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(Puck Daddy presents its annual look back at the year in hockey. Check back every day through the New Year for our many lists and hot takes.)
In 2016 a lot of parts in hockey did not go according to plan. Some decisions by teams to acquire players turned out poorly. Some teams underachieved. Choices to play the free agent or trade market a certain way didn’t work out.
We took a look at the biggest busts in the year 2016 and why they turned out this way.
10. Young players demanding trades
Both Jonathan Drouin and Jacob Trouba both believed they would have better opportunities elsewhere and requested trades, but both players had little leverage to push their teams to act on their trade demands. Drouin refused to report to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s AHL affiliate in Syracuse and was suspended, but eventually returned to the minors and was called up by Tampa for their playoff push.
Trouba, a restricted free agent last summer, asked the Winnipeg Jets for a trade in hopes he could play the right side on another team – since his path with the Jets was blocked by more veteran players. Winnipeg didn’t pull the trigger stating they would only make a deal if it was in the best interest of the Jets. Trouba re-signed in a two-year $6 million deal.
The league’s collective bargaining agreement is in part designed to ensure younger players stay on the teams that drafted them. Despite the best efforts of Trouba and Drouin, both players couldn’t wriggle free from their current clubs.
9. Kris Russell’s free agency
Defenseman Kris Russell was one of the biggest names on the unrestricted free agent market going into the offseason. It appeared that Russell, who the Dallas Stars acquired for a second-round pick and Jyrki Jokipakka at the 2016 trade deadline from the Calgary Flames, would sign somewhere early. Instead, Russell had to wait until Oct. 7 and didn’t get a long-term contract in the process. The Edmonton Oilers inked him to a one-year, $3.1 million contract.
8. The Anaheim Ducks
After a dismal start to the 2015-16 season, the Anaheim Ducks, a team many considered a Stanley Cup favorite in the preseason, transformed into one of the league’s hottest teams in the second half of the year – taking the Pacific Division on the final day of the regular season. In the first-round of the postseason, the Ducks lost their first two games at home against the Nashville Predators, and then bounced back to take three straight – setting up a Game 6 clinching scenario on the road. The Ducks were beat 3-1 by the Predators in that contest and then lost their fourth consecutive Game 7 on home ice.
After the end of the season, the Ducks fired coach Bruce Boudreau – who was behind the bench for all those Game 7 disappointments – and replaced him with Randy Carlyle, the team’s previous coach who led them to the 2007 Stanley Cup.
7. Eric Staal with the New York Rangers
Carolina Hurricanes center Eric Staal was one of the biggest names on the trade market last season and ended up with the New York Rangers for two second-round picks (2016, 2017) and Finnish prospect Aleksi Saarela. The Hurricanes also picked up half of Staal’s salary. The Rangers ignored the fact that Staal’s numbers had dropped considerably to 0.52 points per-game down from 0.70 points per-game the previous year and believed the veteran would be “energized” by the deal.
In 20 games with New York, Staal notched just six points. In New York’s five-game loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the playoffs, Staal didn’t pick up a point and was a minus-7. He departed to the Minnesota Wild in free agency, where he has notched 24 points in 30 games.
6. Andrew Ladd and the New York Islanders
The Islanders signed the former Winnipeg Jets captain to a seven-year $38.5 million contract in the offseason and Ladd has just four goals and three assists in 31 games – far below his career averages. He has turned into the poster boy for New York’s offseason futility in 2016 when they let Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen and Matt Martin walk in free agency.
5. Nail Yakupov’s ‘fresh start’ with the St. Louis Blues
The talented winger had asked for a trade last season from the Edmonton Oilers in hopes a new location would allow him to flourish. Yakupov’s wish was granted in early October when the 2012 No. 1 overall draft pick was dealt to the St. Louis Blues. With the Blues, Yakupov has been a healthy scratch at points and In 21 games he has just three goals and six points while averaging a career low of 10:17 of ice-time per-game.
4. James Wisniewski’s 47 seconds with the Carolina Hurricanes
The veteran defenseman was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes as part of a 2015 draft day deal to give them some defensive depth. Wisniewski suffered a torn ACL just 47 seconds into his first game with the team and missed the rest of 2015-16. Last summer the Hurricanes bought out the final season of his six-year, $33 million contract he signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2011.
3. Thomas Vanek’s tenure with the Minnesota Wild
The Wild signed Vanek to a three-year, $19.5 million contract in the summer of 2014 to give the team some offensive punch. That didn’t happen in his first year, and last season, Vanek suffered through the worst season of his NHL career with 18 goals and 23 assists in 74 games. He was also a healthy scratch near the end of the season as the team pushed for the playoffs as well as earlier in the year. In the summer, the Wild bought out Vanek after he had just 93 points in 154 total games. He signed a one-year, $2.6 million contract with the Detroit Red Wings where he has picked up 17 points in 21 games.
2. Quebec City’s expansion bid
Overall, 2016 was a tough year for those who wanted Quebec City to land a new NHL team. Quebecor, the company behind the area’s expansion bid, went through the entire process with the NHL before the league decided to bring in just one team, Las Vegas, for the 2017-18 season. Quebec City offered a gorgeous new arena, stable ownership, and a market that had been thirsty for NHL hockey since the league left for Colorado in 1995. Now, Quebec is left to ponder what else it can do to bring a team back to the area, since expansion is off the table for the foreseeable future.
“Of course we have (disappointment) just like the fans in Quebec and Quebec City, but at the same time we understand the process. We’re part of that process. We want it to be a win-win as well. We’re hockey fans but we’re a business company as well and a business corporation that wants to make it a success. All the conditions have to be there if you want to make it a success,” Quebecor CEO Pierre Dion said last June. “That’s why we need to be patient and timing has to be right. We lost the Nordiques once, we don’t want to lose them twice.”
1. Team USA at the World Cup of Hockey
The Americans went into the tournament as at least a favorite to make it past the preliminary round. Instead, they flamed out, going 0-3-0 and being outscored 11-5.
Some of the roster decisions by coach John Tortorella, such as scratching defenseman Dustin Byfuglien in the tournament opener, came off as puzzling. General manager Dean Lombardi knowingly constructed Team USA with more grit and less skill, which seemed to damage the team’s chances against groups that chose their best players. The decision by Phil Kessel, who was snubbed during the selection process, to deliver some snark via Twitter, only added to the circus element around the team. While Team USA wasn’t the most talented squad at the tournament they should have certainly at least won a game.
Puck Daddy Year In Hockey 2016
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