It’s the third round of the NHL playoffs, still, thanks to a Dallas Stars team that doesn’t seem to want to quit. With the Golden Knights wobbling and the Panthers resting up, we’re almost at the finish line.
Are you feeling disappointed yet?
Probably. Only three teams remain, which means 29 fan bases are experiencing mandatory misery. Certainly, fans of the 13 playoff teams on the sidelines will be looking for someone to blame.
That’s where we come in. Every year, right around this time, we like to assemble an all-star roster of playoff letdowns. It’s our chance to shine a spotlight on some of those players who were curiously absent from the highlight reels when they were needed most.
As always, we’re not mad, just disappointed. We’ll be taking at least one player per playoff team. And we’ll build from the net out, the way all
great sad teams do.
Goaltending is weird, man. After spending the better part of a decade as the NHL’s most bankable big-game goalie (including three straight years with long playoff runs where he put up a .920 save percentage or better), Vasilevskiy posted the worst numbers of any playoff goalie with at least five starts. I guess that’s just what happens when you’re facing an offensive juggernaut like the playoff Maple Leafs.
From the sounds of things, they’ve already engraved his name on the Vezina. Luckily for him, that award is based entirely on the regular season, because Ullmark became the story of the Bruins’ shocking first-round loss. That’s not entirely him — he was hurting, and fatigue was clearly an issue, so Jim Montgomery probably should have swapped in Jeremy Swayman for a game earlier in the series. Instead, the Bruins rode Ullmark until he started to sputter in Game 5, then let him get shelled in Game 6 before benching him with the season on the line.
It didn’t work, and combined with last year’s performance that saw him lose the starter’s job after just two games, it has to create at least a few questions about how reliable Ullmark can be in the postseason.
We always have a third goalie on this team, if only because we’ll probably need one. The Oilers may have wished they had a third option too. Skinner was a great story this year, winning the starter’s job as a rookie and even making the All-Star Team. But he stumbled in the playoffs, especially against the Golden Knights; it got so bad that some Oiler fans were even asking for Jack Campbell to take over. Goaltending wasn’t the only reason they lost, but it was sure one of them, so we’ll give him this spot in a narrow decision over Vitek Vanecek.
The Devils are a young team that took a big step this year, including winning a Game 7 in the first round. But we do have to include a couple of them on this year’s all-disappointment team, starting with the franchise blueliner who managed only four points, just two at even strength. He had an especially rough time against the Hurricanes, going a team-worst minus-10 in five games. Plus/minus is a bad stat because it’s so noisy, meaning it only tells you anything at the extremes. And minus-10 in five games is pretty extreme.
One year after one of the better postseasons in recent memory earned him the Conn Smythe, Makar couldn’t get close to those heights in the Avs’ shocking first-round loss. He managed one goal and five points, which isn’t awful. But his most memorable moment was getting himself suspended for Game 5. That turned out to be a one-goal loss in a one-game series, meaning if Makar was a difference-maker at all in this year’s playoffs, it may have been in the wrong direction.
We need to have multiple Bruins on this list, and I’m scared that if I don’t get them out of the way here I might be tempted to mention Patrice Bergeron in the forward section and that will be the end of me. So we’ll go with Lindholm, who followed up a Norris-caliber season with a pointless postseason. His underlying numbers were still solid, but the Bruins’ inability to generate any offense from the blue line was a big story of their stunning loss. When you go from your team’s leading scorer at the position to being outscored by your own goaltender, that seems bad.
Nobody on the Kings stands out as being especially awful, but we did say we’d pick at least one representative per team. Let’s go with Doughty, who managed just three assists, including one lone secondary helper at even strength. Not awful, but considering his absence from last year’s Oilers series was seen as a big story heading into the rematch, not great.
This is purely a completionist pick, since we need a Seattle name. To be honest, I strongly considered giving the surprising second-year Kraken a pass. But part of making the NHL playoffs is randomly getting mad at your own players for underperforming and/or getting mad at someone else for suggesting they did, and far be it from me to gatekeep new fans. So sure, Dunn’s one goal and seven points after he nearly led the team in scoring during the season gets him on the list.
It’s always risky to include a guy whose team is still active on this roster, so congratulations in advance to the Stars on Suter’s OT goal tonight. But yeah, the 38-year-old OGWAC has been having a rough go of it. He’s still playing a ton of minutes, and the numbers aren’t awful. But the highlights haven’t been kind, to the point where trying to figure out what he thought he was doing on a given goal against has become kind of a thing.
There are a few big names who make for obvious picks up front, maybe none bigger than Panarin. Coming off a 92-point season, Panarin went icy cold against the Devils, posting just two secondary assists in the seven-game series, both in the first period of the opening game. After that, nothing at all from the team’s $11-million man.
Our second Devil is here in part because of how he arrived in New Jersey. The blockbuster deadline deal seemed like a big win for the Devils, and with a year of team control left it still could be. For now, Meier put up a disappointing two goals and four points, including being held off the scoresheet entirely in seven games against the Rangers. Some of that may have been the Jacob Trouba hit, and Meier did show up late against the Hurricanes, but you know the Devils were hoping for more from their big swing.
We’ll stay with the tri-state teams with another big midseason trade target. Horvat was supposed to renew the Islanders’ attack, and he was OK during the season after coming over from Vancouver. But his playoffs were a dud, as he managed just two points — including his only goal that came late in a game his team was losing 5-1. His slump even took others down with him, as his whole line was unproductive.
Another obvious pick, Kaprizov was held to just one goal against Dallas. Like Panarin, he got all his production out of the way in the opening period of the first game. He wasn’t the only Wild disappointment, but he’s the biggest star on the team by a mile. You just wouldn’t have known it from watching the series. Kaprizov isn’t just an easy call for our 2023 team, he’s going to be our captain.
The numbers look OK, with six points in six games. But only two of those came at even strength, both of which were assists in losses. Linemates Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos could be candidates for this spot too. We’re used to seeing big-name stars struggle to create offense when the Maple Leafs are in a playoff series, but for one round it was the other guys in blue and white.
The Jets don’t give us much to work with, literally, as their five games were the fewest of any playoff team. Scheifele gives us even less, since he got hurt in Game 4 and missed the last game, which we won’t hold against him. But even before then, the guy who’s supposed to be one of the Jets’ key offensive catalysts was held to just a single point, a goal in Game 3. You could absolutely make a case for Kyle Connor here too; he had three goals, but it never felt like he was making much of an impact, and he sure seems to have been one of the targets of Rick Bowness’s post-elimination rant.
Unlike some of the guys on this list, you definitely noticed Kane during the Oilers’ run. It was just often for the wrong reasons, as he seemed to cross the line from physical presence to sideshow a little too often. That can work when you’re also producing, but he was held to just three goals and five points. Worse, he had just one point against the Golden Knights — a secondary assist in their season-ending 5-2 loss.
It’s virtually impossible to be disappointing on a team that’s in the Stanley Cup Final, especially as an eight-seed that’s having a fun-filled Cinderella run. We’re not trying to leave anyone out, though, so let’s pick on Staal and his three points through 16 games. He’s an old guy who does have a Cup, but it was so long ago that he’s close to regaining OGWAC status via the Jagr Exception. And if you were hoping he’d find another gear in the playoffs and show flashes of his former self, let’s just say you’re still waiting.
Man, we have a ton of Ranger options. Deadline prize Patrick Kane and his one goal? Other deadline prize Vladimir Tarasenko, with four points? Mika Zibanejad’s goal and three assists? They all have a case. But I’ll make sure our team has some youth by giving the slot to Lafrenière, the former No. 1 pick who didn’t record so much as a point in the entire series. I know, I know, he’s still young and it’s always too early to say he should be doing more. But when even Kaapo Kakko and his two points are leaving you in the dust, that’s not great.
Oh, the Leafs. We could go with any number of names here, especially from a Core Four where everyone somehow managed to go from failures to a redemption arc and back to failures again over the course of about two weeks. Was Mitch Marner a disappointment despite 14 points in 11 games? Auston Matthews after a five-goal first round? John Tavares after scoring the OT winner that ended the drought? Well … yeah, actually, you could make the case for all of them, and when Harman did his top-ten list he managed to squeeze the whole group onto it. Fun times in Toronto.
Rather than use up a third of my forward spots on the Core Four and having the comments section overrun by accusations of Leafs bias, I’m going to go with a lesser name where there won’t be much argument. Bunting managed just one goal and two points over the two-round run, while missing three games to a dumb suspension and then another as a healthy scratch. There were players with higher expectations and worse outputs. But I’m not sure anyone in this year’s playoffs cost themselves more money than this pending UFA.
Hey, remember that whole thing about how once he was out of Edmonton, the light bulb would go off and he make the Oilers look dumb for giving up on him? Never mind. His postseason contribution was one secondary assist in seven games, before heading back to the press box. In all, the only forward the Hurricanes added at the deadline gave them no goals and three points in 24 games across the regular season and playoffs.
Finally, the rightful winner of the 2016 Conn Smythe isn’t anywhere near as productive a player anymore. You’d hope for more than two points, though. And the bigger story is that he’s no longer even in the lineup, sent to the press box as a healthy scratch. That’s not news for some 35-year-olds, but it definitely is when you’re the reigning NHL ironman. We miss you, Phil, but we know you’re just building drama for that big return at a crucial point in the Final, right? Right?
(Photo of Kirill Kaprizov: David Berding / Getty Images)