There are an abundance of NHL players stuck on a bad team, in an organization with no vision or on a team that’s rebuilding. When the playoffs come around, these players cannot be seen, unable to showcase their abilities on the biggest stage because they’re trapped in an awful situation.
We wish these players the best of luck in their organizations. They’re often underrated, or overlooked players. People can’t see how good they are because the average NHL fan won’t find themselves watching Panthers, Predators or Coyotes games. Let’s hope to see these players get a chance on the big stage soon, because it would make for great entertainment.
One more thing; let’s not let the results of the first month of this NHL season dictate what we consider a “great” team; in an 82-game season, plenty of bad teams get off to good starts. So, yes the Islanders, Flames and Predators still qualify as bad teams until proven otherwise.
15) Brian Campbell – Florida Panthers
Part of what got Brian Campbell stuck on the Florida Panthers was his insanely long contract. Coming off a Stanley Cup win with the Blackhawks in 2010, Chicago unloaded him in 2011 for cap relief.
Since arriving in Florida, Campbell has still been able to produce from the blue line even though the Panthers have had eternal struggles of scoring goals.
Campbell posted 37 points last season, 27 in the lockout-shortened season of 2013 and 53 the year before.
Those numbers, while impressive for a defenceman, would likely be a lot higher if Campbell was playing for a contender, as he was in Chicago and in Buffalo prior to that.
14) Andrew Ladd – Winnipeg Jets
Andrew Ladd was part of Chicago’s mini fire-sale after their cup win in 2010, when he was sent to the Atlanta Thrashers. He’s now the captain of the Winnipeg Jets, and the Jets don’t seem to be much closer to contending than the Thrashers were a few years ago. Ladd has been one of the team’s bright spots, as he’s scored at least 50 points in every one of his seasons with the Jets, except for the 48-game season two years ago.
Ladd has the kind of size and intensity that contending teams love to add for a playoff run. Ladd’s contract runs through the 2015-16 season, and even though he’s team captain, his future in Winnipeg may be running out if things don’t turn around soon. Ladd must miss playing for a contender.
13) Jeff Skinner – Carolina Hurricanes
Jeff Skinner came into the league and turned heads right away thanks to his offensive prowess and his excellent hands.
Unfortunately for Skinner, he came into the league on a bad team and not much has changed in that time. The Hurricanes haven’t made the playoffs since 2009, despite having talent such as Skinner and the Staal brothers. Their defence is still very thin and they haven’t been able to get consistent goaltending.
The good news is, if the Hurricanes stink again this year, then they’ll be able to add Connor McDavid, but until then, Skinner still finds himself in a tough situation. We know he can produce, but we haven’t seen him play in any meaningful games throughout his career.
12) Roberto Luongo – Florida Panthers
Well, he’s kind of on a bad team by choice, having tied up the Vancouver Canucks into trading him back to Florida, but that’s where Roberto Luongo is now, for one reason or another.
Sure, he’s 35 years old and his best years may be behind him, but the bottom line is Luongo has consistently been one of the NHL’s better goaltenders throughout his career.
Just a few short years ago, he led the Canucks to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final and the team was dominating the Pacific Division. His bad contract and the fall of the Canucks organization saw him shipped out.
Luongo may be close to retirement before the Panthers really emerge as a contender.
11) Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Edmonton Oilers
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is a part of the parade of high draft picks by the Oilers in recent years, which have almost exclusively been forwards.
Nugent-Hopkins is locked up in Edmonton for a long time and he will continue to produce points throughout his career, even if Edmonton remains terrible for the foreseeable future.
However, Nugent-Hopkins is on a team with no depth on defence and goaltending that is still a question mark. The Oilers have done a terrible job rebuilding their team, refusing to find balance and finding players who can play different roles other than producing offence.
10) Evander Kane – Winnipeg Jets
Evander Kane is just 23 years old, yet has already had a 30-goal season in the NHL and looks to be one of the best power forwards in the league. If there are any off-ice issues between Kane and the Jets, Winnipeg should be doing whatever they can to make Kane happy, because forwards like him don’t grow on trees.
We can’t measure how much of a gamer Kane is, because he’s never had the chance to shine on the big stage. His best season came in 2011-12 when he scored 57 points in 74 games. Kane will only get better and something that would help speed up that process would be the Jets improving as a team; that or the longtime Kane trade rumours coming true and him being shipped off to a contender.
9) Blake Wheeler – Winnipeg Jets
Blake Wheeler has really blossomed in Winnipeg. He jumped up to 64 points in 2011-12, his first full season in Winnipeg. He came back with 41 points in 48 games in 2013 and last year he set a career high with 69 points, playing in all 82 games.
At 6’5″ Wheeler has the size and physicality that NHL teams love. Wheeler can handle the puck, win battles in the corners and has a great motor for a big guy. There’s a reason the Jets gave him a six-year contract at $5.6 million a year. Wheeler can be a little inconsistent at times with scoring and physicality, but that goes with the team.
8) Keith Yandle – Arizona Coyotes
Keith Yandle is very quietly one of the most reliable defencemen in the NHL and he also contributes offensively. He’s a tremendous fit in Dave Tippet’s system, but the team is just so devoid of talent that Yandle just can’t make a difference on his own.
The Coyotes made the playoffs a few years in a row before the lockout, even getting to the Western Conference finals in 2012, and Yandle was a big reason, chipping in with nine points from the blue line and leading a sound Coyotes defence.
Last year, Yandle scored 53 points, even though the Coyotes had trouble scoring goals.
There’s not much Yandle doesn’t do well. He’s an excellent skater and is often able to compensate when he does make a mistake.
7) Mark Giordano – Calgary Flames
Mark Giordano continues to grow as a player, even at 31 years old. His point production has grown and his all-around game keeps getting better.
He’s a good skater, moves the puck well and wins a lot of puck battles. He brings a warrior mentality to every game, not afraid to show tenacity, and he pays the price when he has to. He’s a phenomenal captain, constantly setting the example and is a huge reason for Calgary’s fast start to this season.
We don’t know if this start is a mirage. The Flames still have a long way to go before we anoint them contenders, but if this team turns out to be one soon, it has begun with Giordano.
6) Jordan Eberle – Edmonton Oilers
Another great building block for the Edmonton Oilers, but again, another skilled forward stuck in an organization with no direction.
Jordan Eberle has thrilled crowds at Rexall Place since coming into the NHL. He has excellent instincts as a hockey player and he’s always working hard to produce. He posted 65 points last year and 76 in 2011-12.
Eberle would stand to benefit from some big wingers alongside him, or a centre capable of protecting him, with Eberle being a small player at 5’11”, 180 pounds. Still, Eberle is a joy to watch for Oilers fans and the effort is always there.
5) Taylor Hall – Edmonton Oilers
Taylor Hall has had trouble staying healthy thus far in his career. He posted career highs last year, as he was able to stay healthy for 75 games and scored 80 points.
He’s another blue chipper in Edmonton’s arsenal, but for the same reasons mentioned above, he’s still on a bad team. Not much has improved since he was drafted first overall in 2010.
Hall needs a little fine tuning on his defensive game, but he is an offensive force, constantly able to make spectacular plays and use his size and speed to do it. For goodness sake Oilers, make your team better!
4) Pekka Rinne – Nashville Predators
When the Nashville Predators lost Ryan Suter to free agency a couple of years ago, it severely set the franchise back. A team built on strong defence lost one of its anchors and they’ve suffered for it. They drafted Seth Jones to offset that, and they’ve had a good start to the 2014-15 season, but nothing’s settled yet.
Pekka Rinne‘s stats weren’t great the last couple of years, but that was a result of the team regressing around him. It wasn’t too long ago that he was a consistent Vezina candidate and if the Predators are able to keep this up, Rinne will find himself in the discussion again soon. He’s just 32 years old and he’s far from done.
Rinne has been the workhorse for the Predators for years, but the team has yet to progress past the second round in the franchise’s history.
3) Eric Staal – Carolina Hurricanes
Eric Staal‘s been to the playoffs just twice in his career, and he’s proven on both occasions that he’s a big game player and rises to the occasion. He’s continued to produce in Carolina despite being on a bad team.
Yes, he’s had trouble staying healthy in recent years, now in his late 20s, and the time on his contract is running out, but he’s still got a lot to give for any NHL team. Whether his longterm future is in Carolina or not, Staal remains one of the league’s top players. We just haven’t been able to see enough of him in big games, so he’s gotten lost in the shuffle.
2) John Tavares – New York Islanders
John Tavares became the face of the New York Islanders franchise the second he was drafted first overall back in 2009. He’s carried a bad team on his back since then. A team constantly struggling to find sound defensive play and goaltending.
Despite all that, Tavares was able to bring his team to the playoffs in 2013, a season in which he was a Hart Trophy candidate and arguably should’ve taken home the award. On top of being a great player, Tavares is a natural leader for his team and he’s been a bright spot for a franchise that constantly finds itself spinning its tires.
The Islanders started the season strong, but have started to slip. Hopefully Tavares can see a turnaround soon on Long Island.
1) Shea Weber – Nashville Predators
Shea Weber is the highest paid player in the NHL and it’s justified. He’s the best player in his franchise’s history, is their captain and has been one of, if not the NHL’s best defenceman for close to a decade.
The fact that he hasn’t won a Norris Trophy yet is absurd. Just imagine if Weber was on a team like Chicago, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Anaheim or San Jose? He’s been able to do so much with very little around him and when Ryan Suter left town a couple of years ago, that was the final straw. Nashville severely regressed and Weber was left without a suitable defensive partner.
Nashville appears to be on their way back to at least being a playoff contender, and if they do get back there, it’s time hockey people recognize Weber for what he’s done. The fact that he’s part of a struggling franchise shouldn’t have us lose sight of how great he is.
It would be great to see a player like Weber get a chance to shine on a grand stage. The only time he’s really had a chance to shine is for Team Canada at the Olympics. The result? Two gold medals. Now, it’d be great to see him contend for the Stanley Cup. If he did, maybe he’d finally get the recognition he deserves.