The average NHL career lasts roughly five and a half years. That doesn’t leave very much time for young players to prove their worth in the league. The newfound emphasis on speed and finesse, along with the usual physicality of the game, puts enormous stress on players to show they belong. Unfortunately, there have been many talented skaters who simply fell victim to poor management or ill-advised coaching decisions.
This list doesn’t concern draft busts like Patrik Stefan, Alexander Daigle, or Gilbert Brule. It concerns players whose careers stagnated through no fault of their own. Sometimes general managers rushed a player up to the big club too soon. Other times, coaches failed to adapt their systems to a player’s needs. Even a simple benching can ruin a career.
However, one thing all sports fans love is a good comeback story. Whether it involves a player returning from injury, overcoming a personal tragedy, or simply revitalizing his career on a new team, many players have forged successful second acts in their careers.
Here is a look at 10 NHL players whose careers were ruined by management, and 10 whose were saved.
20 Ruined: Guillaume Latendresse - Montreal Canadiens
You could argue that the laundry list of injuries is what derailed Latendresse’s career. However, the Canadiens seemed to rush their 2005 second round pick to the NHL a bit too soon.
Latendresse made the Habs’ roster in 2006 at the age of 19 and signed a lucrative rookie contract. Despite the weight of expectation, coaches Bob Gainey and Guy Carbonneau played the right winger just 14 minutes a night over four seasons.
Latendresse scored double-digit goals in three of four seasons but remained in a checking line role. Not only did his placement among the bottom six stunt his offensive ability, but also could’ve led to his many injuries.
The Canadiens traded Latendresse to the Minnesota Wild in 2009 for another young French-Canadian player, Benoit Pouliot.
Latendresse’s production rebounded to 25 goals in 55 games, as he saw his minutes increase to an average of 16:27 per night. Perhaps all the young Quebec native needed was ample ice time.
Unfortunately, Latendresse suffered a groin injury that sidelined him for 58 games of the 2010-11 season. A concussion ended his 2011-12 season after 16 games.
19 Saved: Artem Anisimov - Chicago Blackhawks
Artem Anisimov spent the first seven years of his North American professional hockey career with the New York Rangers. Anisimov put up 28 points in his first full season on Broadway in 2009-10, and 44 points the following year. The Russian center’s production dropped off a bit during the 2013-14 season, but rebounded in the playoffs, scoring three goals and 10 points in 20 games.
The Rangers dealt Anisimov to the Blue Jackets in 2013 in a trade that brought Rick Nash to New York.
By 2014-15, Anisimov was buried on the Jackets’ third line and scored a career-low seven goals and 27 points. He was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks in June 2015, and had a terrific comeback season, partially because coach Joel Quenneville played him on a line with fellow Russian Artemi Panarin.
18 Ruined: Jakub Kindl - Detroit Wings
The Red Wings selected Kindl in the first round of the 2005 draft. The defenseman showed promise while developing his game in the AHL. He played a physical game that the Wings needed at the time. Unfortunately, the damage that the Detroit coaching staff did to Kindl’s confidence during his time in the Motor City may have had an irreversible effect on his play.
Sure, Kindl’s defense-centric game didn’t lend itself well to offensive outbursts. He never scored more than five goals or 19 points in any one season, despite his steady presence on the blueline.
Still, Kindl was repeatedly benched or scratched from the lineup. Maybe Kindl’s hard-hitting game didn’t jive with Mike Babcock’s philosophy, but the lack of ice time shook his confidence. New coach Jeff Blashill gave Kindl the same treatment and sent Kindl back down to the AHL in 2016 after 25 games.
17 Saved: Derick Brassard - New York Rangers
Brassard was another Columbus cast-off that found new life on a new team. This time, the Rangers were the beneficiaries. Brassard, a former sixth overall pick in 2006, had struggled with shoulder injuries that kept his play from reaching the star potential the Jackets had hoped for.
They dealt Brassard to New York in a trade package for Marian Gaborik at the 2013 trade deadline, and the move paid off for the Rangers. He scored five goals and 11 points in 13 games that season, including 12 points in 12 playoff games. He improved his totals in each of his next two seasons in New York, including a 60 point season in 2014-15, and a 27 goal, 58 point campaign in 2015-16. Brassard also led the Rangers with 16 points during the 2014-15 playoffs.
16 Ruined: Jacob Josefson - New Jersey Devils
The 25-year-old Swedish center has had an up-and-down career in New Jersey. The 2009 first round draft pick recently signed a one-year contract extension worth $1.1 million. It may be the last such deal he signs at the NHL level. Will the Devils coaches give him a chance? Don’t bet on it.
Josefson has proven himself as a solid five-on-five skater who kills penalties and makes sound decisions with the puck. He has also shown his shootout prowess, going three-for-seven in 2015-16.
However, Josefson’s shootout success hasn’t translated in the goal-scoring column. He has scored just 17 goals and 50 points in 238 NHL games. Yet, head coach Peter DeBoer buried him on the third and (occasionally) fourth lines for the first few seasons of Josefson’s career.
15 Saved: Blake Dunlop - St. Louis Blues
Dunlop is proof that it’s never too late to achieve success in the NHL if you’re in the right circumstances. Originally drafted in the second round by the Minnesota North Stars before the 1973-74 season, Dunlop struggled initially and went back and forth between the NHL and AHL throughout the rest of the decade. He enjoyed a 20 goal season with the Philadelphia Flyers in 1978-79 but was dealt to the St. Louis Blues after just year with the team.
He finally broke out during the 1980-81 season, notching 20 goals and 67 assists for 87 points in 80 games. The NHL awarded Dunlop the Bill Masterson Trophy for his dedication and perseverance in finding success nearly ten years after he was drafted.
Dunlop continued his hot play the following season, potting 25 goals (a career high) and 78 points in 77 games. He retired from the NHL at the end of the 1983-84 season.
Dunlop’s St. Louis success had a lot do with smart coaching decisions. Blues’ coach Red Berenson teamed Dunlop with Swedish winger Jorgen Pettersson, and the two found instant chemistry.
14 Ruined: Brett Lindros - New York Islanders
We all look back on Eric Lindros’ career and lament how it ended prematurely due to concussions. However, the story of Eric’s younger brother, Brett, is perhaps more tragic in retrospect.
Brett Lindros’ career lasted just 51 games. Why? It’s simple; the Islanders’ coaching staff mishandled his health. For example, a concussion ended his rookie season after just 33 games.
This wasn’t the big issue. The issue arose when coach Mike Milbury decided to keep Lindros in the lineup after the forward suffered another concussion during his second season in 1995.
The current concussion protocol wasn’t in place, so the Islanders didn’t take the proper precautions to safeguard Lindros’ health. They kept him in the lineup, and guess what? He suffered ANOTHER concussion less than week later. That third concussion was the true career-killer, and Lindros retired 18 games into the 1995-96 season.
13 Saved: Dominic Moore - New York Rangers
Dominic Moore began his NHL career in New York, so it’s only fitting that his return to the team coincided with a rebirth of his career. After his initial trade from New York in 2006, Moore journeyed around the league, playing for eight different teams.
Tragedy struck for Moore in 2012 when his wife, Katie, was diagnosed with a rare form of liver cancer. Moore took an 18-month leave of absence to care for her. Sadly, Katie passed away in January 2013 after a hard-fought battle with the illness.
Moore was understandably heartbroken but made the brave decision to return to hockey. However, Moore wasn’t sure whether a team would sign him. The centerman had spent more than a year away from the game.
12 Ruined: Tom Wilson - Washington Capitals
Tom Wilson, the Capitals’ 2012 first round pick, had strong puck-handling ability and a hard nose for the net. In 2012-13, he scored 23 goals and 58 points in 48 games for the OHL’s Plymouth Whalers.
Yet, in 2013, Capitals coach Adam Oates called up the 19-year-old Wilson to fill an immediate need for an enforcer. Oates put Wilson on the Caps’ fourth line, rather than allow the 6-foot-4, 210-pound winger to further develop his scoring touch in the OHL. Oates could’ve encouraged Wilson to use his intimidating size (like a Milan Lucic type), to score on and rattle his opponents. Instead, Wilson logged just seven goals and over 300 penalty minutes in his first two seasons.
11 Saved: Matt Moulson - New York Islanders
Moulson played in the Los Angeles Kings’ minor league system for three years before signing with the New York Islanders in 2009. The Ontario native skated in just 29 games for the West Coast club, but the Isles gave him the chance he needed to prove himself.
Coach Jack Capuano paired Moulson on a line with star center John Tavares, and the winger’s output skyrocketed. He registered three straight 30-goal seasons and scored two playoff goals in six playoff games for his team in 2012-13.
10 Ruined: Alexander Burmistrov - Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets
The Atlanta Thrashers took the Russian center with the 10th overall pick in the 2010 draft, and inserted him into their lineup almost immediately. Burmistrov was a point-per-game player in the OHL, but the Thrashers (not exactly known for stellar player development) decided he could make the jump. Burmistrov scored just six goals as an NHL rookie.
Burmistrov upped his goal total to 13 during the team’s first season in Winnipeg, but coach Claude Noel inexplicably cut his ice time before eventually benching him. Burmistrov bolted for the KHL at season’s end, citing bitterness over his benchings and Noel’s decisions.
9 Saved: Zdeno Chara - Boston Bruins
The Islanders never could’ve predicted the disaster that was the Zdeno Chara trade in 2001. They dealt the then 24-year-old defenseman to Ottawa in a draft-day package to acquire Alexei Yashin. Yikes.
The Senators knew that Chara would grow into his massive 6-foot-9, 250-pound frame, and encouraged him to shoot the puck more, something the Islanders rarely did. Chara scored six goals in his first three seasons on Long Island. By contrast, he scored 10 goals in his first season in Ottawa.
The Senators believed Chara’s thundering slap shot could be a huge factor on their power play, so they placed him on the point during the man advantage. This move allowed him to build on his point totals each season, culminating in a career year in 2005-06. The Slovak defenseman potted 16 goals and 43 points in 71 games.
Chara signed a five-year contract with the Boston Bruins in 2006 after the Senators opted to keep Wade Redden instead. Chara’s career continued to blossom in Beantown.
8 Ruined: Dylan McIlrath - New York Rangers
I’ve always said that the Rangers could use a big, bruising defenseman to protect goaltender Henrik Lundqvist in the crease and stand up for teammates. I was sure that the Rangers got that player when they drafted McIlrath in the first round of the 2010 draft.
Unfortunately, McIlrath battled through knee injuries and was sent back and forth between the Rangers and their AHL affiliate. The defenseman didn’t play his first full NHL season until 2015-16, when he scored two goals and two assists. However, he played an important role. He knew how to fight, and his pugnacious nature helped boost team morale.
McIlrath fought the Flyers’ Wayne Simmonds in a February 2016 bout as retribution for Simmonds’ sucker punch on Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh just days earlier. However, head coach Alain Vigneault didn’t trust McIlrath’s defensive ability, and played him less than 12 minutes a night on the third pairing.
7 Saved: Jaromir Jagr - Florida Panthers
Technically, the ageless wonder has never truly hit a snag in his career. However, signing with the Florida Panthers seemed to reinvigorate Jagr like no other move has. Sure, Jagr enjoyed a 50-goal season with the Rangers in 2005-06, but he was still in his prime.
By the time Jagr got to Florida at the 2015 trade deadline, he was 43. He also had scored a career-low 11 goals through 57 games for New Jersey.
In his first full season with the Panthers, Jagr led the team in points with 66. His 27 goals were his most since he notched 30 with the Rangers in 2006-07. He helped the Panthers capture the 2015-16 Atlantic Division title.
Jagr became the oldest player to surpass 60 points, and also played a valuable role mentoring young stars like Aaron Ekblad and Aleksander Barkov. If he continues his torrid play into 2017, he’ll join Gordie Howe and Chris Chelios as the only players to lace up the skates past age 45.
6 Ruined: Mikhail Grigorenko - Buffalo Sabres
Some fans typecast Russian players as defensively irresponsible. Mikhail Grigorenko didn't fit that mold, yet the Sabres treated him as if he did.
Grigorenko went 12th overall to the Sabres in 2012 after an otherworldly 30-goal season in just 33 games for the QMJHL.
However, Grigorenko was repeatedly scratched during his rookie season in 2013-14 before being sent back down to juniors after 18 games. He proceeded to score 15 goals and 39 points in 23 games with the Remparts. It seemed Grigorenko was ready to join Sabres full-time, but the team sent the young center to the AHL to begin the 2014-15 season. They only called him up for 25 games. Grigorenko's confidence took a hit.
5 Saved: Brian Elliott - St. Louis Blues
Teams don’t often hit home runs when signing free agent goaltenders. For whatever reason, a goalie isn’t as hot a commodity in free agency as a forward or defenseman might be.
So Brian Elliott faced quite the dilemma when he reached free agency in the summer of 2011. The Colorado goaltender was fresh off arguably the worst season of his NHL career. He won just two of his 11 starts for the Avalanche while posting an unsightly 3.83 goals-against average. The Blues signed him to a one-year, two-way contract.
The move paid off. Elliott revamped his career in St. Louis by going 23-10-4 with a 1.56 goals-against average and a save percentage of .940 in 38 games. He and Jaroslav Halak formed a nearly unstoppable goaltending tandem, and Elliott ended up making the 2012 All-Star Team.
On March 17, 2015, he set the Blues franchise record in shutouts for a season. In total, Elliott spent five seasons with the Blues, going 104-46-16.
4 Ruined: Cody Hodgson - Vancouver Canucks
It's never prudent for an organization to rush a prospect up to the big club prematurely. This was especially true in the case of Cody Hodgson, the Vancouver Canucks' tenth overall pick in 2010. Hodgson had just completed a 17 goal, 30 point season with the Manitoba Moose of the AHL. Hodgson could've used another year of seasoning in the minors, but management decided against it. He showed great promise in 2011-12, scoring 16 goals, despite playing just 10-12 minutes a night behind top centers Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler. Canucks GM Mike Gillis then traded Hodgson to Buffalo at the 2012 trade deadline.
The deal polarized the local media and left Hodgson admittedly shocked. Many believed the Canucks hadn’t given Hodgson a long enough look and rushed him out of town just as quickly as they called him up.
Hodgson languished in Buffalo and saw his production decline in each of his three seasons with the Sabres. He didn't have quality linemates, and couldn't carry the load because Vancouver didn't develop him for first and second line minutes.
Hodgson signed a one-year deal with Nashville in 2015 but was waived halfway through the season.
3 Saved: Devan Dubnyk - Minnesota Wild
Devan Dubnyk waited 10 years before he got a shot to show off his first round draft potential. Originally selected by the Oilers in 2004, Dubnyk had only notched one 20-win season in Edmonton. He bounced between four teams before his 2015 trade to the Minnesota Wild.
At the time of his midseason acquisition, The Wild were eight points out of a playoff spot. Dubnyk took the reins, and led the team on a scorching run, going 27-9-2 with a 1.78 goals-against average, and five shutouts. The team eventually clinched a playoff berth, and Dubnyk finished third in the Vezina Trophy vote and fourth in the Hart Trophy vote.
Dubnyk re-signed with the Wild on a six-year, $26 million deal, and continued his stellar play in the crease. He started 67 games, won 32, and appeared in his first NHL All-Star Game.
2 Ruined: Petr Prucha - New York Rangers
The Rangers’ 2005-06 season was one of excitement and optimism. The team made the playoffs for the first time in nine years, had a 50-goal scorer in Jaromir Jagr, a promising young goaltender in Henrik Lundqvist, and a fast-skating young rookie named Petr Prucha. The Czech forward scored 30 goals and 47 points in 68 games. His 16 power play goals tied the team record for most scored by a rookie in a single season. The following year, Prucha notched another 22 goals.
However, by 2008-09, Prucha found himself scratched from the lineup fairly often. Despite consistent contributions on defense (even when he endured goal slumps), coach Tom Renney decided Prucha's game didn't fit with the team's defensive identity.
New coach John Tortorella wasn’t any less forgiving and continued benching Prucha. Prucha played just 28 games for the Rangers in 2008-09 before being shipped off to the Coyotes in February. His game never recovered, as he only scored 13 goals and 22 points in his first season in Arizona.
1 Saved: Alexander Radulov - Montreal Canadiens
I understand that Radulov is a polarizing figure among NHL fans. However, he is number one on this list because he wasn’t even in the NHL last season. In fact, before this year, Radulov hadn’t played a full NHL season since 2008, when he suited up for the Nashville Predators. He briefly returned to Nashville at the end of the 2011-12 season, but was suspended in May for breaking team curfew. Radulov spent the next few seasons in the KHL.
The Canadiens signed the enigmatic Russian winger to a one-year, $5.75 million contract during the 2016 offseason. His two goals and seven points through the Habs’ first nine games are nothing to scoff at.
Yet, Montreal posted an 8-0-1 record in those games, so clearly he’s playing some sort of important role. Head coach Michel Therrien thinks so, as he paired Radulov on the top line with star center Alex Galchenyuk. That should help boost his point production.
Earlier this year, I penned an article predicting that Radulov would fail on his new team due to his unpredictable behavior. Well, so far, I’m glad to eat crow on that prediction. If Radulov can put it together for an entire season, there is a good chance he forges a successful second act in his NHL career.
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