It's not uncommon for a professional athlete, including superstars of their sports, to one day out of nowhere seemingly appear lost in a familiar environment. Suddenly a once dominant presence on the ice, field, court, or pitch is reduced to a shadow of their former self. At times, the explanation can be found in the inescapable grip of time – age catches up to even the best.
However, other times the catalyst behind a sudden dip in performance can be found in a player's mindset and mood. The daily demands we as fans and the media place on athletes is extensive. It varies by market and some cities are in a whole other stratosphere – La belle province comes to mind, no? The pressure cooker environment coupled with headaches from management and a failing team can make some players want out, and lose the room along the way.
The globalization of sports (so to speak) has increased the frequency and ease of which players move teams and cities. In the past, players may have been forced to work through issues with teams whereas now, there's always multiple roads out of town – even no-trade clauses get reworked in real-time. Mere days removed from the NHL's Trade Deadline, here are 15 players who appear to have worn out their welcome on teams and could benefit from a change of scenery. Two players on the list were traded on deadline day, and even still I'm confident they won't make it work with their new teams.
15 BRENT SEABROOK (CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS)
Seabrook has won multiple Stanley Cups and a gold medal in 2010. He's formed Chicago's shutdown defensive unit for more than a decade. Past success' aside, Seabrook has clearly lost many steps the past few seasons and is now nothing more than an undesirable contract – AAV of $6.825 million thru 2023-24. NMC throughout.
Seabrook is as close to untradeable as you'll find. Any trade will involve retaining salary and/or parting ways with several pieces of their future, in the form of picks and prospects. My guess is the former, as the latter is more often seen in the NBA but does still periodically show up in NHL transactions. At the age of 32, Seabrook is a diminishing asset so expecting him to be rejuvenated by a change of scenery may be asking a lot. Nevertheless, his time in Chicago is being blemished every day he remains there.
14 MILAN LUCIC (EDMONTON OILERS)
It was a move Sportsnet's Mark Spector at the time called "a legitimate game-changer". Milan Lucic and the Oilers agreed to a 7-year/$42 million contract in the summer of 2016. It was a move thought to be a match made in heaven, with Lucic electing to play with the game's brightest star in Connor McDavid (and protect him along the way).
Instead, we are only approaching the end of year two and the Oilers are already over their prized free-agent signing from a year ago. This season has seen Lucic's effectiveness take a real dive into the dump. His lack of foot speed and mobility has never been more prevalent than it is today. A game predicated on speed is not one Lucic will succeed in. If Edmonton could bid farewell to him tomorrow, they would.
13 HENRIK ZETTERBERG (DETROIT RED WINGS)
The Red Wings after being so good for so long have finally crashed into the Rebuilding Realm. Their captain, Henrik Zetterberg, has been around for it all, including the Stanley Cup victory in 2008. With Detroit embracing the youth movement and preparing to be bad before they are once again good, it would seem a wise move to part ways with Zetterberg, 37.
Without an NMC to protect him from being dealt, it would appear that the Red Wings will try and move him at or before the upcoming draft. Due roughly $6 million this season and three more after, Zetterberg does require a substantial investment. It becomes even more of an issue when you consider he is trending towards his lowest career point output since 2014 where he finished with 48 points in 45 games (Zetterberg presently has 42 points in 63 games this season)
12 JOFFREY LUPUL (TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS)
Nobody knows where Lupul is. The Maple Leafs have basically exiled him. From a well documented team-player disagreement over an off-season injury to Lupul's periodical pop-ups, the last few seasons have seen the veteran essentially kept away from the team's young promising core.
Guys like Tyler Bozak and Nazem Kadri were retained from the past Leaf era, but guys like Lupul, Kessel, and Phaneuf were, through various means, shipped out of town. Dion has since gone to Los Angeles (via Ottawa) – I bet wife Elisha Cuthbert is happy to be back in Hollywood – and Kessel is still scoring goals, dishing helpers, burying hot dogs, and winning Cups.
11 THOMAS VANEK (COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS)
Since spending eight-plus seasons in Buffalo, Thomas Vanek has played for seven NHL teams. He left Buffalo in 2013-14, so do the math. Vanek has become a perennial rental in the past few seasons. The Montreal Canadiens first won the annual Vanek Sweepstakes back in 2014 when they acquired him for the New York Islanders. However, after a dismal playoff performance, Vanek signed with the Minnesota Wild the following off-season.
From Minnesota to Detroit, to Florida, then all the way over to Vancouver... Vanek now finds himself in Columbus following yet another trade deadline deal. My reason for including him on this list: Anybody who has ever watched Vanek play probably understands that he's not the type of player Blue Jacket's head coach John Tortorella likes. A free-agent at the end of this season, it's anyone's guess where Vanek will sign his next one-year lease.
10 ALEXANDER OVECHKIN (WASHINGTON CAPITALS)
The first (of several) debatable inclusions on this list, Alex Ovechkin, has been the most prolific goal scorer in the NHL for the better part of his career. In an era starved for goals and offense, all the Great Eight does is score goals. And pretty ones at that. Despite his undeniable greatness, Ovechkin continually gets criticized for his inability to perform in the playoffs. But looking at his post-season numbers, it would seem like the criticism is somewhat unwarranted. In 97 career playoff games, Ovi has 90 points (46 G, 44 A).
As the captain, Ovechkin has shouldered much of the blame for the team's perceived penchant for choking. Currently in a playoff position, if Washington suffers an all too familiar fate, exiting early, it might, in fact, be time to part ways with Alex Ovechkin this off-season and start a rebuild.
9 JEFF SKINNER (CAROLINA HURRICANES)
Jeff Skinner has spent his entire career in Carolina, and throughout has been a consistent offensive threat. Midway through another 20+ goal season, this being his sixth season as such, Skinner has never been to the playoffs. A player of his skill set and youth should be given more of a chance to play in the post-season than he's gotten with the Hurricanes.
Skinner's current deal now has a No-Movement-Clause (NMC) that has kicked in this season. Set to be a free-agent at the end of next year, look for him to switch teams as early as the upcoming draft or perhaps factor into the rental market at next season's deadline. Remember, NMC's basically permit a player to at any point provide his current team with a list of approved trade destinations. Carolina is an ongoing rebuild and it's time Skinner joins a contender and showcase his scoring ability in meaningful games for once.
8 THE SEDINS (VANCOUVER CANUCKS)
It's time... It was time years ago. Daniel and Henrik have failed to deliver in numerous playoff appearances – everybody remembers the riot following the Canucks' Cup defeat at the hands of the Bruins. Yeah, well that's on you D & H.
A package deal, the Canucks have been held down by the Swedish brothers as they've climbed in age, now 37 years old. Refusing to be separated, Vancouver has had issues finding a willing suitor and as a result will see both enter free-agency at the conclusion of this season. Each is finishing up a 4-year/$28 million dollar contract, signed back in 2014-15. During that span, neither twin has eclipsed 60 points in a season. The Sedin Sentence ends this April.
7 ZDENO CHARA (BOSTON BRUINS)
Giant Shrek is 40 years old. And a free agent this coming off-season. Boston is bound for another playoff run and you have to believe this season will be Chara's last. While still an effective defenseman thanks to his gargantuan build, it's hard to picture the Bruins electing to retain him beyond this year.
Less about hurt feelings and more about the need to move forward, look for him to either retire or be in a different jersey next season. Some teams may offer him 1-year deals if he's still got his heart set on hockey. This is less about his teammates not liking him in the room and more about management needing to add speed to a young team.
6 SHEA WEBER (MONTREAL CANADIENS)
Funny how Shea Weber winds up on this list so soon after being the reward in the PK Subban divorce... Weber has been injured most of this year and since arriving in Montreal has largely failed to live up to expectations. His rugged style is more suited for a previous era of hockey. And I won't even bring up the contract he came with...
A foot injury thought to require a month or so off suddenly has robbed Weber of his entire season. Something tells me the Canadiens basement accommodations may have played a role in his decision. While neither one will come out and say it, it remains true: Shea Weber probably doesn't want to be in Montreal, and the Canadiens would gladly part ways with him if a team was willing to hook up with Shea for the next 8 years.
5 EVANDER KANE (SAN JOSE SHARKS)
Wait... what? He just got traded! How could he already be unwanted by his new team? Call it a hunch. Kane has made a habit of rubbing his team and teammates the wrong way with his attitude and approach. He left Winnipeg on bad terms and did so again with Buffalo.
A free-agent at season's end, Kane's potential and skillset will entice many teams to bid for his services. However, I caution all teams interested in woo'ing him: Be careful giving someone with such a toxic reputation a long-term deal. Failing that, counter term with a reduced AAV. History shows his next team will quickly sour on the young star's off-ice lifestyle and personality.
4 MATS ZUCCARELLO (NEW YORK RANGERS)
The New York Rangers embraced the art of the rebuild so emphatically they sent out a notice to season ticket holders announcing their plans to 'blow it up' with an eye to the future. Captian Ryan McDonagh was dealt to Tampa Bay recently, along with JT Miller. Rick Nash was given a plane ticket to Boston. Yet Henrik Lundqvist and Mats Zuccarello remain part of the Rangers...for now.
Zuccarello's name began coming up in trade discussions a month or so ago as the Rangers plummeted further and further down the standings. He is an exceptional playmaker and passer, along with being a capable scorer – only one season with 20+ goals. As the Rangers rebuild continues into this off-season and further, expect Zuccarello – signed through 18-19 at $4.5M – to be dealt for picks and prospects some time in the off-season, or perhaps dealt as a rental next season.
3 DREW DOUGHTY (LOS ANGELES KINGS)
This time next season everyone will be theorizing over where Drew Doughty will choose to go in free-agency. He's commented on the impending decision in the past, something that has not gone over particularly well with Kings management. Since signing his current contract back in 2011-12, Doughty has logged 25 minutes per game almost every season – he falls six seconds short of the 25-minute mark in the first year of the deal.
Few defenseman in the NHL provide the sort of game breaker ability Doughty does – finishing top-10 in Norris voting each of the past five seasons. Will Los Angeles break the bank to retain their prized defenseman or will Doughty's outspoken approach to his upcoming free agency wind up costing him a chance to finish his career where it all started?
2 MAX PACIORETTY (MONTREAL CANADIENS)
Is there a worse job in hockey than the captain in Montreal? It's essentially a thankless job seeing as success is a mere expectation that often goes without praise – umm, it's your job to win. You want us to clap and cheer for you doing your job? But when times are tough, the Canadiens' captain is always the first to go down.
Max Pacioretty has enjoyed numerous years of goal-scoring prowess in Montreal. He's scored more than 99.9% of players entering the league the same year. This year, however, has been one to forget for the American, both for team and individual. In the midst of the Canadiens' collective tailspin, Pacioretty has been the one tasked with shouldering the blame. All this despite the likes of Alex Galchenyuk continuing to underperform, Shea Weber not being around, and even Carey Price playing very mediocre hockey. Widely expected to have been dealt at the deadline, expect him in a new uniform come the beginning of next season.
1 ERIK KARLSSON (OTTAWA SENATORS)
Erik Karlsson has been the measuring stick for the modern defenseman for quite some time. And yet, he appears on his way out of Ottawa who, like they've done before, have shown a total inability and unwillingness to do what it takes to retain the services of high priced superstars.
Owner Eugene Melnyk has never been one to hide his preference of staying a budget team. The franchise struggles to sell tickets, largely because their arena is day's drive from the downtown core – sarcasm people. It's far compared to other cities, ok. Even in their most recent playoff run, Ottawa failed to sellout games. Karlsson is having an off year, causing some to speculate he's still suffering from a foot injury that hampered him last year. Others are claiming he's ready for a change. There were rumours of him being moved at the deadline but nothing ever materialized. With a year remaining on a tram-friendly deal, it will be interesting to see if Ottawa does in fact move him.
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