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.
This is not the type of contract a team with so many holes can ride out, and perhaps he should be shopped instead of Duchesne and Landeskog, although the latter seems to have also peaked too early as well. MacKinnon is in a tough spot and is regressing. He's only 21, but something has to change before he becomes the next Patrick Stefan.
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.
We've seen him cruise through the neutral zone, split the D, or accelerate around them and bury an aggressive, power forward like goal. But then he disappears for long stretches of time and his stats suffer and teams suffer. He isn't a good two-way player and hasn't shown he's any better than a 3rd line center. With 13 goals this year and playing on a team with sure fire power, he should be a 20 goal scorer at this point.
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.
Soon, he'll be counted on as a "show me" player, and that seems like a long shot. His frustration also appears to be getting the best of him with his careless, vicious stick swinging incident against Jared Spurgeon.
12 Tomas Plekanec
There seems like there are teams and players that fall helplessly in love with each other and will do anything to stay together. Here, you have the Les Habitants squandering $5 million a year for Les Miserables. And this is where every GM has to hold the double edged sword and ask if they should reward the player for their past or look into the future. It seems his career has fit the pattern of alternating, up and down seasons, but he's always been a threat somewhere on the ice and on special teams. He's always been a consummate pro and contributor. Whenever you saw him on the ice, something could happen. But as they say "he's long in the tooth." He has only 7 goals, his special teams production has fallen the last two years, and worst of all, his speed and quickness is notably slower. His future production, salary, and age aren't something Le Bleu-Blanc-Rouge can really look forward too.
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.
The Predators can move the puck, skate, and has offense to spare both up front and on the back end. He should be killing it on the 2nd power play unit, so what's happened to him? Instead of driving to the net he's forced outside, instead of playing in front of the net he's off to the side, and unless he recaptures that attacking attitude he's on the verge of fading away.
10 Zdeno Chara
When one of the most dominant defensive players starts to look like Mike Rathje, there are problems. When a player who brought the Boston Bruins back from the dead can no longer keep up with the speed of the game, there are problems. When he shies away from blocking shots, it all adds up to his brain telling him to retire. That's why he is no longer one of the best, and is now one of the worst. His feet are slow, his hamstrings cry with each stride, he can't get off that once laser of a shot, and he can no longer physically impact a game. Watching him now is painful, he's restricting development of younger players, and his contract will bight the team soon enough. Tyson lost, Hopkins lost, no one beats father time.
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.
Now, with 4 goals in 40 games for an offensively balanced Winnipeg team (before the trade), he won't be more productive than an average AHL veteran. His hands and feet have aged and he's a prime example of a player that leads fans to believe he's going to come around, and that his next team will prove to be his big break, but it won't happen.
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.
He can't score at any point in a game and doesn't even see overtime minutes. His wrist shot from 10 feet out has disappeared, he doesn't check, and he can't kill penalties anymore. He's a prime example of a player who capitalized on his early success and has left fans crying to the heavens to take him back.
7 Josh Bailey
Poor guy. So Garth Snow traded down in the 2008 draft, from 5th to 7th to 9th to select a forward that plays smaller than his size, is under skilled, and flat out overmatched. In 9 seasons, this first rounder never scored more than 16 goals, is a minus 29 for his career, and has an all time shooting percentage of 11.1. Ouch. But of course it gets worse. He's had chances to play with Tavares and failed miserably. He actually has decent size, but he plays a soft game. He doesn't block shots, has a history of being far below average in faceoffs, and for the past two years has more giveaways than takeaways. Furthermore, for the past two seasons he has more giveaways than hits. So when Bailey hits the ice and Isles fans look to the skies, it's not only because they don't want to see what happens next, but to wish Garth Snow had only taken Erik Karlsson instead.
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.
You have to wonder why he's still in the league when there are better and younger versions of him on every AHL team. You also have to wonder when he will start acting in beer commercials with Steve Avery and Matt Barnaby. Retire, we can't take it anymore!
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.
Now, he's in Vancouver and injured. He can force a whistle behind the net, create scrums that kill time, and he can crosscheck guys in front of the net. He's a great character guy, some team will give him another chance, but defensively and offensively, the AHL is awaiting.
4 Dylan McIlrath
Leave it to the Rangers to pick him at 10th overall in 2010. Maybe they saw another Jeff Beukeboom in this giant defender, but they picked a giant disappointment who can't play a 2-on-1, a 3-on-2, a 3-on-3, a 4-on-4, or a 5-on-5. He must have the slowest feet in the NHL, he can fight but can't hit, he's now on his 3rd NHL team and 3rd AHL team as well. In his 5 year career he's played 43 games and was given a real shot by the Rangers. He is the perfect example of why some fans think they can run a professional franchise. There is some good news though. First, management spared their fans by cutting their losses. Second, he'll add some fun to the games in Grand Rapids. And third, he'll add to the debate if he was a worse first round pick by the Rangers than Pavel Brendl.
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
Kari "Let-one-in" has got to be the worst goalie in the NHL. And for anyone who has ever played goalie, even on a video game, watching him is painful. If he doesn't let in 3 goals on the first 8 shots, he'll enter the 3rd period with a 3-0 lead and give up 4 goals. He overpursues the puck while moving east to west, his butterfly is too premature and too low, and he's scared of the puck. A goalie who is scared of the puck! Sure, he can read a cross ice pass and take it in the crest, but if he needs to fight for a save, forget it. He's the starting goalie for the most underachieving team in the NHL, and one that has a great offense and decent defense. He just can't defend the net, and every shot is a possible goal. And to think he gets paid $6 million a year! Bring back Eddie Belfour, Ron Tugnutt, and heck, even Manny Fernandez!
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!