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.
Tim 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.
Martin 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.
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.