Thursday, January 12, 2012
Thursday Morning Cupcheck - The Five Most Overrated Players in Hockey
Honorable Mention: Ilya Kovalchuk, Dion Phaneuf, and (insert your team's most expensive player here).
Good morning, hockey fans! Last week we shed a little light on the Dallas Stars' angelic winger/center/lover Steve Ott. This week, with the midpoint of the season upon us and the mandatory First Half Analysis that is required at this time of year, we decided to completely ignore our stunningly correct preseason predictions in favor of a few unfounded sweeping generalizations. Here are the top five most overrated players in the NHL.
#5: Henrik Zetterberg - Zetterberg is a great story, and the NHL loves great stories. Drafted 210th overall 13 years ago, Zetts used to be one of the most dominant two-way players in the game, and even won the Cup once. He's nearly a point-per-game player in his career, and has scored nearly 100 points in the playoffs alone.
Key word: used to be. Zetterberg was a great player on some great teams ... nearly half a decade ago. As the team has slipped in both the standings and defensive responsibility, Zetterberg has been front-and-center the key culprit. His point totals have been on a slide for the past half-decade, to the point where they are simply "average" now. His ability to kill penalties and match up against top lines is limited. His hockey smarts still show up from time to time, but a complete lack of any physical presence has cost him in recent seasons — the guy scored some 60 even-strength points last season and still skated out with a -1 plus/minus. His rep will probably be enough to coast to four or five more Selke nominations, but his on-ice product will probably revert back to the 7th rounder he was projected as once Nick Lidstrom, a.k.a. The Only Non-Datsyukian Reason Detroit Is Good, retires.
#4: Pekka Rinne - Rinne is, understandably, the Darling Dark Horse of the hockey media. His stats over the past three-plus years are solid. He occasionally makes spectacular saves that get on the YouTubes. And he plays for a team that otherwise beats pundits' expectations every season. So he must be great, right?
Wrong. Rinne, like Bryzgalov and Vokoun and post-lockout Brodeur, is entirely the product of a specific coaching system. Having your team pass up offensive chances in order to skate backwards to protect their goalie's amazing stats is a sure-fire way to lose when it counts, and all the above-mentioned "trap" goalies' postseason records reflect that. Rinne was fortunate enough to draw a terribly-inflated Anaheim Ducks team in the first round last season, but fell to earth quickly enough against the Canucks. Truly spectacular goalies can and do win games that their teams have no business winning (see: Lundqvist, Price, Quick). Rinne wins when his team plays well, and is absolutely horrible when his also-overrated defense is left out to dry. A mammoth contract that ensures Shea Weber and/or Ryan Suter will skate elsewhere next season makes Rinne even less valuable to his team.
#3: Patrick Kane - Kane is still a very young guy with a lot of points and a Stanley Cup under his belt. He's good for a point per game, and is one of the most lethal weapons on a team full of standout scorers. On his successful Cup run, he put up an amazing 28 points, including the most anti-climatic game-winning goal in Cup history.
But ... if he's going to be a pure goal scorer, shouldn't he be, like, scoring goals? Kane's production has dropped this season with just 10 goals, but even before that his stat lines were remarkably consistent: Minus the Cup year, Kane is good for about 20-25 goals a year and 45-50 assists. Those are good numbers ... unless you were the first pick overall. Those numbers are roughly half what you would expect from, say, Crosby, and those goal totals are about a third of what we expect from Ovechkin or Stamkos. Considering that Kane brings very little else to the table in terms of defense, checking, and team leadership (pretty much the exact opposite of his teammate Toews, one of the top three players in the league by any reasonable standard of measurement), Kane better bring the points each and every night. Is that an unfair expectation? No. No, it is not.
#2: Drew Doughty - Doughty exploded onto the national radar in 2009-10 by putting up 59 points and skating to a +20 plus/minus. People gave him Norris consideration, and it seemed everything was going well for the second pick overall. With Doughty manning the blueline, the Kings allegedly had a talented enough roster to compete for the Stanley Cup.
... which is what the hockey media will say for the next decade or so in their annual preseason predictions, which will quickly be shoved under a desk and forgotten by the time the Kings predictably wheeze out in the first round of the playoffs each season. Doughty has had one really good year, two pretty good years, and this year -- in which the criticisms have finally started coming in -- under his belt now, and while his best year was good, by comparisons' sake it was about the same as one of Nick Lidstrom's worst seasons. Add in the fact that Doughty gets scored on -- a lot -- and you have the makings of the highest-paid player on your team providing a big name and little real value. It's no accident that the Kings were the best team with the best defense while Doughty was out in the beginning of the season — and tanked so hard when he returned that they had to fire their coach. The Kings are a Cup contending team, just not with Doughty giving up critical goals late in third periods while "quarterbacking" the powerplay like hockey's version of Caleb Hannie.
#1: Rick Nash - Another first-overall pick, Nash has become the poster boy for the media's favorite story, the Good Player on a Bad Team. Nash has scored 30+ goals six times in his career and 40+ goals twice. He simply needs a playmaking center, and Columbus will finally crawl out of the NHL's basement!
Putting aside the ridiculous notion that Jeff Carter would somehow make Rick Nash better (there's no way that would happen. They're essentially the same shots-hogging pure goal scorer), Nash is the most one-dimensional player in the NHL. He scores goals. That's his job, I guess, since he does literally nothing else. He doesn't pass (in his best season he put up 41 goals and 16 -- 16!! -- assists), he doesn't play defense (having been on the ice for 110+ goals against the past two full seasons), he doesn't check (despite his huge frame), he doesn't take faceoffs and, most importantly, he doesn't make his teammates better. Nash has been captain of the Blue Jackets for three seasons now, all of which have featured pathetic finishes from one of the most expensive teams in hockey.
Is Nash really the culprit for his team's woes? Like their terrible defense? Well, he does kill penalties on the second-worst PK in hockey. He's the centerpiece of an offense that is 4th-worst in the league (only Doughty's Kings are significantly worse). And his lazy reluctance to throw a single bodycheck at any point in his career leads to Goal of the Year candidates like this in which he looks like he's ready to take a pass at center ice while expecting his teammates to do the real work. At this current rate, Nash will probably go down in the history books — as having been the Worst Coach Killer of All Time. But at least Blue Jackets fans can enjoy his powerplay goals that bring the Jackets to within three with two minutes remaining! That's got to be exciting!