With more than 600 players applying their trade in the NHL, there’s bound to be a couple of dozen of them who aren’t living up to expectations and/or their paychecks. It’s always been that way and it’s a part of the game that’s never going to change. It’s difficult to label rookies as disappointing as well as role players who are paid the league minimum or only see four or five minutes of ice time each night. However, everybody else is open game.
Most players who are labeled as underachievers are categorized that way because they’ve already proven they can play at a high level in today’s NHL, but for one reason or another reason are struggling so far in the 2014-15 campaign. That’s not to say that they won’t be able to turn things around, but they’re going to need to have excellent seasons the rest of the way to do so.
There are a couple of exceptions, but the majority of players on this top 10 list are mostly veterans and former first-round draft picks who have enjoyed better-than-average careers up to now. Basically, they’re good hockey players who are simply going through a bad season. When compiling the list we took certain factors into consideration such as the player’s ice time, salary and previous contributions to their teams prior to this year.
10. Jake Gardiner, Toronto Maple Leafs
Jake Gardiner isn’t the first NHL player to see his game go south after his contract went north and he won’t be the last. The Minnetonka, Minnesota-born defenceman was arguably the Leafs’ best player during the second half of last season and finished the campaign as the club’s top-scoring blue liner in goals with 10. He also added 21 assists and was a minus-3. The 17th-overall pick in the 2008 draft was rewarded for his efforts with a new five-year, $20 million deal, but the 24-year-old has struggled since signing it. Gardiner was benched for a couple of games early in the season for his indifferent play, but is slowly starting to pick up his game. His two goals and six assists over the first third of the season are definitely disappointing as is his minus-9 rating, but his lack of defensive-zone coverage is causing the most concern. Gardiner has all the physical tools needed to be a top pairing NHL defenceman, but has been inconsistent as well as unlucky so far in 2014-15.
9. Ben Scrivens, Edmonton Oilers
It’s not easy criticizing goaltender Ben Scrivens considering the team he’s got in front of him. Having said that, let’s do it anyway. The Oilers are remarkably bad even though they’ve stocked up on high draft choices in recent years. They’re sitting at the bottom of the 30-team league with Carolina and just snapped an 11-game losing streak. Still, Scrivens had a .915 SV% with the Maple Leafs in 2012-13 and improved it to .931 with the Kings last year to along with a 1.97 GAA average and three shutouts before being traded. The Oilers thought their goaltending problems were solved when they acquired the 28-year-old and signed him to a new deal at $2.3 million per year after posting a .916 SV% with them in 21 games. However, the wheels have fallen off this term with Scrivens having a SV% of just .886 so far this season along with five wins and a 3.32 GAA.
8. Steve Ott, St. Louis Blues
A $2.6 million NHL salary might not seem like much these days, but it is when you’re not getting any goals in return. That’s the case with veteran center Steve Ott of the St. Louis Blues. The 32-year-old native of Summerside, PEI is still goalless in the 2014-15 season after appearing in 26 games. He has chipped in with five assists though and is minus-1. Dallas drafted Ott 25th overall in 2000 and he’s well known around the league for his leadership. His career high in goals is 19 and his best point total was 46, both coming back in 2008-09 with Dallas. Perhaps the Blues shouldn’t have expected much from Ott this season considering how he played after acquiring him from Buffalo late last year. Ott finished last campaign with no goals and three assists in 23 games with the team and was a minus-12. He’s now played a 50 games with the Blues and has yet to score.
7. Manny Malhotra, Montreal Canadiens
Manny Malhotra was picked up by the Canadiens for his defensive abilities and faceoff skills, but they also figured the 34-year-old center would be able to chip in with a few points here and there. That hasn’t been the case though as Malhotra’s gone the entire season so far without a single point to his name. The seventh-overall pick in 1998 had his lowest-scoring full season ever last year with just 13 points for the Carolina Hurricanes, but that’s a windfall compared to this campaign. With no points in 30 games, Malhotra hasn’t been able to finish chances. He’s making just $850,000 and averages over 11 minutes of ice time per game, but he needs to contribute on the score sheet sooner or later. His saving grace is his 61.8% success rate in the faceoff circle.
6. Rene Bourque, Anaheim Ducks
The 32-year-old Rene Bourque is another veteran player who’s having a sub-par season. In fact he’s been disappointing for two different teams so far in 2014-15. Bourque, who has scored 20 or more goals three times in his career with his high mark being 27, has been a bust in both Montreal and Anaheim. The Habs expected a big season from Bourque after he racked up eight goals and three assists in the playoffs last year, but he managed just two assists in 13 games before being placed on waivers.
He cleared them and was sent down to the Hamilton Bulldogs of the AHL. After four games in Hamilton, in which he scored two goals and two assists, the Ducks picked up his $3.3 million salary by trading Bryan Allen for him. Things haven’t worked out on the west coast either though as Bourque has managed just a goal and assist in eight contests and is a combined minus-11 on the season. His lone goal of the season didn’t come until Dec. 7th.
5. Ales Hemsky, Dallas Stars
Hemsky is making $4 million for the next three years, but hasn’t exactly earned his paycheck so far this season. The 31-year-old right winger who hails from the Czech Republic has just a pair of goals to go along with five assists for the Stars after 25 games and is a minus-12. Hemsky didn’t exactly raise the roof last season either has he scored a combined 13 goals and 30 assists with Edmonton and Ottawa. Six of his seven points have come at home and he’s on pace for a lowly 22-point season. Hemsky was taken 13th overall by Edmonton in the 2001 draft and has posted some decent numbers during his career. He’s hit the 20-goal plateau just twice, but had 501 points in his first 697 regular-season games.
4. Cody Hodgson, Buffalo Sabres
The Sabres are struggling again this season and one of the reasons has been the poor play of 24-year-old center Cody Hodgson. The future looked bright for the Toronto native when Vancouver selected him 10th overall in the 2008 draft, but he was shipped to Buffalo in 2011-12 after failing to live up to expectations. Hodgson scored 42 points in his first 68 games with the Sabres and then posted another 20 goals and 24 assists last season as he seemed to be on the right track. He’s fallen off the rails in 2014-15 though with just a goal and two assists in his first 28 games along with a minus-11 rating. He hasn’t scored since October 25, even though he’s averaging over 14 minutes of ice time per game and is making $4.25 million per season up until the end of 2018-19.
3. Olli Jokinen, Nashville Predators
Olli Jokinen was signed for one year at $2.5 million and the Predators might have thought they were getting a decent-scoring veteran center for their money. They were wrong. The 36-year-old Finnish center has enjoyed some pretty good scoring campaigns in the past, but has a single goal in 2014-15 after 26 games. His one and only point came back on November 20 and he hasn’t earned an assist since April of last season. Jokinen’s getting enough chances to add to his dismal totals since he’s hitting the ice for more than 14 minutes per game on average. If there is an upside to his season it’s the fact he’s just minus-1. The Kings drafted Jokinen third overall in 1997 and he’s managed to rack up over 740 points in 1,195 career regular-season tilts. We know he has talent. He’s just not showing it this year, which is a bit of a surprise since he scored 43 points with Winnipeg last season and had 61 points with Calgary in 2011-12.
2. R.J. Umberger, Philadelphia Flyers
Centre R.J. Umberger is the Flyers’ second-highest paid forward at $4.6 million per season, but he’s just 15th when it comes to team scoring with two goals and two assists for four points in 26 games. Just two Flyers with a minimum of 20 games have fewer points than Umberger. This wasn’t what the club had in mind when they reacquired the 32-year-old Pittsburgh native from Columbus for Scott Hartnell. Umberger’s not living up to his billing defensively either as he’s a minus-10.
He was taken 16th overall by Vancouver in the 2001 draft, but never played a game with them. He broke into the league with Philadelphia in 2005-06 and scored 20 goals in his rookie season. He added another 29 goals and 78 points over the next two years before heading to the Blue Jackets. Umberger had four straight 20-plus goal seasons in Columbus before the shortened 2012-13 season and then bounced back with 18 last year. He’s on pace for six goals and six assists this campaign as well as a mark of minus-31.
1. Alexander Semin, Carolina Hurricanes
Russian right winger Alexander Semin didn’t score his first and only goal of the season until December 4. In addition, he hasn’t picked up an assist in the last month either. This puts the 30-year-old on pace for a three-goal, 22-point campaign in 2014-15. The problem is he’s making $7 million a year and is under contract until the end of the 2017-18 term. Semin was drafted 13th overall by Washington in 2002 and has proven he can play the game at a high level when he’s motivated, such as in contract seasons. He averages just over 16 minutes of playing time per game, because let’s face it, who else do the Hurricanes have? This is a guy who reached the 500-point plateau in 598 regular-season appearances, but only seems to show up when he feels like it this season. His lone goal, five assists and minus-9 rating attest to that.
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