As the Athens Greeks skate away from the pack, let’s use Chris Legge’s recent post as a springboard for a different story: The Underachievers.
Legge, whose Gothenburg Devils have catapulted themselves from 10th last season into third place overall this season, pointed out the improvement has come without much help from Ryan Suter. The minute-munching defenseman came to Gburg after three trips to the all-star game as a member of the Oslo Outlaws. This season, though, Suter has been a no-star. In 23 games, Suter has no goals and 6 assists to his name. He averages a little more than a shot per game and is minus 10, which puts him tied for second worst on his team. Luckily for Legge and coach Guy Boucher, defenseman Alec Martinez has over-performed a bit. Perhaps Suter will rev up his game on Thursday when he faces his old team. Actually, we’re all being a little too hard on Suter. It’s all relative. He does lead the team in blocked shots by a wide margin and is fourth in the EURO League in that category. And he’s not the only flop in the league.
Here’s a look at an under-performing player on each team, starting with the top 12 teams.
Athens: Can anyone on the best team in the league be under-performing? Again it’s all relative. General Manager Terry Moutafis is probably disappointed by Dimitrios Kalyvas’ 4.4 shooting percentage, but Mike Ryder, you’re the dude. Two seasons ago, the Canadian left winger scored 26 goals and 57 points with Prague and Athens. After that year, Ryder became a bench rider most games, being relegated to the fourth line by coach John Tortorella. Through 25 games this season, Ryder has just 2 goals and 3 assists. Yes, he’s a plus 10, but again, it’s all relative.
Belfast: Again it seems silly to point out the blemish on the Giants, who have sprouted from sixth worst to second best this season. The sixth defense spot is kind of a problem for Belfast. Or at least it was. Keith Aulie didn’t do well there but Matt Hunwick has held down the spot well, at least from a defensive standpoint. The fourth line of forwards has been OK, maybe a little less than OK for the talent it has, but Joe Pavelski has to also be looked at as a blemish thus far. The $9 million free agent treasure is healthy today but has missed 10 games with two different injuries, and while his production while on the ice has been good, it probably falls short of what most fans in Belfast expected for the money.
Gothenburg: Suter (see above).
Helsinki: Daniel Fernholm has underachieved with just 2 points and a lot of turnovers in his 19 games, but Jarome Iginla deserves some scrutiny. Yes, he’s second on the team in goals and scoring and yes, he’s 37 years old, but the $7.8 million investment getting top line ice time needs to pick it up in a few categories. Coach Barry Trotz stresses defense, but Iginla refuses to comply. He has nearly twice as many giveaways as takeaways, not many blocked shots, and he has the team’s lowest plus-minus rating. He could also stand to dish out a few more assists to linemates Brad Marchand and Paul Stastny. And while everyone knows he makes the big bucks for other parts of his game, he should worry that the guy right beneath him on the depth chart – Dainius Zubrus – has scored more goals in less time.
Bern: The Bears are another team that has roared up the standings this season, thanks in large part to Shane Doan’s production and leadership and Mika Zibanejad’s playmaking. But if it wasn’t for the work of backup goalie Cam Talbot, Bern wouldn’t be where they are today. Mike Smith was the starting goalie for the Southern Conference in the first EURO all-star game. Today, he’s not a sure bet to remain the starter on his team. In 14 games, Smith has a losing record and he’s allowed just under four goals per game. His save percentage is 86.8 percent, which is noticeably lower than his 90 plus save percentage in all three of his previous seasons.
Copenhagen: Brian Elliott has replaced Roberto Luongo in Copenhagen beautifully, answering critics by posting the second best goalie numbers in the league thus far. He is quickly becoming a fan favorite throughout Denmark. Alex Goligoski is going in the other direction among Trident fans. His numbers aren’t terrible by any means, but they are woefully below the standards he’s set in previous seasons, especially last season, when he amassed 69 points. With his 8 points in 25 games this season, the 29-year-old would have to score 61 points in his remaining 57 games to equal last season’s total. He’ll have to score 35 points just to tie his worst-ever point total.
Paris: The Great Rouge Eiffels are lower in the standings than anyone expected them to be, and while most still expect them to be one of the teams to beat for the Cup, they have under-performed a bit as a group. Kyle Turris and Kris Letang are in the running as the most underwhelming players so far this year, but that honor has to go to Joffrey Lupul. The Canadian left winger scored 20 or more goals for three straight seasons and he’s contributed more than 50 points the last two seasons. His defensive game picked up noticeably from Season 2 to Season 3, but now in Season 4, he’s regressed in just about all areas. Lupul has 3 goals and 4 assists in 23 games.
Edinburgh: Coach Randy Carlyle has worked wonders with the Caps this season, but he must get an inordinate amount of headaches while thinking about his defense corps. There is a lot of equal ability back there, a good mix of ages and talent types, but no one blueliner’s play has screamed “I’m great.” Luke Schenn leads the group in scoring and hits, but he has given the puck away almost twice as much as he’s taken it away from the opposition. Karl Alzner and Jay Bouwmeester have been good but they don’t get a “very” in front of the “good.” Adam Larsson and Ryan Whitney are both classified as offensive defensemen, but if you put their stats together, they have accounted for just 2 goals and 8 assists in 24 games. Turk Gurkan Cetinkaya might be the most under-achieving in the group so far. The 22-year-old who is known for his defensive prowess has been hurt and missed 10 games, but in his 14 games, he is a minus 6, with 13 giveaways and only 7 takeaways, and he is blocking shots at a much lower rate than he did last season. As of this morning, Cetinkaya was on the top pairing with Schenn.
Minsk: The young Minsk Hussars are making an earlier-than-expected charge up the standings, seemingly spurred by the acquisition of Milan Lucic. Since he joined the squad, good things have happened. There aren’t too many players you can point a finger at in Minsk and say “You. Do better.” Kris Russell has just 2 points in 25 games, and as an offensive defenseman who gets time on the top powerplay unit, that just ain’t cuttin’ it. Nick Spaling got playing time when sparkling rookie Gustav Nyquist was injured for 17 games, but Spaling got benched when Nyquist was ready. His play as the third-line left wing was poor. The 26-year-old Canadian accumulated just 4 points in 15 games and in his area of specialization – defense – he wasn’t good.
Moscow: The defending champs are looking up at the likes of Belfast, Gothenburg, Bern and Edinburgh. We didn’t see that coming. Captain Dustin Brown has been great. He’s just having a hard time getting his teammates to keep up with him. Except for defenseman Kevin Dallman, who has been one of the league’s best this season. It’s hard to pick an obvious goat on Spartak. Some players with good defensive stats have excellent offensive stats, and vice versa. But Aleksey Morozov is definitely off to a slow start. Typically a second-line right winger, the Russian has put together seasons of 78 and 64 points, but this year, he has just 10 points in 25 games. His center, Brandon Sutter is only a point better, but he has been much more active in the neutral and defensive zones. The left side of that line currently has Andrew Ladd on it.
Stockholm: Michael Sauer’s trading frenzy since taking over seems to being paying dividends for the Eagles. Stockholm finished last overall in Season 3 but they are staring a playoff berth in the face early this year, no thanks at all to Ryan Johansen (pictured). The former Columbus Blue Jacket who oozes talent and potential seems to be conducting his own sit-down strike. He has 1 goal and 0 assists in 25 games. Two years ago in Madrid, Johansen produced 32 points. After the trade to Sweden, he has produced at half that rate. Today, Johansen’s fourth-line teammates Sean Monahan and homegrown Mattias Sjogren probably want to have a talk with coach Bob Hartley.
Berlin: The Smurfs might be able to win the award as the league’s most fun team. But, alas, there is no trophy for that. Instead, they’ll have to settle for dreaming about where they would be in the standings if Jiri Tlusty and a few others would get their acts together. Tlusty is a third liner today. His 4-points-in-25-games production won’t keep him there. But a couple of the top players in the Berlin lineup need to improve as well. Alexander Edler is good enough to remain on the top defense pairing, but his minus 5 rating is at the bottom of his team’s list. And goalie Jimmy Howard is having his worst year, save percentage-wise. The 88.4 stopping rate isn’t bad, but it puts him behind 21 other goalies in the league and their teams all want to win the same Cup.
Part 2 to come later this week