This has been a surprising year of high-profile underperformances by key players in the NHL. I cannot remember another time when so many all-star caliber players have tripped out of the gate, and continued their woes into the Christmas season. While this column often writes about who to add from the waiver wire and where the hidden gems are, who to give up on is a key element to any such transaction. After all, unless you're replacing an injury, you have to dump someone you once thought was valuable. Sometimes that can be the hardest part.
History tends to show that slow starts typically end by the third week in November. Players that continue their slumps into December continue them through the season. This week will be critical to a number of players -- breaking their downward trend is critical for both their year, and likely, the teams that rely on them so greatly for offensive production. Fantasy GMs look to them to be upper-level performers on their team, and to this point, haven't even warranted a waiver-wire claim.
If they don't start to find the back of the net by the end of this week, cut bait -- find a person willing to take your burden. There's always someone looking to swindle you out of a potential slumping star.
With that in mind, let's examine some of the worst underperformers this year.
Sidney Crosby C, PIT - In easily his worst start of his career, Sid has put up goose eggs in 13 of his 19 games played this season. By comparison, in his most productive season of 2006-2007, he had 16 games without points all year. The Penguins in general are a shambles despite having the most gifted offensive corps in the league. Crosby's three goals and seven assists put him on pace for a 43-point season, a black eye on an otherwise prolific Hall of Fame career. His ranks this season have been consistently awful -- hovering at the mid-to-high 300s. This isn't a case of bad luck, like say Nazem Kadri, where his play has been good with nothing to show for it -- Sid has recorded seven minus-one or worse games, and two multi-point games where he finished with a zero rating, a reflection of lack of dedication to the other side of the puck. Fantasy GMs everywhere who managed to draft him first or second overall are looking at whether they should cut bait. I'll be the first to say it bluntly: yes, you should find a way to get some value out of him via trade. His name should demand a hefty return by people not paying attention -- and there still is a chance that he can be productive should he find his groove. I just wouldn't bet on it this year.
Ryan Getzlaf C, ANA - It's little wonder that Getzlaf has found his way onto this list, considering the abysmal year that Anaheim has gotten off to. Leading this charge to the basement of the league has been perennial all-star Ryan Getzlaf, who has a meager nine points in 16 games -- a far cry from his nearly point-per-game career average. More concerning has been his lack of consistency during this time -- his nine points have come in spurts, with three multi-point nights representing his lone goal and six assists. The rest of the time, he's been a ghost on the ice -- with nary a pencil mark on the scoresheet. There does seem to be some glimmer of hope for him: his ranks have seen a dramatic uptick in the last two weeks but I chalk that up to two solid games against Florida and Carolina. Getzlaf is on pace for the worst season of his career; we would advise getting out of the way of this albatross.
Anze Kopitar C, LA - While his defensive two-way game is second to none in the NHL -- a skill that has him in the Selke discussions every year -- his offensive game has really suffered in the last two seasons. He had a similar slump to start last year -- a fact that led many to dump him in December, only to have him rebound with great success in January. I'm not convinced, though, that this year will be the same story. Kopitar has managed one point on the power play roughly a quarter of the way through the year, and with eight points in 19 games, it looks like he's on pace for the worst season of his career by a country mile. Should things continue on this path, he'll finish with 35 points -- almost half the tally on his rookie year. For GMs that decide to hold on a little bit longer before getting rid of him, the beauty of his game is that he's unlikely to hurt your plus-minus.
Mark Giordano D, CGY - Had he stayed healthy last season, Giordano looked like a cinch for a Norris trophy and a candidate for the Hart. His stewardship of the Calgary Flames directed them to the playoffs for the first time in many years, and against the predictions of many pundits (including myself). This year has been as disappointing to the Calgary captain as last year was revelatory. In 21 games, he has only four goals and two assist for six points, and a minus-11 rating. Most leagues have him ranked in the 400s; depending on your categories, he may even be into the 500s. Just as a comparison, at this point last year, he had six goals and 16 assists for 22 points. He looks to be luck to break that mark for the whole year.
Nick Foligno C/W, CLS - The single biggest discrepancy in my predictions this year for the NHL has been the wholly awful play of the Columbus Blue Jackets. I had them pegged to be a playoff team -- one that should have made the second round at a minimum. Instead, it appears more and more likely that they'll be in contention for the first overall draft pick this year. Foligno is in the crosshairs for explaining this drop in performance; his career-best season last year of 73 points in 79 games has been juxtaposed with his career-worst performance this season with eight points in 21 games. He's also an atrocious minus-12 and has ranked the low-500s all season. Given his career high prior to last season was 47 points, it's evident at this point that last year was a statistical anomaly, one that you're best to identify early and drop in favor of a solid waiver candidate (for instance, Jason Zucker or Shane Doan)
Jakub Voracek W, PHI - Even when Voracek exceeded a point-per-game last year, I wasn't convinced that his performance was indicative of a player taking the next step in his evolution. Instead, I was pretty sure we were watching a career year; as a result, I avoided drafting him highly this year, and I seem to have been right on the money. In 19 games this year, the 6-foot-2 Czech has one goal and eight assists for nine points with a minus-five rating; those stats rank him in the low 300s in most leagues, though his draft position had him going second round. By comparison, the player most often taken after him, Joe Pavelski, has 10 more points. I'm not convinced that he'll finish the year with the 34 points he seems to be trending to; instead, I would expect low 40s, which is still far below where he should be. Every fantasy pool has a Philly fan in it -- try to get a good return for Voracek from that guy, because he's not going to be able to give you the return you were hoping for.