The NHL is a harsh, results-focused business.

What a player did last season or years before doesn’t really matter, it’s all about what value you’re getting today. The scrutiny of individual performances has only escalated because of the flat salary cap climate where players need to live up to their cap hits for a team to have success. There can’t be any passengers.

Here are the NHL’s 10 biggest disappointments this season (only players, no coaches or GMs), in no particular order.

Jonathan Huberdeau, Calgary Flames

Calgary had a strong foundation in place with Darryl Sutter’s disciplined, structured style but needed somebody to partially replace the star-level value that Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk provided. Huberdeau, who was tied with Gaudreau for second in the Art Ross Trophy race with 115 points last season, seemed like a slam dunk bet as the centerpiece of the Tkachuk blockbuster.

I don’t think anybody expected a repeat of that 115-point campaign, but Huberdeau had handily eclipsed the point-per-game mark the last four years. The 29-year-old winger’s production has cratered with just 40 points in 60 games. That’s a 54-point pace which would amount to a whopping 61-point decline.

Why the catastrophic drop-off? Well, it’s not solely Huberdeau’s fault.

For starters, he went from one of the most freewheeling offensive environments in Florida to Sutter’s demanding, disciplined system which has a steep learning curve to adjust to. Nazem Kadri went from 87 points in 71 games in Colorado to 45 points in 63 games in Calgary this season as well. Kadri’s tapered production has nothing to with his play, only the environment and lack of elite offensive talent around him.It’s been difficult to find the right linemate combination too. Huberdeau is extremely talented but he’s not the elite transition puck carrier that Gaudreau was. With the Panthers, a big chunk of the puck transportation responsibilities on Huberdeau’s line last season was picked up by the speedy Anthony Duclair, who’s a high-end player at creating zone entries. In Calgary, Huberdeau’s been left on an island in that regard. Tyler Toffoli and Milan Lucic are the two wingers who’ve shared the most five-on-five minutes with Huberdeau — both are slow and can’t transport the puck.

It’s also impossible to ignore the mental impact of a shocking trade that boots you out of an organization you loved, to a new country and off-ice setting.

Individually, Huberdeau has failed to build chemistry with anybody as a playmaker, lacked decisiveness as a shooter, and hasn’t been able to spark a struggling power play.

There’s been some tough finishing luck as well, with a deflated on-ice shooting percentage that should modestly reverse.

All of those factors combined have led to this disappointing result.


Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Vancouver Canucks

Oliver Ekman-Larsson pieced together a renaissance season in Vancouver last year. The offense didn’t look like it was ever going to come back to its previous elite level, but Ekman-Larsson found a way to author the best defensive season of his career. OEL was around break-even in controlling shots, scoring chances and had a positive five-on-five goal differential despite playing the toughest matchups on the Canucks’ blue line, with a mediocre partner in Tyler Myers.

Ekman-Larsson’s steady two-way play was quietly a major catalyst behind the club’s storybook turnaround under Bruce Boudreau.

This year, OEL’s play isn’t even recognizable. He looks completely washed. Ekman-Larsson’s lost all the agility, speed and acceleration of his skating which has made him a complete liability defending the rush and moving the puck. It’s far too easy for attackers to completely blow by him and create odd-man chances at will.

With Ekman-Larsson on the ice, the Canucks have been outscored by a whopping 22 goals at five-on-five. Vancouver’s penalty kill, which he’s been a regular part of, is dead last in the NHL. OEL has been worth -1.2 wins according to colleague Dom Luszczyszyn’s GSVA model.

With four years left on Ekman-Larsson’s contract after this season, the Canucks may have to consider a summer buyout.