On lists like these—about disappointing or downright bad athletes—there are always people sounding off in the comment section saying "well I don't see you playing in the NHL" and other things along those lines. That's true, of course. If I had played in the NHL, I wouldn't be writing articles about sports for websites. But to say that we shouldn't criticize the worst players in the league and call them garbage is to fundamentally misunderstand the role of sports in our lives, I feel. These guys are making millions of dollars a year. They're doing what they love on the biggest stage possible, and every aspect of their lives is centred around making sure that they're comfortable and happy and thriving. NHL hockey players are literally living the dream based on the support of fans and, because of that, the fans also have every right to call them out when they're playing badly.
There are different ways to measure bad hockey players. You can measure the expectations we had for their careers vs. the reality. You can look at production in relation to their salaries. Or you can just look for guys that make terrible plays on a constant basis and are frequently bouncing between the NHL and the minors. All three of those types of players can be found on this list. Most of these guys are probably on short leashes for their constant bad play and may not be in the league for much longer. So with that said, here are the 20 worst hockey players in the NHL:
20 Zac Rinaldo
Zac Rinaldo has been called, among many other funny insults, a useless goon. During his short, unproductive career so far, the twenty-seven year old has been suspended four times already, and fined twice. In over 300 NHL games, he has scored only eleven times, and has never scored more than three goals in one NHL season. Now, not everyone needs to be a scorer and there's clearly a place for gritty players on forth lines across the league, but Rinaldo is unable to provide toughness without also pulling really cheap, dirty moves like punching unaware guys in the head. He is having a career year this season, with two goals in thirty-one games. It's fitting that maybe the worst player in the league is on the worst team in the league.
19 Matt Bartkowski
You only have to watch a few minutes of a Calgary Flames game to notice Matt Bartkowski, and not for any good reasons. He can look impressive for brief flashes because he's a pretty quick skater and makes long passes, but he also falls over all the time. He makes terrible giveaways. He takes penalties at bad times, and has been a minus player for almost every year he has spent in the NHL. He doesn't make up for his bad defensive play by putting up points or anything either. So far this year he has a whopping one assist. He makes tons of mistakes and doesn't really have any business being in the NHL capacity, unless the Flames are deliberately trying to tank or something.
18 Tanner Glass
It may seem like I'm hating on the Flames, but it's objectively true that Tanner Glass is a bad hockey player; it's a fact that is known by the fans of every team he has ever played for. Tanner Glass is an example of a guy who should be a career AHL player, but has managed to stick around in the NHL for years now based on luck and being a hard worker. In his best NHL season to date—which was more than five years ago now—he put up five goals on a very bad Winnipeg Jets team. Glass is a terrible offensive player who often misses the puck and duffs his shorts, but he also isn't very physical and doesn't bring much toughness to a roster either. And he's paid like $1.5 million a year. This year for the Flames, he hasn't got a point, but he has spent part of the year in the AHL too.
17 Loui Eriksson
To be clear, Loui Eriksson is absolutely not in the twenty least skilled players in the league. He's immensely talented, as proven by his multiple 30-goal seasons and general consistency in the NHL. What Loui Eriksson may be, though, is the current most overpaid player in the league. The dude is making $6 million per year, and will continue to make that much until 2022. This year he has five goals. Last year he scored eleven. It's almost as though, as soon as he signed his most recent deal—which will take him right up to his probable retirement age—he could just coast, as there's no need for him to prove himself any further. If you watch him lately, he barely skates out there and is never the first one to a loose puck. His play is kind of a slap in the face to hockey fans.
16 Gustav Nyquist
If you told me back in 2014 or so that I'd be putting Gustav Nyquist on a list of the 20 worst players in the NHL, I would have been very surprised. At the beginning of his career, Nyquist was a really promising player. He put up 28 goals in only his third NHL season, and 27 goals the season after that. However, his play has declined considerably since then, and now it seems as though he may not have as long of a career in the NHL ahead of him as it would have seemed. Last year, he got only 12 goals during the entire year. He has surpassed that already this year on a very average Red Wings team, but he isn't close to earning his nearly $5 million per year salary. In terms of expectations vs. reality, Nyquist is undeniably a disappointing hockey player.
15 Craig Smith
The first thing that comes to my mind when I think of Craig Smith is the play where, in overtime against the Montreal Canadiens, he had a wide open net and somehow shot the puck off his own stick, keeping it out of the net. It's worth a watch, if you haven't seen it. Tough bounces happen to everyone, but they happen more often to players who don't have a lot of sense, like Craig Smith. Smith had a great start to his NHL career. He had three 20+ goal seasons in a row, and signed a big contract for over $4 million per year, which will last for two more years. Since then, he absolutely has not been playing like a guy worth that kind of money, and his production has slowed down to a standstill. Considering how good the Preds are and how little Smith contributes, it would not be surprising to see him shipped out of town soon.
14 Zdeno Chara
There was a time in which it would have been ridiculous to think of Zdeno Chara being anything else than one of the league's best and most impactful defencemen. He's a tower of a man, and spent years punishing forwards with his great defensive plays as well as punishing goalies with his absolute rocket of a slap shot, which was the hardest shot in the league for many years, and one of the hardest shots in NHL history. He won the Norris in 2009, and was a big part of that Bruins team that won the Stanley Cup. However, if you watch the Bruins now, you'll see a drastically different Chara. He's still huge, and he still wears the C, but he barely contributes offensively, and often is embarrassed by opposing forwards. Because of his size, his mobility really hasn't aged well, and he is a liability on the blue line at this point.
13 Magnus Pääjärvi
Call me dumb, but there was a time at which I really thought that Magnus Pääjärvi was going to be a star in the NHL. He was very good for Sweden as a youngster, and was drafted high by the Oilers. He had a totally respectable rookie season for the Oilers too, scoring 15 goals. Since then, though, teams keep giving him a shot and he keeps proving himself unable to live up to the expectations that were rightfully placed on his shoulders. He's soft and largely ineffective out there, and hasn't shown flashes of either scoring or playmaking ability. In 40 games for the very good St. Louis Blues he has only two goals and two assists, and almost never looks dangerous out there. He spent time in the AHL last season, and it seems likely that he'll be there again soon.
12 Erik Gudbranson
I mean, look at that photo. He's straight lumbering behind Max Pacioretty and clearly not about to catch him. This is definitely not the first article on The Sportster that has trashed Erik Gudbranson. Here's one, and here's another. Gudbranson is an example of a player who was really hyped up when he was younger because of his big size and strength, but he is incapable of making smart plays with the puck or providing good coverage in his own end. Teams are reluctant to give up on him because he was drafted third-overall, but there probably isn't a bigger liability on the Canucks' very shaky blueline than Gudbranson. Trade rumours have circled around his name all year, so his days in Vancouver are likely numbered.
11 Kevin Connauton
How is this dude even still in the NHL? Like Zac Rinaldo, the reason is probably that he's on the Arizona Coyotes, who have been very very bad so far this year. Maybe the worst defenceman on the Coyotes is Kevin Connauton, who was touted as a very good offensive defenceman while he was in the WHL. For the Vancouver Giants, he put up 24 goals in one season, which is super-impressive for a d-man. His game hasn't translated well to the NHL though. He's a turnover machine, and has been a minus player for the last three seasons. He's a pretty small guy for a d-man, so if he isn't making good plays—which is often isn't—he's a liability out there. He spent time in the AHL season last year, and I'd say he'll be right back there if the Coyotes ever make improvements to that dismal roster of theirs.
10 Jake Virtanen
Jake Virtanen is the youngest guy on this list at 21-years-old, and so there is still definitely time for him to turn things around. However, he's a sixth-overall draft pick who, so far, has failed at every attempt to have an impact in the NHL. He'll get a few more years to establish himself as an NHL-caliber player, because the Canucks are very bad and have holes all through their roster. However, this year he has spent time playing with players like the Sedin twins and has been unable to capitalize at all, which is kind of embarrassing. So far, he has shown that he has very little finish, although he definitely does hustle out there. With the emergence of Brock Boeser and Bo Horvat in Vancouver, Virtanen just hasn't been playing well enough to deserve an NHL job, and will likely go down as a draft bust.
9 Robin Lehner
Being a goalie in Buffalo has historically been tough. Think of Dom Hasek, maybe the greatest goalie in NHL history, who played out of his mind in Buffalo year in and year old and was never rewarded with playoff success until he left for Detroit. Ryan Miller also did heavy lifting in Buffalo and rarely had a decent team in front of him. Robin Lehner holds the sad distinction of being a bad goalie on a bad team. His numbers certainly aren't good, with a goals against average that's dangerously close to 3.0, but who can blame him. It's hard to separate the goalie from the goals in this case, as the Sabres have the second worst goal differential in the league, and maybe we would need to see Lehner take a trade to a decent team before we can know for sure if he's one of the league's worst goalies, as he appears to be.
8 Adam Cracknell
It's a little bit unfair to call Adam Cracknell one of the worst players in the NHL, because he really just isn't an NHL player, though he has played over two hundred games in the league. He has bounced around maybe more different teams than anyone in the league in the last decade, and has spent around equal time in the NHL and the minors. He had a career year a few years back when he hit the double digits in goals, putting up 10 for the Dallas Stars, but aside from that, Cracknell is a last-case option for teams with injury troubles or other lineup problems. You do have to admire his commitment and ambition, though. He has never given up despite numerous setbacks, and likely has a few more years in him as a fringe NHLer.
7 David Desharnais
It's known around the league that the Montreal Canadiens have some of the most ruthless fans and media, and absolutely do not put up with sub-standard play for long. It's no surprise, then, that they essentially chased David Desharnais out of town after he had been stinking it up in a Habs jersey for years. Desharnais got tons of ice time for the Canadiens, spending time on the second and first lines, but his production maxed out at 16 goals in his best seasons, which clearly just isn't good enough for a player who was relied upon to produce. He's very small also, so when he isn't contributing on the score board, he isn't bringing a physical presence or anything either. He had a very disappointing season in Edmonton last year, and now he's trying again in New York for the Rangers, but he's still playing bad and will probably be sent to the minors sooner than later.
6 Jaromir Jagr
This is kind of a funny case. There's no doubt that Jaromir Jagr—who is currently sidelined with another injury—is one of the least effective NHL players out there. He's slow as hell and often falls behind the play, and he is completely exhausted at the end of every shift, which makes sense, because he's the oldest player in the league by far at the age of 45. Everybody knows that Jagr isn't good anymore, but nobody cares, because he's such a legend and such a likeable guy. Fans across the league were thrilled when he inked a new deal with the Flames this year, because it meant that we get to see one of the highest scorers and most memorable players in NHL history do it for one more year.
5 Kari Lehtonen
It's weird that Kari Lehtonen is still a member of the Dallas Stars, because they've been talking earnestly about trading him for years. He is filling the role of a backup goalie this season, which is one that he's capable of handling, but there's no doubt that when he is given full time minutes he almost always disappoints, especially considering that he was a number 2 overall draft pick. Lehtonen is known as one of the most streaky goalies around, playing out of his mind for short stretches but always following it up with longer periods of bad play. The Dallas Starts have often had very good rosters in recent years, and their inability to translate that to playoff succeess has largely fallen on the shoulders of Kari Lehtonen.
4 Deryk Engelland
Deryk Engelland is that kind of slow, immobile defenceman that was everywhere during the sluggish era of the NHL, but has largely become outdated in recent years. He was drafted way back in 2000, but played in the minors up until 2010, when the Pittsburgh Penguins called him up. That extensive time in the AHL and ECHL kind of illustrates that he's a guy who doesn't exactly have NHL talent, that has been able to find a small role on NHL teams for the last decade and prove himself useful, though he is ostensibly a bad hockey player. After signing a big contract with the Flames and being made their alternate captain, they didn't protect him in the expansion draft, so he's playing for the Vegas Golden Knights, where he also wears an A. He has actually been OK this year, and has got to be feeling good to be a part of the surprisingly good Vegas squad.
3 Troy Brouwer
Troy Brouwer is another guy who is not so much unskilled or terrible as he is disappointing. He's currently making almost $5 million dollars per year, and has barely been breaking the double digit mark in goals lately on a Calgary Flames team that could use the offence. He used to be a reliable contributor for the Washington Capitals, especially considering that he was drafted really late and his career got off to a slow start. These days, he just isn't effective, and many Flames fans consider him to be possibly the team's weakest link. He was first though of as being an option on the team's top line, but he has spent considerable time on the fourth line and is killing them with such poor production on that big cap hit.
2 Jacob Markstrom
As is the case with Robin Lehner, it's hard to tell what aspects of Jacob Markstrom's poor play have been his own fault and which are the result of being on one of the league's worst teams. Markstrom actually got off to a pretty good start to the year, and it has only been in the last month or so that the wheels have really fallen off and he has become one of the league's worst-performing goalies. He seems to have this knack for letting in bad goals on the first shot of the game, giving the Canucks very little chance to win since they're always digging themselves out of holes. Maybe he has focus problems. Maybe he's in on a coordinated effort to take for the first overall draft pick. Maybe, and most likely, he's just a bad goalie.
1 Michal Rozsival
Michal Rozsival has been hurt all season and hasn't played a game, but he's still under contract which means he's still in the league, which means he's still eligible for a list of the NHL's worst players, of which he is undoubtably numero uno. It's honestly amazing that Rozsival was able to rack up almost 1,000 games in the NHL, because he was never much of a contributor, but his output in recent years has been hilariously bad. One goal in 2017. One goal in 2016. One goal in 2015. One goal in 2014. No goals in 2013. One goal in 2012. Sure, he was injured for parts of those seasons, and you can't judge a defenceman by their goalscoring, but he is also very slow, and can't make a decent pass. On each team he's played with, the fans have gotten fed up with him, and for good reason. Michal Rozsival is bad at hockey.