It can range anywhere from one uncharacteristic succession of subpar outings to one off-year to one long wait to deliver postseason fulfillment. Every established NHL elite who is otherwise in his best years has at least one minor imprint of imperfection on an otherwise dazzling career transcript.
Some are fortunate enough to have had one of their most forgettable stretches occur within one of their best seasons and thus be swallowed up from memory. Others are letting a frustrating trend nag themselves and their team’s fanbase while arguably keeping them out of the very top echelon among active greats.
Regardless of which applies and how deep one has to dig, there are several superstars in the meaty middle of their NHL careers with one jutting blemish to be found.
Note that, with sample sizes in mind, only those who have played at least three seasons in the league are eligible for this slideshow.
In addition, the list omits those who were once superstars and will be surefire Hall of Famers, but are now in the twilight of their playing days. The focus here is on the glaring lowlights that have surfaced within the last decade and, in some cases, what those lowlights do for the player in question’s overall legacy at this point.
Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this slideshow were found via hockey-reference.com
In 2011-12, sizable center Jamie Benn finished third on a Dallas Stars team permeated with minus players by retaining a plus-15 rating. In terms of evolving two-way aptitude, it was an encouraging side dish to the then three-year veteran’s career-high output of 26 goals, 37 assists and 63 points.
Furthermore, over his last 42 games of 2011-12, Benn logged 19-20-39 scoring totals and only once went three straight outings without any production.
Conversely, in 2012-13, Benn finished last on a Dallas team with more plus players (13) than minus (11) with a final minus-12 rating. Over his last 27 appearances, he tallied 6-13-19 totals and brooked three separate scoring droughts of three games apiece.
It was a less-than-ideal follow-up on his breakout campaign and on the delayed contract renewal that had forced him to miss the first few games.
In light of that downturn, Dallas’ new coach-GM tandem of Lindy Ruff and Jim Nill is reportedly keen on moving Benn from center to left wing. The fact that Benn lost the majority of his faceoffs in both 2011-12 and 2012-13 (per nhl.com) may also have something to do with the decision to abandon that experiment.
Zdeno Chara has worn the captain’s “C” for every game in his so far seven-year tenure with the Boston Bruins. Next to Tim Thomas’ Conn Smythe-worthy goaltending, his defensive prowess and exemplary leadership was near the top of the list of reasons why Boston won the Stanley Cup in 2011.
However, a perennial postseason flaw has plagued the Bruins in concomitance with Chara’s captaincy. Those of us who have looked at the game-by-game playoff results and kept score of Boston's record when harboring three wins in a series know what that flaw is.
Over the past six years, the Bruins are 9-13 when trying to clinch a series, including four straight missed attempts against Philadelphia in 2010 and a 3-3 record in that scenario in 2013.
In his career as a whole, Chara has played 129 playoff games and charged up a 13-41-54 scoring log and plus-33 rating. Chara’s cumulative transcript over those 22 closeout games as a Bruin includes one goal, five assists and a plus-one rating.
One of the latest changes to his rating in this situation was a deduction that resulted from him fumbling the puck behind the net to set up New York Ranger Derek Stepan’s goal as part of Boston’s fall-from-ahead overtime loss.
Only once in his eight-year career and seven NHL postseasons has Sidney Crosby ever gone four consecutive games with zero points.
Those four games constituted the entire 2013 Eastern Conference Finals, when the offensively spoiled Pittsburgh Penguins were upset in a sweep at the hands of the Bruins. This was a Penguins team that was in the third round for the first time since winning the title in 2009 and was a squad that had the means to will its skill to victory with Cup-less veterans Jarome Iginla and Brenden Morrow on board.
Kind of gives you an early hint as to who should be especially hungry in 2013-14, does it not?
A two-time 97-point scorer (in 2007-08 and 2008-09), Pavel Datsyuk has tied his personal worst of four straight unproductive games on three occasions. Those sparse, medium-sized droughts fell in the weeks of Jan. 24-30, 2006; Oct. 13-19, 2006 and Jan. 25-Feb. 4, 2012.
The last of those slumps occurred in a season when Datsyuk was ultimately a finalist for what could have been his fourth Selke Trophy. His four straight scoreless ventures that winter coincided with one of the nadirs in his defensive game as his plus-minus exponentially dropped by five points in the seven games between Jan. 25 and Feb. 10.
Could that brief hiccup have cost him the award, which eventually went to Patrice Bergeron? It may have, in part.
After his entry-level deal expired in the summer of 2011, defenseman Drew Doughty renewed his tenure with the Los Angeles Kings with a deal that, per capgeek.com, more than doubled his cap hit. He went from consuming $3.475 million of the team’s allotted space to $7 million at the start of 2011-12.
Unfortunately, that deal got off to an inauspicious start. After three so-so performances, Doughty sustained a shoulder injury during an Oct. 15, 2011 visit to Philadelphia and sat out for two weeks.
After his return, it briefly looked like the all-around gifted youngster who had tallied 59 points in 2009-10 and 40 in 2010-11 was back in normal form. Doughty amassed six points in seven games from Oct. 29 to Nov. 10.
But that hot streak gave way to a 15-game cold spell, in which time Doughty cultivated two assists and had his plus-minus steadily drop by five points. Heavy was the contract, it seemed.
Of course, he eventually kicked bountiful ice chips over that forgettable stretch by helping the Kings to the 2012 Stanley Cup.
The general struggles of the Colorado Avalanche have confined Matt Duchene to only one playoff appearance, which occurred when he was a rookie in 2009-10.
From an individual standpoint, that postseason started auspiciously enough. Duchene assisted on a power-play icebreaker en route to a 2-1 road win in Game 1 and then chipped in two more helpers as part of a back-and-forth, 6-5 overtime loss in Game 2.
But afterwards, Duchene joined most of the other Avs in wilting the rest of the way. Colorado, which lost the series to the Sharks, 4-2, averaged one goal per night in each of the next four games, and Duchene did not have a hand in any of them.
Because he underwent surgeries (separated by about 11 months) both before and after a split campaign with the Rangers and Blue Jackets, it is hard to pinpoint any sheer performances as a blemish on Marian Gaborik’s transcript.
How much of that alleged friction is on Gaborik and how much is on Tortorella is another debate, but this is as close as one can get to finding a true rough patch on the speedy Slovak’s record.
In the first week of April 2012, the nowhere-bound Anaheim Ducks all but had one eye on the egress, and Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register impeccably summed up Ryan Getzlaf’s situation.
Stephens wrote, “The big center has gone without injury for the first time in three years, but his game has been hurting for months.”
Indeed, 2011-12 was only the second time Getzlaf has dressed for a full 82-game schedule, yet he amassed a career-low 11 goals. It was also his only “minus” campaign so far in his eight-year career with a minus-11 rating.
Anaheim’s collective bounce-back run in 2013 served to kick ice chips over 2011-12, but for Getzlaf, it also emboldened the prom night pimple on his transcript. Despite dressing for only 44 games this past year, he scored four more goals than he did the entire season prior and only eight fewer points with 49.
An ill-timed, ill-advised and illicit hit on New Jersey’s Dainius Zubrus cost electric Flyers scorer Claude Giroux a one-game suspension in the 2012 playoffs.
At the time of the infraction, Giroux was coming off a career year of 93 regular-season points and was on a career playoff pace with an 8-9-17 scoring log through 10 games. Furthermore, Philadelphia was seeking to draw a 2-2 knot in the conference semifinals, and Giroux had a hand in two goals to sculpt an initial 2-0 lead in Game 4 that evening.
The host Devils, however, surmounted that deficit and seized a 3-2 upper hand via none other than Zubrus less than two minutes before Giroux’s illegal check. New Jersey went on to take a 3-1 lead in the series with a 4-2 victory and without Giroux’s services in Game 5, the Flyers conceded the series with a 3-1 loss back home.
Any player who can combine pure top-shelf skill with physicality is a welcome asset, and that is Taylor Hall for the Edmonton Oilers.
Naturally, though, there are drawbacks that come with a feisty style of play. The veteran of three professional seasons officially has a disciplinary record after he incurred a two-game suspension for kneeing Minnesota’s Cal Clutterbuck this past winter.
Less than two months later, Hall escaped another suspension after throwing a controversial hit on Phoenix’s Zbynek Michalek.
In the five games between Feb. 28 and March 8 of last season, the Winnipeg Jets posted a 3-2-0 record and totaled nine goals. But Evander Kane was not in on any of those, thus resulting in a season-worst five-game pointless skid.
Kane has had other prolonged production slumps over his first four NHL seasons, but that is the only one that cannot be attributed, at least in part, to an injury. So far, 2012-13 has been his only run with the Atlanta/Winnipeg franchise not to be interrupted by a health problem, of which he has had several in every other year.
Leading up to Dec. 28, 2008, the night of the 33rd game of his second professional season, Patrick Kane had but six nonconsecutive scoreless performances on his game log.
Starting with that visit to Minnesota, though, he went on an 11-game goalless drought. He finally broke that skid against Anaheim on Jan. 28, 2009, and in the process ended a seven-game pointless streak.
Since that season, though, Kane has not had a single drought longer than four games and none lasting longer than three since April of 2010. That goes for the regular season and playoffs.
Too much, too soon? Maybe so.
It is hard to believe at this point, but Erik Karlsson all but defined the phrase “sophomore slump” in 2010-11. At the tender age of 20, he led all Ottawa Senators skaters in nightly ice time with an average of 23:31 but finished second-to-last in the plus-minus column with a minus-30 rating.
Over 1763:42 of cumulative playing time (via nhl.com) that year, Karlsson saw 81 pucks go into the Ottawa net for a 60-minute average of 2.75 goals-against. If that is as low as a two-way star is going to sink, it might as well happen as early as it did in Karlsson’s career.
Phil Kessel stamped his first season in the 30-goal range during his final year as a Boston Bruin with 36 in 2008-09 and has turned in a similar yearly output in Toronto.
Had 2012-13 been a normal, 82-game season, he most likely would have surpassed 30 goals like he did in 2010-11 and 2011-12. He might have done the same during his first year with the Maple Leafs, rather than stop at 30, if not for a six-week bout of frostbite to his stick.
In a stretch of 21 games from Dec. 18, 2009, to Jan. 29, 2010, Kessel tuned the opposing mesh merely twice on 91 registered shots. He landed eight shots on net in two of those goalless outings, seven in another, six in two others and five in five others.
Anze Kopitar has had five scoreless skids lasting four games in his NHL career. The costliest was the most recent when he repeatedly turned in an arid row in the scoresheet while the Kings fell behind the Blackhawks, 3-1, in the Western Conference Finals.
As powerful as Chicago was all around, the silence of L.A.’s signature scorer helped to hasten the end of the Kings’ reign as Stanley Cup champions. Although they won Game 3, Kopitar came up empty in 2-1, 4-2 and 3-2 losses, the last of which was on home ice while top Hawks defenseman Duncan Keith was serving a suspension.
In turn, by the time Kopitar perked up for a two-point outing in Game 5, the margin for error was too slim. The host Blackhawks ultimately prevailed in overtime that night, 4-3, to end the series much sooner than anyone should have expected.
With 42 assists and 50 points, both of which remain a career high, Penguins defenseman Kris Letang emerged as a prolific playmaking point patroller in 2010-11. But he could have set his statistical bar even higher if not for an extended slump and slump within the slump that winter.
Letang suffered a seven-game scoreless stretch from Jan. 25 through Feb. 10, 2011. Shortly thereafter, he had an eight-game hex spanning March 2-20, 2011, as part of a 13-game cold streak that had started on Feb. 20 with only one intervening assist during those four weeks.
A perennial 30-game winner and backbone of the Blueshirts, goaltender Henrik Lundqvist is seven games below .500 in his postseason career at 30-37.
In playoff contests decided in regulation, Lundqvist is deadlocked at 26-26. In turn, the deciding factor in his sub-.500 win-loss ratio is overtime, where he has blinked first 11 times out of 15.
Simply put, no matter how commendable a quantitative and qualitative save count may be, it does not mean much when a missed save attempt instantly terminates your team’s endeavor.
As it happens, one of Lundqvist's 11 overtime losses ended his longest playoff run to date when the Devils finished off the Rangers in the 2012 conference finals.
Like his teammate Crosby, Malkin went pointless for the entire third round in the 2013 playoffs, taking 21 shots on net in vain, including 10 in Game 3. Beforehand, he had endured only two pairs of consecutive scoreless games in either the regular season or postseason.
Malkin has had one other four-game production drought in the postseason, but it was during the 2008 Stanley Cup Finals, when he was a professional sophomore and his team was an underdog against the eventual victors from Detroit.
Although Rick Nash’s NHL playoff resume is a small sample, his production is less than what one would logically expect from a player of his skill set and accomplishment.
He had five points for Team Canada in the 2010 Olympics and also tallied nine goals and 11 points in 15 tournament games while playing in Switzerland in 2005. Yet he has not had nearly the same success when playing for the Stanley Cup.
As part of the Columbus Blue Jackets' only postseason appearance so far, Nash did cultivate three points in four games. But with the Rangers this past spring, he froze for a single goal and four assists, including only two during a seven-game first-round series against Washington.
The Washington Capitals have emitted a Cup contender’s vibe in plenty of regular seasons so far in Alexander Ovechkin’s eight-year career. However, that powerhouse persona has grown exponentially suspect with every failed attempt to reach the deeper portion of the playoffs.
Because of where he is in his career, the blemish is not the fact that 27-year-old Ovechkin still lacks a ring, but more that he and his team have never made it beyond the second round. In six playoff appearances, they have engaged in nine series, winning only three of them.
As much as one needs to credit the Kings, Zach Parise’s output in the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals left a vinegary aftertaste on what would be his only season as the New Jersey Devils captain.
He was second in team goal scoring with 31 in the regular season and tied Ilya Kovalchuk in the playoffs with eight. But in the six-game finals, he could only muster a power-play goal in Game 5.
Conversely, teammates Alexei Ponikarovsky and Bryce Salvador each tallied three points against the Kings while David Clarkson, Patrik Elias, Adam Henrique and Travis Zajac scored two apiece.
As vital as depth is in the postseason, New Jersey’s loss reiterated that it only works if accompanied by reasonable contributions from the usual suspects.
Since his third season in the league, when he broke out with 29 goals in 2007-08, Corey Perry has been saturating the scoresheet.
On the plus side, he has been a prolific producer on offense. But on the downside, he has ranked no lower than fourth among the Ducks in penalty minutes in each of the last six campaigns.
With the exception of the shortened 2012-13 season, Perry has constantly broken triple digits in the PIM column. This past year, his 72 minutes in the bin had him leading the team for the second year in a row.
The 2010-11 season was the second of three straight in the 30-win range for Jonathan Quick. In addition, with his six shutouts, 2.24 goals-against average and .918 save percentage, it still stands as his second best behind 2011-12.
But it was not a consistently smooth six-month ride. Between Dec. 29, 2010, and Jan. 20, 2011, Quick sandwiched a single winning decision with a pair of four-game winless skids.
Over those nine games, Quick authorized 26 goals on 195 shots in 468:59 for a .867 save percentage and 3.33 GAA. He had one no-decision, took the blame for seven regulation losses and only twice posted a single-night save percentage of .900 or better.
Pekka Rinne and the Nashville Predators stumbled to start their most recent playoff series, which ended in a five-game defeat via the Phoenix Coyotes.
The ordinarily stingy Rinne blinked first in overtime to spill a surprisingly high-scoring Game 1, 4-3. He followed up by letting in five goals on 39 shots, including four of 31 within the first two periods, en route to a 5-3 falter in Game 2.
How uncharacteristic was that? Well, Rinne bounced back when the series shifted home to post a Game 3 shutout and only allowed three more goals in the two games that followed.
But the Preds could not percolate the requisite firepower to reward him and his two wretched performances from earlier came back to haunt him.
If you go by their individual output, it is hard to find much fault in the Sedin twins over the Vancouver Canucks' perennial shortcomings.
Vancouver has mustered a mere eight goals as a team in each of its last two playoff runs, which ended in a five-game flameout via Los Angeles and a sweep at the hands of the Sharks. Daniel Sedin has five points in his last six postseason games, Henrik Sedin eight points in his last nine.
Still, the longest-tenured Canucks, who have been in the NHL since 2000-01, have yet to prove that they have the intangibles to copilot their team to a title. Their overall history on both sides of crunch time is utterly unsavory.
Flip through every game-by-game playoff account from this century and tally it for yourself. With the Sedins on their roster, the Canucks are 8-11 when facing elimination and 7-12 when trying to close out the opposition.
The run to the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals, which saw the Canucks go 3-6 in closeout contests and lose in Game 7, has been the exception to an otherwise endless string of first- and second-round downfalls.
In collaboration with Daniel Alfredsson and Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza amplified his superstar persona in the 2007 playoffs, where he led all participants with 15 assists. Before the first round of that tournament, when Spezza’s Senators engaged the Penguins, a headline in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette aptly declared that his line was “capable of dominating a series.”
Things hardly appeared to the contrary through at least the intra-conference portion of the playoffs. Unfortunately, Spezza could not put the bow on the package when the Sens ran into Anaheim.
Spezza’s Stanley Cup Finals stat line: 0-2-2 and a minus-two in five games as the opposing Ducks seized the title. The 30-year-old pivot has not had a closer crack at the Cup before or since.
With the exception of his rookie campaign in 2003-04 as well as 2006-07, Eric Staal has perennially topped Carolina’s goal- and/or point-getting leaderboard.
While 2011-12 was no exception when Staal posted 24 goals and 70 points, he still could have done more even with the 33-33-16 team he was on. He endured a seven-game pointless skid between Oct. 28 and Nov. 11 and later a six-game skid from Dec. 15 to 27.
In addition, by season’s end, Staal had his lowest shooting percentage since he was a rookie with only 9.2 percent of his 262 shots on net going in the net.
With 60 points and only 14 penalty minutes in the 48-game 2012-13 season, Martin St. Louis picked up his second Art Ross Trophy as the NHL’s top producer and third Lady Byng Trophy as the most sportsmanlike player.
So what happened in 2005-06, the previous time the league came back from a lockout? That year saw the size-defying veteran post a career-high 38 penalty minutes and 61 points, his shallowest full-season collection since hitting his stride in 2001-02.
The explosive Tampa Bay Lightning striker speaks for himself when it comes to percolating and finishing a scoring opportunity. But Steven Stamkos could still use a little work when it comes to starting a sequence of action altogether.
Stamkos started taking regular faceoffs in his second NHL season in 2009-10, thus qualifying him for nhl.com's faceoff percentage leaderboard. He has finished each of the three seasons since with more losses than wins. Conversely, teammates Dominic Moore, Nate Thompson and Vincent Lecavalier (twice) have all won the majority of their draws when they have qualified.
In his Norris Trophy-winning season this past year, P.K. Subban appeared in 42 out of a possible 48 games for the Montreal Canadiens. He placed third on the team in cumulative ice time (per nhl.com) and was only on the ice for 34 opposing goals.
That was 17 fewer than Josh Gorges and 20 fewer than Andrei Markov, the only two teammates to see more action. It was four fewer than Francis Bouillon, who trailed Subban in total ice time by more than 100 minutes and only one more than Alexei Emelin, who skated nearly 230 fewer minutes.
One rough stretch within Subban’s breakout season occurred within a single week between April 9 and 15. He brooked four consecutive minus games and was on the ice for seven out of 16 defensive drawbacks during that span.
Nonetheless, Minnesota Wild all-around defenseman Ryan Suter did not exactly hit the ice sprinting to start his stint in St. Paul. In fact, as Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune wrote in March, Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher had “estimated it would take Suter 20 games to acclimate to his new surroundings.”
Fletcher’s reported prophecy was coming to fruition for at least half that length of time. Over his first 10 games with Minnesota, Suter pitched in four assists in bunches and had his plus-minus rating steadily slide to a minus-seven with no intervening plus games.
Although he picked his all-around game back up shortly thereafter, he hit that plus-minus season-low again on March 12 in Game No. 25 out of 48.
A breakout campaign in 2011-12 saw John Tavares insert 31 goals and 81 points in 82 games for a near point-per-game pace.
The first overall draft pick from 2009 might have reached and/or exceeded that pace if not for a six-game pointless skid that spanned Nov. 19-29, 2011. That drought was enveloped by a 13-game goal-less hex that lasted from Nov. 7 to Dec. 3.
Another captain who is anything but clutch, Joe Thornton does have a slight upper hand on Ovechkin in that he has helped the San Jose Sharks to two conference finals. But that is not saying much given that the Sharks were swept by Chicago on that stage in 2010 and then fizzled in five games against Vancouver the next year.
In stark contrast to his career regular-season totals of 1,118 points and a plus-158 in 1,125 games, Thornton has skated in 125 playoff contests and charged up 97 points and a minus-21.
Even the best captains lose their grip on the wheel here and there and Jonathan Toews experienced one of those anomalies during the second round of the 2013 playoffs.
This past regular season was a career year for Toews, who retained his first point-per-game or better rate (48 in 47 games), and he garnered the Selke Trophy. Furthermore, his leadership radiated amidst a dominant 36-7-5 run to the regular-season title for the Chicago Blackhawks.
As Toews went, so went the Hawks. In turn, the captain and club had their first noticeable rough patch when a 1-0 lead devolved into a brittle 3-1 deficit against Detroit.
Toews was held pointless in those three straight losses despite thrusting 13 shots at the Red Wing net, including seven in Game 3. In the second period of a 2-0 loss in Game 4, he incurred six penalty minutes on three separate infractions all committed within a matter of five minutes and 34 seconds.
The second of those penalties, a high-sticking call at the 8:04 mark, set up the icebreaker and eventual decider on a Detroit power play.
As it happened, Toews and his teammates regrouped en route to a cathartic comeback and went on to win the Cup. But 2013 proved that even in a combined 52-14-5 regular-season and playoff rampage, one’s human imperfection is bound to flare at least once.
Strangely enough, Thomas Vanek’s second-most productive season in the NHL, a 73-point performance in 2010-11, also contained two of his longest production slumps.
In the first half of that season, Vanek went on a five-game pointless skid from Oct. 29 to Nov. 6 and then a seven-game lull Dec. 15-28. His only career dry spells that can match those were a five-game freeze Nov. 5-15, 2007, and another one lasting seven games Jan. 14-31, 2012.
The Sabres posted a 1-3-1 record during that first skid with one of those regulation losses being a one-goal decision. They were 3-4-0 over Vanek’s December deceleration with two regulation losses decided by a single goal if you discount empty netters.
A little more production from Vanek during those stretches and Buffalo might have earned four, five or six more points in the standings.
Yes, 2012-13 will most likely prove to be an off-year for the Predators, especially if Suter’s replacement, Roman Josi, doesn't live up to his new contract.
Nonetheless, regardless of who his sidekick is on the top defensive unit, Shea Weber simply had an uncharacteristic run that personified his team’s disappointment.
Each of Weber’s full-length NHL seasons have ended with a goal total in the teens or better, a point total in the 40s or 50s and a positive rating. But he started the 48-game sprint of 2013 with a nine-game pointless drought and only one assist in the first 13 games.
On the more crucial defensive end, Weber was partially liable for 57 opposing goals in 1,244:14 of ice time on the year (per nhl.com). Plug those into the goals-against average formula and you get a toe-curling 2.75, substantially higher than the goaltender Rinne’s 2.43 GAA.
Contrast that with the 80 goals Nashville allowed over his 2,076:09 in 2010-11, which translates to a 2.31 GAA. Or his stingier 1.97 in 2011-12 when there were 67 setbacks on his watch in 2,040:34 of playing time.
Described by The Hockey News as an “Excellent offensive defenseman with great mobility,” Keith Yandle has also proven a gratifyingly efficient defender of his own zone since establishing himself as an upper-tier NHLer circa 2009-10. He has finished each of the four seasons since then in the plus-minus black.
However, within those seasons, there has been the occasional all-around muddle, one of which fell in the latter half of October 2010.
It started with four straight pointless, minus-one outings between Oct. 17 and 25. It extended to a seven-game stretch in which Yandle’s rating fell by eight notches, culminating in a minus-three performance against Tampa Bay on Oct. 30.
Besides being on the ice for every strike in that evening’s 3-0 loss, he let his frustration spill over to the point of a joint two-minute roughing minor and 10-minute misconduct with 2:55 left in regulation.
In the eyes of nhl.com, Henrik Zetterberg has been a qualified faceoff leader for each of the past seven seasons. He won a decisive majority of his draws in four out of five seasons between 2006-07 and 2010-11, the exception being 2009-10, when he just barely won less than 50 percent (49.5 to be exact).