With the San Jose Sharks eliminating the St. Louis Blues Wednesday night and the Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins headed to a seventh game Thursday, we’re just hours away from having our Stanley Cup Final matchup set. We’ll be down to the best of the best, going head-to-head with the greatest trophy in sports on the line.
And so today, let’s do what any true hockey fan does when confronted with greatness. Let’s ignore it, and pick on the guys who weren’t quite good enough instead.
We’re going to assemble a full lineup of the biggest disappointments from the 2016 playoffs – four centres, eight wingers, six defencemen, two goalies, and even a coach and GM. And we won’t shy away from including some big names. In fact, the bigger the name the better, since high expectations bring more disappointment when they’re not met.
When you look at it that way, finding someone from your favourite team on this list could be considered a compliment, which you should definitely keep in mind before immediately heading into the comments section to call me an idiot. (You still will.)
True, as Ovechkin’s critics love to point out, maybe he didn’t elevate his game – by which they presumably mean he should float around three feet over the ice by sheer force of will. But he wasn’t a bust, or anything close to it.
Kuznetsov, on the other hand… ouch. After leading the Capitals with 77 points in a breakout regular season, Kuznetsov was limited to just two points in two rounds of the playoffs, which works out to an average of — *tries to do math in head* — not enough.
As with many guys on our list, a lot of that was bad luck – he went from 11.4 per cent on-ice shooting across all situations during the regular season to an almost comically awful 0.9 per cent in the playoffs. That’s not a player (and all of his teammates) forgetting how to play, it’s random chance striking at the worst possible time. Still, for a team that was desperate to go deep, having their leading scorer go cold at exactly the wrong time stings badly.
Heading into what was likely to be his last NHL post-season, Datsyuk had the makings of a feel-good playoff story.
Instead, the 37-year-old was held pointless as the Wings bowed out to the Tampa Bay Lightning in five. We’re still not sure if he’s heading home, although recent reports sure make it sound that way. If this really is the end, it wasn’t the one his magnificent career deserves.
Eric Staal, New York Rangers
When the Rangers acquired Staal at the deadline, everyone cautioned that expectations should be reasonable. This wasn’t the 2006 version of Staal, after all. New York was getting a guy on the wrong side of 30 who was having a tough season. And the relatively cheap price they paid reflected that – for once, they didn’t even give up a first round pick.
But even given all that, they had to be hoping that a change of scenery and chance to play on a potential Cup contender would give Staal some sort of boost. Instead, they got six points in 20 regular season games and none at all in their first round loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The bar was low; Staal sailed well under it.
Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers
Typically, a one-point post-season from one of the league’s best offensive players would be enough to earn a spot at the very top of the list. But given the injuries Giroux was battling, we’ll bump him down to fourth-line duties. That will keep Flyers fans happy, right?
[Gets pelted with souvenir bracelets.]
Corey Perry, Anaheim Ducks
When your leading goal-scorer stops scoring in the playoffs, you’re in trouble. Perry’s post-season oh-fer was devastating for the Ducks, given that their seven-game upset at the hands of the Predators essentially included four one-goal losses (one of which was padded with a late empty-netter).
The Ducks’ early exit has already cost head coach Bruce Boudreau his job, and it could lead to a major shakeup to the roster. GM Bob Murray didn’t mince words when asked about the team’s core, blasting them for not showing up early on in the series and declaring that “they have to be better.” Perry and Ryan Getzlaf aren’t going anywhere, thanks to no-movement clauses, but it’s clear where their boss is pointing the finger for yet another post-season disappointment.
Jaromir Jagr, Florida Panthers
After a season in which he officially stepped into the Lanny McDonald/Ray Bourque/Teemu Selanne “universally beloved old guy” role, Jagr seemed poised to lead a surprising Panthers team on a feel-good post-season run.
And then he went missing in the playoffs, recording just two assists.
Amazingly, that leaves Jagr with an active streak of 37 straight playoff games without a goal, a stretch that dates back to 2012. Maybe it’s a fluke. Or maybe it’s the reality that even a beloved old guy is still old, and will eventually run out of gas during a long season. Then again, it’s not like the young guys fared much better, as we’ll see over the next few entries.
Filip Forsberg, Nashville Predators
Nashville’s leading scorer during the regular season, Forsberg managed just four points in the playoffs. Even worse, in fourteen games, he was on the ice for just six goals for and 18 against. A lot of that was just a bad run of percentages, but for a team that was one game away from pulling off a surprising Conference Final appearance, an extra few goals could have made a difference.
Teuvo Teravainen, Chicago Blackhawks
Yet another young player who couldn’t produce, this time to the tune of one point in seven games. Teravainen’s slump may be even more disappointing because of how effective he was last year as a rookie, where he posted ten points after cracking the lineup during the Hawks’ Cup run.
Andrew Ladd, Blackhawks
Another Blackhawks forward makes the list, this time with one goal and two points in Chicago’s opening round loss. In Ladd’s case, those results are even more painful because of how much the Hawks paid to get him at the trade deadline.
But hey, at least I didn’t put Jonathan Toews on this list, so you Blackhawks fans probably aren’t too mad at me, right guys? Just, uh, hold that thought until we get to the end.
Gustav Nyquist, Red Wings
Horse racing tie-ins aside, it was a quiet post-season for Nyquist, who managed just one goal in Detroit’s First Round exit. And it’s tough not to notice a pattern here – Nyquist has now appeared in five playoffs totaling 35 games, and has just eight points to show for it.
In those five years, he’s only had one post-season where he managed more than two points – that was a five-point outburst (in 14 games) back in 2013. There’s always a danger in slapping the “playoff underachiever” label on anyone – small sample size and all that – but Nyquist is getting dangerously close to that territory.
Brock Nelson, New York Islanders
Coming off a career-best 26 goals in the regular season, the 24-year old got his postseason off a decent start with a goal in opening game against the Panthers. It would be his last of the playoffs, as he went scoreless in ten straight and was held pointless in the Islanders’ final four games, all of which were losses. To make matters worse, his effort level was questioned on key plays, and some Islanders fans were calling for him to be made a healthy scratch.
Mikael Granlund, Minnesota Wild
To be honest, it’s tough to find a candidate from the Wild. It feels like a team that makes a Rirst Round exit should be represented somewhere, but with Zach Parise and Tomas Vanek hurt and a tough matchup against the top-seeded Stars, there aren’t really any obvious villains here. Still, we’ll give Granlund fourth-line duties based on his one goal and three points.
Doughty wasn’t the reason that the Kings lost; if anything, they lost because once Alec Martinez got hurt, they didn’t have anyone who could step in and give Doughty a break. Still, the numbers were ugly – just one point in five games, and he was on the ice for twice as many goals against as goals for. And in game five, he looked powerless to stop Joonas Donskoi on what turned out to be the series-winning goal.
Shea Weber, Predators
The offensive totals were OK, with seven points in 14 games. But only three of those came at even strength, where he was on the ice for twice as many goals for as against. And to put it bluntly, he was downright awful in the Predators’ Game 7 loss to the Sharks. There’s been an ongoing debate among analytics folks as to whether Weber is still an elite defenceman and this year’s post-season didn’t help his cause.
But good news, Predators fans: he’s still got ten years left on that contract to redeem himself.
John Klingberg, Dallas Stars
When it’s time to go looking for a goat in the Stars’ Second Round exit, I think we can all agree that “not enough offence from the blue line” isn’t exactly the first issue that comes to mind. Klingberg certainly won’t take as much heat as the goaltending due of Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi. But those two largely lived up to expectations, which is to say they were bad, and that means they’re not on our list.
Meanwhile, Klingberg put up an excellent regular season — one that firmly established his credentials as one of the best young offensive defencemen in the league — but managed only four points in the playoffs, including just one point for a Dallas power play that clicked at a disappointing 15.4 per cent.
Kris Russell, Stars
Speaking of Stars’ defencemen and possession numbers … well, by now you know the drill with Russell. The analytics say he’s overrated. The old school crowd loves him anyway. Whichever camp you’re in, Russell probably provided just about what you were expecting. And given how much he cost the Stars at the deadline, that didn’t feel like enough.
Brooks Orpik, Capitals
Nobody went into the post-season expecting Orpik to be a Conn Smythe candidate. But he was brought to Washington to be a steadying presence, and too often he seemed to be the guy throwing gasoline on the fire — especially in the Pittsburgh series.
He put the Caps in a hole by missing three games due to suspension, then took the crucial double-minor that led to two Penguins goals in the deciding Game 6. Mix in some weak possession numbers and no points, and it wasn’t the veteran’s best work.
Dan Girardi, Rangers
Girardi is quietly becoming one of the league’s more divisive players. Where some still see a useful veteran who can help you win in ways that don’t always show up on the score sheet, others see a player in rapid decline with an albatross of a contract. The playoffs didn’t help the former camp, as Girardi spent most of Round 1 as a healthy scratch and struggled when he did take the ice.
Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers
Other than posting a league-worst 4.39 GAA, getting pulled due to poor performance twice, and taking a stick to the eye, I guess the First Round went pretty well. Honestly, given Lundqvist’s unrivaled ability to look completely devastated whenever the Rangers lose a close series, it’s almost a blessing that they never had a shot against the Penguins.
Steve Mason, Flyers
While he didn’t come in with the same level of expectations, Mason was nearly as bad as Lundqvist with the added bonus of losing his starting job midway through the series.
On the one hand, it feels bad to pick on Mason – after years of uneven play, he’s quietly become one of the league’s better goalies since arriving in Philadelphia. On the other hand, well, this happened.
Bruce Boudreau, Ducks
Yes, Boudreau’s reputation for Game 7 failure is largely overblown, the sort of statistical quirk that gets flipped into a fatal flaw because hockey fans crave tidy narratives. Still, if we’re going to have a coach’s spot on the roster, it’s hard not to fill it with the only man to lose a full-time job based on the post-season.
Stan Bowman, Blackhawks
Hear me out, Chicago fans. I’m all in on Bowman, who I’ve long lauded as one of the NHL’s very best general managers. Year after year, we all write the same piece about the Blackhawks dynasty being done, and year after year Bowman keeps it going. He does that in part by being one of the league’s most aggressive GMs, a rare and welcome sight in a league where being timid and risk-adverse is now somehow seen as acceptable.
While his fellow GMs complain about their jobs being too hard, Bowman just keeps finding a way to get the job done.
And that’s why it’s so newsworthy when he doesn’t. And this year, Bowman’s aggressive moves just didn’t click.
His big deadline acquisition was Ladd, who we’ve already met on this list. Dale Weise and Tomas Fleischmann came over from the Montreal Canadiens and produced a combined one point in eight playoff games. He turned Trevor Daley into Rob Scuderi into Christian Ehrhoff; Daley was very good in Pittsburgh before breaking his ankle, while Ehrhoff was a healthy scratch throughout the post-season.
Those moves came at a cost – both in terms of picks and prospects, and in opportunity to address other holes on the roster. You’ve got to at least give Bowman credit for trying, but the reality is that this post-season was a big swing and a miss for one of the league’s most successful GMs.