Nicklas Backstrom, Martin Brodeur

Are these 10 players primed for bounce back seasons?

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NHL.com’s John Kreiser is something of a maestro when it comes to off-season fodder, so it comes as no surprise that his top 10 list of “bounce back” players is an interesting read. That being said, the beauty of these lists is that they typically lend themselves to wildly subjective (and sometimes fun) debates. With that in mind, I’m going to file his 10 choices into three categories: likely to improve significantly, candidates for a marginal improvement and players who are unlikely to improve.

Let’s stay positive at first by going with the guys who should have a much better season. Again, this is going on the 10 players Kreiser listed; we might provide some other candidates at a later time.

Significant improvement

Nicklas Backstrom – The Swedish pivot’s numbers might be linked to Alex Ovechkin for quite some time, so it’s no mystery that his numbers slid when Ovi scored a relatively low 32 goals last season. Ovechkin isn’t likely to suffer with a shooting percentage at the 8.7 mark and Backstrom isn’t likely to hit just 8.9 percent himself for another season, so I bet Backstrom will be better by the sheer force of better luck. There’s one caveat, though: I think he’ll be closer to the 88-point 2008-09 campaign than his career-best 101 in 09-10 since the Caps are more defensive-minded.

Mark Streit – It’s pretty hard not to top 0 points in 0 games, eh? Streit’s return could make the New York Islanders a dark horse candidate for a playoff run next season.

Martin Brodeur – Actually, I think a better year for Ilya Kovalchuk and a healthier one for Zach Parise – and no John MacLean – will benefit the team as a whole, which will trickle down to Marty. Brodeur is getting long in the tooth, but like Streit, he’ll probably improve by default more than anything else. I still wouldn’t draft him too highly in any fantasy leagues, though.

source: APMarginal improvements

Marian Gaborik – He’d be a significant improver if a Terminator robot came back from the future and informed the world that the injury-prone winger would skate for 82 games with Brad Richards. Sadly, that scenario is about as likely as … a Terminator robot informing the world of a Slovakian winger’s surprising health. He’ll still be better than he was in 2010-11, though.

Sergei Gonchar – Another guy in the “he couldn’t get much worse” files. Don’t expect a significant improvement considering the mediocre roster around him, though.

Scott Gomez – Again, just in this category because he couldn’t get much worse than last year.

Duncan Keith – People overreacted to his struggles last season. The truth is that Keith benefited from a 2009-10 Chicago team whose overload of matchup advantages won’t be duplicated. He’s kind of like Nicklas Backstrom in that his normal expectations should probably rest somewhere in between his best season in 09-10 and his “struggles” last season.

Nik Antropov – The former Toronto Maple Leafs center had a surprisingly strong 09-10 campaign, but I just didn’t buy it. You can attribute much of that hot season to an unsustainable 19 percent shooting percentage. That being said, 41 points is far behind the totals he put together the previous three seasons and his ice time slid substantially in 10-11, so he’ll probably put up better numbers by default.

source: APUnlikely to improve

Niklas Backstrom – This isn’t meant to be an insult to Backstrom; he’s a good NHL goalie. The problem is that the Minnesota Wild defense is really poor so it’s likely he’ll be hung out to dry with regularity. Perhaps you could file him under “marginal improvement” if win-loss record is all you can are about, but I get the feeling his individual numbers might be shaky again. In fact, his .916 save percentage was pretty solid last season, so hanging the Wild’s struggles on his shoulders really isn’t that fair in the first place.

Steve Sullivan – He’ll be significantly improved … in video games. Unfortunately, you can’t turn injuries off in real life, so I fear that Sullivan might be next season’s version of Mike Comrie. This might be my riskiest pick because it could indeed be very wrong if he remains healthy, but he’s been so injury prone that I can’t see it happening.

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So what do you think about these players? Do you have some bounce back candidates of your own? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Former Flyers goalie Heeter signs with Detroit’s AHL team

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The Red Wings added some goalie depth on Monday, agreeing to terms with journeyman Cal Heeter.

Heeter, 27, broke in with the Flyers organization a while back and made his big-league debut in ’13-14, appearing in one game.

Since then, he’s bounced around the ECHL, AHL (with the Toronto Marlies) and, last season, split his time between Hamburg of the German League and Zagreb Medvescak of the KHL.

By itself, this signing isn’t especially noteworthy, as Heeter projects to be an American League mainstay next year.

But the contract is kind of interesting when looking and the big-picture goalie situation in Detroit. The Wings now have Heeter, Petr Mrazek, Jimmy Howard, Jared Coreau, Eddie Pasquale and Jake Paterson all under contract for next season, which is an awful lot of goalies.

With that in mind, remember that Howard’s name has been in trade talks for quite some time.

 

Ex-NHLers Bellemore, Collins sign with KHL’s Chinese club

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HC Kunlun Red Star, the Beijing-based expansion team that will begin playing in the KHL next season, has added a pair of former NHLers.

Sean Collins, who appeared in a pair of games for the Capitals last season, and Brett Bellemore, a veteran of over 100 contests with the Carolina Hurricanes, have agreed to join the club, per Russian news outlet R-Sport.

Bellemore, 28, was originally drafted by the ‘Canes in 2007 and spent most of his professional career with the organization. He signed on with Boston’s AHL affiliate in Providence last year, and appeared in 56 games.

Collins, 27, broke in with the Blue Jackets before signing with the Caps last season. He spent the majority of the year in AHL Hershey and fared well — 16 goals and 39 points in 75 games — and scored three times in the playoffs, helping the Bears advance to the Calder Cup final.

 

Report: Journeyman Santorelli signs in Swiss League

ANAHEIM, CA - MARCH 02:  Mike Santorelli #25 of the Anaheim Ducks looks on during a game against the Montreal Canadiens at Honda Center on March 2, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Veteran forward Mike Santorelli, who’s appeared in over 400 NHL contests over the last eight years, is headed overseas.

Per multiple reports (see here and here), Santorelli has signed with Geneve-Servette of the Swiss League. The 30-year-old spent last season with the Ducks, scoring nine goals and 18 points in 70 games but didn’t dress for any of the club’s opening-round playoff loss to Nashville.

Santorelli broke into the NHL with Nashville but enjoyed his best years with Florida and Vancouver. He was a former 20-goal scorer with the Panthers and enjoyed a successful stint with his hometown Canucks in ’13-14, scoring 28 points in 49 games before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury.

Santorelli is the second veteran forward to sign in the Swiss League recently. Over the weekend, fellow journeyman Kris Versteeg agreed to join SC Bern.

Jackets sign d-man Harrington, acquired in Rychel trade

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 14:  Scott Harrington #36 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the Vancouver Canucks during an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on November 14, 2015 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Leafs defeated the Canucks 4-2. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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Upon trading Kerby Rychel to Toronto at the draft for Scott Harrington, Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen said Harrington was “a guy we’ve watched for a while,” and a “steady, smart [and] good defender.”

Which makes today’s move none too surprising.

On Monday, Kekalainen announced Harrington signed a one-year, two-way deal (financial terms weren’t disclosed). The contract comes after Harrington split last season between the Leafs and the AHL Marlies, appearing in 15 NHL contests.

While Kekalainen was high on Harrington, the most noteworthy thing about the acquisition is it ended a long-running saga with Rychel, the 19th overall pick in 2013. There were repeated rumblings that Rychel wanted out of town, and felt stifled by Columbus’ reluctance to make him a full-time NHLer.

For a while, Kekalainen stood firm in the face of the reports, once openly wondering where they came from. But in the end, the decision was made to part ways with the 21-year-old, the son of ex-NHLer Warren Rychel.

As for Harrington, he should compete for a spot on the Columbus blueline next season. Right now he projects to be the No. 7 or 8 guy, assuming that super prospect Zach Werenski is primed for a full-time gig in the NHL, firmly entrenched in the Blue Jackets’ top six.

In other news from Columbus today, the club has also agreed to terms with AHL forward Alex Broadhurst.

One of the pieces acquired in last summer’s Brandon Saad blockbuster, Broadhurst was a key contributor to AHL Lake Erie’s Calder Cup championship this past spring, finishing second on the club in playoff assists.