The most disappointing players are those who are assigned the most favorable playing opportunities and yet completely squander them. That's why we are using player usage charts (see below), which graphically portray how players are being used, to choose the 10 players, excluding goalies and rookies, who are off to this young season's most disappointing starts.
These players are starting primarily in the offensive zone (the horizontal axis), against generally average competition at best (vertical axis) and yet are putting their teams at a huge shot-based disadvantage relative to everyone else -- the bubbles are sized and colored according to the extent of that shot-differential disadvantage (negative differential is red, positive is blue).
Player usage charts measure three critical factors:
The percentage of shifts they're starting in the offensive zone (the horizontal axis).
The competition they're facing during those shifts (the vertical axis).
How they are producing during those shifts (the size of the circle around a player's name).
Based on their playing conditions these are the top 10 players who are letting their teams down the most so far this season.
1. Alex Ovechkin, LW, Washington Capitals
Signed to an incredible 13-year, $124 million deal back in 2008 after the first of his two Hart Trophies, Ovechkin was considered possibly the world's greatest hockey player and the man who would guide Washington to its first Stanley Cup. Not so much. Despite repeated coaching changes and playing assignments that are truly ideal for his offensive talents, Ovechkin's 6 minor penalties, minus-4 and 10 points (tied with Joel Ward) have made Ovechkin's league-leading $9.5 million cap hit look rather silly less than five years later.
2. Tyler Myers, D, Buffalo Sabres
The Sabres invested heavily in 2009-10's Calder Trophy winner Myers, signing the 6-foot-8 giant to a seven-year deal that carries an annual cap hit of $5.5 million. For most players on the struggling Sabres this year it has been either feast or famine, and for Myers it's definitely been famine. Myers, who scored 48 points and was plus-13 as a teenage rookie three years ago, has just a single point, 6 minor penalties, is minus-9 and is averaging less than a shot a game.
3. Filip Kuba, D, Florida Panthers
After recording 32 points and a plus-10 while skating alongside Norris trophy winner Erik Karlsson on Ottawa's top line, Kuba signed a $4 million deal to return to Florida, where the 36-year-old began his career back in 1999. Despite winning Jay Garrison's envied former assignment alongside Brian Campbell on the Panthers' offensive-minded top pairing, Kuba has registered only 2 points and is a minus-8 in 11 games, dragging down last year's Southeast Division-leading team to its current state, tied for the second-fewest points in the league thus far.
4. Marcus Johansson, C, Washington Capitals
Despite 46 points last season and some of the league's most highly sheltered ice-time, Johansson's performance has been enigmatically bad this season. Not only is the team getting absolutely bombed when he's on the ice, he has just a single point, 4 shots on goal and is a minus-7 so far. Hopefully his recently reported upper body injury is partly responsible and the young scorer will soon return to form.
5. Drew Doughty, D, Los Angeles Kings
A mysterious sub-.500 start for the defending Stanley Cup champs can be explained in part by the failure of their star defensemen Doughty, who has just 4 points and is a league-worst minus-10 despite scoring 16 points and recording a plus-11 in last year's Stanley Cup run. While his assignment can't be characterized as easy, neither can it be described as hard, so there's no excuse why a franchise player like Doughty, whose contract carries a cap hit of $7 million for six more years after this, should be consistently placing the team into such a hole. On the bright side, the Kings are nonetheless dominating opponents in shots and should eventually come around.
6. Olli Jokinen, C, Winnipeg Jets
Signed in the offseason to a hefty $4.5 million deal, the 34-year-old Jokinen went from a tough top-line assignment in Calgary to an easy offensive zone-tilted assignment in Winnipeg between the talented Evander Kane and Blake Wheeler. Despite the conditions for another strong season, Jokinen has just 4 points and is minus-6 so far, dragging down a line that should be dominating opponents to one that is somehow getting outshot and outscored.
7. Michal Handzus, C, San Jose Sharks
Age might have finally caught up with Handzus, who turns 36 next month, as he struggles with one of the softest assignments on one of the league's best teams. Despite enjoying a .936 on-ice save percentage, something the other players on the list weren't so lucky to have, the Slovakian is still somehow minus-2 and has just 2 points.
8. Duncan Keith, D, Chicago Blackhawks
Signed to a 13-year, $72 million dollar deal after his 2009-10 Norris Trophy triumph, the Blackhawks invested heavily in Keith in the hopes of a repeat of 2010's Stanley Cup. While his team is yet to be defeated in regulation time, it has been no thanks to Keith and linemate Brent Seabrook. Even though Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya have taken over the toughest assignments this year, the Blackhawks have been badly out-shot when Keith has been on the ice, and he has further hurt the club with 25 minutes in penalties.
9. Ryan Suter, D, Minnesota Wild
Signed to a massive 13-year, $98 million dollar deal this offseason, Suter was locked up by the Wild until he's 41 in the hopes that he, along with fellow offseason signee Zach Parise, would help establish them as perennial contenders. Instead the Wild are currently struggling to stay above .500, no thanks to Suter. He has capitalized on his favorable playing conditions to record 7 points but has also cost the team defensively by allowing his mediocre opposition even greater offense. Former Nashville linemate Shea Weber isn't doing very well either, but at least he's playing in far more difficult situations.
10. Claude Giroux, RW, Philadelphia Flyers
Felt to be one of the teams that might be in the mix for the Stanley Cup this year, the Philadelphia Flyers are instead languishing in the bottom third of the league partly due to the struggles of their franchise player Giroux. While still keeping his team "in the blue" with a positive shot-based differential, Giroux should be doing far better given his incredible talent and favorable playing conditions. Based on his 93 points last season and his 17 points in 10 postseason games last year (including a league-leading 8 goals), it was reasonable to expect Giroux to finish among the league's top 10 scorers this season. Instead he's scoring at less than half of last year's pace and is taking just 2.2 shots per game, well down from last year's 3.1 (or the 3.6 he averaged in the postseason).
A version of this story originally appeared at ESPN Insider .
Robert Vollman is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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