Down Goes Brown: Most disappointing NHL playoff performers

NHL insider Nick Kypreos discusses Evgeny Kuznetsov's coming out party in the playoffs, wondering how he was still available for the Washington Capitals to select 26th overall in the 2010 NHL Draft.

We may be one game away from the end of the Stanley Cup Final. As early as Thursday, the Washington Capitals could end 44 years of misery by finally getting their hands on the Stanley Cup, setting off a wild celebration in Washington and fulfilling the lifelong dreams many of these players have had since childhood.

We’d better get our complaining in while we still can.

So today, before we’re all distracted by that icky positivity, let’s break out the annual playoff-bust team. We’re looking for a full roster of post-season disappointment, which seems like a lot until you realize how many big names we’ll have to cut from well-deserved spots. The NHL playoffs are rough.

Keep in mind, we’re looking for players who were disappointing relative to what their teams had hoped they’d do. This isn’t a collection of the worst players from this year’s playoffs, since there are any number of fourth-liners or depth defencemen who did even less. In a way, appearing on a list like this is almost a compliment, since it implies that expectations were high. Remember that when your favourite player shows up and you want to yell at me.

We’ll start with the position that’s usually the easiest to fill in these sorts of things: those poor goalies. Emphasis on “poor.”

GOALTENDERS

Frederik Andersen, Maple Leafs: To his credit, Andersen helped the Leafs dig out of a 3–1 series hole with a pair of strong games. But they were in that hole largely due to a pair of stinkers early on, and with the series on the line he had a disastrous third period in Game 7. Even when the numbers said he was playing well, Andersen seemed to be fighting the puck for long stretches, and it caught up with him when the Leafs could least afford it.

John Gibson, Ducks: Gibson had a phenomenal season, one that had some observers touting him as a Vezina candidate. But he couldn’t maintain that magic in the playoffs, and it was a big part of the reason why the Ducks went out so meekly against the Sharks. His .889 playoff save percentage was the worst of any goaltender who started the majority of his team’s regular-season games. Granted, that number was skewed by a disastrous Game 3 in which he was shelled for five goals in two periods of what would become an 8–1 blowout, but that was a game the Ducks desperately needed.

Pekka Rinne, Predators: Gibson could have been a Vezina finalist; Rinne will almost certainly win it. But once the playoffs arrived he was inconsistent at best for a team that looked like a Stanley Cup favourite. He had his moments, including a pair of shutouts. But he was also pulled four times, including after giving up two soft goals in the deciding seventh game against the Jets.

Late cuts: Sergei Bobrovsky never came up with the sort of game that would have helped the Blue Jackets finish off the Capitals. Matt Murray and Tuukka Rask both won a round, but neither was at his best.

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DEFENCEMEN

Drew Doughty, Kings: When your team gets swept and scores only three goals in the process, you’re going to produce plenty of candidates for the all-disappointment team. Doughty earns a spot based on three pointless games, but his biggest moment in the series was the one that got him suspended. His high hit on William Carrier cost his team his services in the crucial second game, and may have been the series turning point. When it came to the Golden Knights, Doughty had already called his shot; he didn’t do much to back it up.

Ryan McDonagh, Lightning: The Lightning paid a big price to land McDonagh at the deadline, and were rewarded with no goals and just two primary assists in 17 games. They didn’t acquire him solely for his offence, and his 22:31 of average ice time were second on the team. And with another year left on his deal, this wasn’t a rental that you can write off based on one spring. Still, you make that sort of deadline splash hoping you’re getting a difference-maker, and most nights McDonagh wasn’t.

Roman Josi, Predators: The first-year captain put up another solid season, hitting double-digit goals for the fifth straight year. But the offence disappeared in the playoffs, as Josi was held without a goal through the Predators’ 13-game run. He also had some disappointing defensive moments against the Jets, including being on the ice for three Winnipeg goals in Game 7.

Shayne Gostisbehere, Flyers: The Flyers faced a tough task against the high-powered Penguins, and it’s fair to say that they struggled defensively. While Philadelphia looked good in their two wins, they were caved in over the course of four losses, giving up an embarrassing 25 goals in the process. Gostisbehere had a first-hand view of more than a few of those, finishing the post-season with a -8 rating that ranked as the league’s worst among blueliners.

Jacob Trouba, Jets: The Jets don’t offer up many candidates for our all-disappointment squad after putting together the longest playoff run in Winnipeg’s NHL history. Still, Trouba was at least a mild letdown, going pointless in 15 of the Jets’ 17 games, including the last nine straight. He still played big minutes and took care of things in his own end, so we won’t go overboard, but on a team full of post-season overachievers, Trouba was one of the few who left at least a little to be desired.

Paul Martin, Sharks: We’ll slot Martin in last on our list, since even in San Jose he wasn’t expected to provide much more than veteran depth. But there’s really no nice way to put it: He struggled badly in the playoffs, even in sheltered minutes. As just one example, we’re still not sure what he was doing on William Karlsson‘s series-changing OT winner:

An off-season buyout seems likely.

Late cuts: Jake Gardiner suffered through a disastrous Game 7, but he may have been the Leafs’ best defenceman in the series until then so we’ll cut him some slack. And if we’re not penalizing guys for one nightmare game, we’ll let Shea Theodore off the hook for what happened Saturday.

FORWARDS

Rick Nash, Bruins: Another post-season, another team, and yet another letdown from Nash. Apart from a two-goal game in the opener against the Lightning, Nash was largely held off the scoreboard for two rounds, and it’s fair to say the Bruins didn’t get their money’s worth on their big deadline acquisition. As always seems to be the case, some of the secondary numbers suggest that Nash was better than his goal total would indicate, but at some point a fluke becomes a pattern. With just 18 goals in 89 career playoff games, we’ll go ahead and make Nash our team captain.

Corey Perry, Ducks: In four games, Perry’s contribution came out to no goals, no points, one questionable hit and a team-worst -5 rating. For an $8.6-million cap hit, that’s not great, and it has Ducks fans asking deep philosophical questions like “Corey Perry: Is he still good?”

Claude Giroux, Flyers: Giroux’s comeback regular season moved him back into the league’s top tier of elite forwards. But his post-season was a disaster: one goal, three points and a league-worst -10 rating in the Flyers’ first-round loss to the Penguins. Plus/minus may be a flawed stat that doesn’t tell us as much as we think in small samples, but it’s hard to comb through any of the numbers and find much good news for a player the Flyers needed big things from to have a chance.

Nazem Kadri, Maple Leafs: Most of the players on this list are here because of what they did (or didn’t) do on the ice. Kadri makes it largely because of the time he spent in the press box. His three-game suspension for an inexcusable hit on Tommy Wingels didn’t decide the series, but it definitely hurt a Leafs team that needed all hands on deck against the Bruins. It speaks to Kadri’s development as a top-six forward that his absence was seen as so critical, but it’s the sort of play he just can’t make in that situation.

Eric Staal, Wild: Staal’s rebound season at the age of 33 was one of the league’s better stories; his 42 goals tied the franchise record. But he largely disappeared against the Jets, managing just one goal and two points in the series and being held off the scoreboard completely in the Wild’s four losses. 

Anze Kopitar, Kings: It’s not often you can be called a playoff disappointment when you lead your team in scoring with twice the total points of the next most productive player. The Kings’ loss to the Knights clearly wasn’t Kopitar’s fault, and his two points did indeed claim the team lead. But in hindsight, the Kings needed a monster series from their Hart Trophy finalist to have a shot against Vegas, and they didn’t get it.

Mikko Rantanen, Avalanche: It’s tough to point to anyone on the Avalanche as a true disappointment, given how unlikely their playoff appearance was in the first place. Still, Rantanen followed a breakout regular season by failing to score in the Avs’ six-game loss to the Predators.

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Nico Hischier, Devils: Like the Avalanche, the Devils could be excused for just being happy to be in the playoffs at all, and on balance Hischier’s rookie season was a success. But he only managed one point in the playoffs, tying him on the team scoring list with defensive defenceman Ben Lovejoy and goaltender Cory Schneider. Would a few more points have made a difference in the series? Against the Lightning, probably not, so let’s chalk it up as a learning experience.

Thomas Vanek, Blue Jackets: Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but after a reasonably productive regular season, Vanek struggled through a disappointing playoff run. In this case, that meant producing a goal and an assist in the Blue Jackets’ opening-game win over the Capitals, then largely disappearing for the rest of the series. He’d actually been pretty good in Columbus after arriving at the deadline, but as always, his playoff reputation will follow him wherever he winds up next.

Derick Brassard, Penguins: Yet another trade-deadline pickup that didn’t pay dividends, Brassard managed just one goal and four points in the Penguins’ 12-game run. He was reportedly banged up for much of the post-season, and with another year left on his deal there’s still time for the trade to pay off. But the Pens were hoping that Brassard would anchor a third line that could take some of the heat off of the Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin units, and it never happened.

Phil Kessel, Penguins: Our second Penguins forward makes the team based on scoring just a single goal in two rounds. He added eight assists, so he certainly wasn’t a non-factor. But with Kessel, you’re willing to accept some shortcomings in his game as long as he puts the puck in the net. For the last two Penguins playoffs runs that’s exactly what he did, but this year was a letdown.

David Perron, Golden Knights: Perron is the only player on our list whose team is still alive, so this pick virtually assures him of a dramatic hat trick in Game 5. But first he’ll have to get back in the lineup after being a healthy scratch last night. That’s the latest chapter in a disappointing post-season that’s seen him follow a career year by being held without a goal in 14 games; he’s managed just a single shot in the final, and his line was a minus-three on Saturday. As unthinkable as it would have seemed even a week ago, that may turn out to be the last we see of Perron this season.

Late cuts: Auston Matthews’s two-point output wasn’t anywhere near enough for Toronto, but his line did generate plenty of chances so we’ll avoid giving the Leafs a league-leading third spot on our roster. Tomas Tatar replaced Perron in the Knights’ lineup and could probably replace him on this list, too. And it’s tempting to find a way to get Steven Stamkos on the team after yet another disappointing Game 7 moved him firmly into the discussion of players who come up small when the games mean the most. But that would be overreacting to one game; Stamkos put up 16 points in 17 games, and his seven goals were tied for the team lead. Plenty of players would take that kind of disappointing performance.

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