NHL: Over/Under – 5 Underperforming Players

UNDERPERFORMING: Goligoski tops the list of the most underperforming players in the NHL this season

BY JEFF ANGUS

A two or three week slump is quite common in the NHL, even for very good players. However, in a 48 game season, a slump of that length equates to almost one quarter of the total season. Simply put, players that are struggling now are really doing a disservice to their respective teams.

Let’s take a look at five NHL players who are struggling relative to expectations.

JOHN CARLSON – D WASHINGTON CAPITALS
Washington Capitals to Win Eastern Conference +1900
Over the past few years Carlson had established himself as one of the best young two-way defensemen in the entire league. He skated on the youngest top pairing in hockey with Karl Alzner, and the two were given the bulk of the tough assignments from Washington’s various coaches (there have been a lot of them recently).

Carlson is the total package on the back end. He has good size, he skates extremely well, and he moves the puck at an elite level. However, he has really struggled defensively in 2012-13, and the fact that the Capitals are currently dead last in the entire league is not purely coincidental. Carlson’s 22:53 of ice time per game is second on the entire roster, and he leads all Washington players in short-handed ice time (3:49 per game). His usually dependable defensive play has been missing all season, though, much to the frustration of those in Washington.

Carlson only recently turned 23, and we often forget that young players (especially defensemen) typically experience some ups and downs in their first few years in the league. Development isn’t consistently positive – there are some slipups and setbacks along the way. Carlson will get back on track, but Washington needs him to do it quickly if they want to turn around their dismal season.

ERIK JOHNSON – D COLORADO AVALANCHE
Anaheim Ducks at Colorado Avalanche (-110, 5)
Once pegged as a franchise-calibre player, Johnson is barely playing like a top four defenseman right now. He was the consensus top prospect available back at the 2006 NHL Draft, and the St. Louis Blues were hoping that he would turn out to have an impact on their organization as big as Chris Pronger’s or Al MacInnis’s.

Johnson had a very good first two years in St. Louis, but they were interrupted by a very bizarre knee injury that forced him to miss the entire 2008-09 season. The team deemed him expendable back in 2010, and they flipped him to Colorado for winger Chris Stewart and defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk.

Fast forward three years – Shattenkirk is one of the better offensive defensemen in the game, Stewart has been a disappointment offensively in St. Louis, and Johnson has yet to deliver on the hype and expectation that typically comes with a 1st overall draft pick. With his athletic abilities and the fact that he is 6-5 and 230 pounds, Johnson was expected to dominate the NHL offensively and defensively for years to come. It is looking more and more like that will never happen, though. And at this point the Avalanche would probably be happy if he was able to play a consistent role on one of their top two defensive pairings.

I wrote an extensive piece on Johnson and his career last summer, which you can read here.

DEVIN SETOGUCHI – RW MINNESOTA WILD
Minnesota Wild to Win Northwest Division +300
The Wild acquired Setoguchi (and prospect Charlie Coyle) from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for Brent Burns two years ago. Setoguchi has been a natural goal scorer at every level of hockey, and he scored 31 goals as a 21-year-old with the Sharks back in 2008-09. However, he hasn’t broken the 22 goal mark in any season since then, and he has zero goals and only two assists through nine games in 2013.

Setoguchi is a bit like Phil Kessel – if he isn’t scoring goals, he isn’t contributing a whole lot else. And the Wild sure could use Burns on the back end alongside Ryan Suter right about now….

PETER REGIN – C OTTAWA SENATORS
Ottawa Senators to Win Stanley Cup +2500
Regin is a player who has looked like a legitimate top-six forward for brief stretches, but he has never been able to put it all together over the course of an entire season. His best hockey came back in 2010, when he was Ottawa’s best player in their first round defeat to the Pittsburgh Penguins. However, in 75 regular season games since then (over three seasons), Regin has only five goals and 23 points.

In 10 games this season, he has zero goals and two assists. After the Jason Spezza back injury was announced a few weeks ago, the team was hoping that Regin could step into a top six center role, but he failed to seize that opportunity. And he missed almost the entire 2011-12 season with a shoulder injury, which stunted his development considerably.

Regin suited up for only 55 games in 2010-11, and the Senators put him with some talented linemates that season, but his production was still well below where it needed to be. His linemates from that season:

Frequency

Strength

Line Combination

16.18% EV 71 FOLIGNO,NICK – 27 KOVALEV,ALEX – 13 REGIN,PETER
16.15% EV 27 KOVALEV,ALEX – 13 REGIN,PETER – 19 SPEZZA,JASON
8.72% EV 11 ALFREDSSON,DANIEL – 13 REGIN,PETER – 19 SPEZZA,JASON

(Courtesy of DobberHockey’s Frozen Pool Line Combos tool)

ALEX GOLIGOSKI – D DALLAS STARS
Dallas Stars at Edmonton Oilers (-150, 5)
Goligoski was acquired from the Penguins a few years ago in exchange for rugged winger James Neal and defenseman Matt Niskanen. And even if you ignore how Neal has done and is doing in Pittsburgh (very good), Goligoski was exactly what the Stars needed to add on their back end.

He is a mobile and offensively-gifted defenseman, and he is able to create scoring chances for both himself and his teammates. However, he is off to a slow start in 2013, and he needs to be a productive defenseman on a consistent basis if he wants to bring value to Dallas. Goligoski has no goals and three assists in 10 games, and his defensive play has left much to be desired. He has been outplayed significantly in the defensive zone by most of Dallas’s other regulars on the back end.

The Stars would be smart to find a long-term partner for Goligoski on the back end. He loves to jump into the rush and move the puck up the ice, and he needs a partner who can watch his back defensively. There are hopes that 6-8 prospect Jamie Oleksiak can one day be that guy, but he isn’t ready for top four minutes at the NHL level right now (and even if he was, it is never a good idea to bank on a rookie defenseman).

In Goligoski’s most productive NHL season to date, he scored eight goals and finished with 37 points in only 69 games 2007-08). He played with a pair of veterans for the most part that season:

Frequency

Strength

Line Combination

51.96% EV 67 GOLIGOSKI,ALEX – 5 SYDOR,DARRYL
13.24% EV 67 GOLIGOSKI,ALEX – 55 GONCHAR,SERGEI

Six years later, Goligoski could now be considered a veteran player. He hasn’t had a steady partner this season, rotating between the aforementioned Oleksiak, Stephane Robidas, and Philip Larsen:

Frequency

Strength

Line Combination

37.36% EV 33 GOLIGOSKI,ALEX – 3 ROBIDAS,STEPHANE
14.3% EV 33 GOLIGOSKI,ALEX – 43 OLEKSIAK,JAMIE
11.31% EV 33 GOLIGOSKI,ALEX – 36 LARSEN,PHILIP

Even if the Stars don’t bring in a veteran top-four defenseman to play with Goligoski, he needs to start putting more points on the board. He isn’t paid $4 million for his defensive play.