Winning an NHL award really is quite an accomplishment. Simply put, you have to beat out an entire league’s worth of incredibly talented hockey players in order to get your name etched into any piece of NHL hardware.
Since you obviously need to be very good at hockey in order to win an NHL award, it’s pretty rare that a player (or team) follows up an award-winning season with a dud. Today’s list, however, will shine a light on just that: the top-15 most disappointing follow-ups to award-winning seasons.
The parity is so tight in the NHL that a team or player could easily find themselves drifting to the middle of the pack in a hurry. Whether it's due to an injury, a player losing some linemates, a coaching change, etc... teams and players could see everything going wrong for them just one year after everything went right.
Sometimes the enormous drop off then has teams overreacting to the change. A player who had just been signed to a long-term contract extension might soon find themselves on the trade market. A team that falls in the standings might quickly find themselves looking to replace their coach and/or general manager.
Most of the players on this list were still serviceable NHL players in their follow-up seasons, but when you go from “best of the best” to “middle of the pack,” that’s obviously disappointing for both player and team.
Several teams also appear on this list, because a lackluster follow-up as a team is more disappointing for a fan base than a disappointing individual follow-up performance. With that in mind, check out the top-15 most disappointing follow-ups to award-winning seasons, starting with last season’s Boston Bruins:
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14 Boston Bruins - 2014-15
Defending: President’s Trophy
The President’s Trophy is handed out annually to the team with the best regular season record. The Boston Bruins won it in 2013-14, and followed it up by missing the playoffs the very next season (2014-15).
This has happened only twice in the history of the award, with last season’s Bruins being the most recent. The Sabres missed in 2007-08 after winning it in 2006-07.
The disappointing season resulted in some significant changes in Boston, including the firing of GM Peter Chiarelli, as well as the team trading fan favorite Milan Lucic and promising young defenceman Dougie Hamilton.
13 Thomas Vanek - 2007-08
Defending: Plus-Minus Award
The last time the NHL handed out the Plus-Minus Award was 2008, which makes sense because the idea of an award for having the league’s best plus-minus is sort of dumb (it’s largely a team stat). Nonetheless, sniper Thomas Vanek won the honor in 2006-07 with a plus-47 rating.
The following season, the Sabres regressed as a team, and Vanek’s plus/minus rating went with it. He finished 2007-08 with a minus-5 rating.
13. Corey Perry - 2011-12
Defending: Hart Trophy, Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy
It’s not that Corey Perry was a bad hockey player in 2011-12, the year after he won the Hart Trophy as the league MVP. It’s just that he wasn’t even the most valuable player on his team that year, let alone the league.
Perry’s point total dropped from 98 in 2010-11 to 60 in 2011-12, and he was outscored by Teemu Selanne, who was 41 years old at the time.
12 Jonathan Cheechoo, 2006-07
Defending: Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy
Jonathan Cheechoo broke onto the scene in 2005-06. He was the greatest beneficiary of the Sharks’ mid-season acquisition of Joe Thornton. He ended up scoring 56 goals that season, edging out Jaromir Jagr for the Rocket Richard Trophy.
The following season began his swift regression to an NHL afterthought. He still managed to pot 37 goals in 2006-07, but that was a major disappointment for hockey fans in the Bay Area, who were expecting more of the same magic. Cheechoo would be out of the NHL just four years later.
11 Nathan MacKinnon - 2014-15
Defending: Calder Trophy
Nathan MacKinnon suffered from the dreaded sophomore slump in 2014-15, the year after he took home the Calder as the league’s top rookie. He scored an impressive 24 goals and 63 points as a fresh-faced 18-year-old in 2013-14; those totals dropped to 14 and 38, respectively.
The good news for Avs fans is that it looks like MacKinnon is back to his rookie form, already approaching last season's totals.
10 Tyler Myers - 2010-11
Defending: Calder Trophy
Defensemen are tough to evaluate when they’re young, and they hardly ever develop in a straight line. Tyler Myers had an amazing rookie year in 2009-10, recording 48 points from the Buffalo blue line.
Myers regressed substantially the very next year, both from an offensive standpoint as well as a defensive one. He’s a solid NHL defender in Winnipeg today, but he’s never come close to matching his rookie season’s numbers.
9 Edmonton Oilers - 2006-07
Defending: Clarence S. Campbell Bowl
The Edmonton Oilers won the Western Conference in 2005-06 by defeating the Anaheim Ducks 4-1 in the Conference Finals. Many teams have won this award and then missed the playoffs the next season, but none dropped as low as the 2006-07 Oilers did.
The Oilers didn’t even compete for the playoffs, finishing 25th overall with a 32-43-7 record. It’s tough not to blame Chris Pronger for the lion’s share of that regression.
8 J.S. Giguere - 2003-04
Defending: Conn Smythe
The performance J.S. Giguere put on in the 2003 playoffs was one of the best postseason performances by a goaltender in NHL history. Although his Mighty Ducks came up one game shy of the title, Jiggy was still awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP.
Because of this remarkable showing, expectations were high for Giguere heading into 2003-04. Unfortunately, he won just 17 of the 55 games he played, and Anaheim missed the playoffs.
7 Carolina Hurricanes - 2006-07
Defending: Stanley Cup
2006-07 was a remarkable season, in that it was the first time in NHL history that both the Stanley Cup champion team and the finalist from the previous season failed to qualify for the playoffs.
The Hurricanes didn’t miss by much, as they had a respectable record of 40-34-8 by season’s end. But, they still missed and in the process, made history along with the Oilers.
6 Toronto Maple Leafs - 1967-68
Defending: Stanley Cup
In 1967, the Toronto Maple Leafs hoisted Lord Stanley’s Cup, and they haven’t done it since. The following year saw the league expand from six teams to 12, with one division made up of the Original Six franchises, the other comprised of the expansion teams.
The defending champion Leafs failed to qualify for the playoffs in 1967-68, which was perhaps the hockey gods simply preparing Leafs fans for a half-century of disappointment.
5 Los Angeles Kings - 2014-15
Defending: Stanley Cup
The L.A. Kings are dominating the Pacific Division so far in 2015-16, but 2014-15 was a major disappointment for the Kings. After winning their second cup in three years in 2014, the Kings struggled in 2014-15 and failed to qualify for the playoffs, even in a weak division.
Perhaps it was fatigue setting in for L.A., as they had played 64 playoff games between 2011-12 and 2013-14.
4 Tuukka Rask - 2014-15
Defending: Vezina Trophy
Being a goaltender in the NHL is one of the more difficult jobs in the league, so it’s no real surprise that sometimes a defending Vezina Trophy winner will regress. Tuukka Rask took home the award for his work in 2013-14, but his follow-up season was lackluster.
His team, the defending President’s Trophy winning Boston Bruins, failed to qualify for the playoffs, at least partially due to Rask’s substantial save percentage and GAA drop.
3 Jose Theodore - 2002-03
Defending: Hart Trophy, Vezina Trophy
Montreal has a history of having great goaltending, and in 2001-02 Jose Theordore put up some amazing numbers. With a .931 save percentage and a 2.11 GAA, Theodore was awarded with both the Vezina and the Hart Trophy.
The next season, Theodore’s numbers took a nose dive. He finished 2002-03 with just a .909 save percentage and a 2.90 GAA. He registered only 20 wins. As a result, a mediocre Habs team that had made the playoffs with Theodore playing MVP caliber hockey, missed the playoffs. Coach Michel Therrien was fired and GM Andre Savard stepped down at the end of the season.
2 Patrick Roy - 2014-15
Defending: Jack Adams Award
The analytics crowd will claim they saw this regression coming, but even they would agree that it wasn’t going to be so drastic. In Patrick’s Roy’s first year behind the Avs’ bench (2013-14), he led them to a 52-22-8 record, winning the Central Division. Roy, rightfully so, was given the Jack Adams for coach of the year.
The next season, the Avs’ record was 39-31-12, and the Avalanche finished last place in the Central.
1 Jim Carey - 1996-97
Defending: Vezina Trophy
Goalies are impossible to forecast, but after the season Jim Carey had with the Capitals in 1995-96, most agreed that he had a bright future in the NHL. He won the Vezina by posting nine shutouts and 35 wins.
His follow-up was disappointing to say the least, as his save percentage dropped to .893. Carey never really rebounded after his disappointing follow-up, and he retired at the end of the 1998-99 season; quite a swift fall from grace.
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