What have you done for me lately?
In sports, sometimes that’s all that matters. Within the span of a month we saw Montreal go from juggernaut to juggernot as they fired their head coach. The New York Islanders were floundering a bit to start the season, but have found a groove again and we shake our heads at all who doubted Barry Trotz.
If you’re good, everyone loves you. And if you’re bad, well, they might be calling for your job or a trade.
So this week’s edition looks at some players around the league whose time it is to stand up. These are mostly struggling players, but in some cases a surge in production would up trade value, better position the player for an upcoming contract negotiation, or just help the team more generally.
As always, these rankings reflect the overall performance of these teams, with a bit more weight put into recent success. We are not ranking the players mentioned.
1. Tampa Bay Lightning
What a ridiculous exercise to do for a team without any real weakness. OK fine, let’s go with Tyler Johnson, who no one claimed on waivers prior to the season and seems a likely bet to end up in Seattle via the expansion draft. His nine points in 19 games is more or less on par with his production in recent seasons, but for the Lightning to reconsider his future place on the team, he’ll need to give more.
2. Vegas Golden Knights
It’s hard to pick out a step-up candidate for a juggernaut team without anyone underperforming much, so we’ll nitpick a bit here. Reilly Smith has been solid in his own right, with one of the better Corsi percentages on the team at 5-on-5, and it’s not as though his grip on a top-six spot is loosening at all. But we’ve come to expect more goals from him in recent years and he hasn’t scored any since Feb. 7. It’s not only a shooting percentage lull – his shot rates are down a bit per game.
3. Toronto Maple Leafs
Frederik Andersen started this season like so many others before it: slowly. Instead of a shaky October, it was an unsteady January but he rebounded nicely in February and now has the same .909 save percentage he finished last season with. But can he sustain this turnaround the rest of the season and have an overall bounce-back season? Ultimately, Andersen will be judged on whether or not he can win the big game for the Leafs and that won’t be determined until the playoffs. He has a new contract to play for and Toronto has to figure out if he’s worth investing another $5-million contract in for his age 32 season.
4. Washington Capitals
None of this is a knock on Ilya Samsonov, who we’re just happy to see back in the crease after contracting COVID-19 and battling that. “Had trouble breathing for a little bit there, and walking a bit,” he said. Scary stuff. More than anything, we’re rooting for him to return strong. In his first game back, he stopped 19 of 21 shots in a win over New Jersey and the Caps need him back at his usual level. Washington has done well playing through their COVID-related absences, staying at the top of their division with Vitek Vanecek in net. Give Samsonov some time, but the team will ultimately need him to regain control of the net comfortably.
5. Boston Bruins
Lack of secondary scoring has been a recent concern around the Bruins and signing Craig Smith to a three-year deal and $3.1-million cap hit this off-season was done to help that area of the team. He started well, with four points in his first six games, but ever since David Pastrnak returned and reclaimed his place on the top line, Smith has four points in 13 games further down the lineup.
6. Carolina Hurricanes
What is Dougie Hamilton worth on a new contract? For a guy who was in the Norris discussion before he got injured last season, you can see a path to something like the $8.8 million Alex Pietrangelo got as a free agent. But he has just a single goal this season and doesn’t lead the Canes in ice time or 5-on-5 scoring from defencemen. So, is he worth closer to Torey Krug’s $6.5 million? A big second half will make his negotiations with the Hurricanes more interesting.
7. Colorado Avalanche
Nathan MacKinnon’s line will get theirs, but who leads the second wave? Brandon Saad was brought in to hopefully do that, but after a strong finish to January he’s got on the score sheet in just one of his past eight games. It’s time for the pending UFA to get going again.
8. New York Islanders
A solid goal scorer the past three seasons, Anthony Beauvillier was even taking a step last season before the pandemic pulled the plug in March 2020. But he’s scored just a single goal in 13 games this season even though he’s started more than 60 per cent of his shifts in the offensive zone. He’ll be an RFA this summer, but this regression was not anticipated.
9. Florida Panthers
The team defence is much, much better this season, the offence is just as elite as it was in 2020 and backup Chris Driedger is giving the backup support every team hopes for. But $10-million goalie Sergei Bobrovsky still looks nothing close to the Vezina winner he’s been in the past. He could find it at any time, and has been better lately, but he’s not stealing games or finding consistency in his second season with that seven-year contract.
10. Winnipeg Jets
While the Blue Jackets aren’t winning much these days, Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic have both been pretty productive in their new setting. Pierre-Luc Dubois hasn’t had such a smooth transition, first getting injured, then getting eased into a return on the wing before going back to centre. He has points in two of his seven games with the Jets, but what you really want from Dubois is a strong defensive presence and an ability to tilt the ice.
We haven’t seen peak Dubois yet and the Jets have been outshot 60-45 when he’s been on the ice, one of the more lopsided shot differentials on the team. Once he becomes the Dubois that made a name for himself against Toronto in last year’s summer qualifier, it should help the Jets as they seek improvement as a defensive unit.
11. Chicago Blackhawks
After brother Ryan saw a steep rise in production as a 26-year-old for the Rangers last season, Dylan Strome and the Hawks would like him to have a similar uptick and get back to the pace he was on two years ago. Whether that means he’s doing it for the Hawks all season, or makes him a more attractive trade asset, remains to be seen.
12. Minnesota Wild
Healthy-scratched for Wednesday’s game after an ill-advised shift led to Vegas’s tying goal on Monday, Zach Parise should return with a chip on his shoulder. He has only one goal in his past 13 games, and if he turns on, the surprise Wild would become a lot scarier.
13. St. Louis Blues
Vince Dunn has been a trade candidate for the past few months, but injuries have opened up greater opportunity for him on the blue line in St. Louis. He’s underperforming last season even though he gets heavy offensive zone usage and needs to get back to that level so that either the Blues can get a nice return in trade, or he can get a nice raise as an RFA this off-season.
14. Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers’ defence has been a bit of a disappointment, but having Carter Hart struggle as veteran Brian Elliott thrives is a surprise. Hart is the future of this crease and is in a contract season, but Elliott is earning more starts. Hart has allowed four goals or more in four of his past six starts, has an .893 save percentage and the league’s fourth-worst goals saved above average at -6.02.
15. Pittsburgh Penguins
When Evgeni Malkin is fifth on his team in scoring, it’s a disappointment. The 34-year-old has scored just four times this season, and only twice at even strength. He has one year left on his contract and if the new management in Pittsburgh considers big changes this off-season, Malkin will again be a part of trade rumours.
16. Edmonton Oilers
The hot start James Neal had last season is a distant memory as the grumpy goal scorer has been made a healthy scratch on occasion and mustered only two tallies all season (and they came in the same game). Even a stint with Connor McDavid on Wednesday didn’t generate more than a single shot on goal. His $5.75-million contract will have buyout potential, though that could be tough to swallow in a flat cap.
17. Arizona Coyotes
Some great offensive performances have finally broken through at the top of the lineup, but only one forward outside the top six has scored more than two goals. They still need some depth production to come through, and we’d look to 2015 11th-overall pick Lawson Crouse. After scoring 15 times last season, the third-liner still doesn’t have one in 2021.
18. Los Angeles Kings
OK Drew Doughty, you want to be on more projected Team Canada Olympic rosters? You’ve got less than a year to make your case for one of those six spots and beat out a younger wave of exciting blue-line talent. The 17 points in 20 games he’s put up this year is a good start.
19. Montreal Canadiens
If Carey Price was performing as he did in the summer bubble, Stephane Waite would still be Montreal’s goalie coach. The surprise dismissal Tuesday night was made to get a different voice in Price’s ear and help improve his .893 save percentage this season. Price shouldn’t be losing games the way he has and, ultimately, should be helping Montreal steal games when the offence is struggling.
20. New York Rangers
Over the two seasons prior to this one, Mika Zibanejad was the NHL’s 12th-highest goal scorer so the fact he’s scored just twice in 20 games this season is really hurting the Rangers, whose offence ranks 24th.
21. Calgary Flames
Sam Bennett may want out of Calgary, but if he can’t produce offence or do more to tilt the ice in his team’s favour, there’s not going to be enough of a market for the Flames to move a player who has suddenly shown up as an important part of the team in recent playoffs.
22. Nashville Predators
A few of the commitments GM David Poile has made on this roster are looking regrettable right now, and the contract that pays Matt Duchene $8 million per season through 2025-26 is one of the more egregious. He’s pointless in his past seven and is a team-worst minus-13.
23. Columbus Blue Jackets
Max Domi was brought in as a hopeful centre and that didn’t work. So he was moved back to the wing and it hasn’t been much better. Domi has a team-worst minus-11, while Josh Anderson is generally crushing it in Montreal. Domi’s $5.3-million cap hit for this season and next is looking questionable right about now.
24. New Jersey Devils
Where’s the Nikita Gusev we saw last year who led the Devils in even-strength scoring? He’s managed only four points and a team-worst minus-7 in that situation this season. As he heads toward extension talks or exploring free agency, the flat cap will make it hard for him to pull in $4.5 million again if his production doesn’t recover.
25. Dallas Stars
Miro Heiskanen set the bar so high for himself last season that we expect more than the zero goals and just two primary assists at 5-on-5. The Stars have a single win in their past 10 and no player has been on the ice for more 5-on-5 goals against in that stretch than Heiskanen. If Dallas is going to turn this thing around, the young Heiskanen needs to be a leader.
Because of we praised a lot Miro Heiskanen and Ivan Provorov before this season, it's fair to say now that they've been probably two biggest disappointments among defensemen in this season so far in our eyes. Both Dallas and Philadelphia need them in much, much better shape. pic.twitter.com/V8f5yOpc9F
— Andy & Rono (@HockeyStatsCZ) March 3, 2021
26. San Jose Sharks
Another groin injury for Erik Karlsson has interrupted his season, but he did score his first of the campaign after coming back. Karlsson’s declining production has been a concern and his five points in 15 games is so far continuing that trend. Big-money, long-term contracts are biting the Sharks and if Karlsson doesn’t eventually recover his $11-million cap hit for another six seasons is going to become a major issue.
27. Vancouver Canucks
It hasn’t been a good year for any of the Canucks and frustration is starting to boil over. That’s been most noticeable with J.T. Miller, who has caught the attention of fans and media for his body language during games. After scoring 27 goals in his first season with Vancouver, assuaging concerns that the first-round pick price tag to attain him was too costly, Miller has six goals in 23 games this season, including two in his past two games. The Canucks have been playing better hockey lately and not getting rewarded for it, so they’ll look to their leaders to keep their heads down and pull them through.
28. Ottawa Senators
As the kids grow into the league and get more comfortable taking on lead roles, the Sens signed Evgenii Dadonov as a free agent to have some guaranteed veteran production. But the $5-million player has had one short good stretch this season and has been largely quiet outside of that five-game stretch last month. Dadonov is 10th in team scoring after finishing fourth on Florida’s attack a year ago.
29. Detroit Red Wings
Year-over-year improvement had Anthony Mantha on track to be a 30-goal scorer in this league, but outside of a three-game goal streak he’s been rather quiet this season. Mantha has scored just six times in 24 games – and twice in his past 10 – as the Red Wings’ team offence sputters at the bottom of the league. Can he be a consistent driver for this team as it tries to emerge from a rebuild, or will he turn into a trade asset before his contract expires in a few years?
30. Buffalo Sabres
I mean, take your pick right? As they lose grip on yet another season, the Sabres are going to have to get into selling mode again. We’ve got to think pending UFA Taylor Hall will be on the block, but what will the return look like for a player with a single goal in 20 games?
31. Anaheim Ducks
Four goals and five points in 18 games for Adam Henrique doesn’t measure up to his $5.825-million cap hit (which runs another three years). He’s passed through waivers already this season, and if he does improve the Ducks could try and trade him (but likely retain some salary).