It’s been a few weeks since nearly half of the league saw their campaigns end. For some of these teams, the fact that they missed the playoffs wasn’t surprising. Others had high expectations and came up short.
Throughout the spring, we’re going to take a look at the teams that failed to advance to the postseason with the objective of highlighting what went wrong, what players underperformed, and what their near future might hold.
Given Canada’s overall failure in the 2013-14 campaign, it seems appropriate to start with two Canadian squads that entered the season with aspirations of building off of their 2013 playoff appearances and instead took a step backwards.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs have played like they intended on turning pulling defeat out of the jaws of victory into an art form.
In each of the last three years, their seasons have ended with a dramatic collapse. When that trend was first starting in 2012, the team issued an apology for their failure to make the playoffs. As the CBC’s Rex Murphy replied in a rant that seems more relevant with every passing year, “’Sorry’ is not something you get to say. ‘Sorry’ is something you’ve become.”
So the Maple Leafs are obviously an easy target and if you want to get a little more objective about what prompted the Maple Leafs 2-12 finish to the season that obliterated their playoff chances, some would point to their Corsi/Fenwick figures – aka their horrid shots for/against ratio – and say that Toronto was never a playoff team and the fact that they ever appeared to be was a matter of luck. Somewhat related to that, others would point to the Maple Leafs heavy reliance on Jonathan Bernier as the team’s collapse corresponded with him running into injury problems.
What it ultimately comes down to though is that the Maple Leafs entered the season as, at best, a passable team that consequently didn’t have a large margin of error. As is often the case with this type of squad, any significant degree of adversity can cause them to crumble. The good news is that the Maple Leafs do have some great players on their roster to build around. With a bolstered defense, the Maple Leafs could go far.
As stated, this is a team that’s an easy target, but the reality is that they need tweaks and some moderate additions, rather than a complete remake.
As we’ll do with every team we review, let’s take a look at a handful of players that failed to live up to expectations:
Joffrey Lupul – Lupul broke out in 2011-12 by recording 67 points in 66 games and while he missed most of the 2013 campaign, he was very effective when he was healthy. He took a significant step back this season though with 22 goals and 22 assists in 69 contests. First and foremost, he can’t be counted on to get through an entire season without suffering a significant injury. Beyond that, whether or not he rebounds will be largely dependent on who he plays with. He shines when he’s on Phil Kessel’s line, but he didn’t get that opportunity for the vast majority of 2013-14 and he shouldn’t be counted on the play with Kessel going forward.
Nikolai Kulemin – Kulemin has been following a good season-bad season pattern lately, but he set a new career-low with 20 points in 70 games in 2013-14. He’s scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent and is unlikely to re-sign with the Maple Leafs. His chances of rebounding offensively next season will largely depend on who signs him and what role they have in mind for the 27-year-old forward, but we can’t recommend drafting him in standard leagues.
David Clarkson – The former 30-goal scorer had five goals, six assists, and a team-worst minus-14 rating in 60 games this season. He was brought on for his physical play as well as his scoring ability and he did end up with 159 hits, but his performance certainly doesn’t justify his $5.25 million annual cap hit. The Maple Leafs are stuck with him through 2019-20, but at least fantasy owners can avoid him.
James Reimer – Reimer was the team’s starting goaltender until they traded for Jonathan Bernier in the summer of 2013. Once that happened, the thought was that the two would compete for the starting job, but Reimer was outclassed and ended up with a 3.29 GAA and .911 save percentage in 36 games. Odds are he won’t be back with the Maple Leafs in 2014-15. We doubt he’ll start next season as a starter, but there’s still a decent chance that he’ll bounce back if he can get away from Toronto.
If Toronto lost with style and drama, then Ottawa was the polar opposite. The destination was the same between the two Ontario clubs, but the Senators playoff chances dipped below 20% in December, per Sports Club Stats and they never came close to reaching 50% after that.
The result is that Senators fans had plenty of time to accept and digest their team’s fate – although whether or not they choose to exercise that option or cling on the hope is another topic entirely.
As for why the Ottawa Senators failed to build off their surprise run to the 2013 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, they seemed to be set back by losing veteran leaders Sergei Gonchar and, of course, Daniel Alfredsson as free agents. Senators coach Paul MacLean also criticized the team’s work ethic and perhaps those two factors are related.
It’s also worth considering that the Senators simply overperformed in 2013 and fell back to Earth a bit in 2013-14. They still have a fair amount of young and developing talent, so some inconsistencies are understandable and not cause for panic.
Bobby Ryan – Ryan was brought in to be an offensive leader for the Senators, especially after they lost Alfredsson and initially he performed as advertised. He struggled mightily from January on though, recording just five goals and 12 points in his final 28 games. It later came out that Ryan had been playing with a sports hernia that required surgery since November and that could have been a large factor in his decline. We expect him to get back to his 30-plus goal scoring ways in 2014-15.
Milan Michalek – Michalek regressed significantly with 17 goals and 39 points in 82 games and posted a career-worst minus-25 rating. He never managed to record points in more than two consecutive contests, but he did get better as the campaign went on, scoring 10 goals and 17 points in 26 games after Feb. 3. He’s a solid candidate to bounce back, especially if he continues to play alongside Jason Spezza.
Mika Zibanejad – Zibanejad didn’t fall well below expectations, but he didn’t build off of his rookie campaign either. He had 16 goals and 17 assists in 69 games in 2013-14, which puts him roughly on par with what he did in 2013 from a points per game perspective. That being said, the sixth overall pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft has plenty of room to grow and it wouldn’t be surprising if he played a bigger role with the Senators in 2014-15 after averaging 14:19 minutes per contest this season.
Craig Anderson – Anderson has the potential to carry a team on his back, but he can’t consistently elevate his game to that level. After posting a 1.69 GAA and .941 save percentage in 24 games in the shortened campaign, he recorded a 3.00 GAA and .911 save percentage in 53 contests this season. It wasn’t a disastrous season for him, but the Senators’ best hope of making the playoffs was getting better than passable goaltending from Anderson, and he wasn’t able to deliver. Given that he only has one year on his contract and Robin Lehner is likely ready for a shot at the starting gig, the Senators might try to trade Anderson over the summer. His reasonable $3,187,500 annual cap hit makes a deal a distinct possibility and it might even end up with a good fit that will boost his fantasy value.