Thursday, November 28, 2013
Thursday Morning Cupcheck - 2013’s Biggest Turkeys
Hey, Jim Nill: next year, just hit up the Golden Corral.
Happy Thanksgiving, hockey fans! Here's hoping you take it easy on the pavo this year. Last week we took an inside look at the closest thing the Dallas Stars have to Yoda. This week, we're going to grease up the Stars' biggest turkeys of the year before roasting them alive.
Turkey #4: Shawn Horcoff
The Picture on the Box - Despite his mastodonic contract and salary cap hit, Stars fans were cautiously optimistic when we acquired him for the underwhelming Phillip Larsen. Horcoff had, after all, once put up 73 points, and was the Oilers' longtime captain, so... maybe veteran leadership? Intangibles? The secret of Edmonton's success? Frankly, we were just a little relieved Larsen wouldn't be sending telegraphed shots from the point directly at opposing penalty killers' shinpads.
The Horror... the HORROR!! - Ever paid two bucks a pound for a huge turkey, only to open the bag and find that some hobo took a s**t in it, but your dad already spent the money so he cooks it anyway and you spend the entirety of your Thanksgiving 'dinner' eating nothing but box stuffing and being envious of the godd**m Detroit Lions? That's The Horcoff Experience(tm) in a nutshell. Another thing you can fit into a nutshell: Horcoff's goals and assist totals, which, for a guy averaging over a minute and a half on the league's second-to-worst powerplay, should be more than "one goal every twelve games or so." Lindy Ruff probably sees something none of the rest of us can, because Horcoff can't pass, shoot, skate, drive the net, crash the crease or man the halfwall. But he IS technically an 'extra guy,' which is that thing you are awarded on every powerplay, so at least he's got that going for him. Well worth the $5.5 million cap hit.
Turkey #3: Erik Cole
The Picture on the Box - When Dallas traded a 30+ goal scorer for a slumping Cole, it was hoped --hoped-- that he could regain his 35 goal form of the previous season. Instead, he was a terrible top-six forward, though he was lights-out on the third line with Fiddler and Nystrom. With two more years and $9 million in cap hit and real dollars left on his contract, it was hoped he could bring a true power forward presence to one of the top two lines in a full 82-game season, as well as some veteran savvy for the young bucks.
The Horror... the HORROR!! - Ever checked out the "homemade" pecan pies on the rack at Wal-mart, and saw that one of them was accidentally marked up an extra $30, and figured that had to be the one the pastry chef baked the meth into, only to take it home and find that the rat that had been eating it died of dysentery on the drive home? That's a fair representation of Cole's 'impact' on the Stars this season. After not really doing anything to earn a top-six spot this year, he was put alongside Benn and Seguin, and then Eakin and Chiasson, without managing to score very much and being a large liability on the defensive side of the ice. No Stars forward has done less with more. He's been given 300-count-soft minutes against opposing team's worst competition, and has all of nine points, a pair of powerplay assists and a team-worst -10 to show for it. But at least he looks good the two times a game he drives the net.
Turkey #2: Ray Whitney
The Picture on the Box - Nearly a PPG player last season with the Stars, Whitney seemed to have excellent on-ice chemistry with burgeoning rookie Alex Chiasson, and a spot on the second line dishing out laser-like passes seemed to promise the kind of secondary scoring depth Dallas hasn't had since the mid-2000s. The only question was whether Jamie Benn's offense would suffer without Whitney on his wing.
The Horror... the HORROR!! - Ever invited everyone over with promises of serving your famous Cornbread Casserole of the Gods, only to start making it and realize that you forgot to buy butter? And sour cream? And that you bought expired lima beans instead of corn, and used powdered cement instead of cornbread mix? That dry, chalky taste in your mouth that will soon lead to painful constipation is a big flavorless heaping of Ray Whitney. His scoring is down with just 9 points in 18 games, which may be related to having just one single assist on the powerplay despite three minutes a night on the job. The Stars powerplay is clicking along at 29th in the league at 11.1%, a single percentage point over the Florida Panthers, who do not have a Ray Whitney-type Amazing Offensive Wizard earning $4.5 million this season. His shooting percentage of 2.8% is exactly ten percent lower than his career average, which may explain why every one of Dallas' third and fourth line players have more goals than he does. And his amazing chemistry with Chiasson has mostly been nonexistent since Game One, as Whitney has only been in on three of Chiasson's goals all year (Cody Eakin, by contrast, has been on four). But at least he's curmudgeonly!
Turkey #1: Sergei Gonchar
The Picture on the Box - The high-scoring Russian defenseman once scored 26 goals (as recently as 11 years ago) and new GM Jim Nill's first move was to snag the highly-coveted powerplay quarterback for a cool $10 million for two years. While perhaps not as fleet of foot as he was half a decade ago, Gonchar did manage 27 points subbing in for Erik Karlsson last year with Ottawa, including 12 points on the powerplay, and he was expected to be, at worst, a powerplay specialist to get the offense going.
The Horror... the HORROR!! - Ever had a little bit of extra cash burning a hole in your pocket come Thanksgiving, so you decide to splurge and buy that $349.99 premium gourmet ham from Neiman Marcus, only to open the package and find rancid camel sphincter stuffed with nightmarish children's screams? Imagine that but ten times worse, and you'll get Sergei Gonchar's 2013-14 season. Even Sean Avery and Ladislav Nagy are chuckling at Gonchar's stat line: zero goals and four measly assists in 23 games, a -9 plus/minus that would be worst on the team had it not been for Erik Cole, and an impressive tie for 125th among NHL defensemen in scoring. And that's after a (three assist) explosion of offense in his last seven games. At even strength, no Stars d-man has seen easier competition, and yet Gonchar has produced exactly zero 5-on-5 points over more than a quarter of the season - in fact, Dallas scores two more goals per 60 minutes with him off the ice than on it. And his powerplay quarterbacking skillz are just as invisible: again, despite leading all Stars d-men in PP time and easiest competition, Gonchar has been objectively terrible. Advanced stats aside, he's also been monumentally ugly on the ice, lazily whiffing at pucks sent back to the point, making only the most pedestrian passes to the least threatening spots on the ice, and allowing prime shorthanded scoring chances nearly every single PP shift. Ruff's stubborn insistence on keeping him out there, rather than smacking him over the head with a blunt object and leaving him in a dumpster behind a La Quinta, has cost Dallas more than a few wins already. It's hardly a stretch to say Gonchar might be the single worst defenseman in the entire NHL. On the plus side, it would take a miracle of epic proportions for him to get any worse... right?
That's it for this week's Cupcheck. Tune in next week when we use basic math to figure out that the above four players represent over 30% of the entire salary cap. Tom Gaglardi's flood of tears may surprise you.