Nathan MacKinnon and the NHL's Biggest Disappointments This Season
For every success story and comeback tale a new NHL season brings, there's a cornucopia of big disappointments and dashed dreams.
If you're one of the 12 players or teams on this list such as Colorado Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon, bad news: Things aren't going well.
Did a team or player fail to meet expectations? Did they offer promise with a huge contract and not deliver? Or is it simply just a slump they're likely to shake off? All these criteria were put through the Rank-O-Matic machine at Bleacher Report. The results that were spit out are surprising. No, Washington Capitals fans, we're not picking on you.
In any case, this list ranks the best of the worst players and teams who have absolutely floundered this year. Here are the results.
All statistics courtesy of NHL.com.
All cap figures courtesy of CapGeek.com.
12) Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen: Washington Capitals
Both Pittsburgh Penguins last season, Orpik and Niskanen took their skills to D.C. during the 2014 NHL free-agency period, cashing in on huge deals worth $5.5 and $5.75 million a season against the cap, respectively, with the former getting a five-year deal and the latter a six.
Here's a fun fact: Orpik and Niskanen consume nearly 16 percent of the Capitals' salary this season.
With that sort of commitment, Washington fans should expect big things from the veteran blueliners. Instead, they've gotten anything but, as the two D-men have combined for just 10 points (no goals) and a minus-nine rating.
Given Orpik isn't known for his goal scoring, he prided himself on his physical play and being a shutdown defensemen with his time in Pittsburgh. However, as Patrick Holden of the Washington Post reveals, Orpik has been a member of the NHL's worst shutdown pair statistically (with defender John Carlson) for a majority of the season.
Niskanen came off a career-best outing last year, contributing 10 goals with 46 points and a plus-33 rating. However, the goal scoring hasn't been there, as he's been held scoreless in 18 contests this season heading into Wednesday night's games.
Washington has had mixed results this year, currently holding an 8-7-3 record in third place in the Metropolitan Division.
These moves, while they appear detrimental as of now, appear low on this list because the expectations for the two defenders, especially Orpik, were limited heading into the free-agency period.
Good luck dealing with that anchor to your salary cap, though, Washington.
11) Buffalo Sabres
Everyone expected the Buffalo Sabres to be bad.
Just not this bad.
Buffalo has the worst record in the NHL, just five wins in 20 games. Yuck.
What makes matters worse is the Sabres have some talent on the roster, veterans who know how to put the puck in the net.
Guys like Brian Gionta, Drew Stafford, Matt Moulson, Tyler Ennis and Chris Stewart all have lit the lamp with regularity in past seasons. Unfortunately, they haven't helped a Buffalo squad that ranks dead last in the NHL with 1.6 goals a game.
Things aren't going so well on the defensive side either, as the team has surrendered 35 more goals than it's scored, the worst goal differential the league.
No worries, Sabres—another loss will bring you that much closer to phenom Connor McDavid.
This Buffalo squad likely should have a better record with some of the players on its roster. However, since the team was projected to be one of the worst in the league, it's hard to justify it being any higher on this list.
10) Alexander Semin: Carolina Hurricanes
There's been bad players this year, and then there's Alexander Semin.
Semin, who signed a healthy five-year, $35-million contract in March of 2013, has sputtered out to five points (no goals) in his first 14 games. The Russian sniper has posted seven seasons of at least 20 goals in his 10-year NHL career, so we know what he's capable of at least.
Things are looking bad for Semin this year, as he's already been a healthy scratch in two games. According to Michael Smith of Tracking the Storm, management is unhappy with Semin's recent outings and penalty issues.
“He'd played enough,” Carolina coach Bill Peters told Smith. “I don't think we need to take undisciplined penalties when we're trying to dig out of a hole, right? When you're in a hole, quit digging.”
Semin ranks low on this list because of the overall impact Carolina has on the league. Though Semin has proved himself a quality player who should be producing more than he has, the Hurricanes' lack of talent bottles down any high expectations overall for the forward.
9) Marian Gaborik: Los Angeles Kings
Another season and another Marian Gaborik injury.
Everyone should already be accustomed to this. It wouldn't be shocking for Gaborik to be on an injury list for some team 50 years simply out of habit.
After his dominant effort in last season's Stanley Cup Final in which he racked up 22 points in 26 games, this season was supposed to build on that outstanding performance.
It's nearly December, and Gaborik has played in only 11 games because of a lower-body injury, recording just five points.
This certainly hasn't been the big breakout season Kings fans were hoping for.
Gaborik, if healthy, has the potential to go on a hot streak at a moment's notice. That's what keeps him down on this list, especially considering how valuable he is in the playoffs, which are nearly five months away. That's a long time to figure things out.
8) Alexander Ovechkin: Washington Capitals
Seasons with 60 goals seem long gone for this sniper.
You know when you notch 16 points in 18 games and that's considered a disappointment that expectations are very high.
The Russian has become less a dominant goal scorer and more of a streaky sniper through the years, and it appears that this season is no different.
As head coaches have come and gone, fans continue to ask, "Is it the coach, the system or Ovechkin?"
Whatever it is, it's holding back the magic that made Ovechkin a superstar out of the gate in his NHL career.
7) New York Rangers
The defending Eastern Conference champions have been mediocre through the league's first month-and-a-half.
Though Rick Nash has shined with a league-leading 12 goals, the Rangers find themselves just average in all major statistical categories. They're 13th in goals scored, 22nd in goals against, 22nd on the power play and 18th on the penalty kill.
These certainly aren't numbers that foster much confidence. Four of the team's games have been lost in overtime or the shootout, leaving four points on the board in a highly contested Metropolitan Division.
Speaking of shootout losses, none was more crushing than the Nov. 15 game the Rangers thought they won. In the video above, New York appears to win a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins in a shootout, 3-2, when Dan Boyle shoots a puck past Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
However, the goal was reviewed after the players went into the locker room. Officials called the players back onto the ice, deeming Boyle's goal was tapped twice by Boyle, therefore disallowing the score.
The Penguins got the most out of their second life, overthrowing the Rangers with a game-clinching marker by Brandon Sutter.
6) Ales Hemsky: Dallas Stars
Hemsky was supposed to be a surefire component that would bolster Tyler Seguin's wing on the Stars' first line.
The team thought enough of Hemsky to give him a three-year deal worth $12 million during the summer.
It's been 18 games, and Dallas is still waiting for the 31-year-old to tickle the twine this season.
Hemsky has just been awful this year, tallying just two points in that 18-game span with a minus-10 rating.
The winger makes the sixth spot on this list because of how much money he was dished out and the significant contributions he was supposed to make in top-pairing minutes with one of the league's young centers.
The only thing keeping Hemsky from climbing further up this list is his career background. Never considered a superstar, Hemsky's failed to top 50 points in a season since his 66 in 2008-09.
5) Thomas Vanek: Minnesota Wild
Like Hemsky, Vanek was a highly sought-after player during the 2014 NHL free-agency period. Perhaps the premier player of the bunch, Vanek agreed to a three-year, $19 million contract with the Minnesota Wild.
Joining a deep, talented offensive pool of players, Vanek was supposed to contribute his usual, consistent offensive production.
This year, Vanek has struggled, notching just one goal and 10 points in 17 games.
The player who has scored at least 20 goals in all of his nine NHL seasons is on pace for five goals and 48 points in a full 82-game schedule.
That's certainly not the return on investment Minnesota was looking for.
Vanek makes his way near the top of our list because he was the biggest name in free agency this offseason. However, he can't eclipse the top five, which is filled with rising superstars and perennial powerhouses.
4) Chicago Blackhawks Offense
Where is the offense in Chi-Town?
The Blackhawks always seem to be carrying an all-star roster of snipers and scorers, yet the team can't seem to find the back of the net this year.
None of Chicago's skaters have a point-per-game average of more than one. Yes, that includes the likes of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp (injured), Brandon Saad and Marian Hossa.
That's practically half a forward roster of an All-Star team, yet none can seem to find the back of the net.
This confusing scenario has the Blackhawks at a mediocre 10-7-1 mark through 18 games this year. The team's second-ranked defense has provided the wins when needed.
Chicago's offense can explode at any time. When it does, watch out! The team will be a real threat in the Western Conference again.
Until then, a strange anomaly for what is usually an NHL powerhouse has the Hawks ranked high on this list. They'd be ranked a bit higher if this was in January and the team was having the same issues. However, it's hard to imagine that sort of firepower will be held in check much longer.
3) Columbus Blue Jackets
Columbus was an exciting team to watch last season, especially in the playoffs.
Though the club lost in six games to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the opening round, it certainly looked like it belonged.
Ryan Johansen has been decent, tallying 20 points in 18 games. Recently acquired forward Scott Hartnell hasn't been too shabby either, tacking on 14 points in 18 games. However, both players combine for a minus-13 rating.
The team recently got spark plug Boone Jenner back from a hand injury, which kept him out the first few weeks of the season.
Defensive lapses have been the team's biggest culprit, especially in the third period. The team has a goal differential of minus-16 in the third period, according to Brian McCormack at Bluejackets.com.
Columbus makes its way to third on this list because of the expectation the team would improve on its playoff appearance last year. That doesn't seem to be the case so far, as the Blue Jackets are 15th out of 16 teams in the Eastern Conference with 13 points.
Though they could be ranked higher, expectations for the two seeds above Columbus on this list far exceed anything the Blue Jackets have to deal with.
2) Nathan MacKinnon: Colorado Avalanche
Things have been rocky for Colorado this season. Caught in the avalanche of disappointment is Nathan MacKinnon, last year's Calder Trophy winner for best rookie.
MacKinnon has struggled out of the gate this year, posting five goals and six assists through 19 games with a minus-nine rating.
Those numbers project out to just 42 points over an 82-game season. Certainly solid numbers but well off the 63 points the forward tallied last year.
To make matters worse, MacKinnon was recently demoted down to the third line.
With expectations so high for MacKinnon and Colorado coming into 2014-15 as such strong contenders out of the Western Conference, the 19-year-old finds himself near the top of this list.
1) Colorado Avalanche
It'd be easy to place all the blame for this season on MacKinnon. The thing is, his team hasn't been giving him much support.
Colorado hasn't done much of anything well, ranking 27th in goals for (2.4) and 24th in goals against (3.1).
A big reason for the team's rough start is a power play that's clicked on just 13.4 percent of its attempts. Last year, the Avalanche ranked fifth with a 19.8 percentage with the man advantage.
Ryan O'Reilly, who led the team with 22 power-play points last year, has just five through 19 games.
Colorado beats out other contenders at the top of the list because of the high expectations for the organization after a playoff run and, ultimately, the glut of young talent that was supposed carry the team this season.