Ranking the 10 Most Overrated Stars in the NHL Today

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured ColumnistApril 5, 2014

Ranking the 10 Most Overrated Stars in the NHL Today

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    Every NHL team has a star it looks toward to lift it to victory. It could be a goaltender who makes key saves, a two-way defenseman who contributes at both ends of the rink or a forward who comes through with clutch goals.

    Not all NHL stars are created equal. Some are better that others, capable of elevating their play with the game on the line. Then there are those whose performances rarely meet expectations, receiving more credit for their actions than they deserve. Such players are considered overrated.

    Several factors go into making a player overrated. Sometimes it's a good player feeling the pressure of justifying an expensive contract. There are those whose earlier NHL success overshadows their current performance. Sometimes a star can be placed into roles in which he is unsuited, forcing him to do more than his skills allow. Some develop a reputation as strong regular-season performer who comes up short in the playoffs.

    The following is a ranking of the NHL's 10 most overrated players this season.

10. Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg Jets

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    Dustin Byfuglien first attracted attention with his strong performance as a checking forward during the Chicago Blackhawks' 2010 Stanley Cup run. Converted to a defenseman following a trade to the Atlanta Thrashers, he achieved stardom as a physical offensive blueliner.

    Since the Thrashers' move to Winnipeg in 2011, Byfuglien's performance has garnered increasing criticism from the local media. The Winnipeg Free Press' Gary Lawless singled out Byfuglien for his lack of commitment and poor defensive play. While a good offensive blueliner, he'll never become an elite defender.

    Halfway through this season, the Jets moved Byfuglien to left wing, where his skills seem better suited. He is overrated as a defenseman, but perhaps he can redeem himself as a power forward.

9. Mike Smith, Phoenix Coyotes

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    Mike Smith's future as an NHL goalie was in doubt when the Phoenix Coyotes signed him as a free agent in 2011. He rewarded them with a stunning performance in 2011-12, winning 38 games and posting a 2.21 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage with eight shutouts. He also carried the Coyotes to the 2011 Western Conference Final.

    Since then, Smith has struggled to regain that stellar form. Last season, his goals against rose to 2.58, while his save percentage was .910. Before suffering a recent injury, he won only 27 games this season. His save percentage marginally improved (.915), while his goals against rose to 2.64.

    Injuries and a decline in the Coyotes' defensive game have hurt Smith's performance. His numbers are no longer those of an elite goalie.

8. Thomas Vanek, Montreal Canadiens

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    Thomas Vanek is a natural goalscorer who's reached the 40-goal mark twice in his NHL career. Unfortunately, those accomplishments came in his first four NHL seasons. Since tallying 40 goals in 2008-09, he's only cracked the 30-goal mark once. Vanek also hasn't come anywhere near the career high of 84 points he reached in 2006-07. He's been a streaky scorer through much of his career.

    Last year CBC.ca's Doug Harrison, in an otherwise complimentary piece on Vanek, noted that the Austrian winger was criticized over the years as a lazy player guilty of sloppy puck management.

    Vanek is a good scoring winger, but he's not an elite one. That probably won't prevent teams from overpaying for his services this summer when he becomes an unrestricted free agent.

7. Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Marc-Andre Fleury was a key part of the Penguins' march to the 2008 Stanley Cup Final and their 2009 championship. Since then, however, his stock as an elite NHL goaltender has significantly declined.

    Over the past four seasons, Fleury has posted solid regular-season numbers. In the playoffs, however, it's another story. He suffered memorable meltdowns against the Philadelphia Flyers in 2012 (2-4, 4.63 GAA, .834 SP) and the New York Islanders last year (2-2, 3.52 GAA, .883 SP). During the Islanders series, he lost his starter's job to backup Tomas Vokoun for the remainder of the Penguins' playoff run. 

    Fleury is playing well this season (37 wins, 2.35 GAA, .916 SP, 5 shutouts). But without a strong 2014 postseason, he cannot be considered an elite starting goaltender.

6. Dustin Brown, Los Angeles Kings

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    Dustin Brown's stock rose significantly when he led the Los Angeles Kings to their 2012 Stanley Cup championship. It made it easy to overlook his offensive inconsistency. Prior to the 2012 NHL trade deadline, TSN's Bob McKenzie (h/t The Vancouver Province) reported Brown was the subject of trade chatter.

    While he is a versatile physical winger, he's been a streaky scorer throughout his NHL career. He's only reached 30 goals and 60 points once, back in 2007-08.

    Also, a knee injury hampered his performance during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign. He's healthier this season but on pace for only 28 points in 79 games, lower than the 29 points in only 46 games last season. When Brown's at his best, he's a good all-around forward, but he's not an elite player.

5. Cam Ward, Carolina Hurricanes

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    Cam Ward rose to prominence during his NHL rookie season of 2005-06, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy by backstopping the Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup. That performance, along with his carrying the Hurricanes to the 2009 Eastern Conference Final, burnished his reputation as an elite goaltender.

    Since 2009, however, Ward has struggled to regain that stellar form.  Though he has five seasons with 30-plus wins, he's been unable to carry the Hurricanes back to the playoffs. Throughout his nine-year NHL career, the Hurricanes reached the playoffs with Ward as their starter only twice. 

    Injuries have affected his play and his consistency. The Hurricanes' struggling defense hasn't helped either. Still, elite players manage to overcome hurdles. Ward's career numbers (2.76 goals-against average, .910 save percentage) are not those of a top NHL goalie.

4. Ryan Kesler, Vancouver Canucks

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    Ryan Kesler had back-to-back 70-plus point performances in 2009-10 and 2010-11. He also won the Selke Trophy in 2011 as the league's best defensive forward. Since then, Kesler's production has noticeably declined.

    He tallied 49 points in 2011-12 and is on pace for 45 points this season. Injuries hampered his performance in both seasons and sidelined him for all but 17 games last season. He turns 30 in August, and the wear and tear of his physical style means his best seasons are likely behind him.

    The Vancouver Canucks could trade him this summer. TSN's Bob McKenzie reported the asking price to be a good young center: a first-round pick and a top prospect. He's not worth the trade value of a superstar. While Kesler remains a very good two-way center, he cannot be considered an elite player.

3. Rick Nash, New York Rangers

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    Rick Nash was considered a future superstar when the Columbus Blue Jackets selected him first overall in the 2002 NHL entry draft. He seemed on his way to fulfilling that destiny in his sophomore season, when he was a co-winner of the Richard Trophy as the NHL's top goalscorer.

    Despite his obvious physical and offensive gifts, Nash never reached the heights expected of him. His best season (2008-09) saw him tally 40 goals and 79 points.

    Since joining the New York Rangers, Nash's production has barely improved, though this season's downturn can be blamed on a concussion.

    He turns 30 in June, meaning his best seasons are likely behind him. He's a very good power forward, but he's overrated as an NHL superstar.

2. Alexander Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

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    Alexander Ovechkin's offensive production has significantly declined since 2009-10. While he's on a point-per-game clip this season, Ovechkin is well below the offensive pace of his earlier years. He's won numerous individual awards, but he has yet to lead the Washington Capitals beyond the conference semifinals.

    Critics, such as NBC Sports' Mike Milbury, consider Ovechkin a one-dimensional offensive player. Despite leading the league in goals this season, Ovechkin's plus-minus of minus-35 is the league's worst. While part of that is due to the Capitals' poor defense, it doesn't fully excuse his sloppy defensive play.

    Ovechkin remains a dazzling offensive talent, but, as The Hockey News' Ken Campbell recently observed, he must learn to become a more complete player. Until then, the Capitals captain has reached the point where he's considered overrated.

1. Dion Phaneuf, Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Since joining the Toronto Maple Leafs in a 2010 trade from the Calgary Flames, Dion Phaneuf has not blossomed into the elite defenseman the Leafs and their fans expected him to be. That's made him the scapegoat for the club's recent struggles.

    Phaneuf's offensive skills and physical style are his strengths, but his inconsistent defensive play can prove costly. The Globe and Mail's James Mirtle noted that he was often on the second defense pairing with more defensively responsible partners during his years with the Flames. Since coming to Toronto, he's been forced into a larger two-way role for which he's unsuited.

    While Phaneuf has leadership ability, he's been ineffective as the Leafs' captain.

    At this stage in his career, he's a good, physical, puck-moving defenseman. However, he's definitely not a premier blueliner.