Contract years will affect last year's top scorers

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Sedin.jpgWe all have different philosophies about what drives success and results in sports. One thing that always dominates my predictions is contract years. Going by the Gordon Gekko principle of “Greed is good,” I often assume that a great player will be even better with that financial carrot dangling. It’s not always true (just look at Marc Savard’s troublesome 2009-10 season or, conversely, Henrik Sedin’s great post-contract year), but it’s a good rule of thumb.

Puck Daddy put out a very interesting post today that took a look at which of last season’s top 20 scoring players are “trending” up or down compared to last season. It’s a great read, but I couldn’t help but throw my own two cents (based on my own assumptions, philosophies and prejudices) for who might improve or decline.

Henrik Sedin

PD’s take: trending up; My take: trending down.

Reasoning: Look, I’ll always have a soft spot for the Sedin twins. After all, I named my old blog after them. That being said, Henrik Sedin had more assists last season than his previous career high in points. He saw a 30-point increase from the 08-09 season to 09-10. What do those numbers tell me? That he had a “perfect storm” season last year and it might be a little bold to expect more from next season. My guess is he “regresses” to 100 points in 10-11.

Steven Stamkos

PD’s take: trending down; My take: trending up.

Reasoning: This is the first of the contract year guys who could make a big impact in 10-11. Greg Wyshynski thinks that Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis will improve next year and the Lightning added some nice players including Simon Gagne this summer; in other words, the supporting cast around Stamkos will be quite a bit better this season. All of these factors make me think he’ll either match his 95-point total or improve upon it, as long as he’s healthy.

brichardstrendingup.jpgBrad Richards

PD’s take: trending down; My take: trending up.

Reasoning: Once again, this is a contract year (and supporting cast) based observation. For the latter, the Dallas Stars couldn’t get much worse than they were last season. Let’s not forget how well Richards did in his last contract year, either; the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup with a big assist from a Conn Smythe-worthy performance from Richards. Just saying.

Alex Semin

PD’s take: trending down; My take: trending up.

Reasoning: Sure, last season was a contract year for Semin too but this season is enormously important for Semin’s future. Will he be a member of the Washington Capitals after this season? Trade bait for a defenseman during the trade deadline? Either way, I’m not too worried about his linemates; he played quite a bit with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom last season and will certainly get time with them on the powerplay if nothing else. The fact of the matter is that Semin puts up plenty of points per game but cannot seem to stay healthy. What if he actually put together an 82-game season?

OK, that might be asking for too much, but the explosive Russian winger could top 40 goals and 84 points, though.

***

Anyway, that’s just my take on who might see better or worse seasons. Obviously, I fixate on contract years, but I think there’s some fire to go with that salary-focused smoke. I agree with a lot of Wyshynski’s assessments (especially Marian Gaborik trending down and Evgeni Malkin trending up), but I thought I’d share my thoughts on the subject for the sake of discussion. Click here to read his picks.

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    Kulikov returns to increasingly healthy Sabres lineup

    CALGARY, AB - OCTOBER 18: Dmitry Kulikov #77 of the Buffalo Sabres in action against the Calgary Flames during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on October 18, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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    No one’s going to confuse Dmitry Kulikov with Jack Eichel, but the Buffalo Sabres are likely happy to have him back after a long absence, too.

    The Sabres have been on an upward trend lately (5-2-2 in their last nine games), and now they get a key defenseman back against the Washington Capitals on Friday night.

    Kulikov last played on Nov. 9 and hasn’t recorded a point in 12 games, making for a tough start to his stint with the Sabres. Maybe he’ll begin to get a little more traction with his new team tonight?

    He’s far from the only returning Buffalo player, either, as Josh Gorges and Nicolas Deslauriers are also back in the mix. Kulikov is slated to be on the Sabres’ second pairing with Cody Franson.

    Buffalo sent Brendan Guhle to the AHL to make room for these tweaks.

    With Foligno out sick, Columbus gives Bjorkstrand another shot

    COLUMBUS, OH - OCTOBER 13:  Oliver Bjorkstrand #28 of the Columbus Blue Jackets lines up for a face-off during the game against the Boston Bruins on October 13, 2016 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
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    The Columbus Blue Jackets will be without captain Nick Foligno because of an illness on Friday, opening up an opportunity for interesting prospect Oliver Bjorkstrand.

    The team tweeted out his linemates as Matt Calvert and Lukas Sedlak as a solid fourth line facing the Detroit Red Wings.

    He failed to generate much (zero points, two shots on goal) in three games so far with Columbus this season, receiving about 25 minutes of ice time over that span.

    With eight goals and 12 points in 19 AHL games so far in 2016-17, there’s the thought that he could eventually make the next step to becoming a decent contributor for the Blue Jackets.

    Perhaps this will constitute his first real step in that direction?

    Apparently this is a pretty abrupt situation for the 21-year-old:

    Gretzky defends McDavid’s outburst after Manning incident

    WINNIPEG, MANITOBA - OCTOBER 23: Wayne Gretzky (L) and Dale Hawerchuk drop the puck in a ceremonial face-off between Blake Wheeler #26 and Connor McDavid #97 during the 2016 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic hockey game on October 23, 2016 at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Fred Greenslade /Getty Images)
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    PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) As the primary target of opponents over his Hall of Fame career, Wayne Gretzky can certainly empathize with the frustration of Oilers star Connor McDavid.

    McDavid and Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Brandon Manning jostled all evening long in a 6-5 Edmonton loss. McDavid denounced the tactics of his opponent after the game, claiming Manning intentionally injured him last season; McDavid missed 37 games with a broken collarbone.

    “I guess we can put the whole ‘if he did it’ thing to rest because what he said out there kind of confirmed that,” said McDavid, who taunted Manning after scoring the second goal in the Oilers’ loss.

    “I think anybody who knows me or who has played with or against me along the road here, knows that I am not that kind of player,” Manning said, according to a statement released by the Flyers. “I am not out there intentionally trying to hurt people. I’m a guy who plays the game hard and I take pride in that.”

    Gretzky didn’t mind seeing that fire in McDavid, saying competitiveness is part of what makes the great ones great. And he said the targeting comes with the territory of being a superstar. It was something he and Mario Lemieux dealt with, too.

    “And Connor, he’s going to get tested every night, but this is not new for him,” Gretzky said Friday at the NHL board of governors meetings. “He’s been tested since he was a kid and then playing junior hockey and now in the NHL and he’s always responded and done his part.”

    Related: McDavid accuses ‘classless’ Manning of injuring him on purpose

    Bishop trying not to let contract situation affect his play

    TAMPA, FL - JUNE 06: Ben Bishop #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning looks on against the Chicago Blackhawks during Game Two of the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena on June 6, 2015 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Scott Iskowitz/Getty Images)
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    Ben Bishop was a Vezina Trophy finalist last season, and that makes it particularly striking to see his numbers a quarter of the way through 2016-17.

    After 18 starts, Bishop is 8-10-1 with a .906 save percentage. He got the hook after two periods last night at Amalie Arena, where he surrendered four goals to the Vancouver Canucks in a 5-1 loss.

    Last night marked the third time in his last five starts that he’d surrendered at least four goals, and one of the goals he allowed looked like this:

    So, do things feel different this season?

    “I feel fine,” Bishop said today, per Lightning Insider. “We go back and watch the games and technically it’s all there. There is really no difference from the way I’ve played the last couple of years to now. I don’t like saying this, but it’s been a strange season with goofy goals on tips and bounces, goals off your own players. So I think if you took some of those away, the numbers would be pretty similar to years past. I would like to get the wins a little higher.”

    Bishop, of course, is a pending unrestricted free agent who is unlikely to re-sign with the Lightning. Andrei Vasilevskiy appears to be the goalie of the future in Tampa Bay. On July 1, the 22-year-old re-signed through 2019-20.

    Vasilevskiy is also 6-2-1 with a .929 save percentage.

    So in that regard, it’s a bit like the situation we’re seeing in New York, where Henrik Lundqvist is struggling and Antti Raanta is thriving.

    The difference is Lundqvist isn’t going to be looking for a new team anytime soon. Remember that Bishop “was close” to being traded to Calgary in the offseason. He could still end up there in free agency, depending if Brian Elliott bounces back.

    Bishop says he’s trying not to let his contract situation affect his state of mind; however, he admits he’d “be lying if I said I never thought about it.”

    “It’s definitely there in the back of your head,” he said.

    The Lightning host the Penguins on Saturday.

    Expect Vasilevskiy to start that one.