I believe it was the great poet O’Shea Jackson who warned, “You betta check yo’ self before you wreck yo’ self.”
As the National Hockey League breaks for all-star weekend and everyone gets a chance to tap the reset button with a few sunny days off, a list of under-performing players should think long and hard about where their game is at between sips of their bye-week Mai Tais.
In our NHL Power Rankings: Step Your Game Up Edition, we single out a player from each organization who hasn’t lived up to expectations through the first 50 games of 2018-19.
All of the culprits below could help their teams by making big strides down the stretch.
OK, I’m questioning this week’s theme already. The Lightning are quite light on under-performers, but we’ll go with Yanni Gourde. The top-six winger wowed with a 64-point rookie campaign but has struggled to light the lamp of late. Gourde scored just once in 20 games prior to finding the net versus San Jose Saturday.
For all the good things Brad Treliving has done, James Neal’s five-year, $28.75-million contract sticks out like a sore thumb. The Real Deal ranks 11th on his own team in goals (five) and holds a team-worst minus-10 ranking.
We’re big on the Jets, so this is nitpicking. Winnipeg’s winning percentage is, shockingly, better when Laurent Brossoit is in net. The backup has a save percentage (.943) 33 points better than last year’s Vezina finalist, Connor Hellebuyck (.910). Despite playing behind one of the league’s elite D corps, Hellebuyck’s performance thus far has hovered around the NHL average. Average goalies don’t win Cups. There’s another level for Bucky.
Tough to criticize one of the greatest stories in hockey. If we need to single out an underwhelming Islander, it must be Andrew Ladd. The Isles’ highest-paid forward next to Jordan Eberle can’t stay healthy, and with four-and-a-half seasons still remaining on his hefty contract, he’s become a very expensive third-liner. He has seven points in only 14 games played.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic is usually the picture of quiet consistency and reliability. But this season he has taken a noticeable and curious step backward. The 31-year-old is a team-worst minus-13 and is on pace for his first negative plus/minus season in 11 years.
Kyle Turris simply has not been the impact player Nashville hoped he’d be when they gave him his payday. The centreman was a ghost in the playoffs, and now his first full season as a Predator has been hampered by injury and middling production (six goals in 30 games).
As wonderful as Marc-Andre Fleury has been — I voted him No. 1 on my Vezina ballot for the PHWA’s Mid-Season Awards — the Golden Knights have instilled little trust in the sparingly used Malcolm Subban. The backup is 2-5 with a .904 save percentage. The scenario is chicken-or-egg: Subban needs more work to keep the Flower fresh; Subban needs to perform better to be trusted with more work.
It’s incredibly bizarre to see the Blue Jackets succeeding despite, not because of, Sergei Bobrovsky. Under the weight of an uncertain future, the two-time Vezina champ has been abnormally streaky. Goalie Bob’s .904 save percentage is below the league average (.908) and certainly not helping his case to be elevated to Carey Price’s tax bracket.
Derick Brassard (14 points in 39 games) has been an ill fit in Pittsburgh, and now he’s being shopped at the second consecutive trade deadline. Perhaps if he’s given a second-line centre role, he can rediscover his game.
10. Boston Bruins
Part of the reason Boston will be scouring for secondary scoring ahead of the deadline is that young forwards like 23-year-old Danton Heinen (six goals, 13 points in 47 games) have taken a step backward in terms of production, failing to springboard after a promising 2017-18.
Frederik Gauthier, Ron Hainsey, and Igor Ozhiganov each have more goals than William Nylander. For those scoring at home, none of the first three Leafs mentioned will cash a juicy $8.3-million signing bonus on July 1.
The Capitals are fielding trade offers for winger Andre Burakovsky, a first-round pick in 2013. The fifth-year NHLer is mired in the worst season of his career. He’s only 23 and could have 20-goal potential, but right now he’s hard-pressed to reach 10.
We don’t blame anyone for taking the money, but the fact Karl Alzner has contributed more of his season to the Laval Rocket, a middle-of-the-pack AHL squad, than the Montreal Canadiens is atrocious.
Coach Rod Brind’Amour admits he’s still trying to figure out Dougie Hamilton, the blue-chip blue-liner for whom the Hurricanes gave up a ransom of goods. Hamilton is producing offence at the worst rate of his career (0.33 points per game) and the puck goes in his team’s net when he’s on the ice (minus-13). Available for trade, again, at age 25.
15. Minnesota Wild
It’s never cool to pick on the new guy. And, yes, he’s been hurt and traded. But former 21-goal centreman Victor Rask has just one goal and six assists this season. He’s only 25. Step yo’ game up.
The Avalanche gave up the 47th pick in the 2018 draft and ate Brooks Orpik’s old contract so they could acquire Philipp Grubauer, arguably the most promising emerging starter available last spring. He fumbled away his temporary starting job in Washington during Round 1 of the playoffs and has posted just a .895 save percentage this season. Semyon Varlamov (13-12-5, .908) hasn’t run away with the gig either. Colorado needs more from its netminders.
17. Buffalo Sabres
The Sabres are being dragged down our Power Rankings by a lack of depth. Kyle Okposo and his pedestrian 19 points top a group of well-compensated forwards (Jason Pominville, Vladimir Sobotka, Conor Sheary) who need to provide more punch.
18. Dallas Stars
We’ll save the expletives, but we do agree that 90 players should not be outscoring Jamie Benn. He’s too good.
Here’s your regularly scheduled reminder that Loui Eriksson is the highest-paid member of the Vancouver Canucks.
20. Arizona Coyotes
As the club’s leading scorer, Clayton Keller will represent the Coyotes at all-star weekend, but the 20-year-old is actually on pace to come up shy of the 20-goal mark and take a step back offensively from his incredible rookie campaign.
21. Florida Panthers
Injury-hampered Nick Bjugstad was a 24-goal player on the rise at age 22. At 26, we’re already wondering if his best playing days are behind him.
22. St. Louis Blues
We live in a world where David Perron is out-sniping Vladimir Tarasenko in St. Louis, and the latter is the one subjected to trade rumours.
23. New York Rangers
We’re starting to wonder if Vladislav Namestnikov’s numbers may have been pumped up by some of his talented linemates in Tampa. With four goals, 16 points and a minus-11 rating, he looks like a shadow of the Lightning’s 20-goal solid role player.
24. Edmonton Oilers
It’s wonderful that Milan Lucic recently celebrated a two-goal game. But the mere fact that a big deal is made when a $42-million investment scores twice within 60 minutes indicates where the never-ending rebuild sits.
25. Anaheim Ducks
Time and pain have caught up to Ryan Kesler, who’s been braving lingering injuries to the tune of four goals and six points through 44 games and is now back on the injured reserve. Tough contract for the organization to swallow at this point.
Take away Gritty and Claude Giroux and there are a lot of under-performers to choose from. Top-10 draftees Ivan Provorov and Nolan Patrick stick out. Patrick’s struggles as a sophomore have been underscored by the rise of Elias Pettersson, the centre selected three picks later in 2017.
Sniper-for-hire Ilya Kovalchuk commanded (and received) the price of a 30-goal scorer. His goal column is still stuck in the single digits.
28. Ottawa Senators
There are three more seasons beyond this one attached to Bobby Ryan’s contract, which carries a $7.25-million cap hit. Ryan is actually having his best showing in three years (29 points in 46 games), but the output will be hard-pressed to measure up to the pay rate.
Marcus Johansson has never been the same player since he left Washington. The concussions didn’t help, of course. The 28-year-old forward has a disappointing point line of 7-9-16, and New Jersey isn’t deep enough to hide a $4.6-million trade bust.
Riddled with injuries, Corey Crawford has a record of 6-14-2. Plan B, Cam Ward, is operating with a .884 save percentage. It’s the type of goaltending that ensures a trip to the draft lottery.
No one expects Justin Abdelkader to light the world on fire with his production, but when you’re pulling down $4.25 million for five more years, they need you to do better than 13th in team scoring.