Heading into any NHL season, fans have a certain set of expectations for their favorite team. As the end of the season rapidly approaches, it’s fair to start asking: have these expectations been met? Surpassed? Or have guys fallen short of what was expected of them heading into 2016-17?
Today we take a look at each team and pick one player off each roster who has indeed failed to meet the expectations set out for them at the start of the year. Some of these players aren’t even on the active rosters today, and those players are the biggest disappointments of them all.
One thing you’ll also notice is that, on good teams (or, more specifically, on over-achieving teams) there are few let-downs to choose from, and in a few cases I had to settle on a player. On bad teams, or under-achieving teams, the options were vast and I was faced with the difficult task of narrowing it down to just one.
Lastly, keep in mind that these are all relative; this isn’t a list of the worst player on every team, but rather the player who has failed to meet his individual expectations most spectacularly. Interesting to note that eight out of the 30 teams are represented by goalies, which goes to show how hard they are to predict; also it might be a result of the massive amount of pressure that rests on the goalie position.
Here are the biggest disappointments for each NHL team so far in 2016-17:
30 Anaheim Ducks: Corey Perry
We’ll start the list off with Anaheim’s Corey Perry. Perry is still a damn good hockey player, and even if he maintains this level of play for the next few years he will be one of the top forwards on the Ducks, no question. However, we’re talking about a guy who was expected to be an all-star this season. Unfortunately, the former 50-goal scorer and Hart Trophy winner has just 11 goals so far.
He cracked the 30-goal plateau in each of his previous three seasons, and although his assist total for this year has already eclipsed that of the last two seasons, Perry is supposed to score goals and he isn’t doing that frequently enough. Anaheim was probably expecting another 30-or-so goals from Perry this year, and the fact that he’s scoring at about a 14 goal pace is problematic.
29 Arizona Coyotes: Anthony Duclair
Anthony Duclair enjoyed a fine rookie season in 2015-16, scoring 20 goals and 24 assists for 44 points. Not bad at all, and the Arizona Coyotes were really hoping he could take another step forward in 2016-17, and perhaps establish himself as a core member of the future Coyotes. Duclair has played 41 games with the ‘Yotes this season, and he has just nine points.
The reason he’s only seen action in 41 NHL games is because he’s spent some time on the farm playing with the Tucson Roadrunners. His numbers there aren’t anything special either, as he’s put up eight points in 15 games in Tucson. Call it a sophomore slump if you want, but this lack of production is probably starting to worry GM John Chayka and co.
28 Boston Bruins: Jimmy Hayes
In the 2015 offseason the Panthers sent Jimmy Hayes to the Bruins in exchange for Reilly Smith and what was left of Marc Savard’s contract. His first season with Boston (2015-16) was okay; he notched 29 points. They probably wanted a little more in the way of offense from him, but no big deal—there’s always next season to improve, right?
Nope. Hayes has been a major disappointment so far in 2016-17. In 47 games of work he’s managed to produce just five points, so at this stage it seems unlikely that he’ll even get to 10. Adding insult to injury is the fact that he’s a possession liability as well. According to the great analytics sit HockeyAnalysis.com, Hayes sits third-last on his team in CF%.
27 Buffalo Sabres: Tyler Ennis
For a few seasons there it looked like Tyler Ennis was going to be a key part of the future in Buffalo (and don’t get me started on Cody Hodgson). He put together a few solid campaigns, including a 49 point season in 2010-11 (a career high), and he reached 46 points as recently as 2014-15. He lost most of last year to injury, but there was reason to believe that Ennis could be counted on for some offense in 2016-17.
This has been anything but a banner year for the 27-year-old. He’s played 31 games and has contributed just nine points. Perhaps he’s fallen out of favor with head coach Dan Bylsma, as he only plays around 10 minutes a night these days. Whatever the case, Ennis has more or less removed himself from the Buffalo Sabres' future plans with his performance so far this season.
26 Calgary Flames: Sam Bennett
The Calgary Flames selected forward Sam Bennett 4th overall at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, and some scouts saw Bennett as a steal at 4th. With a sky-high offensive ceiling, the Flames supposedly grabbed a real cornerstone piece of the puzzle with this one. So far, 62 games into 2016-17, Bennett has disappointed the Calgary fan base, managing just 21 points.
He’s pacing to register less than 30 points this year, which would put him comfortably below the 36 he managed in his rookie campaign in 2015-16. His possession numbers aren’t anything special either, meaning it’s not just bad puck luck for Bennett and his minus-12 rating. The 20-year-old center still has a promising NHL career ahead of him, but 2016-17 has not gone as planned.
25 Carolina Hurricanes: Eddie Lack
Eddie Lack started his NHL career in Vancouver as Roberto Luongo’s backup, and he fared well in those small sample sizes. So well, in fact, that the Carolina Hurricanes acquired him with the hopes that he can split the no.1 goaltending duties with Cam Ward and, hopefully one day soon, take over as the go-to guy in Raleigh. The 2015-16 season (his first with the ‘Canes) was a disappointment, but surely he could bounce back in 2016-17!
Again, that’s not how it went down. This season has been even worse for Lack, who has battled injury and hasn’t been able to find his way into many games even when he is healthy. His numbers have been laughable to this point. In eight appearances, the Swedish netminder has a .883 save percentage and a 3.24 GAA. You’re not winning games in the NHL with numbers like that.
24 Chicago Blackhawks: Andrew Desjardins
Look, not every player is expected to put up a big amount of points, and Andrew Desjardins definitely fits that category. The 30-year-old center has registered just one assist so far this season, but we’re not going to hold that against him. It’s more the fact that he’s hemorrhaging shot attempts against while he’s on the ice.
He holds one of the worst CF% on the Blackhawks, and that is being reflected as well by his team worst minus-5 rating. Desjardins is just one example of a handful of players on the ‘Hawks roster that are your classic “fillers,” which is something the Blackhawks forced upon themselves thanks to the dual $10.5 million AAV contracts they signed Kane and Toews to a few summers ago. Expectations for Desjardins heading into 2016-17 were low as it was, but he’s failed to meet even those.
23 Colorado Avalanche: Semyon Varlamov
It doesn’t seem like too long ago that Semyon Varlamov was considered an elite goalie in the NHL. He had an incredible 2013-14 season, leading the Avalanche to a Central Division championship and finishing second place in Vezina voting behind Tuukka Rask. The Avs were so impressed with Varlamov that they signed him to a five-year extension in January of that season.
Varlamov’s performance dipped slightly in 2015-16, but not enough to raise major alarm bells. Plus, with Colorado being the young team that they are, there was no reason to think they wouldn’t be taking another step forward in 2016-17. We all know by now that things haven’t quite gone as planned in Colorado this season, and Varlamov’s .898 save percentage and 3.38 GAA are two of the biggest reasons for that.
22 Columbus Blue Jackets: Boone Jenner
When you have a team that has improved as much as the Columbus Blue Jackets have over the last two seasons, it’s difficult to find a major disappointment on the roster for 2016-17. So many of their players are having career years, so for the Jackets we had to go with Boone Jenner. The hulking center has only managed 12 goals and 23 points so far in 2016-17 after an impressive 2015-16 that saw him record 30 goals and 49 points.
Perhaps last season will represent career highs for Jenner, who is in his fourth NHL season. He’s tracking to finish with numbers similar to that of his rookie campaign, when he scored 16 goals and 29 points. Jenner’s shot metrics are reasonable, so at least he’s not a defensive liability out there, but the Jackets were surely hoping for more offense from the former 30-goal scorer.
21 Dallas Stars: Kari Lehtonen/Antti Niemi
I toggled back and forth between Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi as Dallas’ representative here, but in the end it wouldn’t be fair to pick just one or the other. They’ve been abysmal together, with almost identically crappy save percentages (.900 and .899, respectively). Niemi has a slightly better winning percentage, yet Lehtonen sports a slightly better GAA (which is admittedly more of a team stat anyway).
I’ve liked a lot of the things GM Jim Nill has done in Dallas since 2013, but his handling of the crease has been the one major blemish on his record. Neither Lehtonen nor Niemi come cheap, costing the club over $10M per season through next year. The situation in Dallas is proof that it’s difficult to win with a 1A/1B situation in today's NHL.
20 Detroit Red Wings: Petr Mrazek
Sure, selecting Petr Mrazek here makes it three of the last four teams represented by goalies, but that’s just the way it turned out. This was supposed to be the season that the Czech netminder took over the reins in Motor City, but he’s had a major setback in 2016-17. After recording 27 wins in 49 starts in 2015-16, Mrazek has won just 15 games in his 33 starts so far in 2016-17.
Mrazek had actually relinquished the starter’s role to veteran Jimmy Howard earlier this year, but an injury to Howard has forced the Wings hand to give the crease back to Mrazek for now. His numbers so far this year tell you all you need to know; his save percentage is .903, down from .921 last season; his GAA is 2.95, up from. 2.33; and finally his record is 15-16-6, after going 27-16-6 last season.
19 Edmonton Oilers: Benoit Pouliot
An injury to Benoit Pouliot in 2015-16 derailed what was tracking to be a spectacular year for the veteran forward. He still tied his career high of 36 points (first set in 2013-14 with the Rangers), but did so playing in 25 fewer games. Pouliot’s time as an Oiler prior to this season had actually been pretty good; he produced well in a short sample size playing with Connor McDavid last season, and has also enjoyed sporadic success playing on a line with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle.
This season has been a major bust for Pouliot, who has recorded just 10 points in 51 games thus far. Although he’s been out the last few weeks with an injury, he was a healthy scratch a few times prior to suffering the ailment that has kept him out. The Oilers could really use some secondary scoring, and Pouliot was supposed to help out with that.
18 Florida Panthers: Nick Bjugstad
Panthers sniper Nick Bjugstad, a 1st round pick from 2010, showed some promise early in his career. In 2014-15, on a Panthers team loaded with young talent, Bjugstad led the club with 24 goals in what was just his second season in the league. In his rookie season, he actually led the team in points (sure, it was 38, but still). Bjugstad was tracking to become a key part of the future in Florida. What happened?
The Panthers continued to add to their roster, and over the past few seasons it feels like Bjugstad has sort of faded out of the picture. The 2015-16 season represented a slight step back for the Minneapolis native, but his 2016-17 performance has caused legit worries. He’s put up just nine points in 34 games so far, and his Corsi rating is second last of the team’s forwards (minimum 300 minutes played).
17 Los Angeles Kings: Jeff Zatkoff
Another goalie you say? Surely Jonathan Quick’s game-one injury was the biggest disappointment in L.A. this season, but since injuries don’t really count for this list it is Jeff Zatkoff’s performance in Quick’s stead that takes the cake. Zatkoff was called upon to step in immediately, and he stumbled so badly that he may end up costing L.A. a playoff spot in the long run.
Whenever the Kings just needed a save, Zatkoff was never there. He’s only started eight games so far this year, and his numbers are borderline atrocious. Journeyman Petr Budaj thankfully exceeded expectations, keeping the Kings in the playoff race.
Zatkoff's record is 2-7-1, GAA 2.95, and a pathetic save percentage of .879. That save percentage number was considered pretty solid in 1982, but today it’s called ECHL goaltending.
16 Minnesota Wild: Zach Parise
The Minnesota Wild are amid their best season in franchise history. They're projected to win the Central Division, have depth at every position, and seemingly all the necessary pieces to win a Stanley Cup. Ergo, it was difficult to pick a disappointment from this well-rounded roster, but in the end we decided to go with veteran Zach Parise.
Parise still serves a purpose for sure, but his almost-$8M cap hit is going to become a problem long before it expires in 2025. With a handful of the Wild’s young players heading into their second or third contracts over the next two seasons, this will happen sooner rather than later. This season, Parise ranks 10th out of 13 forwards on the Wild in 5v5 points per 60, and 10th out of 13th as well in CF% (minimum 300 mins. played)
15 Montreal Canadiens: David Desharnais
David Desharnais has been the biggest disappointment in Montreal for a few seasons now, but this will finally be the last time we say that, as he was sent to Edmonton at the trade deadline for defenseman Brandon Davidson. Desharnais’ offensive numbers have been steadily falling down a cliff since 2014-15.
Desharnais had been unfairly cast as a first line center at times in Montreal, and while those days are gone, he’s still failed to contribute at an acceptable level in 2016-17. His numbers across the board are bad or worse; his boxcars of 4-6-10 in 31 games represents the lowest points per game average of his career, and his CF% is among the worst on Montreal, as are his 5v5 points per 60 rates.
14 Nashville Predators: Craig Smith
For a team that underachieved for pretty much the entire first half of 2016-17, I had a hell of a time finding a major disappointment. Most of the players who you could have considered disappointments six weeks ago have completely turned things around (I’m looking at you, Filip Forsberg). I decided to go with veteran Craig Smith here.
For three straight seasons prior to this one, Smith quietly put up some solid numbers in Nashville. He’d scored 24, 23, and 21 goals in those three years, and notched point totals ranging from 37 to 52. So far in 2016-17, he’s managed just nine goals and 17 points, meaning he’s tracking to post the worst numbers of his career (aside from his 44 game rookie season). Oh, and his possession stats are rather lackluster too. The Preds expected more.
13 New Jersey Devils: Mike Cammalleri
An injury derailed what was somewhat of a resurgence party for Mike Cammalleri in 2015-16. Before going down for the season he’d posted 38 points in 42 games, so needless to say the expectations of a strong season from Cammalleri in 2016-17 were high. How has it worked out? Well, Cammalleri was a healthy scratch for the first time in his career a few weeks ago.
Cammalleri got off to a somewhat decent start, but he his offense has all but disappeared. That’s tough for a club that has few other options when it comes to sources for goals. There’s Taylor Hall, Kyle Palmieri, and Travis Zajac carrying the load right now, but if the Devils want to make a late playoff push they’re going to need Cammalleri to wake up. Like, now.
12 New York Islanders: Jaroslav Halak
Thanks in large part to that extra year tacked onto Jaroslav Halak’s contract in New York, the Islanders were unable to deal the Slovakian netminder at this year's deadline. He was penciled in as the Islanders starter at the onset of the season, but he’s seriously struggled to the point of spending a sizable portion of the year so far with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in the AHL.
Halak has always held a save percentage that hovered near or above the league average, but not in 2016-17. Halak has just six wins in his 21 appearances so far, and his save percentage in those games is a paltry .904. That is down considerably from his career average of .916. He’s showed very well in his AHL stint mind you, so perhaps the Isles will be able to find a dance partner for a Halak trade this offseason.
11 New York Rangers: Dan Girardi
Dan Girardi has almost become the elephant in the room in New York. The Rangers are a strong team again this year, so there hasn’t been a huge need to pile on Girardi so far in 2016-17, but he has definitely been a disappointment. For a guy who is supposed to be a strong defender, his CF% of 44.6 represents the second-worst figure on the team.
It was only a few years ago that Girardi was a huge minute-muncher for the Rangers, but these days it’s pretty rare that he plays 20 minutes in any given game. He’s currently injured and not playing but when he is in the lineup he is usually on the third pairing. It’s possible he’s fallen out of favor with head coach Alain Vigneault, or perhaps he’s just running out of gas.
10 Ottawa Senators: Curtis Lazar
Curtis Lazar was considered a top-shelf prospect a few seasons ago, but his inability to become a regular producer in Ottawa caused concern in the capital of Canada. He was finally dealt to the Calgary Flames at the trade deadline after registering just one assist in his 33 games played so far in 2016-17.
To be fair to Lazar here, he did get mono prior to the start of the season, and that was a nasty illness that put him out of commission for a few months. This was supposed to be the year Lazar took that next step to becoming a top six forward, but there has been little to no indication that he’s even close to that. Perhaps he’ll have a better opportunity in Calgary, but it’s safe to say that the Senators were hoping for a better year from the former Edmonton Oil King.
9 Philadelphia Flyers: Shayne Gostisbehere
The sophomore slump is a real thing, and it’s hit Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere pretty hard this year. The one they call Ghost Bear has been a healthy scratch six times this season, with head coach Dave Hakstol pointing to his defensive deficiencies as the primary reason. It’s still interesting that he’d do this, as Gostisbehere is easily the best offensive option from the backend in Philly.
Gostisbehere has slowly shown more signs of life as the season has progressed. While it’s unlikely he’ll get anywhere close to the 46 points he potted in his rookie season, he is still young and could plausibly turn things around next year and return to his 2015-16 form. However, most Flyers fans probably had Gostisbehere penciled in for 55-60 points this season, and that's obviously not happening.
8 Pittsburgh Penguins: Olli Maatta
I spared goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and decided to go with fourth year pro Olli Maatta. Maatta was a 1st round pick in the 2012 draft, and quickly made the jump to the NHL in 2013. After a promising rookie season that saw the Finnish defender put up 29 points in 79 games, Maatta has struggled ever since. These days, he often finds himself watching from the press box with a clean bill of health.
After injuries derailed his sophomore year in 2014-15, he showed decently well in 2015-16. He still wasn’t as good as he was in his freshman year, but there was reason to believe his development was back on track. Unfortunately for the Penguins, 2016-17 has shown little signs of progression from Maatta, and the fact that he’s above just Trevor Daley in CF% of all regular Pens' defensemen attests to that.
7 San Jose Sharks: Mikkel Boedker
Mikkel Boedker was the Sharks’ big free agent signing last year, and he hasn’t performed to a level that the team had hoped he would. It’s not like they expected the guy to light the world on fire, but I’m sure they hoped the 27-year-old Dane would have at least produced somewhere near his career average of just under 0.5 points per game.
Unfortunately, Boedker hasn’t done that, as he’s notched just 20 points in his 61 games so far. From an analytical standpoint he has been even worse, as there is only one other forward on the club (Micheal Haley) with worse shot metrics (minimum 100 minutes played). Add it all up and you can bet the Sharks are pretty bummed that they have to pay him $4M per season for three more beyond the present.
6 St. Louis Blues: Jake Allen
Last season, the Blues rode the aging Brian Elliott to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2001. Elliott’s contract expired at the end of the year and they chose to let the veteran walk and hand the crease over to Jake Allen. Allen had shown he’s capable of sharing the starter’s role, and the Blues’ brass decided that he was ready for full-time duty.
He’s managed to bounce back a little bit since the firing of Ken Hitchcock (a coincidence, probably), but taken as a whole his numbers have suffered dearly this season. After hovering around the .920 mark for the better part of his career, Allen’s save percentage has dropped to .905 in 2016-17. He’ll need to be strong the rest of the way to secure a playoff spot for the Blues, as the Kings are nipping at their heels.
5 Tampa Bay Lightning: Ryan Callahan
I really like the way Steve Yzerman has dealt with problem contracts in the recent past, with the most immediate example being the Valtteri Filppula trade that sent him to Philadelphia. While that does solve a major expansion issue for Tampa, the elephant that remains in the room goes by the name of Ryan Callahan. Callahan’s been a disappointment for the second straight season in 2016-17, and he has a bad contract coupled with a no-move clause, meaning he must be protected in the expansion draft.
When he arrived in Tampa, Callahan’s game still had some offensive punch to it. His first year in Tampa went very well, as he posted 54 points, tying a career high. His offense took a nose-dive in 2015-16 however, as his point total dropped to 28. Callahan has been limited to just 18 games thus far in 2016-17, and in those 18 games he’s put up just four points and has the worst CF% of all skaters who’ve played more than 200 minutes for the Lightning. That may be it for the former Rangers captain in the NHL.
4 Toronto Maple Leafs: Milan Michalek
It’s not that the Maple Leafs had huge hopes for veteran Milan Michalek at the outset of the season. They basically thought they might have a solid veteran who can help out with 10-15 goals or so, and perhaps even fetch them a draft pick or two as a rental at the trade deadline. Sure, he had a rough 2015-16, but those expectations are low enough that I think they were fair.
In reality, Michalek is no longer able to keep his head above water at the NHL level. The five-time 20 goal scorer has seemingly hit that wall of regression, and has shown no signs of stopping it. He’s played 16 games with the Marlies this season and has only put up five points in those efforts. I think it’s safe to say that the end of Michalek’s NHL career is nigh, if it hasn’t already arrived.
3 Vancouver Canucks: Loui Eriksson
The biggest UFA splash the Canucks made in the 2016 offseason was when they signed Swede Loui Eriksson to a six-year contract that came with an annual cap hit of $6M. At the time this seemed like a reasonable bet; he was fresh off a 63 point season, his best production since 2011-12, and he was praised in Boston for his responsible two-way play.
Since arriving in Vancouver, Eriksson has been a major let down. Despite showing well in his shot metrics (Eriksson has almost always been a positive possession player), his offense has gone the way of the Gobi. He’s managed just 11 goals and 11 assists so far, and needless to say he was unable to discover the magic with the Sedin brothers that the Canucks brass was surely hoping for when they signed him last July.
2 Washington Capitals: Taylor Chorney
Washington was perhaps the most difficult team to find a disappointment on, because they’re darn good. They’re poised to win their second consecutive Presidents' Trophy as the team with the best regular season record, and the recent addition of rental Kevin Shattenkirk means they now have all the necessary pieces to win a Stanley Cup.
So, perhaps a little unfairly, I’m giving the title as “biggest disappointment” to 7th defenseman Taylor Chorney. It’s tough for a 7th defenseman to disappoint, as they don’t even dress for most games (especially for a team that’s as healthy as Washington has been) and expectations are low as it is. Still though, whenever Chorney is in the lineup, he’s the worst Capital by a distance, whether you're a believer in shot metrics, eye tests or both.
1 Winnipeg Jets: Goalies (all of them)
The Winnipeg Jets have had not one, not two, but THREE goalies disappoint them so far in 2016-17. It all started before the season began when the Jets decided to waive mainstay Ondrej Pavelec (not pictured) in favor of the Connor Hellybuyck/Michael Hutchinson tandem (pictured). That tandem faltered all season long to the point of the Jets eventually recalling Pavelec, which didn’t go well—again.
Indeed the Jets have one of the better offenses in the league if you ask me (they're 10th in GF/game), and their defensive depth is adequate as well. If they could only get a save here and there they’d almost certainly be a playoff team. Alas, it looks as though they’re destined to miss the dance once again this season thanks to shoddy goaltending. As a trio, they’ve put up an abysmal save percentage of .901. Woof.