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.

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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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    PHT Morning Skate: Stevens sees similarities between the Wild and those great Devils teams

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    –In a Q & A with NHL.com, Minnesota assistant coach Scott Stevens says this year’s edition of the Wild reminds him of the stingy Devils teams he played on. “It reminds me very much of the Devils in how we play. We definitely love to protect the middle of the ice. We might give up a few more shots, but we give up a lot of those perimeter shots and hopefully our goaltenders know where the shots are coming from,” said Stevens. (NHL.com)

    –Maple Leafs rookie Auston Matthews has shown that he’s got the hockey thing down, but his “Call of Duty” game has come a long way, according to teammate Mitch Marner. (BarDown)

    –Many expect the Canadiens to try to land a top two center between now and the trade deadline, but in an interview with TSN 690 radio, GM Marc Bergevin says “you can never have too many defensemen.” If you listen to Bergevin, it sure sounds like he wants to add a mobile defender to play with Shea Weber. (TSN 690)

    –The Chicago Blackhawks got some solid production from Vinne Hinostroza, Nick Schmaltz and Tanner Kero in last night’s win over the Avalanche. You can watch the highlights from that game by clicking the video at the top of the page.

    –How much would you pay for a young NHL superstar’s game worn jersey? The jersey Auston Matthews wore during the first period of the Centennial Classic sold for an incredible amount of money. (Yahoo)

    –Will we see Patrik Elias return to the New Jersey Devils this season? The 40-year-old underwent cartilage replacement surgery on his knee during the off-season, but he doesn’t seem willing to close the door on his NHL career just yet. Elias wants to make a final decision on his playing career by next month. (USA Today)

    –Going through a scoring slump is never fun, but going through a scoring slump when you’re the captain of the Montreal Canadiens might be one of the more unbearable things in professional hockey. Max Pacioretty was able to overcome a slow start thanks to some big-picture thinking. “At the end of the day, look at the life we have, look where we’re playing. I love playing here so much, and the fact I’m able to be the captain here, it sounds cheesy, but what’s better in life right now? I’ve got a family, I’ve got an awesome team, I’m the captain of the best franchise in the world,” said Pacioretty. (NHL.com)

    Lonnie Cameron, hockey-tough linesman, shakes off puck to head (Video)

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    Talking about hockey toughness is pretty much a trope at this point, yet there are still moments that impress even the cynical among us.

    Linesman Lonnie Cameron accomplished that for many on Tuesday, as he returned to the Nashville Predators – Vancouver Canucks game despite taking a puck to the head in a scary moment.

    Judging by the Twitter feed of Brooks Bratten from the Predators’ website, Cameron missed mere minutes of time.

    So, yeah, it seems like Cameron qualifies as “hockey tough.”

    As far as the game itself went, the Canucks beat the Predators 1-0 thanks to Henrik Sedin‘s goal (his 999th point) and Ryan Miller‘s 30-save shutout.

    Is this more than just a slump for Henrik Lundqvist?

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    People have been wondering for years if Henrik Lundqvist would finally fall off track and, you know, look human. After the New York Rangers’ zany 7-6 loss to the Dallas Stars, those rumblings are probably getting a little louder.

    Don’t expect the Rangers to throw their star goalie under the bus, though, especially after a wide-open game like Tuesday’s goal-filled game at Madison Square Garden.

    In fact, Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault is already penciling Lundqvist in for Thursday’s game against the rising Toronto Maple Leafs.

    “He’s going to play, he’s going to try real hard, and we’re going to try to play better in front of him,” Vigneault said, according to the New York Post’s Brett Cyrgalis. “This is a team.”

    Lundqvist, meanwhile, said about what you’d expect:

    Naturally, Lundqvist and plenty of other Rangers threw the word embarrassing around quite a bit to describe this game, or at least the first 40 minutes. It’s just that no one’s really raking Lundqvist over the coals.

    Is this time different?

    Again, Lundqvist is no stranger to struggles, even if he struggles less often than just about any franchise goalie in recent memory.

    Still, the sample size is getting large enough for this stretch to be a concern for the 34-year-old netminder.

    While goal support and stretches of good play open the door for a respectable 18-12-1 record, Lundqvist’s allowing almost three goals per game (2.89 GAA) and has a backup-level .902 save percentage this season. And that’s over 32 games.

    Things get even uglier if you focus on more recent events.

    He’s allowed 20 goals in his past four starts, including allowing 12 tallies over four periods during the past two games. Lundqvist has a putrid .841 save percentage in January after producing great work in November (.925 save percentage in 11 games) and nice numbers in December (.915 in eight games).

    Lundqvist has given up four goals or more on nine different occasions since Nov. 23.

    In other words, there are a lot of different ways in which he’s struggling:

    Is this a matter of Lundqvist regaining his focus or is “The King” finally abdicating his throne?

    The Rangers are going to let him try to work through this. Otherwise, they might just need to hope that this is an off-year and *gulp* at least consider how far (an eventually healthy?) Antti Raanta could take them.

    Supporting cast rallies Blackhawks in win against Avalanche

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    For much of the season, the Colorado Avalanche’s biggest names have let them down while many believe that the Chicago Blackhawks are getting it done despite a mediocre supporting cast.

    On Tuesday, the script was essentially flipped. The Avs’ stars were productive, yet so were lesser-known Chicago forwards like Tanner Kero and Vinne Hinostroza.

    The most important narrative stayed the same, however, as the Blackhawks found a way to get by the Avalanche in a 6-4 decision.

    The Blackhawks took a 2-1 lead into the second period, but the Avs put together one of their best stretches of this lousy season. Blake Comeau tied it up, Matt Nieto scored his first goal with Colorado and then Matt Duchene answered Chicago’s only goal of the second period (by Kero) to give the Avalanche a 4-3 edge.

    The Avalanche doubled Chicago’s shots on goal in the second period, generating an 8-4 edge. It felt like a rare moment where Colorado’s talent actually flexed its collective muscles.

    Then the Blackhawks turned it on in the third, generating a 12-5 shot edge of their own and finding a way to win.

    Hinostroza ended up making the biggest difference, scoring the tying and game-winning goals before Kero iced it with an empty-netter thanks to an unselfish pass by Jonathan Toews.

    (It’s not to say that Chicago’s big names outright slept through this game, either. Toews got that assist and Marian Hossa made a bunch of plays to help make life easier for Hinostroza and Kero.)

    This wasn’t always pretty, but the Blackhawks are doing enough to get points night after night. On some nights, that’s the real difference between a contender like Chicago and a languishing squad like Colorado.