Diminishing returns makes it unlikely Sam Lafferty returns for another season with the Canucks: Year in review

Photo credit:© Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Paterson
14 days ago
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It’s hard to know exactly where things went wrong for Sam Lafferty this season. But make no mistake, they definitely went wrong. How else do you explain a player that had nine goals, 18 points and was +15 in the first half of the season but struggled mightily over the second half to the point he was a healthy scratch for a couple of playoff games?
In the second half of the schedule, the 29-year-old winger was limited to just four goals, six points and was a team-worst -11 (when nobody else was worse than -6 over that same stretch).
Overall, his career-best 13 goals and the 24 points he produced in 79 games look reasonable enough for a depth forward making $1.15M. But it was the precipitous drop off in his production and his play that likely means Lafferty will be looking for a new hockey home as an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Acquired on the eve of the regular season for a fifth round draft pick, Lafferty, listed at 6’ 2” and 205 pounds, was brought in to add speed and size to the forward group. The hope was he’d use those traits to get in on the forecheck and be disruptive. He was also lauded at the time as a right-shot face-off option who could bring penalty killing utility to the mix.
Unfortunately, Lafferty struggled on the draw winning just 42.1% of the 356 face-offs he took including only four of 11 while short-handed (36.4%) and was never really used as a penalty killer and actually spent more time on the power play (30:41) this season than while short-handed (27:18).
His early-season offence came when he was used higher in the line-up than anyone expected. In 170 minutes at 5-on-5 with Elias Pettersson, the Canucks outscored opponents 8-4. In contrast, however, in 184 minutes with Teddy Blueger down the stretch, the Canucks were outscored 11-3. And in 198 minutes with Nils Aman as Lafferty’s centre, the Canucks were outscored 8-4.
It all led to the Hollidaysburg, PA native being scratched three times over the Canucks final 30 games and then again in Games 5 and 6 of the second round playoff series against Edmonton. In the post-season, Lafferty failed to register a point and averaged just 8:36 of ice time.
Now, it’s important to note, he was third on the Canucks in hits in the regular season with 192 behind Dakota Joshua and JT Miller. So he tried to be physical. But in a limited role in the playoffs, Lafferty dropped to ninth on the team with 27 hits in the 11 games he dressed for. 
At 5-on-5 in the playoffs, the numbers were not kind to Lafferty. The Canucks controlled 43.8% of all shot attempts, 36.7% of all shots on goal and were outscored 3-1 with him on the ice. He just couldn’t seem to find a way to use his skill set or his experience to impact games against Nashville or Edmonton despite having played nine post-season contests with Toronto last spring.
This is a player that logged a season-high 18:00 on opening night against Edmonton on October 11th.. However, by the end, Lafferty was reduced to just 6:39 of ice time in Game 7 against the Oilers and only one third period shift as his team tried to mount a comeback.
The highlight of his season may have come on January 13th when he scored the only goal of the game in a 1-0 win in Buffalo. Otherwise, it was far too quiet far too often around Lafferty. And that’s disappointing because he looks the part of a guy who can play an effective depth role in today’s NHL.
Lafferty will likely find a taker for his services next season, but if his play looks like it did over the second half with the Canucks and with his 30th birthday approaching next March, he may be down to his final shot to be an NHL regular.
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