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 NHL.com’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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    B’s re-sign Kevan Miller: four years, $10 million

    Boston Bruins defenseman Kevan Miller (86) is upended as he chases the puck against Florida Panthers left wing Jiri Hudler (24) in the second period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, March 24, 2016, in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
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    Kevan Miller has cashed in on a career year.

    And a fortuitous confluence of circumstances.

    Miller, who posted personal highs in games played (71), goals (five) and points (18) last season, has scored a four-year, $10 million extension from the Bruins, per TSN.

    That works out to a $2.5M average annual cap hit through 2020.

    Miller, 28, scored the payday after taking a while to establish himself at the NHL level. Undrafted out of Vermont, he spent considerable time with AHL Providence before becoming a regular in Boston last season.

    Despite those aforementioned career highs, it was an erratic season for Miller.

    Often playing alongside Zdeno Chara on Boston’s top defensive pair, he was criticized for making mistakes in his own zone and struggled with consistency, something he lamented at the end of the year.

    “I think it was frustrating,” Miller said, per the Boston Herald. “I wanted to be more consistent throughout the season.

    “There were some ups and downs coming back off surgery last season and this year I was trying to find my feet initially, and toward the end I started to play pretty well.”

    In Miller’s defense, he was miscast as a top-pairing blueliner — duly noted by CSN New England’s Joe Haggerty, who wrote the following:

    Miller is a perfectly fine and rugged bottom-pairing defenseman that brings toughness, and can survive well enough against other team’s bottom two forward lines.

    But he has struggled all season when charged with stopping the other team’s best offensive players, and it has really started coming to a head over the last month.

    As such, today’s extension may have caught some by surprise — like those at the Boston Globe, who wondered if Miller was “destined” for free agency, suggesting he “will draw interest” on the open market.

    But others might not be all that shocked.

    Miller plays on a Boston defense that’s been thinned over the last two years — by the Johnny Boychuk and Dougie Hamilton trades, specifically — and doesn’t have many capable replacements at the ready.

    Miller’s not great, but he had leverage. He knew it, his agent knew it and, based on the term and the price tag, the Bruins knew it too.

    Related: Kevan Miller is not the problem for the Bruins, but he does illustrate the problem

    Oilers ‘owe it to the fans to get better in a relatively short period of time’: Chiarelli

    SUNRISE, FL - JUNE 26: Peter Chiarelli of the Edmonton Oilers attends the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center on June 26, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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    The more Peter Chiarelli talks, the more anticipation grows for a big trade.

    The Oilers’ general manager spoke to Sportsnet yesterday at the Memorial Cup, where he was asked once again about the possibility of dealing the fourth overall draft pick for some NHL-ready help.

    “Would I look to move it? We want to win. I took the job in Edmonton to win, so as I said earlier, we’ll look at all options,” said Chiarelli. “There’s some pretty good players that are going to be available at four but we may look to move down and still use a pick to get an asset as part of a larger deal. We owe it to the fans to get better in a relatively short period of time and we’re going to look at all options to allow us to do that.”

    The number one area that the Oilers need to upgrade is the defense. So if, for example, a player like Tyson Barrie were made available by the Colorado Avalanche, Chiarelli would no doubt be interested. Ditto for Jacob Trouba, Sami Vatanen, or whoever else could be in play this offseason.

    It won’t be easy, but if Chiarelli can add a capable, young top-4 defenseman (arguably the most valuable commodity in the NHL) and perhaps a veteran too, all of a sudden things look a lot more promising on the back end. Remember that Darnell Nurse is still only 21, Oscar Klefbom just 22. And even if the Oilers move down in the draft, they could still add another d-man to a mix that also includes youngsters Brandon Davidson, Adam Clendening, Griffin Reinhart and Jordan Oesterle.

    If, on the other hand, Chiarelli fails to upgrade the defense, then the Oilers may struggle once again next season.

    Hence, the urgency to get something done now, for a fan base that hasn’t experienced playoff excitement in a decade.

    After so much losing, there’s no selling patience anymore in Edmonton.

    Related‘There’s a real legitimate chance’ that Oilers trade fourth overall pick

    People are wondering — do the Florida Panthers know what they’re doing?

    2011 NHL Entry Draft - Round One
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    The Florida Panthers’ managerial shakeup continued this week with the firing of their director of player personnel, Tom Luce.

    Luce had been with the club since 2002. According to his bio, he had “been responsible for the Panthers drafting notable players, including Aleksander Barkov, Aaron Ekblad, Erik Gudbranson, Jonathan Huberdeau and Dmitry Kulikov.”

    The firing of Luce was particularly noteworthy, since it came just days after Dale Tallon was “promoted” to president of hockey operations. That move was sold as a way for Tallon to do more of what he liked (scouting), while handing off other responsibilities (contracts, salary cap, etc.) to new GM Tom Rowe and his young assistants, Eric Joyce and Steve Werier.

    But not all in the Florida media are buying, apparently.

    From Sun Sentinel columnist Dave Hyde:

    I can retire now. I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen teams fire everyone after bad, average and even mildly disappointing seasons. But I’d never seen a team replace people who created a record-setting season that buoyed the franchise’s future.

    Until the Florida Panthers over the last few days.

    Hyde goes on to question the Panthers’ new, analytics-focused direction. (If that direction sounds similar, it’s because the Arizona Coyotes are taking the same route.)

    His column finishes like this:

    This should be an offseason of great hope for the Panthers. Instead, it’s now weighed down with a question of recent days. It’s not what Tallon’s diminished role is or who Rowe is.

    The question starts here: Does Vinnie Viola know what he’s doing?

    And that’s a fair question to ask of any owner. Especially a new one.

    That being said, it’s also fair to question how much Tallon and Luce should be credited for the Panthers’ turnaround. After all, since Tallon was hired in 2010, Florida has had the first overall draft pick (Ekblad), the second overall pick (Barkov), and two third overall picks (Gudbranson, Huberdeau). Yes, there have been a few savvy picks — Vincent Trocheck in the third round stands out — and a few good additions via trade. But really, with all the blue-chip talent they’ve been gifted, making the playoffs this year was the least they should have expected.

    “It’s a great game, but a tough business sometimes,” Rowe said of the firings, per the Sun Sentinel. “The fans came out in big numbers and it was awesome. We made the playoffs and that’s good. But at the end of the day, I didn’t think we had enough punch in the playoffs and I don’t think we gave [coach Gerard Gallant] enough options to get past the Islanders on our third and fourth lines.”

    Regardless of where you stand on what’s happening in Florida, you can’t deny it’s all quite reminiscent of the summer of 2009, when Tallon was fired by the Chicago Blackhawks, replaced by the much-younger Stan Bowman.

    Here’s a column that was written by the Chicago Tribune’s Rick Morrissey after that decision was made:

    Wirtz and McDonough wanted to have their own crew in place. Fair enough. They don’t even want a suggestion of the mustiness of the Bob Pulford era.

    But let’s try to remember Tallon played a huge role in building a team that surprised a lot of people by getting to the Western Conference finals last season. How it came to be that they chose Stan Bowman over Tallon is no secret. There had been rumblings for most of the year that Tallon would be out.

    Yes, anybody could have picked superstars-in-training Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. But let’s remember that anybody could have picked Michael Jordan in the first round of the 1984 NBA draft. The teams with the first two picks didn’t.

    The Blackhawks, of course, won the Stanley Cup the next year, a month after Tallon was introduced as the new GM in Florida.

    Back to Matt: Facing elimination, Pens will start Murray

    PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 16:  Matt Murray #30 and Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Pittsburgh Penguins look on against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Consol Energy Center on May 16, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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    Stop us if you’ve heard this before, but there’s a goalie change coming in the conference final.

    On Tuesday, Pens head coach Mike Sullivan announced that Matt Murray would be back in goal for tonight’s decisive Game 6 in Tampa Bay — this after Sullivan opted to park Murray in favor of Marc-Andre Fleury for Game 5.

    Technically speaking, Murray’s been parked since the second period of Game 4. That, of course, was the one in which he allowed four goals on 30 shots, paving the way for Fleury to enter the third with Pittsburgh down 4-0.

    And that’s when things changed.

    The goalie switch seemed to spark the Pens, who scored three times in the final frame to make things interesting. While that was going on, Fleury looked sharp — though not especially busy — stopping all seven shots faced, as his mates nearly pulled off a remarkable comeback.

    The decision was then made to start Fleury on Saturday night.

    He played to mixed reviews in a 4-3 OT loss, making just 21 saves (for an .840 percentage) while appearing shaky on a number of occasions. Though he could hardly be blamed for the game-winning goal — replays showed that Jason Garrison‘s point shot deflected off Tyler Johnson‘s behind — Fleury just didn’t look right, which isn’t a shock.

    It was his first start since suffering a concussion on Mar. 31.

    As mentioned above, goalie changes have been a predominant storyline among the final four playoff teams. St. Louis has started both Brian Elliott and Jake Allen, and the Bolts were forced to go to Andrei Vasilevskiy after Ben Bishop got hurt in the series opener.

    In that light, Sullivan’s questionable decision to start Fleury in Game 5 is somewhat mitigated because, hey, other teams are having goalie issues too.

    It’s also worth noting Pittsburgh’s situation in goal probably has much to do with its situation on defense. There’s little coincidence the club has conceded eight goals over the last two games with Trevor Daley (broken ankle) almost entirely out of action, Olli Maata being thrown into action and Kris Letang shouldering gigantic minutes — including a whopping 31:38 in Game 4.

    Related: Rutherford says Fleury’s ‘absolutely not’ done in Pittsburgh, but logic suggests otherwise