10 NHL Players Not Getting Enough Buzz in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs
The 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs are underway, and it’s already been an exhilarating postseason.
The stock of NHL teams rises and falls on a daily basis, highlighting the parity and unpredictability of the sport. Clubs expected to lose handily have made a stand, while others expected to perform admirably have come up short.
The speed of the game is at a different level in the postseason. Every play, every mistake, every minute of every game is more important during bonus hockey in April, and it is during this time that players rise up to levels of play once thought impossible to reach. The best of the best are certainly on display, but they aren’t the only ones making the difference.
There are lesser lauded players working just as hard as the superstars, if not harder. The defenseman on a roll. The-third line guy who shuts down a top opponent.
Each is key to stealing those 16 wins required to bring home the greatest trophy in sports, the Stanley Cup.
There are players who make national headlines, and there are players who deserve to make the front pages of the local sports sections for the effort they put in. What follows is a list of 10 players who deserve more credit but don’t get enough buzz for the blood, sweat and tears they put in during the fight for the Cup.
Paul Martin, Pittsburgh Penguins
On a team that fields Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on a nightly basis, it can be hard to get some recognition for your work. It’s even worse when your starting netminder, Marc-Andre Fleury, steals headlines after another questionable judgement costs the Penguins a playoff victory.
What’s a guy like Paul Martin got to do to get some love? The 33-year-old defenseman has eight assists through just five games, leading his Pittsburgh Penguins—and tops for a spell in this postseason—in points and assists. That's almost many points as Crosby and Malkin combined (neither has a goal).
Martin has had a hand in nearly half of Pittsburgh's tallies and is just three points away from his career playoff high (11) set in 15 games last year. The feat is even more impressive considering the fact that Martin had a meager 15 points through 39 games during the regular season.
Martin is also leading his club in ice time (eighth overall), logging just over 27 minutes per contest. He's averaging 31 shifts per game and is still making a significant impact.
Brendan Gallagher, Montreal Canadiens
Some NHL rookies don't get the chance to taste the Stanley Cup playoffs during their debut seasons in the league. Brendan Gallagher, a Calder Trophy finalist during his freshman year, got to play in five games. The experience was apparently valuable to the 21-year-old Montreal Canadiens winger, who is tied for the team lead in points (five) through just four contests this time around.
It’s not easy to stand out from a pack that boasts P.K. Subban, Thomas Vanek, Tomas Plekanec and Carey Price, but Gallagher has made quite the splash. His three goals and two assists helped put the struggling Tampa Bay Lightning to bed in just four games this year, a surprise to some who expected more of a fight from the Florida club.
In the middle of the group in minutes, Gallagher is still facing some of the toughest competition per game, making his offensive wallop even more impressive. Montreal will need him to continue his torrid pace as the club looks to face either the Boston Bruins or Detroit Red Wings in the second round.
Brent Seabrook, Chicago Blackhawks
Much has been made of Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook’s suspension for his big-time hit on David Backes of the St. Louis Blues. While the play knocked Backes out for a few games with a head injury, it overshadowed how well Seabrook was playing prior to the incident.
The 29-year-old rear guard was averaging over thirty minutes of playing time through two contests, the second-highest on the club. Seabrook is tasked with shutting down some of the hardest-hitting guys in the NHL, and his absence is a major blow for the defending Stanley Cup champions.
Seabrook wasn’t all defense all the time either. He had already chipped in on the other side of the puck, putting home two goals and helping on two more for four points, equaling his total from all of the playoffs last season.
His suspension is up after Game 5, and his return will give the Blackhawks a much-needed push in the direction of a Stanley repeat. With a lineup that boasts Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp, Seabrook will again play a key role while flying under the radar.
Brandon Dubinsky, Columbus Blue Jackets
Four players have more goals for the Columbus Blue Jackets, but few are having as good a series as Brandon Dubinsky.
His first job? Defend against Pittsburgh Penguins demigod Sidney Crosby, who coincidentally doesn’t have a goal yet in the best-of-seven series.
It’s safe to say that he’s getting some work done in that regard.
Meanwhile, the 27-year-old forward has tallied a goal and five assists. Dubinsky had points in each of the first four games, and his goal was a big one as well, tying the match with just over 22 seconds remaining in Game 4.
Dubinsky’s six points are two shy of his career playoff best, which occurred as a member of the New York Rangers, and he has helped the Blue Jackets to the first two postseason wins in franchise history.
Is there anything sweeter than seeing a team achieve a momentous milestone like that?
Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars
The Anaheim Ducks are doing a fantastic job at calming the storm that is Tyler Seguin, but a dam can only hold back so much water. Something has to come through eventually.
Seguin is like a goalscoring time bomb waiting to go off in the postseason, and everyone knows it’s coming.
He didn’t get much love during NHL awards voting this season—he was on the bubble of a few—but Seguin certainly deserves credit for his work for the Dallas Stars in the playoffs this year.
Averaging nearly 20 minutes per game, Seguin is matching up against the best of what Anaheim can throw at him, which opens the ice up for everyone else. Playing a primarily offensive role, Seguin has just one goal and one assist through five contests—not his best output thus far.
He does, however, have a respectable 55.6 win percentage in the faceoff circle. Not bad for a 22-year-old traded from the Boston Bruins because he was too wild off the ice.
Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning
The Montreal Canadiens shocked the Tampa Bay Lightning and their fans, knocking out the higher seed in just four games. Without Ben Bishop backstopping the squad, the Bolts just weren’t strong enough in the rear to withstand the surging Montreal squad.
The Lightning still had their share of success, but points were sparse, and goals were even less frequent—Tampa Bay managed just 10 in all.
Bolts blueliner Victor Hedman was one of those quiet yet successful skaters who held his own on the stat sheet against some tough competition. In the middle of the pack in hits, the 23-year-old Swede tied for first with seven blocked shots, proving that he’d do anything to keep the biscuit out of the basket.
Hedman contributed one goal and two assists as well. While his season is no more, he still deserves kudos for his work.
Semyon Varlamov, Colorado Avalanche
It seems that anytime Colorado Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov accomplishes something spectacular in the playoffs this year, he’s overshadowed by something or someone else.
First it was Paul Stastny and the tying and overtime goals in Game 1. Then it was Nathan MacKinnon and his seven points through two games—and 10 through five.
Even in the two losses to the Minnesota Wild on the road, Varlamov couldn’t get a nod for keeping both contests within one point despite his club being heavily outshot and outplayed. The Matt Cooke debacle and Colorado’s up-and-down performance in general have provided larger-than-life themes for journalists to draw from as well.
Meanwhile, Varlamov has allowed just 12 goals on 175 shots. The way the Avalanche have looked, that number could be much higher. His save percentage (.931) is third-best among goalies who have played four or more games—behind only Tuukka Rask (Boston Bruins) and Darcy Kuemper (Minnesota Wild).
The 26-year-old Russian’s ability to thrive under pressure and keep the game close is why the Avalanche finished first in the Central Division, and despite a rare poor showing in the series opener, Varlamov has been in fine form throughout the postseason.
There’s a reason he was a Vezina Trophy finalist.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic, San Jose Sharks
How important is Marc-Edouard Vlasic for the San Jose Sharks?
Prior to leaving Game 5 with an injury, Vlasic was sitting fourth on the blue line with nearly 20 minutes of play per game. The 27-year-old rear guard was logging more shifts than teammates Dan Boyle and Brad Stuart while also regularly facing some of the toughest competition the Los Angeles Kings had to offer.
Worthy of Norris Trophy consideration during the season, Vlasic has kept up his hard work in the playoffs, adding a goal and two assists in the process. Having already tied his career-high point output for the postseason, Vlasic is poised to have a major impact on the fortune of his Sharks if he can return to the lineup.
Picked by many to win the Stanley Cup, the Sharks had a dominating season, leveling opponents at a scary clip. Were it not for a sudden surge from the Kings in Games 4 and 5, San Jose would be on to the second round already.
Rick Nash, New York Rangers
The New York Rangers have only 11 goals in the postseason but are still tied with the Philadelphia Flyers through the weekend. Veteran winger Rick Nash has zero of them, but he has contributed to the success of the storied franchise nonetheless.
It isn’t always about putting up goals. Sometimes an assist is just as important, and controlling the puck is also critical.
Nash has four points through four games, one fewer than his career best set last season. That’s not the impressive part, though. Nash has also been tasked with facing the top players on the Flyers yet still manages to control the play while out on the ice.
Philadelphia, which has even fewer goals through four games (eight), will not be able to get anything going if it cannot get the puck away from Nash and company.
Vladimir Sobotka, St. Louis Blues
Vladimir Sobotka is one of those players who elevates the game of those around him when he's out on the ice.
He plays a pivotal role on both sides of the puck for his St. Louis Blues. On the one hand, he's asked to defend against the opponents' more formidable scorers. On the other, he dominates possession during his 33 shifts per game, keeping the puck away from the much-hated Chicago Blackhawks.
Sobotka is also tied for third in points with three assists, proving that he can contribute on the offensive side of things as well.
The 26-year-old Czech winger has 17 hits, five blocked shots, four takeaways, and a 58.3 win percentage in the faceoff circle through four overtime decisions and one that ended in regulation.
While eyes are on Vladimir Tarasenko, Kevin Shattenkirk and Ryan Miller, the less heralded Sobotka is proving just as valuable to the Blues' playoff ambitions.