by PuckStopsHere on 02/14/09 at 03:29 AM ET
Of all the things I write, this topic tends to get fans the most upset. In January, I picked Brendan Witt of the New York Islanders as the worst player in the league and I promptly got not one, but two different message boards promptly told me how stupid I am. I think it comes down to the fact that in order to stay in the lineup, the worst regular player in the league must be likeable. He must have a track record of moderate success in previous seasons or be a hard worker. Generally the fans of his team will like him. They will be offended at his choice. They will be able to offer insults, but no logical argument (or if they attempt a logical argument they will hold the player to very low standards - i.e. he is getting better at completing his checks).
It is rare that I would ever select a player who is getting as much ice time as Witt as the worst player in the league. It is rare that a team would give such a poor performer so much ice time. He had been playing the role as badly failed shutdown defenceman. What good is a player who doesn’t actually shutdown the opposition in that role? However since I wrote that piece, Witt has picked up his game. His statistical record since that time is 8 GP 0 goals 4 assists 4 points and a +1 */-. Those numbers are definitely not the numbers of the worst player in the league. In fact, he has the majority of his offensive contribution this season in those eight games. For a player who has the second worst +/- in the league (seven points worse than anyone except Rod Brind’Amour) being a plus player over eight games is no small feat. Thus Witt is not longer the worst regular player in the league this season. He has played himself out of that funk.
My current choice is Riley Cote of the Philadelphia Flyers. He is probably a more typical choice than Witt, in that he doesn’t get significant ice time, but he does regularly dress for the Flyers. The Flyers have played him in 41 games. In that time, Cote has provided one point - an assist. He hardly gets any ice time when he dresses. He averages barely over four minutes a game against very low level competition. Cote plays against the weakest opposition of all the Flyers. Despite that, he has the second worst +/- on the team (at -5). Cote plays against weak competition, doesn’t score and is as bad at preventing the opposition from scoring as anyone on the team.
What does Cote provide? He fights. He has 133 penalty minutes (which is second in the league). The Philadelphia Flyers are the most penalized team in the NHL. Do they really need a goon who has such limited hockey ability dressing regularly? I don’t see what advantage they gain from it. I think they would be much better suited dressing a hockey player with some skills in his position.
Riley Cote is a player with no offensive or defensive contribution to his team, yet he dresses regularly. He is a hard working, likeable guy who has his alleged value as a goon. This is typical of the worst regular players in the NHL. There have to be reasons they remain in the NHL, despite their lack of success, and typically those are their reasons.
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