By Evan Berofsky
RotoWire Hockey Writer
This installment of recent hockey nostalgia will focus on players who hurt fantasy owners the most this season. You know, the ones who came in with high expectations but ultimately cost you a shot at the title by regularly underperforming.
The following list won’t include anyone whose performance dropped off due to a significant injury. And as much as I’d like to stay away from using age as an excuse, at least one of the entries discussed below seems to be slowing down in his later years. Will any rebound next season? Perhaps. Would this information be relevant to this column? Not really.
Without further increasing the suspense, here are the best of the worst from 2017-18:
5. Oscar Klefbom, D, Edmonton
It took some time, but the 19th pick from 2011 finally broke out offensively last season. Klefbom would go on to notch 38 points – 16 coming on the power play – while skating more than 22 minutes a night and appearing in all 82 games. A repeat performance was expected this year, but his attacking totals fell significantly short. While Klefbom’s campaign ended prematurely a couple weeks ago after undergoing shoulder surgery, the five goals and 12 assists in 66 games achieved beforehand proved disappointing. The supine Swede carried over similar ice times on both even strength and special teams, but only managed a total of six points on the man-advantage. If a positive can be drawn from the collection of Klefbom’s numbers, it would be the fact he increased his shots on goal and hits (from 201 to 203 and from 43 to 49) in fewer matchups and would’ve broken his peak in blocked shots (10 short of 146) had it not been for the late physical setback.
4. Scott Darling, G, Carolina
Many considered the Canes’ acquisition of Darling last April a smart move. After all, he had performed well as backup to Corey Crawford in Chicago (a 2.37 goals-against average and .923 save percentage in 75 regular-season games) but wouldn’t receive a realistic shot at earning the No. 1 job – and Carolina only had to trade a third-round pick to obtain the rights to the 6-foot-6 netminder. Darling signed a four-year deal and instantly assumed the top spot on the depth chart, but has never looked like a steady starter. Beyond the subpar standard stats (13-20-7 record, 3.15, .888), he owns the dubious distinction of having allowed at least four goals in 14 of his 42 appearances. By contrast, 34-year old Cam Ward has fared much better (22-14-2, 2.75, .905) and has earned the larger share of the load since December. While Ward is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, Darling’s troubles could continue over the final three seasons of his contract if his play – and that of the Carolina defense – doesn’t improve.
3. Brandon Saad, F, Chicago
Saad was brought back from Columbus so he could fill in for Marian Hossa and reunite with Jonathan Toews to hopefully reclaim some of their past Cup synergy. Even with the high cost of sending young superstar Artemi Panarin the other way, the trade was deemed necessary. Unfortunately, things haven’t panned out for Saad the second time around in the Second City, though one couldn’t pin the blame for the Blackhawks’ poor showing solely on the winger (see the final section for further proof). And while the Pittsburgh native continued his prominence putting pucks on target (233 shots on goal), the offensive haul of 18 goals and 17 assists never reached anywhere near what fantasy owners nor Chicago fans were hoping for. Saad has never excelled on the power play, but only managed one goal (and no assists) while skating over two man-advantage minutes per outing. There’s the tendency to project what might’ve happened had Panarin (and his 80 points) remained, but let’s remember the reality that deals are made and sometimes they don’t work out for one – or both – parties.
2. Max Pacioretty, F, Montreal
As the Habs fell out of contention early on, Pacioretty spent most of the second half the subject of trade rumors. Whether the lure of leaving affected his play remains up for debate, but there’s no doubt the knee injury that shut him down in early March masked a horrible campaign. During the previous six seasons, the 2011 first-rounder averaged 0.825 points a night – and hit the 60-point plateau in every non-lockout year. He slumped to 37 in 64 this year that, even if projected over an 82-game schedule, would still only net him somewhere in the 40s. For someone who stayed on the ice for more than 19 minutes a night, you’d think Pacioretty would avoid racking up as many as 36 scoreless efforts. Sure, Montreal boasts the second-worst offense by potting a measly 2.45 goals per game. But it isn’t a stretch to expect a higher caliber forward like Pacioretty to at least approach his regular figures, and that never materialized.
1. Duncan Keith, D, Chicago
Considering the Blackhawks clinched the Central Division basement weeks ago, let’s double-down on their misery. (We could’ve filled the entire column with Windy City weak links.) It’s tough to watch a veteran struggle, especially a hard-working 34-year old defenseman. Keith skates 25-plus minutes a game and expends every ounce of effort, but his contribution at both ends of the ice has diminished in recent months. His 32 points look respectable for an average blueliner, but not when compared to a 50-point average the last eight full seasons. As for the two goals on 186 shots, that’s just an anomaly; at least Keith was actively trying to score. A 46-point drop in plus-minus from 2016-17 appears troublesome, as it might suggest the possibility of emerging deficiencies in his own zone. Regardless if that last notion turns out to be true, Keith’s quick and significant descent proved to be shocking enough to earn him the lead on this list.
(Dis)Honorable mentions: Sam Bennett, F, Calgary; Justin Schultz, D, Pittsburgh; Jakob Silfverberg, F, Anaheim; Jason Spezza, F, Dallas; Cam Talbot, G, Edmonton