by PuckStopsHere on 01/21/09 at 02:52 AM ET
One thing I try to track over the season is which player, who is getting as regular a shift as possible, has been the worst player in the NHL this season. It is interesting to see why players continue to play in the NHL, despite ineffectual play. This is an interesting study in that question. I had been picking Raitis Ivanans of the Los Angeles Kings as this player. Ivanans has done little this year. He has two points (both goals) in 44 games played and sports a -7 +/- rating. He is the goon on the Kings. He has 91 penalty minutes (which leads the team) while playing less than seven minutes per game (which among players who have been on the roster all season is by far the least). The fact he plays so little per game is evidence that he is not a very good hockey player, but it also allows for a player who gets more ice time to be a better choice as worst player in the league.
That player is Brendan Witt of the New York Islanders.
Witt has 34 games played for the Islanders this year. During that time he has scored no goals and three assists. He sports a -27 +/- rating (which is second in the league - despite having missed more than 10 games this year), which is eight points worse than any other teammate. Witt plays an important role on the Isles. He has been used as their shutdown defenceman most of the season and has totally failed in that role. He has played over nineteen minutes a night (giving him far more total ice time than Ivanans despite fewer games played).
Witt is an example of what makes the Islanders a last place team. Despite the fact Witt has been a failure this season, there is nobody in the system likely to do any better. Therefore, they keep playing Witt and he keeps failing.
Brendan Witt once was a valuable shutdown defenceman. In 2006/07, he filled that role very well for the Islanders. He put up 14 points and was a +14 on the playoff bound Islanders. Today at age 33 (34 in February), Witt seems to have lost his game. However, since he once could do his current role successfully, he is a better selection to fill it for the weak Islanders than other players in their system who never have been and never will be shutdown-style defencemen.
The New York Islanders signed Witt to a two year contract last summer worth $3 million per year last summer. They have him under contract next year as well. That is another reason why the Isles keep him on their roster. They are not on of the more financially strong teams in the NHL and could not afford spending $3 mill on a player in the minors. That makes Witt the kind of player they would like to trade to a contender as the trade deadline nears, however there is likely no market for a player playing as poorly as Brendan Witt.
It takes bad players who play badly to make a team sit in last place. The Islanders have that this year. Brendan Witt has totally failed on their defence, but they have nobody better to take his spot. The Islanders use him quite heavily despite the fact he has been the worst player in the NHL this season (among those who have played a regular role). One way to improve the Isles is to gather enough defensive depth that they no longer need to use players like Witt.
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