Hockey players have feelings, but in this exercise, they better bring the tissues. Through careful research and analysis (jk we just went on whims), RMNB brings you who we think are each team’s very worst player.
Anaheim Ducks: Sometimes a guy never even has a chance to live up to the weight of his contract. That’s the case with Ryan Kesler, who as a reigning 20-goal scorer and fringe Selke candidate, is actually still a productive player. But he’s a diver and kind of a jerk, and at 32-years old he is signed for another SIX years at $6.875 million on the cap. He’s not even worth that now.
Arizona Coyotes: Ah, Mike Smith – the Cam Ward of the West. Smith is a walking outlier – the goaltender who causes GM’s to lurch awake at 3am from a nightmare about the number “.904.” If you call a .915 save percentage about “average” in the NHL, then Mike Smith has been firmly average or below for the last four seasons. Smith’s current save percentage of .926 has made his mediocre goaltending now only the second biggest problem in desert hockey currently (with the Vegas trademark issues being the first). But at 34-years old and signed for almost Holtby money for the next three seasons, Smith’s consistent underperformance is not a good thing for a Coyotes team that would love to eventually compete for something someday.
Boston Bruins: We are going to cheat a bit here, because even though he’s currently playing in the AHL it’s impossible not to give Zac Rinaldo this honor. And it’s not just because he may well be clinically insane – he scored all of one goal in 52 games for the Bruins last year. And managed to get himself suspended from both the NHL and AHL simultaneously. Even $850k is a bad deal for Rinaldo.
Buffalo Sabres: Sadly this is a no-brainer, the worst player on the Sabers is Evander Kane. Yeah, we know – he can be a solid two-way presence on the ice, and the undertones of the criticism he received in Winnipeg were unpleasant, to say the least. He also knocked out Matt Cook in spectacular fashion. But he is one of two Kanes on this list (spoiler alert) to have exhibited unacceptable public behavior, run-ins with the law, and misogynistic tendencies. He’s also hurt all the time and his team is not-so-secretly trying to unload him not so long after trading for him.
Calgary Flames: Remember when a major debate among Caps fans was over whether Troy Brouwer was overpaid at $3.67 million? Well, one decent postseason run later and the 31-year-old forward is making $4.5 million with the Calgary Flames for the next four years. There are a few things about this that bother us. The general consensus by the media was that this was a “good deal,” but Caps fans know better. Brouwer scored a grand total of three goals in thirty-five playoff games with the Caps before potting eight goals in one twenty-game run with the Blues. That said, we’re pretty sure Troy blew through his entire stash of good luck last year. With minus-four percent possession and three five-on-five goals in 31 games, the Flames are quickly going to learn who TFB is.
Carolina Hurricanes: Ah, Cam Ward – the Mike Smith of the East. The Carolina Hurricanes were praised for their strong systems play last year and were a top-ten possession team. They looked poised to take a much-needed step forward, not only for the sake of their fanbase but for the club’s pocketbooks as well. And then they chose to torpedo their own boat, re-signing Cam Ward to two full years at $3.3 million (despite a glut of solid goaltending options on the market). To be fair, Ward hasn’t been that bad this year – his .920 five-on-five save percentage is currently higher than Henrik Lundqvist, Marc-Andre Fleury, and Cory Schneider. But with Ward not having put up above a .915 save percentage since 2011, does anyone think this is going to last?
Chicago Blackhawks: Part two of the evil Kanes goes to the one named Patrick in Chicago. We will never know exactly what happened last summer, but allegations of sexual assault and other bad behavior have followed “Kaner”, and it’s probably not a coincidence. Even without that debacle, he has been arrested for fighting a cab driver and accounts of his party persona are… not good. It’s a shame because he’s undeniably electric on the ice, but some things are more important than sports.
Colorado Avalanche: There’s not much analysis needed here. Rene Bourque was the reason why Nicklas Backstrom missed the majority of the 2011-12 season with a concussion. His reckless, cheap, stupid elbow to Nicklas’ head is the reason why we will never respect him as a hockey player (and why our staff spent 50 man hours on special projects promoting Caps players to punch his face).
Columbus Blue Jackets: The answer can only be one John Tortorella. Are the Blue Jackets actually doing well this year? Yes. Do they currently sit in a playoff spot? Yes. Are they scoring a decent number of goals? Yes. It doesn’t matter. John Tortorella hates Corsi and we hate him.
Dallas Stars: Our pick for Dallas is not one player but rather the two-headed goaltending monstrosity that is inexplicably allowed to live there. The starter combo of Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi is such a fundamentally inept idea that it almost single-handedly undermines every other bit of good work GM Jim Nill has done in Dallas. The only thing crazier than going with that tandem in the first place is that they didn’t blow it up last summer, by any means necessary. Sporting .902 and .894 save percentages so far this year (doesn’t matter who has which), the Stars are like a brand new Ferrari with three wheels and no gas tank. Looks nice from certain angles, won’t even get you out of the driveway. And for the $10.4 million that this self-inflicted goalie monster consumes they could literally afford a Vezina Trophy winner, with more than enough room for a typical backup salary to boot.
Detroit Red Wings: Let’s revisit the halcyon days of the NHL, when a player’s intangibles alone were reason enough to dole out a contract. Enter Steve Ott, the classic fourth-liner who purportedly possesses the mythical skill of grit–the type of player who is too often signed by a desperate, misguided GM. A quick once-over of Ott’s offensive numbers confirms that he isn’t a scoring stalwart–okay, sure–but his possession numbers are dismal. These are good reasons to name him Detroit’s worst player, but that’s not good enough. Ott is notorious for his dangerous transgressions on the ice, and at the ripe old age of 34, he’s not trying to change his style of play. Justin Abdelkader and Niklas Kronwall may be aging and tied to hefty contracts, but they provide some tangible value to the team and aren’t menaces on the ice. Even this little kid gets it.
Edmonton Oilers: This designation is going to the first body parts on our list: Milan Lucic’s fists. Signed to $6 million for six more years there is no doubt that a big part of why Looch was brought to Edmonton was so that he could punch people when they pester Connor McDavid. But there is hockey to be played, and while he’s still a decent player, Lucic wouldn’t seem to be the ideal linemate for a speedy young McDavid. He will certainly be left in the dust as he ticks past 30 and McDavid hits his stride. This old-school protectionist philosophy is on its way out, but the Oilers took the bait and as cap space gets tighter they may well regret it. P.S. – Milan, Karl has something he wanted to tell you.
Florida Panthers: If Dustin Brown were still captain of the LA Kings, he’d have competition for the title of Worst Captain in the NHL. The Panthers named Derek Mackenzie the team’s captain in early October–an unconventional choice, given his age and lack of flashy stats. While Mackenzie may be an excellent locker-room presence, his offensive contributions are minimal and his possession numbers are dreadful. The Panthers are a top-ten possession team this season, but Mackenzie — who has the third-most minutes among forwards on the team — has posted a team-low 42.7 CF% (minus-nine percent relative). He comes fairly cheap at under $1.4 million a season, but he’s signed through 2019–when he’ll be 38. Sorry, Cap.
Los Angeles Kings: We mentioned Dustin Brown above, and he really is the obvious choice for the Kings. The list of reasons why is long. Even team management isn’t fond of him, as they unceremoniously and begrudgingly stripped him of his captaincy. Without a 30 point season in four years and with an outrageous $5.875 million cap hit for eternity, Dustin Brown is a ball and chain dragging down a franchise in a tenuous position. But he’s not our choice for “worst player” on the Kings – that goes to Mike Richards’ cap recapture penalty, the most useless asset on the Kings’ books and a lingering reminder of a contract nullified for shady reasons by their shady GM, Dean Lombardi.
Minnesota Wild: Hot take alert – we are giving this to 31-year old Ryan Suter. It’s really not that he’s a bad player – he is a big guy and a sturdy defenseman who can chip in a moderate amount of offense. But when Sportsnet did an intriguing analysis of the top-20 defensemen in the NHL (based on a wide variety of stats), Suter was nowhere to be found. To be clear, even top-40 or top-50 is pretty good – but then there’s that contract. My god, that contract. Looking at those numbers you can almost see a benefit to the lockout. It’s not that Ryan Suter is a bad player by any means, it’s the knowledge that he’s a $7.54 million AAV time-bomb that will keep ticking until he’s 39-years-old.
Montreal Canadiens: Sometimes a player hits free agency that everyone seems to know is going to be a horrendous overpay. And somehow teams still take the bait. Andrew Shaw fits that bill, with a lone 20 goal season and no seasons over 40 points, even on the high-flying Blackhawks. This glorified third-liner and noted jerk is paid only $600k less than superstar Max Pacioretty and $150k more than Brendan Gallagher for the next six years. Let that sink in.
Nashville Predators: Another likable team that somehow has a lot of options here. Filip Forsberg is a tempting pick, if anything just because hearing that name makes me want to reenact the final scene of the movie Pi. James Neal would also be appropriate, given his long history of flagrant disregard for the safety of other hockey players (partially redeemed by the hilarity of #AskNeil). But those things are petty compared to Mike Ribeiro, who just isn’t a good human being. He seemed pretty lame when he was with the Caps, and one of McPhee’s biggest triumphs was not re-signing him. We won’t even go into what has come out about his off-ice persona since then, but it’s hard to believe this guy is still playing in the NHL.
New Jersey Devils: Four words, one piece of useless bronze: The Martin Brodeur statue.
Look at Bronze Marty winking at us like he’s the man. He hasn’t even won a single hockey game. Also, what are the Devils doing with a statue of a St. Louis Blues player in front of their arena? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
New York Islanders: Our next worst player might be not only the worst on his team but one of the worst on this list. That distinction goes to Cal Clutterbuck. Part of the now-defunct and always stupid “best fourth line in hockey,” Clutterbuck isn’t bad for a grinder. But he IS a fourth-liner, and with a newly minted contract giving him a cap hit of $3.5 million for the next five years he is beyond overpaid. And from chirping Ovi in the dying days of the Coliseum to maybe-accidental collisions, Clutterbuck is the opposite of a “good character guy” for the Isles’ room. After ditching a freshly-signed PA Parenteau and then signing this disaster of a deal, one has to feel that the Islanders wholly deserve to miss the playoffs as punishment for their insanity.
New York Rangers: The low-hanging fruit… this one is too easy. For such a good team there sure are a lot of potential picks here. You have the colossal postseason disappearing act that is Rick Nash (yes, I know he is trying really hard), the $5.7 million dollars of mediocrity that is Marc Staal, and the bizarre teacher’s pet that is Tanner Glass. But we have to go with the perennial whipping boy, Dan Girardi. To take a step back and be fair for a second: it’s not Girardi’s fault that he gets the ice time he does, and he has given a lot to the Rangers, sacrificing his body and putting in maximum effort. But his anchor-like effects on the team’s numbers (and Ryan McDonough in particular) are impossible to overlook. On second thought, maybe this award should go to Alain Vigneault?
Ottawa Senators: With the ability to send booming slapshots 15 feet wide and 20 rows deep into the stands and for the bargain-bin price of only $7 million AAV, we’ll give this to Dion Phaneuf. The former whipping boy of the Toronto media will soon be the same in Ottawa when the gravity sets in of him making half a million more than Erik Karlsson while dragging down the possession of all his partners.
Philadelphia Flyers: We aren’t going to get tricked into picking Radko Gudas here. Yes, many of his hits are borderline as hell and some even are over the line. Yes, he clearly has very little regard for the safety of those around him (including our precious Burra). But he’s too useful to write off just yet. No, we’ll give this honor jointly to Brayden Schenn (and his very punchable face) for headhunting the Capitals during last year’s playoff series and Andy MacDonald for being a criminally overpaid possession black hole.
San Jose Sharks: To be honest, I know next to nothing about Tommy Wingels. But the Sharks are a likable team and someone has to get stuck with the “worst player” honors. On paper, Wingels doesn’t look very good: Minimal production, an expensive deal for a depth player, and horrendous possession effects on his teammates. That’ll do. Sorry, Tommy.
St. Louis Blues: Congratulations, St. Louis Blues: you have no single worst player. Just a lot of mediocre ones. How the Blues are a top team is a little bit mystifying, with only three forwards (Stastny, Schwartz and Tarasenko) who could rightfully be called “impact” players. Beyond that, a whole lot of “meh.” Jori Lehtera, Patrik Berglund, David Perron. And let us not forget Nail Yakupov, who I really want to root for, but who seems destined to forever live in a giant shadow shaped like the number “one.”
Tampa Bay Lighting: The ultimate referendum on “will over skill,” Ryan Callahan was paid $5.8 million dollars to put up 28 points in 73 games last year. The former captain of the Torts-era shot-blocking grind-it-out New York Rangers hasn’t put up better than Mojo level points in his entire career and contributed just two goals in 25 playoff games during their run to the finals in 2015. This year he is one of the worst possession players on the Lightning and has dragged down the numbers of all his main linemates. Well, at least he’s the perfect pick for a Las Vegas expansion club looking for a leader and fan favorite… oh wait, he has a no-move clause and must be protected at the expense of a younger, faster, cheaper, scorier player. Whoops.
Toronto Maple Leafs: With a staggeringly awful minus 10.2 percent relative score-adjusted possession, this designation goes to Matt Hunwick. He plays the fewest minutes at five-on-five of any Leaf’s defenseman – but that still comes in at 14 minutes per game. That’s 14 minutes of Hunwick and all of his linemates getting absolutely caved in. Honorable mention goes to veteran Roman Polak, who is right there with him in the muck. Leafs expert Steve Dangle would be the first to tell you – if Toronto wants to take a big step forward they’ll need to do something about this pairing.
Vancouver Canucks: You guessed it – wrapping up the list in spectacular fashion is Alex Burrows. Overpaid and mediocre, Burrows has a list of incidents that could fill a novel. Biting in the playoffs, feuds with referees, using personal tragedies as fodder for chirping, family insults, punching players from the bench, head shots and blindside hits – this is only a sample.
Washington Capitals: The worst player on the Caps is N/A because this team is flawless.
Winnipeg Jets: The Winnipeg Jets are an up-and-coming team, but for at least one more year they’ll be shelling out $3 million to keep Ondrej Pavelec buried in the minors. It feels kind of harsh to pick on someone who is already on his way out the door in the NHL, but call it one final nod to the guy who the Jets franchise has been riding through all the lows… and well, lows, since 2007 (!!!).
Our criteria explained: Basically there were no rules. Maybe this player was an 800-ton nautical anchor dragging everyone’s stats into the abyss and funneling pucks into their own net. Or maybe they’re just a jerk. Maybe they’re both. We did not pick on fourth liners and plugs (unless they really deserved it) because that’s too easy and a little cruel. Everyone else was fair game.
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
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