NHL players don’t technically make any money during the playoffs, but they are still expected, obviously, to perform to the standards of their contract. A forward making $8 million a season can’t simply shrug off a goalless streak during the postseason and say “hey, I’m not getting paid right now!”
The league’s elite players are expected to be just that during the most important time of the year. A guy that only gets the job done in the regular seasons gains a certain reputation, and it’s not a positive one. High-end, clutch performers such as Daniel Briere are kept on the payroll because of their ability to produce when the pressure is on and every second counts.
To that end, there are underachievers and overachievers. This list is meant to highlight the former – the players that let their teams down in round one. Not surprisingly, four of the five guys mentioned here are no longer in the playoffs. That’s the assumed outcome when top players don’t play like it and are held in check by the tighter defensive schemes that come with the postseason.
When a fourth-line banger doesn’t find the back of the net, it (probably) won’t send the team spiraling out of control. When a well-compensated top-line line guy goes cold, though? That’s much tougher to play through. In a cap league like the NHL, teams have tough choices to make. They can either spread the money around and try to balance talent, or they can seek out the truly elite players and hope that they carry the extra load.
The players on this list were counted on to dominate through stretches, and simply didn’t. Their teams suffered as a result, so it’s fair to say they really didn’t earn their paychecks.
5. Vincent Lecavalier (Philadelphia Flyers) Cap Hit ’13-’14: $4.5 Million
2013-14 Cap Hit: $4.5 million
What Was Expected: Vincent Lecavalier made substantially more money during the season than his cap hit would indicate. The former captain of the Lightning actually put $6 million into his bank account while receiving an extra $4.7 million as part of his buyout package from Tampa.
It was a good year to be Lecavalier’s personal banker.
The Philadelphia Flyers raised some eyebrows when they inked 1998’s first-overall pick to a five-year deal, fit with a no-movement clause. At 34, he’s not going to get any better. Still, Philadelphia saw a player with a Stanley Cup ring and enough gas in the tank to be a difference maker.
With 20 goals through 69 games in the regular season, Lecavalier was a steady part of the Flyers attack. He never dominated any games and didn’t give the squad quite the boost that they were looking for, but 20 goals isn’t half bad.
That all dried up in the postseason, however.
What Actually Happened: The Flyers went to war with the New York Rangers in a hotly contested seven-game series in the first round. Philadelphia had turned a disappointing start into a playoff appearance, and needed a nice spread of offense to hang with the Rangers.
Lecavalier was a veteran with more than 60 games of postseason experience, and the Flyers were looking for a virtuoso performance from their big-name free agent acquisition. The series ran seven games, but the Flyers’ offense sputtered down the stretch thanks in large part to Lecavalier’s disheartening disappearing act.
He tallied one goal and added an assist while getting shredded in the faceoff circle. The Flyers wanted a top-six threat when they added Lecavalier last summer. That never materialized, and the team is busy setting up tee times as a result.
4. R.J. Umberger (Columbus Blue Jackets) ’13 – ’14 Cap Hit: $4.6 Million
2013-14 Cap Hit: $4.6 million
What Was Expected: The 2013-14 campaign was a bit of a breakthrough for the Blue Jackets. They set new highs in wins and points in the standings for the franchise, and finally saw the community respond to the new positive culture by flooding the Nationwide Arena as “The Fifth Line.”
R.J. Umberger has been through it all with the Blue Jackets. From the Rick Nash trade to the seasons as one of the NHL’s worst teams, the former first-round pick of the Vancouver Canucks has seen it.
Since 2008, Umberger has plied his trade in Ohio, typically finishing among the team’s top scorers. He’s been able to post 20 goals like clockwork over the years, and finished just shy of that during the regular season with 18.
Against the Penguins in round one, the Blue Jackets needed every gun firing at full force and with a full chamber of ammo. Umberger badly let his team down in this regard.
What Actually Happened: Columbus came within a goal of pulling away in the series multiple times. The Penguins struggled to lock down leads and the Blue Jackets were one strong performance away from forcing a Game 7.
He played through a bevy of injuries, and he deserves a lot of credit for doing so. Hockey players are renowned for their ability to play through pain though, and Umberger is a power play specialist. Physical play doesn’t have to be a big part of his game for him to be successful.
A single assist from Umberger left the Blue Jackets high and dry, on the outside looking in for round two and wondering what could have been had they scored just one more goal in Game 6.
3. Ryan Miller (St. Louis Blues) Cap Hit ’13 – ’14: $5 Million
2013-14 Cap Hit: $5 million
What Was Expected: The cost of Ryan Miller was twofold for the St. Louis Blues. He started the season with the Buffalo Sabres and was at the center of numerous trade rumors as the team committed to a rebuild. Thirty-three year old netminders don’t typically fit in well on teams that are building for the future, so the Sabres entertained calls for the goalie all season long.
Prior to the trade deadline, the Blues came up with a suitable offer and acquired Miller. The elite netminder was supposed to be the missing piece in St. Louis as the team tried to cash in on a Stanley Cup that has eluded the franchise since 1967. Decades of heartbreak were on the line as Miller took to the crease for the Blues in round one against the Chicago Blackhawks.
He was expected to steal a game or two while making stone-cold saves. Miller wasn’t a big upgrade over Jaroslav Halak—who the Blues traded away to Buffalo—but he was supposed to be a capable big-game netminder.
What Actually Happened: Another year, another round of devastation for Blues fans. St. Louis jumped out to a two-game lead in the series, and then subsequently lost four straight to the defending Stanley Cup champions.
Goalies are expected to maintain a save percentage hovering around .920. That’s considered solid, if not otherworldly. Miller’s final postseason save percentage was an abysmal .897.
Not even remotely close to good enough to beat the outstanding Blackhawks.
Every goal that Miller gave up wasn’t his fault, but a majority of them were. He was especially awful in Game 6 and surrendered four goals in the third period of a 1-1 elimination game.
Not only did Miller cost the Blues money, but the team also traded away valuable draft picks, roster players and prospects to secure the goalie’s services. He wasn’t worth it at all, and the trade will go down as one of the worst deadline deals in history.
2. Valtteri Filppula (Tampa Bay Lightning) ’13 – ’14 Cap Hit : $5 million
2013-14 Cap Hit: $5 million
What Was Expected: When Steven Stamkos suffered a devastating leg injury during the regular season, most pundits believed that the Tampa Bay Lightning were done. It’s impossible to replace an All-World sniper like Stamkos on the whole, but the Bolts did a remarkable job of filling the scoring void by committee.
One of the offensive leaders during that time was Valtteri Filppula, who filled in admirably as Tampa’s new No. 1 center. General manager Steve Yzerman gave the shifty Finn a five year, $25 million deal when the Detroit Red Wings refused to pay up, and was rewarded for his faith by a strong campaign from Filppula.
He scored 25 goals and added 33 assists while dominating on the power play. When Stamkos returned, it appeared that the Lightning had a versatile and balanced attack capable of doing some damage in the playoffs.
What Actually Happened: Tampa lost goaltender Ben Bishop to injury just prior to the start of the postseason, putting a lot of extra pressure on forwards like Filppula to perform well.
For the most part, the first round was full of tightly contested games and close series. The only team that was on the receiving end of a sweep? The Lightning and Filppula, who registered a single assist and zero goals through four games. Tampa struggled on the whole and couldn’t keep up with the Montreal Canadiens, but Filppula underachieved and failed to earn his sizable paycheck in the postseason.
1. Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh Penguins) ’13 – ’14 Cap Hit: $8.7 Million
2013-14 Cap Hit: $8.7 million
What Was Expected: Sidney Crosby’s cap hit is significantly lower than what he was actually payed this season. The average of his contract levels out to $8.7 million, which is his cap hit. No. 87’s actual paychecks came out to a whopping $12 million for the 2013-14 campaign.
When you’re the second-highest paid player in any given season, you’re obviously expected to do great things. It’s easy for some fans to pile onto Crosby because of how badly the NHL saturates his image, but there’s little question that the captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins is among the most creative offensive forces in the world.
Not surprisingly, a healthy Crosby ran away with the league’s scoring title, besting the second-place Ryan Getzlaf by 17 points—a ridiculous margin when you consider the league’s obsession with parity and level playing fields.
The Penguins expected and required that level of dominance from Crosby in round one against the Columbus Blue Jackets, and didn’t get it.
What Actually Happened: It’s tough to grill “Sid” because he was effective against the Blue Jackets. Six assists is nothing to be ashamed of, but Pittsburgh needs even more from Crosby if they hope to advance to the Eastern Conference Final for the second straight year.
Evgeni Malkin finally broke through in Game 6 by scoring a hat trick and leading the Penguins into the second round. Crosby was instrumental in two of those tallies, but he’s yet to find the back of the net in these playoffs.
In fact, he hasn’t scored since March 30—an unacceptable cold streak from the NHL’s best offensive player.
All salary and contract information appears courtesy of CapGeek.com and statistical data appears courtesy of NHL.com.