Sometimes, a kick in the pants is all you need.
It can be humiliating for a well-known player to be forced to sit, especially for those paid to perform at a high level. The guys making $7 million watching from the press box will likely have a better time than those just fighting for their careers, but it’s still an experience no NHLer wants to deal with.
We’re about to finish the second month of the 2023-24 NHL season. There’s already been a handful of notable names who were each forced to watch with a bag of popcorn instead of a half-chewed-to-death mouthguard that needed to be replaced weeks ago.
Which notable NHLers have had to deal with the unceremonious moniker of becoming a healthy scratch? Here’s a look at five:
Andrei Kuzmenko, LW (Vancouver Canucks)
People noticed when Kuzmenko scored 39 goals and 74 points as a 26-year-old rookie last year. The undrafted free agent signing exploded on the scene with an incredible 27.3 shooting percentage, good for first in the NHL. Everyone expected a step down from that unsustainable number, but if he still managed to put up 30 goals and 65 points, his $5.5 million cap hit would look good for a team on the upswing. But it’s been a difficult season for the winger, who, on a full 82-game pace, was trending towards a 12-goal campaign. He’s still on pace for around 60 points, but his play with the puck has faltered. Coach Rick Tocchet said Friday that “Kuzy needs a reset” and gave it to him against San Jose on Saturday. We’ll see what happens next, because he’s showing flashes of brilliance, but nothing seems to be working with the disc on his stick.
Patrik Laine, RW/C (Columbus Blue Jackets)
From starting the season as Columbus’ No. 1 center to finding himself putting along at a 27-point pace – and dealing with injuries yet again – it’s been a brutal run for the Finnish forward, who was once viewed as one of the best young goal scorers in the game. Long gone are the easy 30- to 40-goal campaigns that made him a star in his early years. The 25-year-old made headlines when he called being scratched against the Philadelphia Flyers over a week ago “the most embarrassing thing” that’s happened to him. An early-season concussion didn’t help, but with an $8.7 million salary, he has to find something to revive his career after a few difficult seasons in a row.
Kent Johnson, LW/C (Columbus Blue Jackets)
Keeping things in Ohio, Johnson was the first real surprise to be scratched this season. He sat for the team’s season opener, which seemed odd given his 40-point season as a 20-year-old rookie last year. The skilled forward was eventually sent down after eight games, and now he’s one of the AHL’s more dominant offensive producers with 15 points in 10 games. Johnson has done an excellent job producing with Cleveland, and while his game is still a work in progress, he has shown enough in the AHL to earn a trip back up sooner rather than later.
Tony DeAngelo, D (Carolina Hurricanes)
DeAngelo’s struggles have been well-documented, both on and off the ice. He has bounced around from team to team, but he’s still a consistent point producer when he’s in the lineup. The Hurricanes brought him back this year after DeAngelo was forced to watch from the sidelines on multiple occasions last year, but he still had 11 goals and 42 points in 70 games. DeAngelo’s offensive qualities can’t be denied, and he’s been good in that department, with seven points in 16 games. But he was a healthy scratch for Brett Pesce’s return earlier this month before getting sat in favor of depth defender Jalen Chatfield for a two-game run last week. On the power play? DeAngelo has value. But defensively? As a defenseman, he falls short there. Simple as that.
Anthony Mantha, RW (Washington Capitals)
Mantha’s tenure in Washington has been anything but sunshine and rainbows. Whether it be injuries or inconsistent play, Mantha hasn’t been the same since finding himself on the fringe of 50 points with the Detroit Red Wings. Mantha was a scratch against Calgary in the first week of the season but has been a mainstay ever since. He even had a two-goal game against Florida early on before suffering a ruptured ear drum. After another difficult stretch, Mantha was a healthy scratch against San Jose again on Sunday. Something has to change, whether it be a trade or a trip to waivers. But Mantha just isn’t working in Washington.
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