THW’s Big List of Bust Candidates

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To call Teemu Selanne a bust, in any reference, is an insult unfit for a future Hall-of-Famer.

Reality is, Selanne was a bust in every sense of the word during the 2013-14 season. Just ask anybody who had the misfortune of drafting him in their fantasy pool.

It was a bittersweet swan song for the Finnish Flash, who called it quits after a trying final campaign where it became obvious he had lost a step and could no longer keep up with the next generation of NHLers or handle the daily grind as a 43-year-old.

He certainly wasn’t alone in terms of players taking a step back in 2013-14, but at least he had his age to blame. Others, including most those on the Big List of Comeback Candidates for 2014-15, fell short of expectations or regressed for a variety of less rational reasons.

Those setbacks are often tough to see coming, especially from the stars of the league or hot-shot rookies. Because of that unpredictability, this is actually a much smaller list in comparison to the other Big Lists in this four-part series that also covers Comeback, Breakout and Rookie Sleeper candidates.

Nevertheless, I managed to scrounge up 38 players who I felt leery about for one reason or another heading into 2014-15. Most these guys will end up getting selected in your fantasy drafts, but consider this Big List a little lesson in buyer beware. I’ll begin again with a Top 10 and My 10, followed by categorized groupings and explanations for each player in no particular order.

Washington Capitals ALEX OVECHKIN - Photo By Andy Martin Jr
(Photo by Andy Martin Jr)
Washington Capitals sniper Alex Ovechkin will be hard-pressed to score 50 goals again under new coach Barry Trotz’s more defensive-minded system that demands accountability at both ends of the ice.

Top 10

1) Alex Ovechkin (F Washington)

2) Chris Kunitz (F Pittsburgh)

3) James Neal (F Nashville)

4) James Wisniewski (D Columbus)

5) Steve Mason (G Philadelphia)

6) Frans Nielsen (F N.Y. Islanders)

7) Mats Zuccarello (F N.Y. Rangers)

8) Anton Khudobin (G Carolina)

9) Joe Pavelski (F San Jose)

10) Erik Karlsson (D Ottawa)

My 10

1) Semyon Varlamov (G Colorado)

2) Dustin Byfuglien (F Winnipeg)

3) Nick Bonino (F Vancouver)

4) Ondrej Palat (F Tampa Bay)

5) Sergei Bobrovsky (G Columbus)

6) Marian Gaborik (F Los Angeles)

7) Mike Smith (G Arizona)

8) Alex Steen (F St. Louis)

9) Reilly Smith (F Boston)

10) Jaromir Jagr (F New Jersey)

The Superstars

Sidney Crosby (F Pittsburgh) — If his wrist is bothering him into the regular season, his playoff struggles could also carry over. A new coach could make for another adjustment, although Mike Johnston likes to play highly offensive so once his systems are in place, it could actually help not hinder Crosby. If healthy, no worries here, but that’s always an IF to be concerned about with Sid. That said, if I had the first overall pick in a points-only draft as of today, I wouldn’t shy away from him. The next guy on this list, well . . .

Alex Ovechkin (F Washington) — Call it the Barry Trotz factor. He’s always got the best out of his defencemen but rarely has he had a top-20 or even top-40 scorer in the league. I just can’t see Ovechkin scoring 50-plus goals again in 2014-15. Not to mention, his former fiancée, Russian tennis player Maria Kirilenko, called off their engagement this summer, so Ovie’s mind might be elsewhere to start the season.

Erik Karlsson (D Ottawa) — Not a knock on him, but sadly he just doesn’t have the supporting cast to pull off 70-plus points again. Most would consider 65 a disappointment by his standards (following 78 and 74 the last two seasons), but that still would have led the league in 2013-14. Expect a slight 5- to 10-point drop again in 2014-15 even though Karlsson should be healthier having fully recovered from that torn Achilles. If he’s named Ottawa’s next captain, that extra pressure could also become a burden.

Sergei Bobrovsky (G Columbus) — Expectations will be higher than ever for Columbus in 2014-15, almost as high as they were for Russia to win Olympic gold on home ice in Sochi. We all know how that turned out, with a quarter-final loss to Finland, albeit through no fault of Bobrovsky’s as the coach surprisingly started Semyon Varlamov instead. It seemed like a strange call given the pressure situation, but was that perhaps a telling sign about Bobrovsky? Time will tell, but for all the grief that Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury took in their first-round playoff series this past spring, Bobrovsky wasn’t much better when it mattered most.

Mike Smith (G Arizona) — He was Canada’s third-string alternate but nevertheless another Olympian who could come crashing down in 2014-15. The Coyotes are worse on paper as a whole and he’ll be asked to handle a heavy workload again as Devan Dubnyk tries to rediscover his game in a backup role. If Smith falters, this could be a lottery team.

(Photo Credit: Andy Martin Jr)
(Photo by Andy Martin Jr)

The Superstars’ Wingmen

Chris Kunitz (F Pittsburgh) — If Crosby misses any length of time, that obviously impacts Kunitz as well. Even with Sid healthy, most believe Kunitz overachieved in 2013-14 with 35 goals and 68 points. The Penguins would be satisfied with another 30-30 showing in 2014-15, which sounds more reasonable.

Patrick Sharp (F Chicago) — He was hell-bent on making Canada’s Olympic team and played like a man possessed in the month prior to that roster announcement, which became mission accomplished. And like Kunitz in Pittsburgh, Sharp wanted to make it on his merit and not on the coattails of linemate Jonathan Toews. He’ll line up alongside Toews again in 2014-15, which makes Sharp a good bet for 30 goals and 60 points, but 78 points seemed like a stretch in 2013-14.

James Neal (F Nashville) — He scored 40 goals with Evgeni Malkin as a full-time linemate three years ago, matched that output during the lockout season and was on pace for 38 goals in 2013-14 if not for injuries to both himself and Malkin. Neal will be fortunate to score 30 goals alongside whoever centres Nashville’s top line in 2014-15. It will be a significant downgrade and Neal’s numbers will likely reflect that.

Marian Gaborik (F Los Angeles) — He had an amazing playoff run and developed instant chemistry with Anze Kopitar as a trade-deadline acquisition, but Gaborik has been injury-prone and streaky in the past, so those tendencies could easily resurface in 2014-15. At least his salary allows for modest expectations.

The Overachievers

Joe Pavelski (F San Jose) — He blew up for 41 goals in 2013-14, but expect closer to 30 in 2014-15 and for his point total to return to 65ish from 79. Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau aren’t getting any younger and could also decline in production and ice-time as the Sharks attempt to rebuild from within.

Alex Steen (F St. Louis) — He set the bar high with his fast start to 2013-14, leading the entire league in scoring prior to getting concussed, but Steen projects as a 25-goal, 55-point guy in 2014-15 (down from 33-62).

Mats Zuccarello (F N.Y. Rangers) — It’s unlikely he’ll lead the Rangers in scoring again, especially playing behind another small scorer in Martin St. Louis. Depending how the depth chart shakes down, Zuccerello could be hard-pressed to reach 50 points in 2014-15 (down from a team-high 59 in 2013-14).

Valtteri Filppula (F Tampa Bay) — His first year in the Sunshine State was a smashing success, finishing second in team scoring, with 58 points and a career-high 25 goals, behind only rookie sensation Ondrej Palat, with 59. A repeat is possible in 2014-15, but his role (and production) might also be lessened by a healthy Steven Stamkos and all the young talents emerging in Tampa, including potential Calder candidate Jonathan Drouin.

David Perron (F Edmonton) — He rode a wave of momentum and slightly overachieved in his debut season with the Oilers, so he’ll have his work cut out for him to match those totals (28 goals, 57 points) in 2014-15.

Nick Bonino (F Vancouver) — He had a sheltered, complementary role in Anaheim, so it’s unlikely he’ll be able to fill Ryan Kesler’s skates and drive a line in Vancouver. His power-play time and production will probably dip, putting his point total closer to 40 than 50 in 2014-15.

Marek Zidlicky (D New Jersey) — He hadn’t hit 40 points since 2009-10 and hadn’t scored more than 10 goals since the season before that, so despite 12 goals and 42 points in 2013-14, a drop-off seems predictable for 2014-15. Zidlicky will still figure prominently in the Devils’ offence and power play, surrounded by an improved cast of forwards, but 35 points is a better benchmark.

James Wisniewski (D Columbus) — He tied for 7th in scoring amongst defencemen for 2013-14 behind these all-too familiar names: Karlsson, Keith, Weber, Hedman, Subban, Yandle and Pietrangelo. Is Wisniewski expected to be next on that list again? Not likely, as his 51 points overshot his previous career high by more than 20. Split the difference and have him penciled in for 40 points in 2014-15.

Andrej Sekera (D Carolina) — He tied for 14th with Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Mark Streit despite playing six and eight fewer games, respectively. He also ranked behind more established blue-liners: Kronwall, Burns (who was a forward for half the season), Giordano, Niskanen and Shattenkirk. Sekera’s 44 points in his first season with the Hurricanes were 15 better than his previous-best campaign with the Sabres back in 2010-11. It’s safe to expect somewhere in between for 2014-15, likely 35 points, considering Carolina also underwent an off-season coaching change.

Semyon Varlamov (G Colorado) — Is he the budding star we saw in 2013-14, or the enigma we saw prior to that? He could be in for a humbling experience in 2014-15, as the Avs fall from grace.

Ben Bishop (G Tampa Bay) — He’s coming off surgeries on his elbow and wrist, although the Lightning must not be too concerned as they gave him a two-year contract extension this off-season worth almost $6 million annually. Now he’ll need to live up to that salary going forward, which is easier said than done.

Ben Scrivens (G Edmonton) — The sample size is still pretty small on him, but he managed to put up pretty stellar numbers in 2013-14 even behind Edmonton’s shoddy defence. Minor improvements to that back end this off-season won’t be enough to save Scrivens from an onslaught of rubber on a nightly basis in 2014-15. Expectations are also sky high among the Oilers’ fan base, so he’ll certainly be scrutinized if he stumbles as was the case with Dubnyk in 2013-14.

(Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports)
(Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports)

The Ageless Wonders

Jaromir Jagr (F New Jersey) — With Selanne finally calling it quits, Jagr now seems the most likely candidate to “feel his age” in 2014-15. He came back from Europe to silence his critics once before, then enjoyed his best year since leaving in 2008-09 by recording a team-high 67 points as a 41-year-old in 2013-14. Jagr will start 2014-15 in a starring role for the Devils again, but he could finish it further down the lineup and contemplating a curtain call on his Hall-of-Fame career.

Shane Doan (F Arizona) — He’s not getting any younger and has had some hard miles on his body over the years given his power-forward playing style. Brenden Morrow and Ryan Smyth tailed off in recent years, and Doan could be due for a similar decline in 2014-15 at age 38.

The Sophomore Slumpers

Gustav Nyquist (F Detroit) — He was the league’s hottest player over the second half of 2013-14, helping extend Detroit’s record playoff streak to 23 years in the absence of stars Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. He was a 24-year-old former fourth-round draft pick who had been a point-per-game player in the AHL for a couple years, but nearly matching that pace in his first full NHL season was shocking to say the least. Now 25 with increased expectations and added attention from the opposition, plus more internal competition for ice-time, Nyquist could struggle to put up the same numbers (28 goals, 48 points) over 82 games in 2014-15 that he amassed over just 57 games in 2013-14.

Ondrej Palat (F Tampa Bay) — An even less likely success story from 2013-14, he was a 22-year-old former seventh-round pick that hadn’t quite reached a point-per-game in the AHL and wasn’t even a roster lock with the Lightning to begin the season. But by the end, he led the team in scoring with 59 points and was nominated for the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie, finishing as a runner-up to 2013 first overall pick Nathan MacKinnon of Colorado. So is Palat the real deal or a flash in the pan? Considering he had only scored 9 and 13 goals in his first two AHL seasons before exploding for 23 in the NHL, it’s best to exercise caution with regards to Palat’s potential and temper expectations to a 20-20 (40-point) encore in 2014-15.

Reilly Smith (F Boston) — He’s without a contract extension because the Bruins reportedly believe he caught lightning in a bottle in 2013-14 and is unlikely to repeat that 20-goal, 51-point campaign. It was certainly an unexpected breakthrough for the 22-year-old former third-round pick of Dallas who was widely seen as a throw-in alongside Loui Eriksson in the deal that sent Tyler Seguin to the Stars. Smith, who only had 3 goals and 9 points in 37 games as a rookie for Dallas in 2012-13, wound up outshining Eriksson (10 goals, 37 points) for Boston, but don’t be surprised if their totals are flipped for 2014-15.

Olli Maatta (D Pittsburgh) — He exceeded expectations just by making the jump from junior to the NHL in 2013-14, then went on to score 9 goals and 29 points as a rookie perhaps playing on adrenaline. Flash forward to 2014-15 and he’s coming off shoulder surgery that could see him sidelined to start the season. When he is ready, Maata might struggle to hit his stride again and to re-establish his place in the lineup. Rookie Derrick Pouliot, who has a history with new coach Mike Johnston from the Portland Winterhawks but is also coming off shoulder surgery, could become the shiny new toy and leapfrog Maatta in the pecking order, especially for power-play time.

The Displacements

Dustin Byfuglien (F Winnipeg) — This forward “experiment” can’t possibly go over well, especially given he’d rather play defence. If him and Paul Maurice start clashing over that, which seems inevitable, Big Buff could be out of town before Evander Kane.

Cody Eakin (F Dallas) — The addition of Jason Spezza has knocked him down the depth chart and his results will likely reflect that. It’s not that his stats will go down much from 16 goals and 35 points in 2013-14, it’s just that Eakin had the potential to up those totals in 2014-15 had he been cast in the same scoring role.

Frans Nielsen (F N.Y. Islanders) — Likewise, he has been bumped down by the signing of Mikhail Grabovski. But Nielsen, at age 30, was coming off a career year of 25 goals and 58 points (8 and 11 more than his previous bests, respectively), so his totals will most likely be impacted in a negative way for 2014-15. Expect a 20-25 (45-point) season.

Eddie Lack (G Vancouver) — He’s now expected to play second fiddle to Ryan Miller, so he won’t get into nearly as many games in 2014-15. His stats might still be strong, but he’s no longer a starter.

The Lesser-Lights

Nathan Gerbe (F Carolina) — After being bought out by Buffalo, he landed in Carolina and matched his career-highs of 16 goals and 31 points. But he did that without a truly defined role and the new coaching staff will have a difficult time determining where Gerbe belongs in the lineup as well. Assuming he’s a third-liner, then he’ll be lucky to repeat those numbers in 2014-15 and a slight decrease also shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Patrick Maroon (F Anaheim) — He established himself as an NHL regular in 2013-14 and earned a contract extension as a result, but his numbers (11 goals, 29 points) were largely thanks to playing alongside Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry on the top line for lengthy stints. That spot is now likely going to Dany Heatley or, if he falters, to prospect Devante Smith-Pelly, a similar power forward type to Maroon but with even more offensive upside. So Maroon is probably going to plummet down the depth chart into a bottom-six plugger/scrapper role for 2014-15, which will result in closer to 20 points than 30. Andrew Cogliano is also coming off a career-high 22 goals (four more than his previous high from 2008-09), so if his shooting percentage and fancy stats return to more normal levels, he could see a slight drop from 42 points in 2014-15.

Tom Sestito (F Vancouver) — He was one of John Tortorella’s go-to guys (yes, that’s a fair and fitting descriptor, believe it or not), but it’s doubtful Willie Desjardins will play him as much. He certainly won’t be taking any shifts with the Sedins or seeing power-play time in 2014-15. Even with those favourable minutes, Sestito only managed 5 goals and 9 points in 77 games while being considered a “bright spot” in a very dim 2013-14 for the Canucks.

(John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports)
(John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports)

Tandem Troubles

Craig Anderson (G Ottawa) — His overall play started to decline in 2013-14 as evidenced by his .911 save percentage (31st in league) and 3.00 goals-against average (44th), but he still managed to win 25 games to rank just outside the top 15 starters (17th). The Senators are going to be a bad team in 2014-15, or at least a worse team on paper and one most expect to challenge more for Connor McDavid than a playoff spot. That won’t bode well for Anderson’s win total or other statistics, and even though he recently signed a three-year extension, Robin Lehner is still tabbed as Ottawa’s goalie of the future. That torch passing could happen sooner than later.

Anton Khudobin (G Carolina) — He had a great year for a below-average team in 2013-14, posting a .926 save percentage (5th) and 2.30 GAA (12th) while assuming the starter role as Cam Ward struggled with injuries and inconsistency. But all signs point to Ward being the No. 1 again, at least to start 2014-15, with a new coaching staff wanting to give Ward the benefit of doubt as a former top-10 netminder. They even hired a goalie coach who has a history with Ward in hopes of getting him back on track, but that means Khudobin may have to take the backseat to begin the season.

Jonathan Bernier (G Toronto) — He finally got to be a starter, or get the bulk of the starts for Toronto in 2013-14 after riding the pine behind Jonathan Quick in Los Angeles for three-plus seasons. Bernier played 55 games and won 26 of them (good for 16th overall), while also cracking the top 10 in save percentage at .923 (8th). Even though James Reimer somehow remains in the picture, this should be Bernier’s team going forward. Keyword is “should” as things can change quite quickly in Randy Carlyle’s world, and Bernier’s health has also been a bit suspect over the years, so he’s still a risk for regression in 2014-15. There’s a better chance that he’ll take a step backward or suffer a lengthy injury than there is of him becoming a Vezina candidate.

Steve Mason (G Philadelphia) — Speaking of steps backward, Mason is wildly unpredictable in his career to date. He tied his career-highs for games played (61) and wins (33) in 2013-14 from his Calder-winning season with Columbus in 2008-09. In between, it was mostly mediocrity and even some awfulness that eventually led him to the Flyers. Even with that success in 2013-14, the rest of his stats were still average with a .917 save percentage (21st) and 2.50 GAA (25th). That suggests his teammates won a lot of games for Mason, and there’s no guarantee that’ll happen again in 2014-15 as the Flyers are projected among the many “bubble” teams in the East. If Mason hits a rough patch, it’s also possible Ray Emery could take over as Philadelphia’s starter.

Larry Fisher is a sports reporter for The Daily Courier in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. Follow him on Twitter: @LarryFisher_KDC.

Be sure to check out other instalments in our Big List Series