At the onset of every NHL season, fans have a certain set of expectations for the individuals on their favorite team. Reasonable fans base these expectations on past performance, but I think we all know that many fans can be far from reasonable.
Today’s list identifies the biggest disappointment from each NHL team this season, and when compiling the list I tried to base it on reasonable expectations. Example: Edmonton Oilers fans maybe disappointed in Ryan Strome, but why? Strome is pacing for the second-highest point total of his career. Yes, he is no Jordan Eberle, but he should never have been expected to be that player.
For many teams, picking the biggest disappointment was difficult; on the good teams, it was because most of their players have performed at least near expectations (hence, they’re good). On the bad teams, it was simply a matter of which player to include out of the plethora of options (but don’t worry, there will be honorable mentions when warranted).
Without further ado, behold: the biggest disappointment for each NHL team in the 2017-18 season:
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30 Anaheim Ducks: Corey Perry
It’s true that Corey Perry had a disappointing 2016-17 season, but a close look at his numbers from that year led one to believe that he was primed to bounce back. After scoring at least 30 goals per season since 2010-11, Perry managed just 19 last season. His shooting percentage dipped to below 9% in 2016-17 though, and since his career average is above 13%, it was fair to expect more goals in 2017-18.
So far this season, that has not been the case. Perry has lost some time due to injury, but in the games he has played, he'd be on pace for a 15-goal season. The funny thing is that his shooting percentage is low again—up less than 1% from last season, still well below his career average. Has he lost something in his shot or release? Is it a nagging upper-body injury? Whatever the case, he’s your 2017-18 O.C. disappointment.
29 Arizona Coyotes: Anthony Duclair
Anthony Duclair was traded by the Coyotes to the Chicago Blackhawks in January, and it was actually the second time in his young career that Duclair has been traded. That seems unusual for a 22-year-old who already has a 20-goal season under his belt, but in any case, he’s our Arizona Coyotes representative on the list.
Not a lot of things have gone right for the Desert Dogs so far in 2017-18. Antti Raanta was supposed to be their new number one goalie, but injuries to Raanta and others have forced the ‘Yotes to use five different goalies so far. Max Domi is the runner-up here, as he’s failed to impress this season and has only found the back of the net thrice—and yes, he’s played in every game.
28 Boston Bruins: Matt Beleskey
Matt Beleskey was signed to a five-year deal in the summer of 2015 as a UFA. The deal came with a $3.8M cap hit, so with that in mind it’s safe to assume the expectation was he play somewhere in their middle six. Well, he’s smack dab in the middle of that deal, and today you’ll find him playing in the AHL with the Bruins affiliate in Providence.
What’s somewhat sad is that he hasn’t really been producing there, either, with just three goals and no assists in his six games so far.
He started the year in Boston, playing 14 games in the big league (recording no points in the process) before getting demoted. The only question that remains: will the Bruins buy him out this summer, or will they wait until the summer of 2019?
27 Buffalo Sabres: Sam Reinhart
Whenever I’m compiling a list of busts or disappointments, I always end up finding a spot for a Reinhart on the list. Buffalo’s representative on today’s list is Sam Reinhart, the 2nd overall pick from the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. Reinhart had a decent 2016-17, registering 47 points in his 79 games played. That was up from 42 in 79 GP in his rookie season, so there was evidence of progress for sure.
The 2017-18 season, however, has not gone according to plan for Reinhart thus far, sitting on pace for just about 30 points.
Buffalo as a whole has been a wild disappointment this year, and any number of Sabres could be here representing his team. I definitely considered going with defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, but he's picked it up in 2018.
26 Calgary Flames: Jaromir Jagr
It pains me to my core to have to put Jaromir Jagr on this list. I almost went with Travis Hamonic, who has probably not been as good as they’d hoped, considering the price they paid to acquire him.
Nonetheless, Jagr has been far from the ageless wonder the Flames were hoping for when they signed him, and rumor has it that both sides are working on an exit strategy that works for both parties.
Who’s to say if this is the last we’ve seen of Jagr, who has more NHL points than anyone not named Wayne Gretzky. Heck, he’d be over 2,000 if he didn’t defect to Europe for those three years from 2008 to 2011. I personally hope Jagr plays in the NHL for another decade.
25 Carolina Hurricanes: Scott Darling
The Carolina Hurricanes are having a solid season, especially when you consider that they’re a budget team, spending less money than all other clubs except for Arizona (a club that has been on life support for over a decade). It was actually difficult to pinpoint someone who has performed well below expectations, but I had to choose someone, so I went with new goalie Scott Darling.
Darling is in his first year with the Hurricanes, and it was supposed to be his crease. Instead, he’s been sharing it with Cam Ward, who has been with Carolina for over a decade and has been underwhelming for the better part of that time frame. Neither goaltender has been great for the ‘Canes so far, but Darling is the only one with a sub-.900 save percentage, and you can’t really win with those numbers in today’s NHL.
24 Chicago Blackhawks: Cody Franson
When the Blackhawks signed Cody Franson at the 11th hour of the 2017 offseason, it seemed like a decent signing. He was a cheap option and a guy who’s played over 500 NHL games and isn’t yet too old, just 30 years old. Surely he could at least be relied upon to fill a bottom-pairing role on the Blackhawks, right?
Well, GM Stan Bowman saw otherwise in the 23 games he’s played for the Blackhawks so far this season.
What Bowman saw was a player who could no longer skate well enough for NHL hockey, and as a result he decided to put the veteran defenseman on waivers.
I thought there was going to be a team out there willing to take on Franson, but nope—he’s now plying his trade with the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs.
23 Colorado Avalanche: Semyon Varlamov
There was much uncertainty surrounding the Colorado Avalanche heading into the 2017-18 season. There was of course the whole Matt Duchene trade rumors, which were finally put to bed for good when the winger was sent to Ottawa in a three-way deal. The Avalanche are having a great year now, just one season removed from one of the worst seasons a team has had in the modern era.
One thing that was for certain heading into 2017-18 was that Semyon Varlamov was ready to regain his stranglehold on the Avalanche starter’s job. However, backup Jonathan Bernier has more or less taken over the crease in Denver for the time being. Who’s to say if that keeps up, but Varlamov was on the IR while he watched his club go on a 10 game winning streak with Bernier between the pipes.
22 Columbus Blue Jackets: Cam Atkinson
Cam Atkinson has been a solid success story for the Columbus Blue Jackets when it comes to drafting and developing. Picked up in the sixth round in 2008, Atkinson worked his way up and finally established himself as a full time NHLer in 2013-14. His game kept escalating, and he reached a career high 62 points in 2016-17, leading the Jackets in scoring in the franchise's best season ever.
It’s not that he needed to reach those lofty heights again for this year to not be a disappointment, but Atkinson has battled injuries so far and hasn’t been very productive when he has been healthy, having posted just 13 points in 32 games of work at the time of writing. The Jackets remain competitive, as they’ve always been a by-committee team, but I bet they were hoping for much more from Atkinson in 2017-18.
21 Dallas Stars: Jason Spezza
With weapons like Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Alexander Radulov up front, an off-year from Jason Spezza hasn’t derailed the club’s postseason chances. That said, Spezza’s pacing for his lowest point total since the lockout year, and that season he only played five games thanks to injury (and he registered five points in those matches).
Spezza even found himself in unfamiliar territory, as he sat and watched a game from the press box in mid-January despite having a clean bill of health.
He returned to the lineup and of course potted two goals in the following game, but being on pace for under 40 points in 2017-18 is likely well short of what the Stars and its fans expected from the veteran center.
20 Detroit Red Wings: Petr Mrazek
Petr Mrazek had a stellar 2015-16 campaign, but followed it up with a pretty disappointing 2016-17 season. There was a time when Mrazek was viewed as the goalie of the future in Detroit, and Jimmy Howard had even began to pass the reins to the young Czech netminder. Keeping his disappointing 2016-17 in mind, Mrazek was primed for a bounce back year.
This season Mrazek has disappointed the fans in Detroit again, for the second straight year. Mrazek sits with a .904 save percentage, which is well below league average. Veteran Jimmy Howard is still the starter in Hockey Town, and his save percentage is .913. Mrazek only has five wins on the season, whereas Howard is well above him in that regard. The Wings are likely to miss the playoffs again this season with some blame lying in the crease.
19 Edmonton Oilers: Jussi Jokinen
It’s rare that the analytics crowd and the “hockey isn’t played on a spreadsheet” crowd agree on anything, but the offseason signing of Jussi Jokinen by Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli was a move that both sides approved at the time. Jokinen scores well in possession metrics, and the old-school crowd saw a grizzly veteran who can help in all situations.
Unfortunately, things didn’t play out that well for Jokinen in Edmonton, and he was traded for Mike Cammalleri after playing just 14 games with the Oil.
Since that trade, the Kings placed Jokinen on waivers and he was claimed by the Blue Jackets, meaning the Finnish vet is already on his third team of the season (and the eighth of his career, which is getting up there).
18 Florida Panthers: Dale Tallon
Yes, I realize that this is a bit of a cop-out, but to be honest it was the only way to go for Florida this season. When I look at the Panthers roster, I can’t find a player who is performing well below expectations, yet the team is still headed for yet another playoff-less year. When all your players are meeting expectations but you aren’t even a playoff team, the GM is to blame.
Tallon gifted the Vegas Golden Knights two-thirds of their top scoring line by failing to protect Jonathan Marchessault in the expansion draft and then by trading Reilly Smith to the brand new club for a fourth-round pick. After shedding those players, Tallon did nothing to replace them, which is damning because Marchessault scored 30 goals last year and the pair combined for 88 points.
17 Los Angeles Kings: Michael Cammalleri
Every offseason a handful of veterans get signed to cheap one-year deals, and in the 2017 offseason the Los Angeles Kings took a chance on Michael Cammalleri. Cammalleri is a proven goal scorer and he had a pretty stellar season as recently as 2015-16, when he notched 38 points in the 42 games he played that year with the New Jersey Devils.
The Kings weren’t hoping for production of that level, but they were certainly hoping for more than the seven points he provided before being traded to Edmonton for Jussi Jokinen (who was the Oilers representative on this list). That roster slot has been a sore spot in L.A. thus far, as Jokinen has since been waived by the Kings and claimed by the Jackets.
16 Minnesota Wild: Tyler Ennis
The Wild and Avalanche swapped some pieces in a four player deal just prior to free agency in 2017, and Tyler Ennis was one of the pieces that went from Buffalo to Minny. Ennis had spent his entire career prior with the Sabres, but he failed to develop past his impressive rookie campaign in which he posted 49 points—that number still stands as his career best.
Even with the adjusted expectations in mind—Ennis has battled injuries over the past few seasons, but still managed 46 points in 2014-15, his most recent full year—Ennis has been disappointing in 2017-18. Through half the season, the winger is on pace for just roughly 25 points. Head coach Bruce Boudreau hasn’t shown much trust in Ennis, who only plays an average of less than 12 minutes per game, and has lately been known to play less than six.
15 Montreal Canadiens: Jonathan Drouin
This entry comes with a bit of an asterisk, because Jonathan Drouin is pacing for about 44 points (extrapolated to a full season), and his career high was 53 before this. Really, he’s not that much below his career high, and any reasonable fan would have foreseen a step back anyway, simply based on the supporting cast around him in Montreal versus the luxuries he had in Tampa.
But, as we all well know, hockey fans (especially Canadian ones) don’t often manage their expectations in a responsible manner.
Ergo, Drouin was destined to disappoint, and even I thought the young center would manage to hit the 50 point mark with the Habs this year (1st line role, top PP unit time).
Barring a very strong last-third of the season, Drouin won’t come near that watermark.
14 Nashville Predators: Ryan Johansen
For 90 percent of its existence, the Nashville Predators had been without the services of a true number one center. That’s why it was such a boon when they acquired Ryan Johansen from the Blue Jackets for Seth Jones about halfway through the 2015-16 season. Johansen was fresh off seasons of 33 and 26 goals, so surely he could fill the #1 center role in Tennessee.
Johansen had adequately filled that role for his first two years in Nashville, registering 34 points in 42 games the year of the trade, and then hitting 61 in a full 82 games in 2016-17. This season, Johansen has fallen below expectations. Sure, he became more of a playmaker since arriving in the Music City (he scored 14 goals to go with 47 assists last season), but he sits on pace for just 10 goals (and 40 assists) through roughly half the season in 2017-18. That’s simply not enough for the money they're paying him ($8M AAV).
13 New Jersey Devils: Marcus Johansson
When the New Jersey Devils traded for Marcus Johansson in the offseason, I liked the deal for the Devils. Johansson was coming off a great year in Washington, scoring 58 points, breaking the 50-point barrier for the first time in his NHL career. They didn’t have to give up any roster talent to acquire him (it was mostly a salary dump by the Caps), so it all looked rosy for NJ.
It’s not that Johansson has been a disaster in Jersey or anything, but concussions and relative ineffectiveness while healthy have resulted in less-than stellar results for the Swedish winger so far. He’s played in 29 games so far this year, notching five goals and eight assists for 13 points. Not terrible, and only a few notches below his average point totals prior to last year—but a disappointment nonetheless.
12 New York Islanders: Joshua Ho-Sang
It’s no secret that Joshua Ho-Sang has struggled with maturity issues thus far in his young career. Some people saw it as cocky that he chose to wear Mario Lemieux’s #66 (I’m not “some people” here, for what it’s worth), and he has been suspended once (that we know of) by his own team for arriving late to team meetings/practices.
That said, his late season audition last year gave fans hope that Ho-Sang had found what it takes to succeed on the big stage.
At the very least he was expected to find himself a role on the NHL team and contribute for the entire season.
Well, he’s basically split time between Long Island and Bridgeport,and the latter locale is where he can currently be found plying his trade.
11 New York Rangers: Rick Nash
Again, I feel like expectations for Rick Nash’s offensive output should be adjusted. He’s no longer the player he once was, so why go into the season expecting 40 goals and 65 points? Expectations for Nash have been tempered over the past few years, but it’s safe to say that fans and Rangers brass alike expected more than what he’s chipped in through the first half of this season.
Part of the lofty expectations placed on Nash are likely due to his hefty contract that carries a $7.8M cap hit. He’s in the final year of that deal, and wherever he ends up signing he will be taking a sizable pay cut, and with it the expectations will also drop. Rumor has it he’s happy in New York and they’re happy with him, so I can see him staying in Rangers silks and meeting more reasonable expectations in 2018-19.
10 Ottawa Senators: Matt Duchene
The Senators are a poorly run organization from top to bottom. There are many ways to prove this statement, and one of them is the trade back in November in which they acquired Matt Duchene. To get the player, the Senators forfeited a 1st round pick, a 3rd round pick, Shane Bowers, Andrew Hammond, and Kyle Turris. Turris has 21 points (as of the All-Star Break) his new team, and Duchene has 14, if you wanted to know just how bad that deal was for Ottawa. Is Duchene even better than Turris? Tough call.
Whenever you give up that much for a single player, that player has some lofty expectations placed on his shoulders.
Duchene has of course failed to even sort of approach meeting those expectations, so he’s obviously the biggest disappointment in Ottawa this season—a season full of major disappointments (yes, I almost put owner Eugene Melnyk on the list instead).
9 Philadelphia Flyers: Jori Lehtera
There were some pretty brutal trades in the 2017 offseason, and one of them was the deal that sent Jori Lehtera to the Philadelphia Flyers. Philly got a 1st round pick out of it as well, but they lost Brayden Schenn, who’s putting together a fantastic season in St. Louis. Lehtera, meanwhile, has three assists (no goals) in 30 games so far, and has been a healthy scratch on several occasions in 2017-18.
Sure, the 1st rounder was probably the centerpiece of the deal, but Flyers GM Ron Hextall surely thought he was getting a decent NHL-caliber player out of St. Louis. Before arriving in Philadelphia, Lehtera had recorded 100 points in 218 career games, which are reasonably decent third-line numbers. Lehtera has been more or less invisible this season, and that has to disappoint fans in Philly.
8 Pittsburgh Penguins: Matt Murray
By leaving franchise win leader Marc-Andre Fleury unprotected in the expansion draft last June, the Penguins were placing a pretty big bet on Matt Murray. Murray of course had shown well in the previous two Stanley Cup runs, but it’s also difficult to ignore the fact that he’d only played 62 regular season NHL games vs. Fleury’s 692.
Nonetheless, the Pens let Fleury go for nothing, and now they look as though they could miss the playoffs this season for the first time since 2006.
Fleury was repping the Golden Knights in Tampa at the All-Star game in January, and he is among the league leaders in save percentage. Murray, conversely, has posted a .903 save percentage so far and is possibly in a goaltending controversy with Tristan Jarry and someone called Casey DeSmith.
7 San Jose Sharks: Paul Martin
Paul Martin gave the San Jose Sharks two decent seasons, but every player hits a wall at some point in their 30s (Jaromir Jagr notwithstanding), and it it’s safe to say that Martin has hit that wall this year, at age 36. He only skated in three games for the Sharks this year before they placed the veteran defenseman on waivers. He cleared, and is now playing with the San Jose Barracuda in the AHL.
Martin signed with the Sharks as a UFA in the summer of 2015, and although the price tag was high for a player of his ilk—$4.85M cap hit—it was generally viewed as a decent signing. Today it’s viewed as deeply problematic, as he’s not only playing in the minors but he has one more year left on his pact.
6 St. Louis Blues: Jake Allen
Jake Allen was pretty much the only reason the St. Louis Blues made it beyond the first round of the 2017 playoffs. He absolutely stymied a superior Minnesota Wild team in round 1 to bring his Blues to the second round, and it was that performance that convinced fans and management alike that Allen was definitely the goaltender of the future, after seasons of uncertainty.
The Blues are having a good season and everything, but the fact that backup Carter Hutton has basically stolen the crease from Allen says a lot.
Allen hasn’t been terrible, but he’s been so-so, and Hutton has been far superior. It’s tough to say if this is a blip on the radar or a changing of the guard, but the fact that Allen hasn’t taken advantage of the situation likely disappoints some fans.
5 Tampa Bay Lightning: Ryan Callahan
It’s incredibly difficult to find errors in Lightning GM Steve Yzerman’s ways. Sure, general managers in the state of Florida have a major advantage over other markets thanks to the lack of state tax (I believe this should be addressed within the league), but even so he’s built a dynamic club in Tampa. It’s a team I could see winning the Stanley Cup, a prediction that I made in the pre-season. Nonetheless, there is one sore spot on the roster/payroll, and that’s Ryan Callahan.
Callahan became a member of the Lightning as part of the Martin St. Louis trade at the 2014 deadline. The trade itself wasn’t the bad move—St. Louis had requested a trade out of Tampa—but signing Callahan to an extension after that was an error for sure. Callahan has two years left after this one at a $5.8M cap hit, and he has six points on the year playing on the fourth line. How do you feel if you’re Nikita Kucherov and you see that guy making $1M more per season than you?
4 Toronto Maple Leafs: Martin Marincin
The Toronto Maple Leafs have a solid young core up front, and good goaltending with Freddie Andersen, but it’s safe to say their weak spot is defense. This was true at the start of the year, and the door was open for any number of defensemen to walk through it. Martin Marincin is one of those guys who was expected to grad hold of a spot and hang onto it.
Well, what happened was pretty much the opposite of that.
He didn’t even make the starting roster on opening night, and didn’t play in an NHL game until Dec. 29.
He’s played just two games with the club at the time of writing. That has to be disappointing for the Leafs brass and its fans, especially considering that the defense has been possibly worse than expected, and that’s saying something. Thankfully they're in the impotent Atlantic Division, thus nearly guaranteed a playoff spot.
3 Vancouver Canucks: Markus Granlund
While it looks as though Vancouver Canucks center Markus Granlund might be turning things around, it’s still safe to say that the Canucks were hoping for more from him at this point. He turned heads last season by recording 19 goals in 69 games before his year was cut short by an injury. There wasn’t much for Vancouver fans to be excited about, but he was one reason for optimism.
Granlund has been somewhat disappointing in 2017-18, though not much attention has been paid to it, and I think there are two reasons for that. One is the fact that Brock Boeser is a legit gangsta who is scoring highlight-reel goals on the reg. Another is that fan apathy is at an all-time high in Vancouver these days, as the fans in Van City are notoriously fair-weather.
3. Vegas Golden Knights: Vadim Shipachyov
There is obviously absolutely nothing that is disappointing in Vegas these days. The expansion team is probably the best story in sports right now. They sit in first place in the entire league (!!!) at the All-Star break, and their cushion on the Pacific Division lead is only growing. With all that said, the biggest disappointment for the Knights this year has got to be Vadim Shipachyov. Remember him?
Shipachyov was one of the first players to sign a contract in Vegas' history.
The 30-year-old made the move to North America from the KHL, and was expected to center the expansion team’s top line.
The Russian forward ended up playing in just three games with the Knights, and when it became clear he wasn’t going to be simply handed a spot on the roster, he defected back to Russia.
2 Washington Capitals: Andre Burakovsky
With the offseason departure of veteran Marcus Johansson, the Capitals were looking to some of their younger forwards to step up and fill the void he left. Andre Burakovsky was one of the prime candidates who was expected to step up and chip in with some more offense, but so far in 2017-18 he’s been fairly ineffective in that regard.
The former first round draft pick (23rd overall in 2013) registered 35 points in 64 games last season, which pro-rates to about a 45 point season—not bad, and he’s young so there was reason to expect progression. Injuries have stalled the winger’s growth to this point in 2017-18, but they probably expected more than the three goals and eight points he’s chipped in in 23 games of work so far.
1 Winnipeg Jets: Steve Mason
Goaltending has been a major issue in Winnipeg ever since the franchise made its move from Atlanta (well, before that, actually). The offseason signing of Steve Mason was supposed to remedy that little situation. The good news: goaltending has not been a problem in Winnipeg this year. However, that has nothing to do with Mason and everything to do with Connor Hellebuyck.
Mason was expected to be the starter for at least the 2017-18 season while Hellebuyck played a 1B role, but Hellebuyck put an end to that by vastly outperforming Mason right out of the gate and never looking back.
Hellebuyck is now in Vezina conversations, while Mason is already looking for teams who may be desperate for goaltending this summer. I heard the Hurricanes project to be in the market…
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