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Eastern Conference players who will be under big-time pressure next season

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There’s inherent pressure to making millions while playing a professional sport. You won’t get much sympathy if you fail (or fail according to other peoples’ perceptions, at least) because of those big paychecks and all the fame that comes with it. Most people don’t even realize that merely getting to the NHL level is an enormous success in its own right.

Yet while just about every NHL player will deal with some degree of pressure and scrutiny, there are certain ones who will feel the burn of that media gaze a bit more if things don’t work out. NHL.com’s John Kreiser pointed out 15 Eastern Conference players who will be on the “hot seat” next season, ranging from star goalie Ryan Miller to high-profile players who had “off-years” (Ilya Kovalchuk, Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin) to guys who hope to make good on breakthrough seasons (P.K. Subban and James Reimer).

It’s a great read so feel free to check that out at your leisure, but I thought it might be enjoyable to throw in a few more Eastern Conference players who might feel some added pressure in 2011-12. Some hope to bounce back next season while others carry a considerable burden on their backs.

source: APTim Thomas – Much like a music group trying to follow-up a groundbreaking comeback album, Thomas will be hard-pressed to match his 2010-11 season. Just look at the 09-10 season, when he struggled after winning the 08-09 Vezina Trophy and eventually lost the starting job to Tuukka Rask. My guess is that his performance next season will rest somewhere in between the two extremes, mainly because it’s difficult to imagine anyone putting two consecutive record-breaking seasons together. Rask will be waiting in the wings if the unorthodox goalie struggles, though.

Brad Richards – One thing that was lost in all the hype about Richards’ unquestionable talents was his immediate struggles after signing his last huge contract, so here’s hoping that history doesn’t repeat itself there and compared to the Rangers’ own recent woes with costly additions. The difference between Richards and guys like Chris Drury and Bobby Holik is that he’s a legitimate first line center while those Rangers free agent blunders were hopeful top guys. That being said, if Richards falls on his face, he’ll be just another of Glen Sather’s Follies.

Carey Price – I must admit, I didn’t expect Price to be as strong as he was in the 2010-11 season. It was a matter of underestimating both Price’s talent and Montreal’s defensive system. This will be a big campaign for the highly-touted prospect, though, as he stands to make a lot of money in a contract year and must face the constant pressure of being the Habs goalie.

Vincent Lecavalier – Kreiser rightly points to Steven Stamkos after he signed his big $7.5 million per year contract, but what about Tampa Bay’s other big-money pivot? Hopefully his postseason results (19 points in 18 games) will be a better forecast for his 2011-12 campaign than his regular season run of 54 points in 65 games, because his huge, long-term deal brings a lot of criticism with it.

source: APMartin Brodeur – The Devils are a tough nut to crack and their future Hall of Fame goalie is a big mystery in his own right. He had a strong 2009-10 campaign but injuries ravaged two of his three most recent seasons; could it be that Marty’s workhorse mentality finally caught up with him? New Jersey is banking quite a bit on the answer being “No.”

Mike Green/Alex Semin – The Capitals’ two most-criticized players are both in contract years next season, which means that Washington could decide to make a serious change in direction if they don’t perform well. A bad season from Green and Semin might even put Bruce Boudreau’s job in danger, too.

Dion Phaneuf – Phaneuf ranks as Part II of Brian Burke’s biggest trade gambles (Phil Kessel is Part I). The hard-hitting, somewhat defensively leaky blueliner will receive a $7 million salary next season. If the Maple Leafs miss the playoffs yet again, the Leafs captain might get just as much heat Burke, Ron Wilson, Reimer and Kessel. Come to think of it, maybe we should just throw the whole Maple Leafs roster on the hot seat, then?

Craig Anderson – $3.2 million per year isn’t outrageous for a starting goalie, but there are some who are not convinced that Anderson is a genuine NHL starter. I happen to think he has potential to be at least an average No. 1 goalie (which is actually strong praise since the goaltending position is very strong right now), but it might not be easy for him in talent-poor Ottawa. The team’s fortunes will be tied to his successes and failures more than any other player.

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So those are my nine additional players who will be under big-time pressure in the East this season. That isn’t a comprehensive list, so go ahead and share your own choices in the comments.

Luongo: ‘I haven’t had any issues’ in return from injury

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Roberto Luongo continues preparations for the upcoming season, after an injury cut his 2016-17 campaign short.

Luongo’s last game was on March 2. He didn’t play again after that due to reported aggravation of a previous hip injury that had required surgery.

However, per the Miami Herald on Monday, the 38-year-old netminder has returned to the ice. Luongo then gave a promising update on his status with training camp approaching in a few weeks.

“It’s good to be able to get back to my regular summer training program. This is my second week … everything feels great and I haven’t had any issues. That’s good,” Luongo told the Miami Herald.

“It’s comforting mentally to know I can go through a rigorous workout and go all out and not have any issues nor think about it. That’s a big first step for me after going through the ups-and-downs of having to deal with my issue last year. It’s nice to have that piece of mind.”

Luongo appeared in 40 games for Florida last season. He still has five years remaining on his contract, which carries an annual cap hit of $5.333 million, per CapFriendly. James Reimer, in his first season with the Panthers after signing there for five years and $17 million, played in 43 games with a sound .920 save percentage.

Once heavily relied upon as a workhorse netminder, starting a career high 75 games one year in Vancouver, the reality is Luongo has a lot of mileage on him and is approaching 40 years of age. As he comes back from this latest injury and considering his age, it will be interesting to see exactly how many starts he gets and who will emerge as the No. 1 goalie in Florida over the course of this upcoming season.

“Listen, this has always been his team,” Panthers goalie coach Robb Tallas told the Miami Herald. “But everyone these days has to manage time better, not just us. Roberto can’t play 60, 65 games a season any more. Reimer shouldn’t either. It only gets tougher every year.”

Islanders face critical time on and off the ice

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This post is part of Islanders Day on PHT…

There is quite a bit on the plate of the New York Islanders. On and off the ice.

That includes steps toward finding a permanent home.

That is especially the case given reports last month that this ongoing arena situation — moving from Nassau Coliseum to Barclays Center in Brooklyn to possibly being on the move again to another local destination — is apparently a factor in the delay of getting star forward John Tavares signed to a contract extension.

Tavares has one year left on his current six-year, $33 million contract. The face of the franchise since the day he went No. 1 overall to the Islanders in 2009, Tavares is a pending unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, provided he doesn’t ink a new contract by then.

Read more: Poll: Will John Tavares re-sign with the Islanders?

On the arena front, the Islanders have made their interest in building an arena on land at Belmont Park well-known — a scenario that Tavares believes has “great potential there.” However, it’s been previously outlined that this is a scenario that will still take some time to finalize.

From Newsday Long Island: 

Tavares said he is waiting to see what comes of the Request For Proposals issued July 30 by New York state regarding the Belmont Park development. The Islanders, along with the owners of the Mets and a Madison Square Garden-backed sports arena consortium Oak View Group, are expected to pitch building an arena on the 43-acre lot.

It’s not clear whether the state will select a winner before Tavares would hit unrestricted free agency next July. All bids are due by Sept. 28 and Empire State Development, the state’s primary business development agency which is handling the RFP, has declined to set a timeline after that.

Of course for Tavares, with an eight-year deal in the offing, he would love to know where he’ll be playing.

Contract negotiations with star players — especially one that is moving closer toward unrestricted free agency — can provide enough tension for fans. The Islanders are not only facing such a negotiation, but an ongoing arena situation as well, and reports suggest the latter may be complicating the former.

Meanwhile, the Islanders have won only one playoff series in the eight seasons Tavares has been with the club. They missed out on the postseason earlier this spring.

Even with a player like Tavares, the Islanders have yet to truly challenge for top spot in the Eastern Conference. For this upcoming season, head coach Doug Weight put onus on the organization to put their star in a position to win and win right now.

They need to sign their star. They will eventually need to settle their arena situation. And there is added pressure to win as Tavares enters his final year of his contract.
It’s shaping up to be a critical few months for the Islanders.

Blue Jackets sign Boston University product Somerby to entry-level deal

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The Columbus Blue Jackets made a deal Monday, signing defenseman Doyle Somerby.

Originally selected by the New York Islanders, 125th overall in 2012, Somerby played his last four seasons with Boston University. Now 23 years old, Somerby decided to keep his options open following his senior year and test the free agent market last week, prior to inking a two-year entry-level contract with Columbus.

“It almost doesn’t make sense not to talk to everybody,” Somerby’s agent Brett Peterson told the Boston Globe.

“You’re drafted when you’re 17½ with no say who picks you. If you choose to complete your college career, you have that right. That’s just the way the market is. They have a lot of defensive prospects in New York. So that’s how we landed at this.”

And now he’s landed with the Blue Jackets organization, which had a franchise record 2016-17 season and boasts a crop of good, young players, the most notable on the blue line being Seth Jones and Zach Werenski.

Somerby scored five goals and 13 points as a junior at Boston University, marking his most productive collegiate campaign. At 6-foot-5 tall and 223 pounds, he brings size on the blue line but has been regarded as more of a stay-at-home defenseman, and reliable in his own end.

“He’s so difficult to get around,” Boston University associate head coach Steve Greeley told The Daily Free Press. “Below the dots, he’s always pushing … He plays physical, he plays hard and he’s a kid that’s really tough to play against.”

Looking to make the leap: Josh Ho-Sang

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This post is part of Islanders Day on PHT…

The New York Islanders made something of a gamble when they selected Josh Ho-Sang with the 28th overall pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft and now that bet could start to pay off handsomely.

Even before Ho-Sang was drafted he was attracting quite a bit of attention. He had the tools to be a big offensive threat, but there were concerns about his attitude.

“I don’t think it’s from unfair labels, it’s from stuff that I’ve done,” he told the Windsor Star back in June 2014. He later added, “I’ve just not done certain things the proper way. That’s just all part of maturity, so if that’s going to hurt me in the draft, that’s something that I’m accepting of, because that’s all me. It’s something that’s a part of growing up.”

Those statements of acknowledgment can be seen as encouraging, but the warning signs continued as he showed up late for the first day of training camp in 2015 and the Islanders addressed it by immediately returning him to the OHL. Fortunately since then there has been more encouraging news about Ho-Sang.

He went pro in 2016-17 and had an strong season in both the AHL and NHL. With the Islanders he scored four goals and 10 points in 21 contests while getting a solid 16:27 minutes per game. That left an impression on Islanders coach Doug Weight.

“Josh was great,” Weight said. “We were getting feedback from [Bridgeport coach Brent Thompson] about his attitude down there, and he was playing hard, learning the system and played with some passion. I think he showed that when he came up.”

Ho-Sang’s spot on the Islanders still isn’t guaranteed, but he’s put himself in a position where it’s very plausible that he’ll be part of the team’s opening game roster. If he plays well he could end up being a significant presence on the club throughout the season.

All the while he might be making the case that the Islanders’ gamble has turned into a steal.

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