We’re well into the conference finals, which is great for fans of the four teams left standing. The Senators, Penguins, Predators and Ducks are filled with positive — and at times even inspiring — stories of perseverance and success.
It’s annoying. All of this saying-nice-things is getting exhausting.
So today, let’s get back to what hockey fans do best: Complaining about guys who didn’t meet our expectations. Yes, it’s time to name our annual playoff-bust team, in which we find a roster’s worth of players who’ve had a disappointing last few weeks.
We’ll fill out a complete lineup card, including a third-string goalie. For an extra challenge, we’ll do it all-star style, meaning we want at least one player from every team (including the four active ones). And like all great teams, we’ll build from the net out…
Sergei Bobrovsky: We’ll ease into things with one of the most straightforward picks on the roster. Bobrovsky will probably win his second Vezina this year, and deservedly so. But he never got going during the playoffs, giving up three or more goals in all five games and finishing as one of only two post-season starters with a sub-.900 save percentage.
Would a better performance have powered the Blue Jackets past the Penguins for their first-ever playoff series win? Maybe not, but without their star goalie in top form, Columbus never had a chance.
Brian Elliott: Elliott is the other starter to fall under the .900 mark, and he was actually a few points back of Bobrovsky. He made four starts, the Flames lost all four, and his 3.88 GAA tied with Bobrovsky for the post-season’s worst. But unlike Bobrovsky, he almost certainly won’t get a chance to redeem himself next year, at least not with the Flames.
Braden Holtby: Emergency backup duties on our all-disappointment roster is a little trickier call; you could make a case for Corey Crawford, or maybe even John Gibson. But we’ll go with Holtby, who falls victim to sky-high expectations that he and his Capitals teammates carried into the playoffs. His shaky numbers were as much about bad bounces as any obvious flaw in his game, but given the stakes in Washington, Holtby’s performance was a letdown. Spoiler alert: He won’t be the only Capital on this team.
Duncan Keith: You won’t find many Conn Smythe winners on this list, but Keith qualifies on the basis of posting just a single point and a -6 rating as the Blackhawks were swept. Yes, +/- is a bad stat, and Keith was let down somewhat by shaky goaltending behind him. But when you’re a No. 1 defenceman who ends up being on the ice for twice as many goals against as your team scores in the entire series, you’ve had a bad post-season.
Kevin Shattenkirk: His numbers weren’t awful, and he even chipped in with an overtime goal. But the big prize of the 2017 deadline was brought in to be a difference-maker, and the Capitals season didn’t end all that differently. Other Washington defencemen had a tougher time – Brooks Orpik and Karl Alzner come to mind – but we’re grading on an expectations-based curve here, and Shattenkirk was called out by his own coach for underperforming. Now the question is how much money he may have cost himself on the free-agent market.
Brent Burns: Burns is the favourite to win this year’s Norris, largely based on his offensive output. So it was disappointing to see him held off the scoreboard entirely during five of the Sharks’ six games against the Oilers. He did have one big game, racking up three assists in that 7–0 blowout win in Game 4. But that was it for him in the series, and he never found the net after having 29 goals during the season.
Marc Staal: You could probably flip a coin between Staal and Dan Girardi, both of whom seemed to be on the wrong end of tilted ice for much of the playoffs (and regular season, for that matter). We’ll go with Staal, who can lay claim to going pointless in addition to his defensive struggles, but it’s a close call. It’s a credit to both guys that their coach never seemed to lose faith in them, although maybe he should have. Now, both are facing buyout talk in New York.
Nikita Zaitsev: It’s not all that easy to find a Maple Leaf who was especially disappointing; the team wasn’t even expected to make the playoffs, and they gave the Capitals a decent run. But we need a Toronto rep, so we’ll slip Zaitsev in on our third pairing. He missed the first two games due to injury, and when he returned he had some shaky shifts that led to Washington goals. The good news is that he’ll have plenty of time to make amends.
Cody Ceci: We said we’d take a player from every team, so here’s our first guy whose team is still alive. This is always risky, since a) by definition, teams that are still around this late tend to have most of their guys playing well, b) there’s a decent chance any struggling players are secretly injured, and c) this pick basically guarantees that Ceci will go full Bobby Orr tomorrow night and make me look terrible. Still, with one point, a -7 rating and iffy possession numbers, Ceci earns a tentative spot on our roster. You can thank me for that Game 4 hat trick later, Sens fans.
Alex Ovechkin: I went back-and-forth on this one. Ovechkin scored five goals, which makes him this team’s leading goal scorer. And as we found out after the Caps were out, he was hurt for much of the playoffs. It always feels like everyone piles on Ovechkin a little too much after every Capitals loss, and it’s tempting to leave him off this list as a sort of pushback on that.
But on the other hand, he’s the best and highest-paid player on the year’s most disappointing playoff team. He’s paid to create offence, but he finished tied for fifth in team scoring. It’s a tough call. So in honour of Barry Trotz, we’ll put Ovechkin on the team, but immediately demote him to the third line.
Patrick Kane: The good news is he scored a third of his team’s goals in the post-season. The bad news is, well, that was one goal. Despite his $10.5-million cap hit, the Hawks’ star managed just a goal and an assist as Chicago was swept by the wild-card Predators in the opening round. Not great for a guy who’s apparently one of the NHL’s top 100 all-time greatest players.
Jonathan Toews: Copy and paste everything from the Kane paragraph into this one. We’re all about efficiency on the all-disappointment team.
Jordan Eberle: The Oilers are another team where there isn’t all that much in the way of post-playoff negativity (or at least any that’s not directed at the officiating). We could go for an intentionally provocative pick like Connor McDavid, but that would be a stretch. So instead, let’s go with the guy who seems like the new whipping boy in Edmonton. Eberle couldn’t get anything going in the post-season, putting up no goals and just two assists in 13 games. It was, in the memorable words of Todd McLellan, “not enough”.
Johnny Gaudreau: When your team lasts only four games, there will be plenty of disappointment to go around. But even on an underwhelming Calgary scoresheet, Gaudreau’s no goals and two points stood out, especially after he was much better as a playoff rookie back in 2015.
Vladimir Tarasenko: Here’s yet another star who wasn’t exactly awful during the post-season, but who didn’t live up to heightened expectations. Tarasenko only managed three goals in 11 games, which isn’t going to be enough from a team’s best player. It’s worth noting that he was suffering through an undisclosed injury that will apparently need surgery, and that he remains the leader among active players in post-season goals-per-game, so we can cut him some slack. Just not enough to keep him off the roster.
Martin Hanzal: There are plenty of Wild candidates to choose from – they lasted just five games, and nobody on the roster managed more than three post-season points. So if you want to pencil in one-point performances like Eric Staal or Nino Niederreiter, go ahead. But we’ll go with Hanzal, simply because of how much the Wild gave up to land him at the trade deadline. When you give up your first-round pick and more to land a player, you’re hoping for more than a single playoff goal.
Antoine Vermette: We need a Duck, so we’ll pencil in Vermette, who has just two points through 14 games. He’s not exactly paid to score, and his all-around game has been fine. You know the NHL one-per-team rules for the all-star game occasionally result in someone like Peter Sidorkiewicz or Hector Marini making the roster, and everyone just kind of decides to ignore it and move on? That’s Vermette on this team.
Brad Marchand: Marchand’s been on a ridiculous upward trajectory over the last few years, from a breakthrough season in 2015–16 to World Cup hero status to an even better season in 2016–17. So maybe he was due to look human, which he did against the Senators in round one. Marchand couldn’t find the net after the opener, which is tough to swallow when you drop a series in which every game was decided by one goal and three of your four losses came in overtime.
Mike Fisher: The Predators have been arguably the post-season’s best team, so finding a disappointing player here is a tough task. We’ll go with the captain, who’s been held pointless so far, even though his game is about more than just generating offence. Besides, his wife made the team’s anthem singer sad. With no other decent candidates, that will have to be enough to make him the Predators’ default pick.
Max Pacioretty: Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but the Canadiens captain is taking heat in Montreal for a lacklustre playoff performance. This time, it was one point in six games as the Habs’ offence dried up against the Rangers. It’s not that Pacioretty didn’t play well — he had plenty of shot attempts and scoring chances. But nothing found the net, and it helped lead to a frustrating early end to Montreal’s season.
Nick Bonino: Most of the Penguins’ bigger names are playing reasonably well, and all their defencemen are hurt. So we’ll go with Bonino, who’s followed up last year’s breakout playoff performance with just three points so far this season. It may not be fair, but someone has to represent the Penguins and claim our last spot, and Bonino gets the call. Don’t worry, I’m sure he won’t overreact.