Monday, June 3, 2019

This is so pointless: A brief history of players going oh-for-the-postseason

This post is going to be completely pointless.

Wait, that didn’t come out right. I don’t mean that this post won’t have any reason to exist. I mean, who would write something like that? (Realizes everyone is staring at him.) OK, yes, I may have had a few of those in my day. But this isn’t necessarily one of them.

No, I mean that this is going to be pointless in the other way – as in, it will have zero points. Today, we’re going to try to assemble an all-time roster of playoff performers who didn’t record a single point in a given postseason.

That’s not an easy thing to do, especially if you’re a decent player. Even if your team goes out early, you’d think that you’d get in on at least one goal along the way. But as we’ll see, there are some surprisingly big names on the list. And a few other players have some interesting stories to tell.

Nobody from this year’s postseason made the cut, although a few almost did. Sidney Crosby didn’t get a point until his team’s final game. Neither did Nikita Kucherov. Of course, their runs ended early. But some lasted longer, like Carl Gunnarsson. He made it all the way to Game 2 of the final before finally recording a point. He actually had two that night. I can’t remember if any of them turned out to important.

The point is … well, sometimes there is no point. And that’s OK. Don’t worry, Viktor Arvidsson and Nikolaj Ehlers. Fear not, Nikita Zadorov, Micheal Haley, Trevor van Riemsdyk or Frederik Gauthier. You may have been pointless, but as you’re about to see, you’re in decent company.

First line

C Phil Esposito (1964 and 1967)

We’ll start off with a Hall-of-Famer who qualifies for our list in two seasons, one of which helped change NHL history. Esposito’s playoff debut came in 1964 when he was a 22-year-old rookie. He was only a bit player with the Hawks back then and had only managed three goals in part-time duty during the regular season, so his pointless performance in four games during a semifinal loss to the Red Wings wasn’t especially newsworthy.

But three years later, Esposito was coming off a 61-point season that left him tied for seventh in the league scoring race. With a lineup that also featured Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita in their primes, the Hawks ran away with top spot in the NHL, racking up 94 points over the 70-game schedule while outscoring the next best offensive team by 52 goals. They went into the playoffs as heavy favorites, before being stunned by the Maple Leafs in six games. Esposito was held off the board again, cementing a reputation as a player who couldn’t be counted on when it mattered.

Convinced they needed a change in direction, the Hawks traded him to the Bruins in an offseason deal that stands as one of the most important trades in NHL history. Esposito developed into one of the greatest goal-scorers the league had ever seen, helping the Bruins win two Cups. And it may have never happened if he’d just managed a point or two in that 1967 playoff loss.

RW Mike Gartner (1989) and LW Bryan Trottier (1988)

We’ll give Esposito a pair of Hall-of-Famers on his wings, even if we have to ask Trottier to play out of position to do it. Gartner never won a Cup and occasionally fought a reputation as a guy who was a better regular season star than a playoff performer, as evidenced by the 1994 Rangers shipping him out at the deadline. He did have some decent postseasons, including four where he hit double-digit points. But his lone spring as a North Star saw him go pointless after a massive deadline deal and he’d be gone less than a year later.

As for Trottier, he won six Cups, led the postseason scoring race twice, won a Conn Smythe and ranks among the highest scoring playoff players ever. But he was blanked in a first-round loss in 1988 despite an 82-point regular season, finishing behind high-scoring Islander teammates like Gerald Diduck and Ken Leiter.

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