There’s an old saying, “Even a blind squirrel gets a nut sometimes.” In other words, even those who are the least lucky or skilled occasionally find success.
In the National Hockey League, there’s a corollary to this axiom: “Even the most graceless, lumbering, concrete-footed forward will still find the back of the nut every now and then.”
Often, it’s a lucky bounce when the player flings the puck at the net during a rush. Other times, he happens to have his stick in the perfect spot when setting up near the crease and deflecting a shot from near the blue line. Or maybe there’s simply a super-fat rebound that trickles in front of an open net where even a six-year old could knock it home. Whatever the circumstances, this scenario tends to happen at least once to every NHL forward each season – or so the conventional wisdom goes.
Unfortunately, statstics don’t always bear this out. During the 2013-14 season, there were 583 forwards who earned ice team in the NHL – and 67 of them were unable to score a goal. Now of course, many of these names are of skaters who were emergency call-ups to fill an injury-depleted bench, fourth-liners who only recorded a handful of minutes in one or two games, and/or enforcer-types who are looking more for physical contact than shooting at the net.
No one expects these guys to carry their clubs’ scoring load. After all, many of them are making the league minimum and are happy just to get on the ice at all.
But then there are those players who are earning seven-figures a year. And if these dudes can’t get the puck to trickle over the goal line once in a while, there’s a substantial problem. Because no matter what their primary, secondary, or tertiary roles on the club are, at least a portion of their plump salaries are being wasted.
Capgeek.com compiled the list of players with the highest salaries who failed to notch a goal during the 2013-14 season by their average annual salary. It also does not take into account their AHL salaries for games played in the lower league. Here are the most highly-paid forwards on that list:
10. Arron Asham, New York Rangers – $1 million
Asham is actually tied with another goalless millionaire, New Jersey’s Rostislav Olesz, but we gave Asham the edge because Olesz managed to notch a couple of assists – which was two more than the 36-year old 16-year vet. And it isn’t like Asham is incapable of lighting the lamp; he scored the series-winning goal last season in Game 7 of the first round of the playoffs to help the Rangers oust Washington. When Asham inked a two-year contract with New York in July of 2012, he was able to claim the “Atlantic Division Quinella” since he had played for all five teams in the NHL’s old Atlantic Division (Rangers, Devils, Islanders, Flyers, and Penguins). But Asham appeared in just six NHL games this season, and only scored two goals in 27 Ranger contests in 2012-13.
9. Carter Ashton, Toronto Maple Leafs – $1.04 million
At this point, the 23-year old Ashton could charitably be called an enigma, although cynics might be warming up the dreaded B-word (hint: it rhymes with “lust”). After being taken 29th overall by Tampa Bay in the 2009 NHL Draft, he failed to crack the Lightning roster during his tenure there. He was then shipped north to Toronto, where he performed well for the city’s AHL franchise, scoring 29 goals in 84 games over three seasons with the Marlies. But Ashton has not been able to translate that to NHL success: in 47 games in a Maple Leaf sweater, the Winnipeg native has yet to find the net. Toronto head coach Randy Carlyle has noticed, saying, “When he’s played here and played with us, his confidence level seems to erode. Whereas when he goes back to the Marlies, he’s the best player.”
8. Ben Eager, Edmonton Oilers – $1.1 million
Granted, Eager is known more for his muscle than his scoring ability. Back in 06-07 while with the Flyers, he led the NHL in penalty minutes with 233 despite playing in just 63 games that year. Eager also received a four-game suspension in 2009-10 for a sucker punch to Toronto forward Colby Armstrong. But apparently, Eager has trouble confining his aggression to the ice. In October of 2012, he was arrested for allegedly assaulting a doorman at a Toronto nightclub. The 30-year old Ottawa native, who has been called a “bushman goon,” helped the Blackhawks win a Stanley Cup in 2010 and has also played in San Jose and Atlanta. But he only suited up seven times for Edmonton this past season.
7. Louis Leblanc, Montreal Canadiens – $1.17 million
Again, it’s too early to declare the Habs’ 1st round pick in the 2009 draft to be a mistake, but it’s increasingly looking like Leblanc will not be a top-six forward in the NHL. The 23-year old did okay in the American Hockey League with Hamilton this season, scoring 13 goals and netting 15 assists in 69 games with the Bulldogs. But he only cracked the Montreal lineup eight times this past season and failed to register a point – and that is eight more NHL appearances than in all of 2012-13. Leblanc was born in a Montreal suburb and even played a year at Harvard University, earning Ivy League Rookie of the Year honors in 2010.
6. Patrick Kaleta, Buffalo Sabres – $1.25 million
Kaleta has a pretty good excuse for being on this list. Last November, he tore his anterior cruciate ligament while playing with Buffalo’s AHL affiliate in Rochester and had to sit out the rest of the regular season. But Kaleta’s value was declining rapidly prior to that injury. The Buffalo native played in only five games for the Sabres in October before being hammered with a ten-game suspension by the NHL for putting an illegal check on Columbus defenseman Jack Johnson. It was far from the first time that Kaleta had been suspended; and after serving his time, Sabres’ GM Darcy Regier implied that the league wanted the club to expel him from the NHL because of his rough style of play. So the future of the 27-year old career Sabre may be in jeopardy if he continues to rack up suspensions.
5. Bryce Van Brabant, Calgary Flames – $1.35 million
This former NCAA standout may have the brightest future of anyone on this list. He only appeared in six games for the Flames this past season, but that wasn’t his fault. Van Brabant didn’t sign his two-year deal with Calgary until March 29 of this year, choosing to forgo his senior year at Quinnipiac University to do so. When he made his debut on April Fools’ day, he became the first Quinnipiac alum to play in an NHL game. In college, Van Brabant helped lead his Bobcats to the 2013 Frozen Four title game, and this past season he netted 15 goals while leading his school in penalty minutes as well. When the Bobcats were eliminated in this past season’s playoffs, he left school and made the jump to the NHL.
4. Mike Rupp, Minnesota Wild – $1.5 million
The 34-year old Cleveland native has never been known for being a dirty player. Which is why it surprised hockey watchers when he made what was termed a “late illegal check to the head” on St. Louis forward T.J. Oshie earlier this month. Rupp was suspended for four games, marking the first time in his 11-year career that he was disciplined by the NHL. Though he took responsibility for the hit, Rupp will still miss the first few games of the Wild’s opening-round playoff series against Colorado. Even though Rupp isn’t known for being a goal-scorer, he has only lit the lamp once during the last three seasons – for which he has been paid a total of $4.5 million.
3. Adam Burish, San Jose Sharks – $1.85 million
Burish has experienced some hard luck this season. First off, he was off the ice until this past February after undergoing back surgery this past October. Then late last month, the Wisconsin native took a puck to the hand on a penalty kill and gruesomely injured his finger, making his status for the 2014 playoffs uncertain. Burish, whose name is on the Stanley Cup along with the rest of the 2010 Blackhawks, managed to score 14 goals in his two seasons in Dallas before signing a four-year contract with San Jose. Since then, Burish only scored once in 61 games in a Sharks sweater – and was goalless in the 15 games this season.
2. Jordin Tootoo, Detroit Red Wings – $1.9 million
Tootoo is another one of those players whose name often gets whispered along with the D-word (the one that rhymes with “flirty”). The Churchill, Manitoba native who wears (appropriately enough) number 22 has been suspended multiple times by the NHL for his aggressive play, and has been called a “cheap player” by others in the league. Actually, Tootoo was a 15 point-per-year player in his eight seasons in Nashville before signing a three-year, $5.7 million contract with the rival Red Wings in July of 2012. This past season, the Ukranian-Inuit only appeared in 11 games for Detroit – which is a lot of cash to be paying a part-time player.
1. Ville Leino, Buffalo Sabres – $4.5 million
Leino seems to be a classic case of cashing in and resting on his laurels. Ever since the Finland native inked a six-year, $27 million deal with the Sabres in July of 2011, his play has been less than stellar. The year after a 19-goal 81-game season in Philadelphia, Leino managed just eight goals in 71 games in the first year of his contract. Then he made only eight appearances in Buffalo the following season. But this past season has been an exercise in futility, skating in 58 games without notching a single goal. The Buffalo media has piled on Leino, and after head coach Ted Nolan benched him late in the season, there is speculation that the 30-year old’s contract might be bought out during the offseason.