NHL.com's seven players attempting to prove last season wasn't a fluke

Thumbnail image for leighton.jpgI often find it unfair when people call certain bands “one-hit wonders” for a simple reason: perhaps they didn’t want to make another big single? Now, most of you (especially more cynical types) will roll your eyes at such a stance; after all, doesn’t every artist want to make buckets of money and bathe in groupies? (Doesn’t everyone?) That’s probably true for the most part, but maybe there are exceptions; merely study the post-“Epic” career of Faith No More and you’ll wonder how hard they were trying to churn out toe-tappers.

Hockey players cannot make claims to “artistic integrity,” though. Aside from changing to a two-way game or playing the point on a powerplay unit, expectations are pretty much the same. If you’re a goalie, you better keep stopping pucks; if you’re a forward your role is thwart the opposing netminder.

It’s no secret that I’m a sucker for these stories, but this one slipped through the cracks until today: NHL.com put together a list of seven players who will try to prove that their breakthrough 2009-10 seasons weren’t flukes. I’ll add a few comments here and there for their choices, plus excerpts from the article’s author, John Kreiser.

Michael Leighton, Flyers – No one can take away Leighton’s brilliance in the second and third rounds of last spring’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. He came back from a high ankle sprain, stepped in when Brian Boucher was injured and led the Philadelphia Flyers to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final. But after leading Philadelphia to a historic comeback victory in the semifinals against Boston and shutting out Montreal three times in the Eastern Conference Finals, Leighton was something less than rock-solid in the Final, leading many to wonder if he was just another guy who got hot at the right time.

When it comes to judging Leighton, it’s all about what kind of expectations you have for the once-obscure goalie. If you think he should be an elite goalie, then yes, chances are he’ll make you furrow your brow more often than not. Yet considering the fact that he’ll play behind a deep defense and a sizable pool of forwards, Leighton may succeed by just being average. Which – let’s face it – is the most realistic outcome, especially if you subscribe to the old saying “You get what you pay for.”

Thumbnail image for Howard3.jpgJimmy Howard, Red Wings – Howard figures to start 2010-11 as the Wings’ No. 1 goaltender, but with Osgood still around and 2008 first-rounder Thomas McCollum maturing in the AHL, Howard has to prove he’s not just a late bloomer who got hot at the right time.

Howard honestly deserved more recognition for what he did last year. In my opinion, he saved Detroit’s season. I get the feeling the Red Wings will be a bit more explosive next season with Jiri Hudler back in the mix and the Chicago Blackhawks cooling down a bit, but will the natural erosion of aging bring Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski down a level? If they drop quite a bit, Howard might be in trouble.

Read more about the last five after the jump, including 30-goal scorers Matt Moulson, Jussi Jokinen and Patric Hornqvist.

mattmoulsonscores.jpgMatt Moulson, Islanders – Not only did Moulson make the team, he led the Isles with 30 goals, including 5 game-winners. Moulson started the season on a line with Tavares, but as the season went on, he showed he could be effective playing without him.

The easiest way to tell a player had a “blessed” year is to study his shooting percentage. Moulson scored 30 goals on 208 shots last year, which accounts for a 14.4 percent rate. My guess is that is a little high, but not astronomical. If he can put up 200+ shots again next year, I’d guess he could at least produce a 20-goal season again (on 10 percent shooting, which is pretty average). Can the Islanders really complain about 20 goals from Moulson? I don’t think so.

Jussi Jokinen, Hurricanes

Once just a shootout specialist, Jokinen exploded for the Hurricanes in the playoffs and followed it up with an under-the-radar 30 goal season for Carolina. Why was it so under-the-radar? Because the Canes were terrible, that’s why. He has a decent chance to succeed because, like most of the other players on this list, his team doesn’t have many other options.

hornqvistscoresonkipper.jpgPatric Hornqvist, Predators – Teams don’t expect much from seventh-round draft picks, so Hornqvist’s 30-goal performance last season was like found money for the offensively challenged Predators. Hornqvist never had scored more than 23 goals at any level during his career and had just 2 goals in 28 games as an NHL rookie in 2008-09. But he became an offensive force last season, leading the Preds in goals and helping Nashville return to the playoffs.

Using the shooting percentage test, Hornqvist has a better chance of repeating his 2009-10 than Moulson. Hornqvist took a substantial 275 shots to hit 30 goals, so one might think that all he needs to do is keep firing the puck at the net. Considering the limited offensive options in Nashville, maintaining his 15:41 minutes per ice average seems reasonable so he probably will get every chance to succeed. The thing is, you always have to fear the contract year … even with restricted free agents. Still, as unproven as Hornqvist was coming into the NHL, he has a decent (though not outstanding) chance of being a threat going forward. At age 23, don’t be shocked if he struggles a bit in the near future, though.

Kurtis Foster, Oilers – Not only did Foster put up strong offensive numbers at the age of 28, he did it after overcoming a horrific broken leg that cost him almost all of the 2008-09 season.

Two things need to happen for Foster to go from a risk (as Pierre McGuire seemed to indicate during free agent day coverage) to a flat-out steal. First, he’ll need to be healthy enough to get on the ice with regularity. Second, Sheldon Souray would ideally be gone. Sure, having two booming shots from the point would make “Duck!” the official phrase of the Edmonton Oilers’ powerplay, but Souray might make Foster a bit redundant.

Ian White, Flames –

Ian White might end up being one of the few bright spots in a Cal Clutterbuck of a mess in Calgary. Seriously, what are you doing, Darryl Sutter? I think Flames fans are tired of your Glen Sather impression. I mean, it’s dead-on, but still.

So those are NHL.com’s seven choices. I’m not sure if I’ll provide that many, but expect a post with my own anti-Faith No More’s a little later tonight.

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    NHL’s participation in 2018 Olympics still undecided, but World Cup expected to return in 2020

    TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 29:  Sidney Crosby #87 of Team Canada carries the World Cup of Hockey Trophy after Canada defeated Europe 2-1 during Game Two of the World Cup of Hockey final series at the Air Canada Centre on September 29, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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    TORONTO (AP) The World Cup of Hockey will return, without a doubt, and avoid another 12-year break.

    NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly and NHLPA Executive Director Don Fehr both confirmed for The Associated Press on Friday that they expect the next World Cup of Hockey to be in 2020.

    It is much less certain whether the best players will go to South Korea to participate in the 2018 Olympics.

    International Ice Hockey Federation President Rene Fasel told the AP on Tuesday the odds of NHL players going to the Pyeongchang Games were 50-50, a slight upgrade from his forecast in May.

    Later the same day, Daly said he felt more “negative,” about the chances the league’s players will be in a sixth straight Olympics due to the International Olympic Committee’s decision to not pay for NHL players’ travel and insurance as it has in the past.

    Fehr, who represents players who have made it clear they want to be in the Olympics, said he’s more optimistic than pessimistic a deal will get done.

    Related:

    Daly: NHL could skip 2018 Olympics and return in 2022

    Alex Ovechkin again says he plans to play in 2018 Olympics even if NHL doesn’t participate

    The union head insisted he isn’t concerned about the IOC’s stance.

    “Everybody understands that nobody’s going to risk their career and future earnings and all the rest of it in return for no compensation and no coverage,” Fehr told the AP. “No one will do that. They understand that. That’s been a given for a long, long time. If it plays out that way, which I do not expect it to play out that way, we’ll deal with it.”

    The IOC isn’t buying the banter.

    “I think both sides are playing poker,” president of the International Ski federation Gian Franco Kasper, who represents winter sports on the IOC executive board, said Friday in an interview with the AP.

    The IOC does not want to continue its past practice of paying for NHL players’ travel and insurance because it doesn’t want to have to do the same for athletes in other sports.

    Fasel said it is his job to raise the money needed, which he estimates to be about $10 million. Fasel said he plans to “beg,” for the funds from national Olympic committees and hockey federations. He acknowledged using some of the $40 million the IOC gives the IIHF to fund its programs, including development opportunities for boys and girls, could be used to bring the best hockey players to South Korea.

    Daly said the NHL would like a final decision to be made by the end of the year so that it can set the 2017-18 schedule with or without a break midway through the slate for the Olympics.

    The World Cup of Hockey, which the NHL and NHLPA teamed up to bring back for the first time since 2004, does not conflict with the league’s schedule because the games were played during training camp and early preseason games.

    Playing hockey in late September, however, is not an ideal time to draw TV viewers in the U.S. in part because of interest in the NFL, college football and baseball.

    Game 1 with Canada and Team Europe in the World Cup finals on Tuesday night – without direct competition from football – drew just 494,000 viewers on ESPN. A mere 297,000 people tuned in to watch Sweden face Europe in the semifinals on Sunday afternoon on the cable network. With a potentially interesting matchup with Canada and Russia, just 353,000 were watching hockey on ESPN.

    Daly acknowledged it was a “challenge,” to engage Americans enough to watch the event. It did not help that the U.S. and North American Under 23-teams didn’t make it to the semifinals of the eight-team tournament.

    It was also, surprisingly, difficult to fill seats at the home of the Toronto Maple Leafs despite being in hockey hotbed even though the league said ticket sales went very well. It seemed many more people were interested in attending Toronto Blue Jays games when world-class hockey matchups and playoff-push baseball games were played at the same time.

    The level of hockey, at times, was impressive. And, the atmosphere was electric when Canada rallied from a one-goal deficit in the final few minutes Thursday night to beat Europe 2-1.

    During many stretches of play, however, the World Cup of Hockey didn’t do enough to fire up fans in attendance.

    Days before Canada beat Europe 2-0 in the best-of-three series to win the World Cup, Canadian coach Mike Babcock seemed to sum up the situation best.

    “The World Cup is great. It’s not the Olympics,” Babcock said in an unsolicited comparison of the two events. “Let’s not get confused.”

    Report: Ehrhoff headed to Bruins on a PTO

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    The Boston Bruins were under some serious pressure this summer to improve their group of defensemen.

    That didn’t happen.

    With training camp and the preseason now in full swing, it appears the Bruins are bringing in a veteran blue liner — at least on a professional tryout.

    On Friday, TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported that unrestricted free agent blue liner Christian Ehrhoff is about to join Boston on a PTO following his showing at the World Cup of Hockey.

    In six games with Team Europe, Ehrhoff had three assists — all at even strength — and nine shots on goal.

    Ehrhoff is now 34 years old, and the Bruins already have a pair of seasoned defenders in Zdeno Chara (39 years old) and John-Michael Liles (35 years old) on their roster. Adam McQuaid turns 30 years old in October.

    Ehrhoff played last season on a one-year, $1.5 million contract, and was placed on waivers in February while with the L.A. Kings, before he was traded to Chicago. Age and injuries have caught up to him, and he never did fit with the Kings’ style under Darryl Sutter.

    He was most productive during two seasons in Vancouver, a puck-moving defenseman that could effectively skate the puck out of trouble and move the attack that way if need be. But that was from 2009 to 2011. His production has dipped, especially over the last three years.

    He was also pivotal to Vancouver’s power play, especially in 2011 when the Canucks won the Presidents’ Trophy and made it to the Stanley Cup Final — against Boston.

    Again, that was five years ago.

    Lehner (forearm contusion) to miss preseason game versus Maple Leafs

    Matt Puempel, Alex Chiasson, Robin Lehner
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    The Buffalo Sabres will not have goalie Robin Lehner in their lineup Friday versus the Toronto Maple Leafs.

    As per the Sabres, Lehner is dealing with a forearm contusion and will not dress for this preseason game. Jason Kasdorf will start in net for Buffalo.

    Members of the media in Buffalo have noted that if this were a regular season game, Lehner would be able to play.

    Lehner had ankle surgery in March, ending his 2015-16 season. His ankle issues dated even further back, to the beginning of last season when he suffered a high-ankle sprain.

    The Sabres have some exciting young players on their roster, especially up front, but they need Lehner to be healthy if they are to take a run at a playoff spot this season.

    Behind him sit Linus Ullmark, Anders Nilsson and Kasdorf, who have a combined 73 games of NHL experience between them all.

    Matthews to sit out preseason tilt versus Sabres, as Maple Leafs give him ‘a little break’

    BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 24:  Auston Matthews poses for a portrait after being selected first overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in round one during the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jeffrey T. Barnes/Getty Images)
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    The Toronto Maple Leafs play the Buffalo Sabres on Friday. But No. 1 overall pick Auston Matthews won’t be in the lineup, according to multiple reports.

    “Sooner or later, he’s going to get in, but not tonight,” said assistant coach Jim Hiller, as per the Toronto Sun.

    “The lineups are day by day. They (World Cup players such as Matthews, Milan Michalek, Leo Komarov and James van Riemsdyk) went through a solid three weeks. It’s a little break, a little down time. There are tons of games coming. They’ll get a lot of ice time. They’ll get in shortly.”

    (The report also notes that Matthews is not dealing with a health issue, which is obviously good news for the Leafs.)

    On a night when the No. 2 overall selection Patrik Laine is slated to make his preseason debut for the Winnipeg Jets, fans wishing to see Matthews don a Maple Leafs jersey in his anticipated debut will have to wait.

    Matthews played for Team North America at the World Cup held in Toronto. He had two goals and three points in three round robin games, but the young North American team was unable to advance to the semifinal round.

    The Maple Leafs play the Montreal Canadiens at home on Sunday.