What characteristics make up a useless hockey player? We can go by stats, potential, salary, draft order, or whether or not they "trip over the blue line." To me, it's a combination of all of the above plus, most importantly, their ability or lack there of, to impact a game.
We love players who hustle and hit and provide energy, even if their work doesn't fill the score sheet. There are also guys who fill a role, and their mere presence positively impacts the bench.
Then there are these guys. They are rarely scratched, they tease us with a streak or highlight real goal. They sign extensions, remind us of past heroes, and tempt us to believe they will find their game soon.
But reality always hits us back and slaps us hard. We see their game for what it is, and once we do, the pain and heartache begins. These are the players that when they take the ice we ask ourselves why, we hold our breath till they are back on the bench or there is a whistle. We ask ourselves what GMs saw or what were thinking, wonder how this player is still in the league, and cringe at their salary. Suffering, joy, and differences of opinion are what all fans share, so lets see if we share the same thoughts about these players.
15 Nathan MacKinnon
We should preface this by stressing that we're talking about players in the present moment. He makes the list because he was a #1 overall pick in 2012-13, and began his career with a solid rookie season. He scored 24 goals, was a +20, and a force on the power play. However, four years later, he is sitting with only 12 goals on a team that has some offensive firepower. His +/- and shooting percentage has sunk, and he's really only consistent in the face off circle. Furthermore, with good size, he plays a soft game. He's over 6 feet and 200 pounds, and in today's NHL he should be able to impose himself in both ends. Another cause for concern is the seven year extension he signed paying him over $6 million a season.
14 Ryan Nugent Hopkins
Ryan Nugent Hopkins is another #1 overall pick during the Oilers tanking process that hasn't amounted to much. He seems to have all the tools from speed to eyes in the back of his head, but his numbers have declined in almost every season and as he reaches his mid 20s you have to wonder what's wrong with his game. He's scored 20 plus goals once in six years. He's been a minus player four straight years, he's a non factor when the game is on the line or in overtime, and his shooting percentage is abysmal.
13 Gustav Nyquist
He put together back to back solid years from 2013-14 and 2014-15, with 27 and 28 goals respectively, but the player that once brought hope to Motown as a rising star, seems to have burned out. He's sitting with 7 goals and gone from a player who could replace a Datsyuk or Zetterberg to a 3rd or 4th line specialty player. Worse, his contract of just under $5 million hurts. His potential is tempting, he's an electrifying skater and has great vision, but you have to wonder about his guts and mental strength. Why else would such a skilled, talented player seem to fall apart when the veterans pass him the torch? The painful part for fans is being tempted with what could and should be.
12 Tomas Plekanec
11 Craig Smith
It's great to see a 4th round pick burst into the league and score 20 plus goals in his first three seasons. He seemed to be on the rise and his all guts American game excited everyone until the 2016 season. Then we ask, "what happened?" What happened to him being in the right spot at the right time, what happened to his vision and play making abilities, and what happened to this Madison, Wisconsin feel good story. Now, he sits with 9 goals and 17 points in 61 games and his ice time has decreased. He plays on a team with players like James Neal who should help him develop into a forward that is hard to play against.
10 Zdeno Chara
9 Drew Stafford
It's not going to happen. Buffalo prayed, the Jets tried, and now the B's think they can change this 31-year-old enigma. He's always been streaky, he's always showed promise, but he's also been injury plagued. It's always the injuries that hurt the most because with each new year comes the return 0f the stride, the snap shot from the circle, and the centering pass from the corner. Then November comes, and two weeks with the dreaded lower body injury turns into four. In February it returns, and then, year after year, a new team believes it will change.
8 Matt Read
Can you say Jody Hull with a less physical presence? Can you feel the pain? This un-drafted free agent burst onto the scene with two 20 goal campaigns and was on pace for a third in the lockout shortened 2012 season. Then, the dreaded contract extension to prevent any one else from taking the Flyers' undiscovered gem came. What followed was three seasons of 8, 11, and 7 goals. We see this all the time, where players in every sport come from nowhere, sent from the heavens like a gift, have their moment of glory, and then, it's over.
7 Josh Bailey
6 Steve Ott
When Patric Hornqvist can check a team's energy player into the boards you know there's a problem. At 34 years old and making less than $1 million, you have to temper your expectations, but he hasn't been relevant since 2012. In the past four years he's scored 0, 3, 0, and 3 goals. And did I mention Hornqvist took him to the boards? It's one advantage if he can add some sandpaper to a team or kill penalties, but he hasn't shown those skills in five years. At this point, the sand has rubbed off and all that remains is a creased, soft, useless piece of paper.
5 Eric Gudbranson
Sure, the 3rd pick in the 2010 draft has been plagued by injury, but the reality is this character player can't play defense in the NHL. He dominated the OHL and had the tools to become that big, physical defender to punish opposing forwards. He seemed like a future Derian Hatcher but he never developed. Who knows what could've been if he played in the AHL, but Florida rushed him along. His timing and speed never materialized and couldn't keep up with the play.
4 Dylan McIlrath
3 Robin Lehner
I love goalies, they have the toughest job in sports, but some are just, well, brutal. There's so much to like about Lehner. Heis "goalie crazy," fearless, and defends his cage and teammates like a wild animal. However, despite his enormous size and even bigger padding, he just isn't very good. He may be on the verge of his first winning season since 2012 when he went an impressive 5-3, he is still young, but in seven years he has only five shutouts. He is injured often, his temper gets him off his game instead of on it, and just when he seems to hit his stride, weak shots unexplainably sneak through his massive frame and pads. He'll probably float around for a few more years, but he'll be in the AHL.
2 Kari Lehtonen
1 Chris VandeVelde
I must preface this by writing that like all the players on this list, I am sure Chris is a wonderful human being. However, under no circumstances is he an NHL player, even if the NHL changes the rules to allow five offensive lines. In 259 career games he has 17 goals. Ah, but he's a 4th line energy guy who kills penalties! Not. His idea of a check is coasting into a player. He crashes the net by following up a shot 5 seconds too late. When his linemates are diving and kicking at lose pucks he'll watch from five feet away. In the defensive zone, he hovers for a break out pass that will never come, watch defensemen crash the net, and in the offensive zone, his cycling lasts less than 10 seconds. When he is on the ice, hit the concessions or take a bathroom break if you're a Flyer fan. Watching him will be the end of you. He needs the heart of a Sutter!
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