Heading into a new NHL season, fans always have a set of expectations for the individual members of their favorite teams. Sometimes those expectations are met, sometimes they’re exceeded, and sometimes players fall well short. It’s the way it goes, and it happens to every team.
The 2015-16 season is quickly approaching the halfway point, so as fans we’re getting a good idea of which players are meeting or surpassing expectations, and which ones are falling short. Today’s list will focus on the latter group: the collection of players who have let their fans down.
Most of the men who appear on this list have earned their spot through lack of production, but some of the guys here just haven’t been able to stay healthy. That can sometimes be more disappointing than a lack of production, as fans know all too well.
There were a few teams that had a plethora of options for this list to choose from (I’m looking at you, Pittsburgh). There were also some teams who haven’t had a real underachiever to this point (Dallas, Washington, to name a few). Even those teams, however, had at least one player who you could say hasn’t exactly met expectations.
With that said, feast your eyes on today’s list: the biggest disappointments of 2015-16 for each NHL team (so far).
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30 Anaheim Ducks - Ryan Kesler
This past offseason, The Ducks signed Ryan Kesler to a six year extension worth over $41 million ($6.875 million cap hit) that will kick in at the beginning of 2016-17. Makes sense; they didn’t want contract negotiations to be a distraction during the season.
As we get into the real grind of the season, Kesler has yet to look effective and the Ducks still don't look like a playoff team. Perhaps if Kesler was, I don’t know, playing for a new contract still, they wouldn’t have this problem.
29 Arizona Coyotes - Antoine Vermette
After renting him out to the Chicago Blackhawks for their Cup run last spring, the Arizona Coyotes brought back Antoine Vermette when he hit UFA status in July. They weren’t hoping for anything unreasonable—just anything in the 15 goal, 45 point range, a pace he’s kept up for his career.
Vermette may be showing signs of aging, notching just nine points to date so far in 2015-16. The Desert Dogs expect more from their second-highest paid forward.
28 Boston Bruins - Matt Beleskey
It was a weak offseason for UFAs, and Matt Beleskey was one of the most highly-sought free agent forwards on the market. Boston landed him by offering up a five year contract that comes with a $3.8 million cap hit. The Bruins were hoping he’d build on his 22-goal performance form 2014-15.
Beleskey is on a pace that would put him around 12 by the end of the year. The Bruins brought Beleskey on to score goals, and so far he hasn’t delivered.
27 Buffalo Sabres - Evander Kane
The Sabres gave up a handful of assets to acquire Evander Kane from the Jets prior to last year’s trade deadline. It was a calculated risk; Kane, despite his character flaws, has scored 30 goals once already in his career, and if he could stay healthy for a season he could do it again.
Kane hasn’t managed to stay healthy so far in 2015-16, missing 10 games already. He is not on pace to match his career high.
26 Calgary Flames - Dougie Hamilton
Some would say that the Calgary Flames got the biggest score at the 2015 draft when they pried the rights to RFA Dougie Hamilton from the Boston Bruins. They promptly signed the defenseman to a six year contract for a reasonable $5.75 million cap hit. Life was good in southern Alberta.
However, the early returns on Hamilton have been underwhelming. He’s started to clean it up a bit in his own end, but Hamilton was atrocious in his first 15 games as a Flame. For Calgary’s sake, let’s just hope it was a good player going through a rare slump.
25 Carolina Hurricanes - Eddie Lack
When the Hurricanes acquired Eddie Lack over the summer, the expectation was he’d come in and share the crease with veteran Cam Ward. Some pundits even expected Lack to slowly but surely push Ward aside and eventually seize the crease.
The exact opposite has happened, as Ward has started 21 games to Lack’s nine, and Lack has been credited with just three of the team’s 12 wins.
24 Chicago Blackhawks - Trevor Daley
When Chicago sent star forward Patrick Sharp (plus a prospect) to Dallas for Trevor Daley and Ryan Garbutt, the move was done through necessity—the 'Hawks needed to shed some cap, and they also needed help on defense. If you’ll recall, they won the Cup last spring using essentially four D in the playoffs.
Unfortunately for the Blackhawks, Daley never quite found his footing in the Windy City. He has already been dealt, to Pittsburgh for veteran defenseman Rob Scuderi, so that's a solid indication of just how Quenneville and co. felt about Daley.
23 Colorado Avalanche - Alex Tanguay
Alex Tanguay is now 36 years old, so perhaps it’s understandable that his offense has been on the decline. Last year, however, Tanguay posted a respectable 55 points in 80 games, including his first 20-goal season since 2010-11. Had Tanguay found a second wind?
No, it appears he hasn’t. Tanguay is off to a slow start. If he keeps up this pace, it will be his least productive season of his career.
22 Columbus Blue Jackets - Nick Foligno
Nick Foligno busted out in a big way in 2014-15. He recorded 73 points, demolishing his previous career high of 47, posted in Ottawa three seasons earlier. Foligno was made captain at season’s end, and the future for Nick and the Blue Jackets looked bright.
In 2015-16, the Blue Jackets have struggled, and the captain has contributed his fair share to the futility. He’s regressed to his similar career point production pace.
21 Dallas Stars - Valeri Nichushkin
The Dallas Stars have simply had no underachievers, so I guess I’ll go with the closest thing they have to that in Valeri Nichushkin. After missing all but eight games of 2014-15 because of injury, the Stars were hoping to get Nichushkin to the next level this year.
Well, there’s only so much offense to go around on any given NHL team, and there are droves of players ahead of Nichushkin playing those prime minutes in Dallas. As a result, Nichushkin is averaging less than half a point per game. Again, not a huge disappointment, but Dallas hasn’t had any big disappointments so far and this is as close as it gets.
20 Detroit Red Wings - Riley Sheahan
Watching Riley Sheahan play last season, one really thought that he was going to be that next Red Wing who busts out after a slow and steady development process. He put up 36 points in his first full NHL season, and the 24-year-old was looking to build on those totals in 2015-16.
The season is still fairly young, but it’s safe to say Sheahan has not had the start he envisioned. After 30 games, Sheahan had posted just six points.
19 Edmonton Oilers - Mark Fayne
Defense has been the glaring weakness on the Oilers for going on a decade now. Before this season began, the Oilers had very few reliable names etched in to start on the back end, but veteran Mark Fayne was supposed to be one of them.
Well, Todd McLellan and Peter Chiarelli made it clear recently that Fayne isn’t up to snuff in 2015-16. The Oilers placed the veteran on waivers, and recalled Nikita Nikitin to replace him. Ouch.
18 Florida Panthers - Dave Bolland
There are a lot of bad contracts out there, but Dave Bolland’s $5.5 million cap hit for three additional seasons beyond this one is right up there among the worst. Bolland is the Panthers' highest paid forward, and he has already been a healthy scratch this year.
Bolland is quite possibly making more money per point than any other skater in the league. He's been moved to fourth-line wing.
17 Los Angeles Kings - Marian Gaborik
Marian Gaborik has been an efficient goal scorer ever since bursting onto the scene in 2000-01 in Minnesota. He has seven 30-goal campaigns under his belt, and it would likely be more if he was able to stay healthier throughout his career.
Gaborik has managed to stay healthy so far in 2015-16, but he’s struggled to fill the net at his usual pace. He’s signed through 2021.
16 Minnesota Wild - Jonas Brodin
Take this one with a grain of salt, because Jonas Brodin has still been a serviceable NHL defenseman for the Wild so far this season; it’s just that he hasn’t been as good as they know he can be. Granted, he’s no longer regularly paired with Ryan Suter, so that could have something to do with his apparent regression.
His offensive stats are similar to seasons past, but it’s his advanced stats that have taken a hit. He currently has a Corsi Rel of -2.3, and that’s with a PDO rating of 102.2.
15 Montreal Canadiens - Alexander Semin
It’s no surprise that Alex Semin is the Montreal Canadiens’ representative on this list. Montreal and Semin agreed to terminate what was left of his one-year contract after Semin played just 15 games for them. Semin is now expected to play out the remainder of the season in the KHL.
Semin’s once-reliable scoring touch disappeared in 2015-16, as he notched just four points, scoring once. He was a healthy scratch a handful of times, and by the end of his short tenure in Montreal he was playing less than 10 minutes a night.
14 Nashville Predators - Cody Hodgson
Cody Hodgson was a bit of a hopeful reclamation project for the Nashville Predators, but so far it looks as though it is not a successful one. The 25-year-old forward has had a strange career trajectory so far, as he followed up his 44 point breakout season in 2013-14 with a 13 point follow-up in 2014-15.
With just seven points in his first 30 games in Music City, it’s safe to say Hodgson’s season is going to be more like the disappointing 2014-15 than the impressive 2013-14.
13 New Jersey Devils - Jiri Tlusty
The New Jersey Devils are largely comprised of players that other teams have given up on, and it’s actually worked out quite well for them so far in 2015-16. They took a chance on Jiri Tlusty, however, and that gamble hasn’t exactly paid off.
Tlusty has so far contributed just three points, which is obviously below the expected output from a player of Tlusty’s skill.
12 New York Islanders - Ryan Strome
Ryan Strome had somewhat of a breakout season in 2014-15, notching 50 points in his sophomore campaign. So far this year, head coach Jack Capuano has been less than thrilled with Strome, and 2015-16 has already included an assignment to the AHL for the young forward.
Strome’s season is definitely not a lost cause at this point. Hopefully, for the Isles’ sake, things start to turn around soon for Strome.
11 New York Rangers - Derek Stepan
A recent slide has fans of the Rangers in somewhat of a panic mode, but the blueshirts are still one of the best teams in the East. That’s why it was so hard to pick a disappointment so far, but Derek Stepan is as close as it gets. He’s struggled a bit with health and he hasn’t contributed much offensively when he has been dressed. The Rangers need all hands on deck this season, as their Stanley Cup window is getting smaller.
10 Ottawa Senators - Curtis Lazar
The Ottawa Senators are scoring at a pace that nobody expected at the onset of the season, but youngster Curtis Lazar is one player who’s pitching in fewer points than was expected of him. The Sens hoped he’d improve on his 15-point rookie campaign, but so far he hasn’t delivered.
Lazar is on a virtually identical pace to his 2014-15 season. Lazar was a reliable producer for the Oil Kings in his WHL days, and it’s safe to say the Sens want more from Lazar at this point.
9 Philadelphia Flyers - Jakub Voracek
Jakub Voracek is in the final year of a contract that pays him $4.25 million this season. Judging by the way Voracek’s season is going, this would be ideal for the Flyers because then they would be able to sign him long-term at a similar figure. Unfortunately, they signed him to an extension last year, and it will come with an $8.25 million cap hit until 2024.
The Flyers better hope that this is just a slump for the 26-year-old, because if he continues to produce at this pace (16 points in 30 games, 1 goal) for eight more seasons at that price, things could get uncomfortable in Philly.
8 Pittsburgh Penguins - Sidney Crosby
Pittsburgh has a whole bunch of candidates for this list, but Sidney Crosby has to be the biggest disappointment for the Pens so far. Simply put, Crosby is supposed to be one of, if not the best player in the world, and he’s been far from that in 2015-16.
Sid the Kid nowhere near the top in league scoring. He sits in the tier of players like Jussi Jokinen, Andrei Markov, and Teddy Purcell. Hopefully the recent coaching change can help Sid find his game.
7 San Jose Sharks - Logan Couture
When the Sharks named Joe Pavelski team captain before the season started, it was another way of Sharks brass saying the team was officially being handed to the younger players. Logan Couture was supposed to be a big part of that, but he’s been limited in 2015-16 due to injury.
That has to be disappointing for the Sharks, who surely would have loved it if Couture could play a starring role on the team today, especially with them mired in a tight (weak) Pacific Division.
6 St. Louis Blues - Jori Lehtera
Jori Lehtera had a stellar 2014-15 rookie season, compiling 44 points in 75 games. With hopes that the young Finn would build on that, the Blues inked Lehtera to a three year extension that comes with a $4.7 million cap hit, and doesn’t kick in until 2016-17.
So far, Lehtera has underwhelmed in 2015-16, notching a pace of 0.38 points per game, down from his 0.59 points per game in his rookie year.
5 Tampa Bay Lightning - Tyler Johnson
Tyler Johnson is Tampa’s representative on this list partly due to his injury-plagued 2015-16 campaign to date, but he hasn’t been very productive on the rare occasion that he has been in the lineup either.
Johnson broke out in 2014-15, recording 72 points and tying Steven Stamkos for the team lead. He centered the “Triplets” line, which was the most productive trio in the league last year. The dip has weighed on the team, who despite having elite talent, sure aren't playing like an elite team.
4 Toronto Maple Leafs - Jonathan Bernier
Jonathan Bernier was expected to, at the very least, share the Toronto crease with James Reimer this season. So far, that hasn’t happened. Bernier is just this week returning from a conditioning stint in the AHL, which was a last ditch effort for the organization to help him find his game.
Bernier had a good showing in the AHL, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s winless in nine NHL starts. Reimer and Garret Sparks have combined to record all 10 of Toronto’s wins. Bernier will get back in net Tuesday night against Tampa Bay.
3 Vancouver Canucks - Bo Horvat
Jim Benning and Trevor Linden have orchestrated a swift youth movement in Vancouver, and the early results have been mixed. Last season, 2013 first-round pick Bo Horvat had a solid rookie campaign, scoring 13 goals and 25 points in 68 games.
The Canucks brought in more youth in 2015-16, and Horvat was fully expected to take that next step and even be relied upon in key situations. That hasn’t happened, and even his production has taken a slight step back.
2 Washington Capitals - Brooks Laich
The Washington Capitals players have all performed up to expectation, so this was a really tough choice. I guess I’ll choose poor Brooks Laich, who has barely produced any offense so far in 2015-16.
Laich’s production has been on the decline for a few seasons now, so what’s happened so far hasn’t been a huge surprise, really. Just a tad disappointing is all.
1 Winnipeg Jets - Ondrej Pavelec
Ondrej Pavelec is another guy on this list who is here largely because his season has been plagued with injury. However, he hasn’t exactly been stealing any games for Winnipeg when he has been in, earning just five wins in 13 starts.
When Pavelec does eventually get healthy, it would be hard to imagine Paul Maurice taking the crease away from upstart Connor Hellebuyck, who has been playing great in Pavelec's absence.
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