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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    Jaroslav Halak carried Team Europe to the World Cup Final

    TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 25:  Jaroslav Halak #41 of Team Europe celebrates a 3-2 overtime victory over Team Sweden at the semifinal game during the World Cup of Hockey tournament at the Air Canada Centre on September 25, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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    Jaroslav Halak is doing it again.

    He is taking an undermanned team, one that doesn’t match up with its opponents on paper, and carrying it to a level nobody expected it to reach.

    He did it during the 2010 NHL playoffs as a member of the Montreal Canadiens when he helped a No. 8 seed upset that year’s Presidents’ Trophy winning team in the first round, and then the defending Stanley Cup champions in the second round. The Canadiens were mostly outplayed in each series, but Halak was so good, and so dominant, that it didn’t matter. He was the single biggest reason his team reached the Eastern Conference Final that year.

    He showed how much of an impact a hot goalie can make on a team a short series.

    He is kind of doing it again this year at the World Cup for Team Europe as it is now in the championship series getting ready to take on Team Canada.

    The team in front of him isn’t getting outplayed to the same degree that the 2010 Canadiens were in those playoffs, but Halak has still been his team’s best player and the biggest factor in its current success. His .946 save percentage through four games is among the best in the tournament, while his 37 save effort in the semifinal on Sunday was probably his best one so far (and that includes his opening game shutout against the United States).

    The European team has its share of forward talent up front. Anze Kopitar is one of the best two-way players in hockey and has been spectacular in this tournament. Marian Gaborik and Thomas Vanek are former 40-goal scorers in the NHL, while Frans Nielsen has always been one of the more underrated players in the league.

    But the defense, even with a great player like Roman Josi, doesn’t really come close to matching some other teams in the tournament.

    It has two players that don’t currently have NHL contracts (Dennis Seidenberg and Christian Ehrhoff). Zdeno Chara is 38 years old and has clearly slowed down from where he was a few years ago.

    As a team, they have the oldest roster in the tournament, and based on their pre-tournament games it looked like they were going to be nothing more than a minor speed bump for the rest of their teams in their group.

    Put all of that together and it put a ton of pressure on Halak to be on top of his game to give his team a chance to even stay competitive, let alone win.

    He has done that and more so far in the tournament, and it is the single biggest reason the team that opened the tournament as the biggest long shot to win the whole thing (33/1) is in the final.

    From a big picture standpoint Halak is not the best goalie in hockey. But sometimes in a short tournament all you need is a good goalie to get on a hot streak. And he is still capable of putting together those streaks that can carry a team, and he is doing it again in this tournament just as he did in the 2010 playoffs.

    Stunner: Team Europe beats Sweden, advances to World Cup Final

    TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 25:  Marian Gaborik #12 of Team Europe is congratulated by his teammates after scoring a second period goal against Team Sweden at the semifinal game during the World Cup of Hockey tournament at  Air Canada Centre on September 25, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Chris Tanouye/Getty Images)
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    When the World Cup began earlier this month, Team Europe, a collection of players from eight European countries that did not have their own team in the tournament, was thought to be the weakest team in the field.

    Not necessarily a bad team, but one that seemed like it would have trouble keeping up with the hockey superpowers that made up the remainder of the field. That thinking seemed to be confirmed in the pre-tournament games when the North American young stars team skated them out of the building in what the European team admitted was a wakeup call.

    All of that is why they still have to actually play the games, and in a short tournament like this anything can happen. 

    In this case, anything did happen.

    Thanks to their 3-2 overtime win over Team Sweden on Sunday afternoon in the World Cup semifinals, Team Europe has clinched a spot in the World Cup final series and will take on Canada in a best-of-three round that begins on Tuesday night.

    It’s been an incredible and almost unbelievable run so far Europe. They frustrated the United States in their opener and shut them out, beat the Czech Republic in overtime, and then on Sunday shut down Sweden to advance to the final. 

    The biggest part of their success has to be the play of their goaltender Jaroslav Halak, who has been their best player the entire tournament.

    On Sunday, he stopped 37 out of 39 shots and improved his save percentage in the tournament to .946.

    The other big star for Team Europe on Sunday was Detroit Red Wings forward Tomas Tatar who scored a pair of goals, including the overtime winner.

    After Marian Gaborik scored late in the second period to tie the game at one, Tatar opened the third period with a goal just 12 seconds in when he followed up his own shot and beat Sweden’s Henrik Lundqvist to give Europe its first lead of the game.

    Sweden’s Erik Karlsson scored late in the third period to send the game to overtime.

    Europe now haas to get ready to face a Canadian team that is 4-0 in the tournament and outscored its opponents by a 19-6 margin.

    Canada beat Europe in the first round 4-1.

    Sounds like Blues will be more aggressive

    GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 06:  Head coach Ken Hitchcock of the St. Louis Blues watches from the bench during the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on January 6, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. The Blues defeated the Coyotes 6-0.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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    With their former captain now a member of the Boston Bruins and their coach on year-to-year deals, it’s appropriate to say that the St. Louis Blues are in a period of transitions.

    It’s also a convenient choice of words, as it sounds like the Blues are going to change the way they transition on the ice.

    That’s the indication given by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and players like Chris Porter approve.

    “The play in the neutral zone will fit this team great with the speed and the size that they already have in place,” Porter said. “I don’t think it’s a huge adjustment for the guys, I think it’s just a little tweak here or there.”

    Perhaps hiring Mike Yeo had something to do with taking a more modern approach?

    Either way, getting more aggressive makes a lot of sense for the Blues, at least on paper.

    With David Backes and Troy Brouwer out of town, younger and speedier players get to take more of a role. Some Blues fans will probably view this tweak – big or small – as a long time coming.

    Of course, there’s a give-and-take when it comes to situations like these, and becoming more attack-minded sure makes retaining Kevin Shattenkirk that much more important. The underrated blueliner still expects to be moved despite being named an alternate captain, yet you wonder if these changes might prompt GM Doug Armstrong to try to pull some strings to keep him around.

    (Giving Alexander Steen a contract extension means that much less room for the likes of Shattenkirk.)

    Even if the Blues eventually need to part ways with Shattenkirk, there are some other nice assets who can use this change as a catalyst to push this team up another level.

    In an ideal scenario, the Blues would enjoy those improvements and keep Shattenkirk to reap those rewards.

    Update: Clarke MacArthur suffers concussion

    BUFFALO, NY - OCTOBER 8: Clarke MacArthur #16 of the Ottawa Senators skates with the puck during the game against the Buffalo Sabres at the First Niagara Center on October 8, 2015 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Tom Brenner/ Getty Images)
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    Update: As many feared, Clarke MacArthur suffered a concussion. The Ottawa Senators announced that he will be “evaluated daily.”

    ***

    Rough news for the Ottawa Senators on Sunday: forward Clarke MacArthur needed help off the ice following a big hit during a team scrimmage.

    The hit was delivered by Patrick Sieloff, prompting an immediate response from Bobby Ryan, according to The Hockey News’ Murray Pam.

    MacArthur has been hoping to return to NHL action after some serious concussion issues, so this is a troubling situation. More than a few people wonder if this might end his career.

    Update: Here’s a GIF of the hit.