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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    Blues to retire Bob Plager’s No. 5

    ST. LOUIS - APRIL 9:  Former St. Louis Blues defenseman Al MacInnis #2 and his family watch his banner being raised during his jersey retirement ceremony prior to the game between the Blues and Edmonton Oilers at the Savvis Center on April 9, 2006 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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    The St. Louis Blues will commemorate their 50th anniversary with a special ceremony on Feb. 2, retiring the No. 5 jersey worn by longtime defenseman Bob Plager.

    More, from the club:

    Plager, who was acquired by the Blues on June 6, 1967 and has been with the organization for all 50 years, will become the seventh player in Blues history to have his number retired, joining No. 2 Al MacInnis, No. 3 Bob Gassoff, No. 11 Brian Sutter, No. 16 Brett Hull, No. 24 Bernie Federko and his brother, No. 8 Barclay Plager.

    Bob and Barclay Plager join Maurice and Henri Richard (Montreal Canadiens) as the only brothers to have their numbers retired by the same team in NHL history.

    Plager played 10 seasons with the Blues, then transitioned to a number of front office and coaching roles within the organization.

    In a unique twist, his No. 5 was never taken out of circulation and subsequently worn by another staple of the Blues organization — Barret Jackman, who recently retired after spending 16 years in St. Louis, appearing in over 800 games.

    Prior to the February retirement ceremony, Blues fans will be able to recognize Plager this Saturday when St. Louis hosts Los Angeles at Scottrade.

    Flames can get back to .500 with win over Sens

    CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 24: Matt Stajan #18 and Lance Bouma #17 of the Calgary Flames congratulate Brian Elliott #1 after a shootout win against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on October 24, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Flames defeated the Blachawks 3-2 in a shootout. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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    The Calgary Flames have won two in a row, but they’re still a losing hockey club heading into tonight’s home game against Ottawa.

    That’s the message head coach Glen Gulutzan has been preaching after encouraging back-to-back victories in Chicago and St. Louis.

    “We’re still below .500,” Gulutzan said. “We can’t rest at all. We haven’t accomplished anything yet. We’ve played two good games. That’s what we’ve accomplished. You need to get on a roll and you need to keep pushing. Keep the focus and keep pushing.”

    The Flames (3-4-1) did not just get lucky in their last two games. They were especially good Tuesday in St. Louis, outshooting the Blues, 30-24, in a 4-1 win. Meanwhile, goalie Brian Elliott has bounced back after a tough debut for his new team; he’ll get a third straight start tonight.

    Suffice to say, the mood around the team has improved considerably.

    “My lips were getting sore from sucking on the exhaust pipe,” GM Brad Treliving jokingly told the Calgary Sun. “It was never as bad as it seemed, but it’s a stark change to how we played. … It’s a relief to stop the bleeding. We were disciplined, the power play worked, we limited chances, we didn’t turn the puck over and the goalie found his groove.”

    Related: The Flames are still learning their new system, and it shows

    Goalie nods: Kinkaid makes season debut for Devils

    New Jersey Devils goalie Keith Kinkaid (1) watches a shot on goal during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Los Angeles Kings, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016, in Newark N.J. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
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    There’ll be a new look in goal for New Jersey this evening, as backup Keith Kinkaid gets his first start of the season as the Devils host the Blackhawks.

    Kinkaid will give Cory Schneider the night off, after Schneider started New Jersey’s first six games of the year.

    This promises to be a game worth monitoring. Kinkaid spent last year as Schneider’s backup — going 9-9-1 with a 2.81 GAA and .904 save percentage — but, this year, had to beat out Scott Wedgewood for the gig during training camp and the exhibition campaign.

    What’s more, Kinkaid is being thrown into a difficult matchup, taking on a Chicago team that’s averaging 3.43 goals per game this season. The ‘Hawks are busting out new lines tonight, too, as Patrick Kane will skate alongside Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik.

    Corey Crawford will start for Chicago.


    Cam Ward will start for the Hurricanes, who are playing their first home game of the season. Henrik Lundqvist goes for the Rangers.

    — It’s Michael Hutchinson versus Semyon Varlamov as the Jets take on the Avs in Colorado.

    Andrew Hammond, now Ottawa’s No. 1 with Craig Anderson away dealing with a personal issue, gets the nod in Calgary. He’ll be up against Brian Elliott, who has rebounded from a poor start to win both of his last two starts.

    — The red-hot Cam Talbot goes again for Edmonton tonight in Vancouver. The Canucks will counter with Ryan Miller.

    — No confirmed starters in Anaheim yet. Sergei Bobrovsky played in last night’s loss to San Jose, and John Gibson has been carrying the load lately with Jonathan Bernier out injured.

    Marchessault, Pirri providing great bang for buck

    SUNRISE, FL - OCTOBER 13: Jonathan Marchessault #81 of the Florida Panthers celebrates a goal during Opening Night of the 2016-2017 NHL Season against New Jersey Devils at BB&T Center on October 13, 2016 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

    This summer’s free agent class was highlighted by a number of big-money deals.

    Yet through the first month of the season, the real highlight has been the guys that came on the cheap.

    Nowhere is this more true than in Florida, where Jonathan Marchessault — signed to a two-year, $1.5 million deal with a $750,000 cap hit — has been a revelation. The undrafted free agent, who spent time with the Rangers, Blue Jackets and Lightning, has five goals and 10 points through seven games with the Panthers.

    Marchessault is playing on the club’s top line with Aleksander Barkov and Jaromir Jagr, and leads the Panthers in scoring.

    “It’s been a wonderful find for us,” team president Dale Tallon told Sportsnet. “He’s real tricky and good down low. Sees the ice well. He’s not the biggest guy. Some guys slip through the cracks. Some guys are late bloomers.

    “It’s not necessarily a bad thing to not get drafted.”

    In New York, one of Tallon’s ex-players is providing equally good value.

    Brandon Pirri, who went most of the summer without a contract before signing with the Rangers in August, is off to a terrific start. Inked to a one-year, $1.1 million deal, Pirri has four goals and six points in seven games, and leads the team in power-play markers.

    “I’m glad we’re the ones who got him,” Derek Stepan said, per the Associated Press. “He’s got a knack for the net. It’s not easy to score goals in this league and he seems to be in those areas to score.

    “That’s a difficult thing and, to me, that’s a skill. If you have it, it’s special and it’s rare.”

    Some other under-the-radar signings that have stood out:

    — The backup goalie position in Montreal was a disaster last season, so full credit to GM Marc Bergevin for solving it on the cheap. Al Montoya was brought aboard for $950,000, and all he’s done is go 3-0-1 with a .955 save percentage and 1.47 GAA. He also provided crucial stability at the start of the year, too, when Carey Price was sidelined with the flu.

    — In Dallas, Adam Cracknell has capitalized on the opportunity provided by all the club’s injuries at forward. Signed to a two-way deal with a $600,000 cap hit, 31-year-old has two goals and three points through seven games, appearing in every contest for the Stars this season while averaging over 10 minutes per.

    Patrick Wiercioch, who didn’t even get a qualifying offer from Ottawa, signed with Colorado for $800,000. The 26-year-old d-man has been great offensively, with five points through five games, leading all Avs blueliners in scoring.

    — Speaking of Ottawa, GM Pierre Dorion did well to sign Tom Pyatt out of the Swiss League. Inked to a one-year, two-way deal worth $800,000, Pyatt returned to the NHL after two years abroad and “has been really good for us on both sides of the ice,” according to head coach Guy Boucher. Pyatt has three points through six games and is one of the club’s top penalty killers.