The NHL playoffs is all about big performances on the big stage.
We’ve celebrated the best over the years, as well as some of the worst. But, by and large the coverage of hockey’s Big Dance tends to focus on the hits, rather than the misses.
The coming out of Leon Draisaitl in Edmonton caught everyone by surprise, as he was (as of Friday) still third in playoff scoring with 16 points in the 13 games the Oilers played before bowing to Anaheim in the second round.
Ditto guys like Jake Guentzel, the Omaha Kid, who had a playoff leading nine goals as of Friday and 14 points (sixth best).
Otherwise, the usual suspects like Evgeni Malkin (playoff leading 20 points), Ryan Getzlaf (18 points), Sidney Crosby (15 points) and Erik Karlsson (14 points, tops among defencemen) have shown the way.
In goal, Pekka Rinne has been near unbeatable most nights and Ottawa’s Craig Anderson has bent, but seldom broken, for the Senators in their surprising run.
For all the awe-inspiring performances, their have been equally as many duds. Here are 16 players, one from each team and broken down like a squad (two goals, five defence and nine forwards) who have just plain disappointed us all (in order, D-F-G).
16. Chicago Blackhawks – Duncan Keith, D
Most shocking to anyone around here was Chicago’s abrupt exit at the hands of the Nashville Predators. The only saving grace for the Hawks would be for the Preds to win the Stanley Cup, so they could at least say they were beaten by the champs. Otherwise, it was the quietest post-season in recent memory for the perennial contenders. We could easily have filled two-thirds of this list with Blackhawks, but settled on two-time Norris Trophy winning defenceman Duncan Keith. He enjoyed his third best offensive regular season, scoring 53 points and logging a +22 and was poised to be the anchor again on the backend of what everyone thought would be a long playoff push. So much for that. Keith, like just about everyone in those classic duds, was a bust. In four games, he registered a lone assist and was a lousy -6, which is tied for fourth worst in the post-season.
15. Minnesota Wild – Jared Spurgeon, D
After a superb regular season, the Wild were nearly as disappointing in their first round series, winning one lone game and going out in five to the St. Louis Blues. From top to bottom, the Wild never really got going. One player many in the State of Hockey thought would have a better showing was veteran defenceman Jared Spurgeon. He posted career highs this past season in ice time (24:02), assists (28), points (38), even strength goals (9), plus-minus (+33, second in the league) and shots (144) in 76 games. Then the playoffs came and he landed with a thud along with the rest of the wild. Spurgeon had nearly a minute and half more ice time in the post-season, but registered just an assist in five games and was -1 with 13 shots on net.
14. St. Louis Blues – Alex Pietrangelo, D
The St. Louis Blues, after yet another good season, just couldn’t get over the second round hump. Plenty of blame could be shared around and some of it lands on the shoulders of veteran rearguard Pietrangelo. He had arguably his best offensive regular season in seven full campaigns, scoring a career high 14 goals and adding 34 assists for 48 points. He was +3 playing over 25 minutes per game and took away more pucks, 53, than he gave away, 27. The playoffs came and he virtually disappeared, despite over 28 minutes of ice time in 11 contests. He was credited with four assists and was a -3, while a lesser light like Joel Edmundson led all Blues defencemen in scoring with six points (three goals). Not a stellar showing, in our estimation.
13. Washington Capitals – Brooks Orpik, D
We could have picked a handful of Washington Capitals who turned in sub-par efforts in yet another early exit from the post-season. So, we settled on Orpik. The 14-year veteran, who won a Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh in 2009 was brought in to be a stay-at-home, calming influence on a Capitals team on the verge of greatness. Sadly, he just didn’t get the job done in his third post-season with Washington. Never a big scorer — he had 14 assists in 79 games this season — he is a defensively responsible hitting and shot-blocking machine who logged a +32 this past season, along with 181 hits and 132 blocked shots. In six games against Toronto in the first round, he recorded two assists but was exposed defensively, registering a -4. Then in the seven-game thriller with Pittsburgh, when his ice time went down, he scored no points and was -3.
12. Montreal Canadiens – Andrei Markov, D
Too many Montreal Canadiens came up small in a first round ouster to the New York Rangers. It was a difficult decision on our part to single out one particular player and it came down to Markov and Max Pacioretty, who both had but one assist in the six-game series. But, Pacioretty at least looked like he was giving it his all, taking a team high 28 shots and just missing the mark. Markov, who is expected to jazz up the powerplay, had little effect on the ice. As a UFA, he may find suitors in short supply now that this disappointing Habs’ season is over. The 38-year-old Russian had a pretty good regular season, scoring 36 points (12 on the powerplay), along with being a +18. Against the Rangers, he was a non-factor. Markov was -1 and took just eight shots, while averaging over 26 minutes of ice time per game.
11. Calgary Flames – Brian Elliott, G
After a slow start to the regular season, much-ballyhooed 2016 draft day acquisition Brian Elliott turned his season around and helped get the Calgary Flames back to the playoffs for just the second time in eight seasons. He was 3-10-1 in his first 14 starts and was losing his job to back-up Chad Johnson. Once re-established he was 23-5-2 until the last three games of the season. That troika of games, two against Anaheim, was probably a portend of things to come. He was beaten by the Ducks twice and the San Jose Sharks once to put a damper on things. The Flames drew the Ducks in the first round and Elliott wasn’t bad in a game 1 loss, stopping 38 of 41 shots in a 3-2 loss. But, he could only stop 26 of 29 shots in a similar result in game 2. He was pretty much a non-factor in game 3, allowing five goals on 27 shots in a 5-4 OT defeat. He was replaced by Chad Johnson in game 4, surrendering a goal on his first three shots as Calgary went out in four straight, by a count of 3-1.
10. Columbus Blue Jackets – Sergei Bobrovsky, G
If they included playoff performance as a criteria for what are regular season awards, Bobrovsky would likely get a lot less votes for the Vezina he is likely to receive when the playoffs are over. The native of Novokuznetsk was nearly unbeatable in a Vezina worthy season, going 41-17-5 and leading all goaltenders in save percentage (.931) and goals against average (2.06), while registering seven shutouts (third best). The Pittsburgh Penguins, though, didn’t get the memo that Bobrovsky was supposed to be impregnable. Penguins shooter exposed him as soft from the get-go, scoring three goals on him in the second period of game 1 to get the ball rolling in a 3-1 victory. The Pens then beat him three times on 31 shots in a 4-1 game 2 triumph and then five times on 47 shots in a 5-4 OT win in game 3. Thankfully for him, his teammates scored five times in game 4 to stay alive (5-4) but in game 5, the Jackets miraculous season came to a close as Pittsburgh lit up Bobrovsky for five goals on 32 shots in a 5-2 victory.
9. Toronto Maple Leafs – Leo Komarov, F
Uncle Leo is paid in Toronto to provide secondary scoring and to make his opponents mad enough to take stupid penalties. He did a fine job in Toronto’s turnaround regular season, scoring 32 points (14 goals; four on the powerplay) and dishing out a thunderous 232 hits and a +6 in all the Leafs’ 82 games. Yet, in the six-game thriller against Washington, the agitator mantle went to Nazem Kadri, while Komarov fizzled. He had but one assist in those six games and was -1. He did throw 30 checks but was not his usual pesky self. He nearly got himself a game misconduct, too, when he uncharacteristically left his feet to slam Washington defenceman Nate Schmidt during the game 6 defeat in overtime.
8. Boston Bruins – Brad Marchand, F
All we saw and heard all season was how Boston bad boy Brad Marchand had channeled his inner Sidney Crosby to dial down the stupid and dial up the scoring. He scored a career high 85 points (39 goals) in 80 games and finished tied for fifth in league scoring to put himself in the Hart Trophy conversation, at least. However, when the playoffs came, a different Marchand showed up in the first round against the Ottawa Senators. Marchand scored the winner in game 1, but that would be his only goal of the playoffs. He failed to register a point in the next three contests against Ottawa, which resulted in two OT losses and a regulation defeat as the Sens took command. He had an assists in game 5, which Boston won 3-2 in double overtime, and then two more apples in game 6, which were too little too late as the Bruins bowed out, 3-2 in OT. With four points in six games, it was a far cry from his regular season output.
7. San Jose Sharks – Tomas Hertl, F
Another year, another mediocre playoff performance for the San Jose Sharks. Now, they did get beat in six games by a very good Edmonton Oilers team, but with as veteran a group as they are, winning now is and was imperative. With aging legs like Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, Joel Ward and Joe Thornton in the top two lines, they needed skating, scoring and enthusiasm from the younger set. One player who has always showed promise and flash is Hertl who recorded 22 points in a injury-shortened 49-game regular season. Healthy for the first round against Edmonton, the 23-year-old from Prague was given plenty of ice time (19:18 per game average) to make a difference. His output, though, fell well short of expectations, as he mustered just two assists, one of them a garbage-time apple on the seventh goal as San Jose whipped Edmonton 7-0 in game 4.
6. New York Rangers – Chris Kreider, F
On a deep, deep team, this was Chris Kreider’s coming-out party with the New York Rangers. The big left winger finished fourth in team scoring with 53 points and had a team high 28 goals. Come playoff time, it was expected that he would be a crease-crashing, goal-scoring menace to any netminder in his way, including first round opponent Carey Price and the Montreal Canadiens. However, he was a glaringly obvious non-factor against the Habs, with but one assist as the Rangers skated past the Habs. He fared better in the second round against Ottawa, scoring three times in six games, but his production did little to alter the team’s fortunes as they went out in six. His first goal in the post-season happened early in a 6-5 2OT loss to the Sens in game 2, and his second (on the PP) was the fourth of four in a 4-1 game four victory. His last cut a 3-1 deficit to 3-2 in the third period of a 4-2 loss in game 6.
5. Edmonton Oilers – Jordan Eberle, F
Not many players in the playoffs have come up as small as seven-year veteran Jordan Eberle. Picked 22nd overall in the 2008 entry draft, the Oilers have patiently groomed the talented right winger, waiting for the big pay-off. He had 20 goals and 31 assists in the regular season for an Oilers team destined to do some damage in the post-season. This should have been Eberle’s opportunity to prove to the world he belonged among the elite on this team — and in the league. In his first taste of post-season hockey, Eberle couldn’t have been any more underwhelming. He had an assist in a 3-2 loss to San Jose in game 1 of the first round. He wouldn’t find the score sheet again until the second game of the second round, an assist on Patrick Maroon’s game-winner against Anaheim (2-1) in a series the Oilers would lose in seven. In all, Eberle had two assists and was a team worst -6 in 13 games.
4. Anaheim Ducks – Antoine Vermette, F
The Ducks certainly gave it their all this post-season, going all the way to the Western Conference finals before losing in six to Nashville (concluded with a 6-3 loss Monday night). Some, however, gave more than others. One player looking ready for retirement — finally — is 34-year-old pivot Antoine Vermette. He was helicoptered in to a Stanley Cup winning Chicago Blackhawks team in 2015, scoring four goals and three assists in 20 games. He was signed last summer to a two-year deal to provide depth up the middle and face-off acumen and for the most part did his job in the regular season. In just under 16 minutes of average ice time, he scored 28 points and won a whopping 744 of 1,195 face-offs, with his 62.3 percent efficiency coming in second best. He was still a beast at the dot in the playoffs (60.8 percent efficient) but contributed just a goal and two assists in 17 games, along with a -3 in just under 14 minutes of ice time.
3. Ottawa Senators – Viktor Stalberg, F
Unless he has some monster game tonight against Pittsburgh to help the Sens stave off elimination, Viktor Stalberg is Ottawa’s most disappointing player. Ostensibly a depth forward brought in to kill penalties, provide energetic play and pop in a goal or two (he had 11 in 75 games), Stalberg was a good pick-up at the trade deadline. The eight-year veteran, who won a Cup with Chicago in 2013, is also counted on for good two-way play and leadership. Thus far, the Gothenburg, Sweden native has been less than advertised. In 15 games, Stalberg has two assists and is -8. He has thrown 31 checks, but has just three takeaways against seven giveaways. With the Senators’ backs against the wall and fellow energy player Alexandre Burrows doubtful for game 6 against Pittsburgh Tuesday night, they need a guy like Stalberg to step up in a big way.
2. Pittsburgh Penguins – Conor Sheary, F
How is it that a guy can play big minutes with Sidney Crosby (for a little while at least), yet have little impact on an impressive playoff run by the Pittsburgh Penguins? Decimated by injuries to key defencemen and having stared down everyone up to an including Ottawa so far, the Pens are on course to win a second consecutive Stanley Cup. Conor Sheary, who had an impressive 53 points in 61 regular season games after a brilliant post-season debut in 2016, has been held in check through 15 games leading up to game 6 against Ottawa Tuesday night. After nearly a point per game in the regular season, Sheary has but three assists, is -8 and was a healthy scratch in game 5 on Sunday. He will likely sit out game 6 Tuesday night too.
1. Nashville Predators – Mike Fisher, F
For the longest time a heart-and-soul player with the Nashville Predators, Mike Fisher was forced to watch his team advance to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time after they beat Anaheim 6-3 Monday night. Mr. Carrie Underwood sustained an apparent head injury during a 3-2 overtime loss in game 4 and hasn’t played since. Not that he’ll be missed that much, though, scoring wise. In his 17th season, the two-way pivot was pretty darned good, scoring 42 points in 72 games, along with a +1 and a 54.9 efficiency rating on the face-off dot. But, he’s been pretty much invisible in the playoffs, with zero points in 14 games and a -1. He’s still been good taking draws, winning 136 of 261 (52.1 percent). However, should he get back in, and with a playoff-ending injury to fellow center Ryan Johansen, Fisher needs to produce if the Preds want to win their first title in franchise history.