We've reached the end of our What Went Wrong series, which set out to examine the teams that failed to make the playoffs in 2014-15 with an emphasis on discussing specific players that underperformed.
If you read last week's edition, I mentioned that the title of this article didn't really apply to the Florida Panthers because they, on the whole, surpassed expectations despite the fact that they missed the playoffs. In fact, the same could be said for a number of the teams we've featured since starting this series. That is not the case for our finale.
The Boston Bruins and Los Angeles Kings entered the season amid high expectations after winning the Presidents' Trophy and Stanley Cup respectively in 2013-14. The fact that they couldn't make the playoffs was an embarrassment and one we'll examine in greater detail below.
Los Angeles Kings
To an extent you could make an argument that the Kings were unlucky last season. After all, they led the league with a 55.3% Corsi and their 40-27-15 record was identical to the one they posted in 2011-12 when they won the Stanley Cup.
They put themselves in a position to be unlucky with their inconsistent play though. The Kings had some truly dominant stretches last season and some pretty bad runs that ultimately cost them dearly. They crushed the Edmonton Oilers 8-2 on April 2 and beat Colorado 3-1 on April 4, only to lose three critical matches to Vancouver, Edmonton, and Calgary on the road. That highlights the Kings' season: They came so close so many times, but when it mattered most they just couldn't follow through.
We also can't discuss the Los Angeles Kings without bringing up Slava Voynov. The once promising defenseman was suspended for the vast majority of the season due to allegations of spousal abuse, which recently led to him accepting a plea deal that involves 90 days' worth of jail time. It proved to also be a complicated cap situation for Los Angeles because his cap hit was initially kept on the books and with the team already so close to the cap, it forced the Kings to make compromises with their roster they might have not otherwise done. Given how narrowly Los Angeles missed the playoffs, you have to wonder if things would have been different if his cap hit was immediately taken off of the books when he was suspended.
You won't find Voynov on the list below though. What he was accused to doing is obviously terrible and to put him on the same list as players that merely struggled on the ice or were unfortunate enough to battle injuries feels wrong. So yes, Voynov had the biggest negative impact on the Kings in 2014-15, but let's instead discuss players that weren't suspended for almost the entire season...
Dustin Brown - Dustin Brown has captained the Kings to two Stanley Cup championships, but his eight-year, $47 million contract is in serious danger of being an albatross and we've only completed the first season of it. He's never been a major offensive contributor, but that was nevertheless an important aspect of his game that seems to have vanished over the last two seasons as he recorded just 27 points in each of those campaigns. He's not even a net positive from a puck possession perspective anymore as he had a relative 5v5 Corsi of minus-1.2% compared to how the Kings did when he was off the ice. That's just the second time in his career that he's had a negative relative Corsi. He still throws his body around as illustrated by his 242 hits last season, but for what they're paying him, the Kings need Brown to be a multifaceted player and he didn't deliver on that in 2014-15.
Justin Williams - Williams has built a reputation for stepping up in the playoffs. It's just a shame that he can't seem to be a high production player in the regular season anymore. Coming off his Conn Smythe Trophy winning 2014 postseason run, Williams scored 18 goals and 41 points in 81 contests in 2014-15. That's his lowest point total in a season where he participated in at least 50 games since 2001-02 when he was a sophomore. He didn't step up with their campaign on the line either as he had no goals and three assists in the Kings' final nine games.
Marian Gaborik - I went back and forth about whether or not to include him on this list and upon reflection, that's a sad reflection on Gaborik. A 47-point campaign should in no way be considered the standard for him, even at the age of 33, but he's suffered through so many injuries and has been so inconsistent in recent seasons that my first thought upon considering including him on this list was: Sure it's subpar for an elite forward, but who can be surprised by Gaborik at this point? The answer to that is the Kings can. They signed him to a seven-year, $34,125,000 contract in the hopes that his stunning performance with them in 2013-14, especially in the playoffs, could be replicated. Sure, they knew he was risky - hence the discount cap hit for a first line forward - but they were nevertheless putting their chips on the idea that Gaborik had more great seasons left in him and in 2014-15 that wasn't a winning bet.
Mike Richards - Richards' contract was terminated this summer and we're waiting to see if the NHLPA will contest that. Putting that aside for the moment, the Kings had the temporary option over the summer of 2014 to buy out his contract without a cap penalty thanks to the terms of the CBA, but passed on the opportunity to do so. Richards had struggled in 2013-14, but Kings GM Dean Lombardi thought Richards could bounce back. Instead he regressed further, to the point where he couldn't even hold his spot on the roster for the entire season. He finished with just five goals and 16 points in 53 games.
What's the single biggest difference between the Presidents' Trophy winning 2013-14 team and the team that missed the playoffs? It's offense.
Boston finished third in goals per game in 2013-14 with 3.15, but it dropped to 22nd last season with just 2.55. We'll give specific examples of their decline when we go into the player section, but the truth is there's no shortage of forwards that took a step back. Losing Jarome Iginla and his 30 goals as an unrestricted free agent was a factor of course, but the fact of the matter is that they went from six different players recording at least 50 points in 2013-14 to just one (Patrice Bergeron) in 2014-15.
That being said, for most of the season it looked like they'd squeak into the playoffs anyways. It took a historic 26-3-2 run by the Ottawa Senators combined with Boston's inopportune six-game losing streak from March 15-26 and another season-ending three-game slump to seal the Bruins' fate.
And with that, let's highlight some of the underperformers...
David Krejci - Krejci was the Bruins' leading scoring in 2013-14, but he was hindered last season by hip, groin, and knee problems. He was still effective when he was healthy with seven goals and 31 points in 47 contests, but his absence in 35 contests significantly contributed to Boston's offensive woes. The good news is that he's typically far healthier, so it's not unreasonable to write this off as an unlucky campaign for him.
Loui Eriksson - Eriksson was the big name Boston got back in the Tyler Seguin deal and that certainly hasn't worked out for the Bruins. He didn't live up to expectations in 2013-14 either, but his struggles in that campaign were more understandable because he suffered two concussions. In 2014-15 he was healthy enough to play in 81 games and still finished with 22 goals and just 47 points. In the two seasons since the trade, Seguin has outscored Eriksson 161 to 84.
Reilly Smith - This one is a bit more of a stretch. Smith was also acquired in the Seguin trade and in 2013-14, he made it easier to swallow because he recorded 51 points while Eriksson struggled. He regressed from his breakout campaign though, recording 13 goals and 40 points in 81 contests last season, thus contributing to the Bruins' overall offensive decline. Smith was dealt to Florida over the summer along with Marc Savard's contract in exchange for Jimmy Hayes.
Zdeno Chara - Age seems to be catching up to Chara. He recorded just 20 points last season, which is half of his output in 2013-14, and finished with a neutral plus/minus rating after finishing at least plus-14 in each of his previous seven campaigns. He still wasn't bad, but he wasn't the force that the Bruins had come to rely on. Unfortunately, given that he's 38-years-old, he's more likely to decline further than bounce back.