus thus far this season. The jury’s out on that signing, but it’s off to a rough start.
2. Alain Vigneault, New York Rangers. The irony is that Henrik Lundqvist had a hand in John Tortorella’s exit yet is having the worst year of his career under Vigneault. It’d be fair to give Vigneault an incomplete thus far, but Rangers fans — now celebrating the 20th anniversary of their last Stanley Cup — are not a patient lot.
1. David Clarkson, Toronto Maple Leafs. This is the most obvious name to hit the list, and that makes it No. 1. “Clarkie” was one of the most highly sought free agents, and the Leafs brought him home with an enormous seven-year, $36.75 million deal. Clarkson has been suspended twice in year 1 of that deal and had only recorded six points in his first 24 games. Clarkson has just 14 points in his last 56 games, dating back to last year, and just one multi-point game in that stretch. Yikes.
7. Mike Ribeiro, Phoenix Coyotes. The Coyotes needed offence, and Ribeiro’s delivered, leading them in points and ice time for forwards. Phoenix has leveled out a bit in the early going, but having a veteran presence like Ribeiro — to supplement Shane Doan’s voice — can only be valuable.
6. Valtteri Filppula, Tampa Bay Lightning. Some would ask, “How are the Lightning remaining in the hunt despite Steven Stamkos’ injury?” Well, their 84 goals allowed is fourth-best in the Eastern Conference, and Filppula is playing like the $25-million man Tampa Bay paid him to be. He is second on the team in points, and his nine power-play points leads the club. If he keeps this up, he’ll break his personal-best points total.
5. Clarke MacArthur, Ottawa Senators. Yes, yes. I know Bobby Ryan’s a new Senator and is having a great year, but MacArthur, who plays with Ryan and Kyle Turris, could have a career year in his first in Canada’s nation’s capital. MacArthur is finally playing top-six forward minutes and has 26 points in 36 games — already more than he posted in 40 games in Toronto last year. Plus, he did this, which earns him bonus points. Speaking of former Leafs…
4. Ben Scrivens, Los Angeles Kings. If not for Martin Jones’ emergence, Scrivens would be No. 1 on this list. Still, the former-Leaf netminder leads the NHL in save percentage (.944) and shutouts (3) for Vezina Trophy qualifiers. Plus, with Jonathan Quick’s mediocre play then injury, Scrivens has been a godsend.
3. Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars. It amazes me when teams give up on early-20-something players because they act like 20-somethings. Seguin was dealt from Boston to Dallas this past off-season and has lit it up, posting more goals (18) and points (35) in 32 games than he did in last season’s 48-game season. Maybe Seguin needed a change of scenery, but Boston’s loss is Dallas’s gain.
2. Patrick Roy, Colorado Avalanche. Has he been brash, ego-maniacal and entertaining? Yes. Have the Avalanche gained because of it? Yes. Roy — with some help from Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, a full season of Ryan O’Reilly and others — has changed the franchise’s culture. They went from worst to a playoff spot in the loaded Western Conference. Joe Sakic deserves credit too, but Roy’s no-nonsense style has won the Avs over, and it shows.
1. Jaromir Jagr, New Jersey Devils. The only guy who can trump Roy is also the man who played against the former goaltending great. Jagr leads New Jersey in points, goals and goals created, plus his presence has loosened the sometimes stuffy Devils dressing room. Jagr’s also played in all 35 games, as of Friday.