Spring is around the corner, and for a select 16 teams that could only mean one thing; the end of an 82-game long season to pursue another glorious 16 wins that will lead to the hoisting of the Stanley Cup. Playoff hockey is the land of upsets, Cinderella stories, grittiness, and the best hockey you’ve ever seen. It is a very exciting time for players old and new in the NHL.
But for the 14 NHL teams at the wrong end of the standings, it is a time of what could have been, of rebuilding, of conditioning, and of wondering how some star players would perform had they the chance to play some playoff hockey. Some players have gotten stuck on bad teams for the majority of their careers, such as Shane Doan and Ryan Smyth for many years in Edmonton. Heck, many quality players coming into this year were stuck on bad teams, such as Antoine Vermette, Andrej Sekera, Jeff Petry and Keith Yandle, but they were spared close to the deadline by being traded to a playoff team, or one that's in contention.
Now, this isn’t to say that all the NHL teams that didn’t secure a playoff position suck. To the contrary, most of these teams were fighting for a playoff berth until the end. But there are few teams that continue struggle, despite the good players and leaders on their team. Here are the top 15 NHL players on teams that suck. For this list, we're taking into account the caliber of the player, the state of their team in the standings this year and considering their track record in recent years.
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15 Jeff Skinner
At just 18 years old, Jeff Skinner came into this league with a hot hand, tallying 31 goals and 63 points in a full 82 game season. How many 18-year-olds do you know that can boast that feat? After a season like that expectations were bound to be high for the talented 7th overall pick. However, the going since that season has been more difficult than expected, and although he’s posting decent numbers for a 22-year-old, it doesn’t seem like the young Skinner has hit his stride just yet. It doesn’t help that he plays with the Carolina Hurricanes, a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since their run to the conference final in the 2008-09 season. Still, the Canes have seen better seasons, and with some new young players in the lineup and a fired up Skinner, there’s no telling what they’ll achieve next year.
14 James Van Riemsdyk
Here’s one for Leafs fans. The 25-year-old has been playing good hockey since his 2012-13 season where he netted 18 goals in 48 games. Since then, he’s accumulated 110 points in 154 games playing alongside sniper Phil Kessel and often along Tyler Bozak. What’s impressive when it comes to James Van Riemsdyk is that he still managed to put up those numbers with the Toronto Maple Leafs, a team struggling to find success season after season. And even in one of their worst seasons in living memories, Riemsdyk has managed a respectable 49 points so far. You get the feeling that Riemsdyk has really hit his stride now, and just needs a better team to surround him. Something may need to be said about his defensive play; Riemsdyk is currently minus-35 on the season, second only to Phil Kessel, a league low -36.
13 Brandon Dubinsky
A lot of people may be scratching their heads, wondering why Brandon Dubinsky made it onto this list. But the truth of the matter is that Dubinsky has more heart and grit than most players in the NHL, and he’s a leader that I would take on my team any day. At age 28, Dubinsky has the experience and the character to be an asset for any NHL team. He missed almost half the season this year after undergoing abdominal surgery last summer, and the Blue Jackets clearly felt his absence on and off the ice, currently in the league’s bottom half at 24th overall.
12 Evander Kane
Although Kane has never yet played a game for the Buffalo Sabres, he is still officially a part of their roster, and last time I checked they still sucked. Selected 4th overall by the Atlanta Thrashers (now Winnipeg Jets), the 23-year-old hitting machine has had some success in his recent years, although he has played on teams that were not quite there in terms of reaching the playoffs. Although he has produced when he is healthy, questions have been raised concerning Kane’s attitude and character, perhaps a major reason as to why he is no longer a Jet. Kane’s true value will show next year, with a rebuilt Sabres organization that will look to wipe the slate clean after this dismal season. Will Connor McDavid be there by his side?
11 Eric Staal
The Carolina Hurricanes captain has a lot of experience under his belt – a Stanley Cup ring to show for it - and also a remarkable career so far for the Carolina Hurricanes. He was an important piece in the team that found so much success in the mid to late 2000’s, and his leadership on and off the ice earned him the 'C'. Selected 2nd overall in the 2003 draft, Staal had his breakout season in 2005-06, where he netted 45 goals and 55 assists the year the Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup. Now at 30, Staal’s role has turned more into a leadeship one on and off the ice, and his experience and advice will be invaluable to the new generation of Carolina Hurricanes players. Still, a player with his ability and vision on the ice can still produce, and there’s no reason to say he won’t be at the forefront of a Hurricanes resurgence next season next to young guns like Jeff Skinner, Victor Rask, and Elias Lindholm. Staal has already played nearly 900 games in the NHL, and there’s nothing to say his body is may be experiencing a little fatigue. Nothing like a good offseason not battling in the playoffs to get your body and your mind back in form.
10 Scott Hartnell
At 32 years old, what is not to love about Blue Jackets forward Scott Hartnell? Watching that large mane of red hair was one of the things I loved about watching the Flyers a few years ago. Hartnell, who was selected 6th overall in the 2000 draft if you can believe that, is the complete package for me, similar in many ways to players like his teammate Brandon Dubinsky. The Regina native knows how to score goals, pass, hit, and fight when he needs to. He's a winner, and makes those around him want to win. His leadership abilities were imperative for the Flyers in their cup run, and his heart is incomparable. Every winning team needs a Scott Hartnell on their team, and that’s maybe the biggest compliment you can give him.
9 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
The “Nuge” as some like to call him makes out the bottom of the Oilers dynamic trio that make it onto this list. The 21-year-old centre is having a good year thus far, posting an impressive 24 points in his last 22 games since February 29th, putting him first in the league for points in that time frame. This year marks his best in his career thus far, an impressive 55 points in 73 games, equaling his point tally last year. Good signs for Craig McTavish to see a young gun like Nugent-Hopkins finishing off the season nicely. Whether or not the GM will be there to see him next year is still to be discussed.
8 Nick Foligno
I don’t care who you are and what you say, Nick Foligno was one of the nicest surprises in this NHL season. So impressive in fact, that the Blue Jackets decided to bring out the checkbook 34 games into the season and secure Foligno through to the 2020-21 season for a deal worth $33 million. In his defense, he did had have 32 points at the time. The thing about Foligno is that although he wasn’t horrible, his numbers were not that impressive with the Senators. Always hovering around the 40 point mark, the 27th pick in the 2006 entry draft is having his best season so far, and clearly the Blue Jackets see it as more than a one time thing.
7 Ryan Johansen
Let's keep the Blue Jackets going. The 22-year-old Ryan Johansen out of Vancouver B.C. from the Columbus Blue Jackets is really making a name for himself this year as a forward. He’s surpassed his 63 points last year, tallying 66 points already this season with a few games to spare. He’s proven time and time again that he can score often and be dangerous with the puck, and at this point in his career he’s one of the most important pieces in a struggling Blue Jackets team. Johansen and the Blue Jackets took longer than expected to handle his contract in 2014, Johansen opting for a longer-term contract, the Blue Jackets opting more towards a bridge contract similar to what we saw with P.K. Subban before he started making the big bucks. He ended up signing a three-year contract worth $12 million, and if he continues to put up these numbers, he’ll continue to climb the ranks.
6 Jordan Eberle
Let’s continue the Edmonton dynamic trio with Jordan Eberle. We were all expecting something special from Eberle after he dramatically scored the tying goal in the World Junior’s semifinals, leading to an eventual championship for the Canadian Junior team. Truth is, he hasn’t disappointed. At only 24, he’s put up 281 points in 349 games. He had a run in the rumour mill over the trade deadline, and would’ve been one of the more valuable pieces if Edmonton had decided to trade Eberle. But, just like Nugent-Hopkins and Hall, Eberle is part of an Oilers franchise that just can’t seem to get it together.
5 Oliver Ekman-Larsson
The Coyotes defenceman has been one of the few positive things coming out of a very bad Arizona team this year. He finished 14th among defencemen in points last year and leads the Coyotes in points this year. The 23-year-old Swede has completely gained the trust of head coach Dave Tippett and is a force to be reckoned with offensively and defensively, and with Yandle gone, he represents the future of Arizona’s backline. For now, however, the Coyotes are looking at a season finishing in the league’s basement.
4 Sergei Bobrovsky
What do Carey Price, Tukka Rask, and Devan Dubnyk have in common? All are hovering around the ages of 27-28 and all of the above seem to be in the prime of their respective careers. A goalie’s prime is usually experienced at around 27. The 26-year-old Russian Olympian is in the prime of his game and has proven his worth to the Jackets. No offense to the Blue Jackets, a team I constantly find rooting for and hoping they make the playoffs. They had an unlucky season riddled by injuries, but on a more positive note they've won their past six games, and things are looking good for next season. With Bobrovsky having just signed a long term deal taking him through to the 2018-19 NHL season, don’t expect to see the Russian anywhere else in the long term.
3 Taylor Hall
The former first overall draft pick has been fairly consistent since his entrance into the NHL in the 2010-11 season. Hall represented the rebuilding of Oil Nation after a few grim seasons of missing the postseason. But even reinforcements in the forms of Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Nail Yakupov (some who are honorary members of this top 15) have failed to set the spark in Edmonton, and Taylor Hall’s value is yet to be seen in the playoffs, although the 23-year old still has a long NHL career to enjoy.
2 Phil Kessel
Before we go any further, I am aware of the fact that Phil Kessel’s performance this season should be a factor in him being included in an article that mentions “best” NHL players. It’s true, his prolonged, three month mid season slump has been absolutely numbing for Toronto fans to say the least, and it’s even been a factor in the rumor mill concerning his departure from Toronto. But the truth is, when Phil Kessel isn’t slumping, he could sure put that puck away, and without that, the Maple Leafs could barely win a game. Kessel’s slump has gone a long way in highlighting some of Toronto’s major issues defensively and offensively, and their season has suffered greatly for it. Despite his issues this season, the 27-year-old has tallied a total of 94 goals in his past three seasons with the Leafs, and he has reached the 30-goal plateau in his last five seasons, something he is in danger of not doing this season.
Whether or not this is his eventual downfall remains to be seen, but Phil Kessel still has the ability to make a team pay, especially if he were on a better team than the Maple Leafs.
1 Cory Schneider
Cory Schneider’s statistics are among the best in the league. The only difference between him and the others in the top is that Cory Schneider is not in the playoff hunt. How can a goalie posting the 3rd best save percentage in the league at .928% not be in the playoff race, you may ask? The answer lies in the team in front of him, which has been struggling to find their identity all year. Schneider has played a resounding 65 games this season, and to post those numbers on this team with that workload is a feat in itself.
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