PHT's list of players who must prove they're fluke-proof

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Byfuglien.jpgEarlier tonight, I took a look at’s list of the seven players hoping to not be “one-hit wonders” next season and included a guess or two on who might succeed. Much like I did with a breakthrough player list, I thought I’d take a look at some other players who might apply. Feel free to share your own choices in the comments.

(Note: there were a few guys I thought about including – like Keith Yandle and Dustin Penner – but I decided they were good enough in the past that their breakthrough years weren’t as surprising as they originally seemed. You’re free to disagree. I also didn’t include Matt Duchene or Steven Stamkos because their success was more predictable.)

Craig Anderson, Avalanche

It’s not crazy to call him one of the most valuable players of the 2009-10 season. Most of the time, I err on the side of giving solid team play the nod over great goaltending, but where would the Avalanche have been without their out-of-almost-nowhere netminder? (My guess: “not in the playoffs.”)

While asking him to win 38 games again might be a bit much, he put up nice save percentage numbers as a Florida Panthers backup so he has a decent chance of at least being an above average player. The team really overachieved last season, so don’t put it all on Anderson if they come up short like previous young upstarts St. Louis and Columbus did in 09-10. That being said, Anderson will be in a contract year in 2010-11 so motivation shouldn’t be an issue.

Jaroslav Halak, Blues

OK, it’s not exactly as if Halak didn’t play a little bit before this season but there’s no doubt that he’s now a (hockey) household name. While there’s no guarantee he’ll be able to follow up a great playoff performance, let’s not forget just how incredible he was for two tough rounds. St. Louis hasn’t been too friendly to goalies in the last, oh, two decades but Halak might just be the tonic.

Or he’ll be wildly disappointing.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Niemi10.jpgAntti Niemi, Blackhawks(?)

Alright, I’m not really going out on a limb here. I actually hesitated to list him because he was pretty hit-or-miss in the playoffs, but who knows if Chicago would have even passed Nashville with Cristobal Huet in net? Niemi has a Cup on his resume, possible salary arbitration in his future and – potentially – a big target on his back as a possible fluke.

Dustin Byfuglien, Thrashers

Like Halak, Byfuglien wasn’t exactly an invisible man before the playoffs but there’s no doubt he made a cannon ball splash in the summer. (Actually, I just pictured “Buffy the Hamburger Slayer” jumping into a swimming pool right now. There isn’t much water left in that imaginary pool.)

Anyway, Byfuglien was on fire in the playoffs and will now have more than a little pressure to produce for a rapidly changing Thrashers team. He has a reputation for checking in and out of games, so his situation will be fun to watch (albeit stressful for Atlanta fans).

Check out the three remaining “one hit wonder” possibilities after the jump.

leinoandgirouxhugitout.jpgVille Leino and Claude Giroux, Flyers

Leino was so productive in the playoffs after a middling regular season, Detroit Red Wings felt a rare emotion: loss. After all, he seemed to be a hot Red Wings prospect for quite some time but only made good on that promise on the hockey world’s biggest stage. How inconsiderate.

Giroux lit up the playoffs in his own right. Actually, he did well enough that I openly wondered what the Flyers would do with their free agent logjam of Leino, Giroux and Jeff Carter next summer. Considering GM Paul Holmgren’s extensive summer investments, expect that to be an interesting thing to watch next July. (And possibly beforehand?)

Lee Stempniak, Free Agent

I was going to put Peter Mueller here, but his run wasn’t as impressive (in my opinion) as Stempniak’s red-hot run with the Coyotes. I mean, seriously, 14 goals in 18 games? That’s ludicrous. That’s Alex Ovechkin-type stuff, there.

No one would say that Stempniak can keep up that absurd 29.2 percent shooting percentage (I’d hope). Yet could that be a sign that he “figured it out”? Well, considering the fact that he doesn’t have any takers in a dry free agent market, general managers seem to say “not likely.”

OK, so those are my seven players. Who else needs to prove that last year wasn’t a fluke?

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    WATCH LIVE: Los Angeles Kings at Minnesota Wild

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    NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 season continues on Monday night when the Los Angeles Kings visit the Minnesota Wild. Puck drop is scheduled for 8 p.m. ET. You can catch all of the action on NBCSN or on our Live Stream.


    Tobias RiederAnze KopitarDustin Brown
    Tanner PearsonJeff CarterTrevor Lewis
    Kyle CliffordAdrian KempeTyler Toffoli
    Andy AndreoffNate ThompsonTorrey Mitchell

    Derek ForbortDrew Doughty
    Alec MartinezDion Phaneuf
    Jake MuzzinChristian Folin

    Starting goalie: Jonathan Quick

    [NHL on NBCSN: Kings, Wild continue pursuit of important points]

    WATCH LIVE – 8 P.M. ET

    Jason ZuckerEric StaalNino Niederreiter
    Zach PariseMikko KoivuMikael Granlund
    Tyler EnnisMatt CullenCharlie Coyle
    Marcus FolignoJoel Eriksson EkDaniel Winnik

    Ryan SuterMatt Dumba
    Jonas Brodin – Ryan Murphy
    Nick SeelerNate Prosser

    Starting goalie: Devan Dubnyk

    NHL GMs are at least trying to fix goalie interference reviews

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    Much like the NFL’s headaches when it comes to what is or isn’t a catch, a simple stroll around Hockey Twitter will often unearth loud groans about goalie interference reviews. At least when people aren’t grumbling about offside goal reviews, that is.

    From the viewpoints of reporters on hand for the latest round of GM meetings, it sounds like the league is at least attempting to sort out the latest mess.

    Granted, you could sense some of the fatigue on this issue from what Lightning GM Steve Yzerman had to say about it, via’s Dan Rosen:

    “You can clarify the standards, but each referee and everyone, you and I, has a different opinion,” Yzerman said. “Within that room everyone has a little different opinion on did it impact the goaltender. It’s subjective. No one is ever going to agree 100 percent.”

    Fair enough, but much of the frustration stems from the sheer confusion at hand, as there doesn’t seem to be a clear standard. It’s one thing to disagree with how an infraction is called, but at the moment, many feel like there’s far too much variation in calls.

    With that in mind, some GMs apparently hope to tweak the process by, ideally, limiting the number of people who are making the snap decisions on goalie interference:

    By “centralizing,” it could mean leaving that decision to “The Situation Room,” as Rosen explains:

    The meetings reportedly included test cases for goalie interference, with Rosen noting that GMs and media alike had trouble reaching a consensus on certain examples. That helps to illuminate the challenge at hand, but again, many people would probably be at least a bit happier if it was easier to anticipate what would and would not be called as interference.

    Quite a few numbers were thrown around about coaches challenges. ESPN’s Emily Kaplan shared a slide from the NHL that would argue that offside challenges have dropped off, likely because a failed challenge results in a delay of game penalty, but goalie interference remains a drag on the game.

    It’s a vaguely depressing yet informative chart:

    Ultimately, it seems like the league still has quite a bit to sort through, with totally fun subplots including the notion that goalies are being coached to embellish interference. Again, lots of fun.

    For fans of the sport, it’s about walking the line between getting it right and not grinding too many games to a screeching halt. One might ponder carrying over the delay of game penalty to challenging goalie interference alongside offside reviews, but that might not fly:

    Maybe Habs GM Marc Bergevin is correct in saying that just a small number of calls go wrong. Still, these challenges are slowing down games about two minutes at a time. That might not sound like much, though when it happens in the flow of an exciting back-and-forth contest, it can be a real killer.

    Let’s hope they improve the process, even if it ends up being a work in progress.

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

    Injury updates: Penguins’ Murray, others deal with concussions

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    NHL teams provided injury news updates on Monday, with the most noteworthy bits revolving around players dealing with concussions. Let’s sort through that mixed bag:

    • First, we’ll begin with promising news. Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan considers Matt Murray to be “an option” to play on Tuesday against the New York Islanders. That said, it’s a preliminary viewpoint, as Sullivan wants to see how Murray handles practice.

    You’d get the impression that the optimism is high despite that caveat, as the Penguins sent Tristan Jarry back to the AHL today. That could still change, but the team must feel a lot more confident about Murray being ready for the postseason.

    [The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

    Actually, it’s worth questioning whether it’s really worth risking Price’s health in meaningless games for Montreal, especially when you note that he’s frequently suffered from bad injury luck lately. Sure, he wants to play; that ambition is part of what makes him great. Concussions can be tricky, though, and you wonder if the reward would justify the risks involved.

    • Winnipeg Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba is in “concussion protocol,” according to TSN’s Sara Orlesky. Trouba will reportedly see specialists, which isn’t that shocking considering how shaken up he looked after getting the worst of a hard collision with Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars:


    • Also brutal: Noah Hanifin is out indefinitely in dealing with a concussion, via the Carolina Hurricanes.

    The 21-year-old set a new career-high with eight goals this season, and despite being limited to 71 games, he matched last season’s peak of 29 points. Hanifin is starting to show why he was the fifth pick of the 2015 NHL Draft as part of a stacked Hurricanes defense, yet much like his team, it looks like his season’s going to end on a low note.

    Hopefully he’ll be able to rebound fully in 2018-19.

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

    Bruins give Donato big opportunity in NHL debut

    via Boston Bruins Twitter

    The silver lining for injuries in sports is that one player’s absence opens the door for someone else to prove their worth.

    (Kurt Warner and Tom Brady gave that sentence a big thumbs up.)

    With the regular season winding down, the Boston Bruins are hoping to push the Tampa Bay Lightning for the Atlantic Division title and the conference’s top seed, but they’re probably just as hopeful that some key players will be healthy by the playoffs. That ship has sailed for Anders Bjork, yet they’re crossing their fingers regarding players dealing with a variety of maladies: Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, David Backes, Jake DeBrusk and Charlie McAvoy.

    [The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

    Such injuries might at least partially explain the timing of the Ryan Donato signing, and they’ll absolutely open up a chance for him to echo McAvoy in showing that he’s a quick study at the NHL level. Keith Jones and Jeremy Roenick discussed as much on Sunday:

    [NHL Playoff Push: Bruins look to test Blue Jackets]

    Donato already likely made an impact on viewers who saw him shine for the U.S. during the 2018 Winter Olympics, and logically enough, he’s slated to join fellow Olympian Brian Gionta (and Noel Acciari) on the team’s third line. Gionta came away impressed with Donato from their brief run together, as the Bruins website notes:

    “He was unreal,” Gionta said of Donato’s five-goal, six-point Olympic performance. “He was probably our best player over there. Extremely composed, great shot, great release, great hockey sense. It will all equate well to this level as well.”

    While that’s not too shabby an opportunity for his NHL debut, it’s special teams where Donato gets a fascinating, golden opportunity. Via Left Wing Lock, it appears as though Donato will be on the top unit along with Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, Rick Nash, and Torey Krug.


    Update: Before Monday’s game began, it was revealed that Rick Nash is also dealing with an injury, so Donato’s opportunity may be even more promising.


    Wow. One couldn’t set the table much better in Boston, particularly for a player who’s touted for a high hockey IQ.

    There’s also the matter of having hockey in his blood.

    This situation serves as a full-circle moment for Donato and Patrice Bergeron. You see, Bergeron says he learned a lot from Ryan’s father Ted Donato as an 18-year-old rookie with the Bruins:

    Even if Donato struggles at first – certainly a possibility, considering that he’s jumping right into the mix, including tonight’s game against a peaking Blue Jackets team – it’s a great story.

    Donato has a real chance to make an impact, though. If he can help an already-impressive Bruins team roll out a deeper scoring attack, then watch out. Tonight’s game against Columbus stands as his first opportunity to show that he can hang at the NHL level, and maybe plant the seed that he deserves a significant role even once other forwards get healthy.

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.