Mediocrity is the absolute worst state of existence in today’s National Hockey League. Consistently signing mid-level free agents to desperately reach the bottom playoff seeds, resulting in draft picks outside of the top-15, rarely makes for a championship squad. Short-sighted trades and inability to groom prospects into NHLers are hallmarks of mediocre teams. For all the flak that the Buffalo Sabres have gotten for essentially tanking this season, at least they’ll have a generational talent in Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel to show for it (not to mention loads of cap room). With these standards in mind, let’s take a look at teams that are clearly mired in mediocrity.
5. Ottawa Senators
The Senators are embarking on a painful rebuild, yet their path to mediocrity has been anything but predictable. After a miraculous run to the playoffs in the lockout-shortened 2013 season, Sens’ management talked themselves into believing that they were on the verge of title contention. They gutted a good chunk of their cupboard by dealing away Jakob Silfverbeg, propspect Stefan Noesen, and a first round pick for Bobby Ryan.
Since the deal, they’ve traded away cornerstone center Jason Spezza and haven’t made the playoffs. 2014-15 is looking like another lost season, and Hockey’s Future has them ranked twenty-third in prospect rankings, meaning there’s no savior on the horizon for Ottawa. Not all is lost though: they still possess the best offensive defenseman in the league in Erik Karlsson and their core of Mika Zibanejad and Kyle Turris seems promising. It’ll take a few years for Ottawa to be anywhere near the Stanley Cup.
4. Edmonton Oilers
A team full of young talent should never be on a list like this, but the Oilers have managed to do it. Although they’ve consistently drafted in the lottery, they haven’t drafted well outside of the first round, and they’ve shown an unwillingness to part ways with the likes of Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle to shore up other parts of their lineup.
General manager Craig MacTavish can’t be faulted for waiting to see what his roster has to offer (and maybe get another lottery pick in the process), but his patchwork in the offseason has barely improved the Oilers from absolutely horrendous to just really, really bad. Simply put, the Oilers are going nowhere fast.
3. Arizona Coyotes
Who are the Arizona Coyotes? Oh, the team that made the Western Conference Final a mere three years ago? Since showing the hockey world that they were ready to contend with the league’s very best, the Coyotes have done absolutely nothing to inspire confidence. They’ve slowly figured out their ownership situation, which to date has put a severe limit on the team’s ability to spend and pursue free agents.
This season has been an absolute nightmare for the Coyotes: Mike Smith can’t stop a beach ball and they’ve been mediocre at best possession-wise. Luckily, they have some prospects to hang their hat on, such as Max Domi, and they’ll surely have a lottery pick come June. Yet aside from Antoine Vermette and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, their roster is thin and leaves little hope for the short term future. It’s going to take quite the rebuild for the Stanley Cup to make a visit to the Arizona desert.
2. New Jersey Devils
Much like the Coyotes, the Devils haven’t been relevant since they improbably made the Final in 2012. Their first line center this year has often been Scott Gomez, which speaks volumes to the organization’s lack of depth. No disrespect to Gomez, who’s worked his way back into the NHL, but no team should be relying on him as their first line center. He’s been flanked by Jaromir Jagr, which again speaks to their lack of depth. Jagr is a sure-fire Hall of Famer and will go down as one of the greatest to ever play the game, but he shouldn’t be asked to do what he does for New Jersey.
The Devils’ roster is dotted with veterans who in two to three seasons will sharply decline. Making matters worse, Hockey’s Future has them ranked twenty seventh overall, citing a lack of potential star forwards and a dearth of elite goaltending prospects. Luckily for Lou Lamoriello, he has Cory Schneider in tow for the forseeable future, but the outlook up front is truly bleak. Adam Larsson should eventually fulfill his potential on the blueline, but times are looking especially swampy in New Jersey.
1. Toronto Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs of the twenty-first century have been defined by mediocrity. They’ve made the playoffs once in the past decade, and they’ll need to win a serious dogfight with Florida and Boston to reverse that trend. The hiring of Brendan Shanahan as team president this past off-season marked a new direction for the storied club, but it’s going to take years for Leafs fans to see their club hoist the Cup for the first time since 1967.
Phil Kessel, Nazim Kadri, and Jonathan Bernier are all the real deal as NHL players. Outside of those three through, the Leafs are largely made up of replaceable assets. James Van Riemsdyk’s offensive abilities simply don’t make up for his atrocious defensive play like Kessel’s do. Dion Phaneuf is trying his hardest to hold down the fort, but he’s far removed from his exciting Calgary days. William Nylander, for all his potential, is at least two seasons away from being a true NHLer. It’ll be tough for Shanahan to sell a full-on rebuild to Leafs fan, yet that’s what this franchise needs if it hopes to be relevant once again, as it’s lied to itself for far too long.
Felix Sicard is the Anaheim Ducks’ Lead Writer for The Hockey Writers. Now in his third season of covering the team, he writes previews and recaps for all Ducks’ home games, as well as weekly analysis pieces.
In addition to covering the Ducks at THW, Felix co-hosts SB Nation’s Anaheim Calling: The Podcast, as well as hosting The Garage Hockey Podcast.
For consistent Ducks’ content, be sure to check out his Twitter @Felix_Sicard.