Under Pressure 2013

Jonathan Huberdeau

Under Pressure: Jonathan Huberdeau

“Under Pressure” is a preseason series we’ll be running on PHT. For each team in the NHL, we’ll pick one player, coach, GM, mascot or whatever that everyone will be watching closely this season. Feel free to play the song as you read along. Also feel free to go to the comment section and tell us we picked poorly.

For the Florida Panthers we pick… Jonathan Huberdeau.

Being the brightest young star on a team desperate for consistent success can be hard. Such is the case for 20-year-old Huberdeau in Florida. Last season he took home the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie but for the Panthers he represents something else: Hope.

The Panthers were crushed by injuries and misfortune last season. Jose Theodore’s injury forced prospect Jacob Markstrom into the fire as the team’s starting goalie. Guys like Kris Versteeg, Ed Jovanovski, Stephen Weiss, Sean Bergenheim, and Scottie Upshall all missed significant time with injuries.

Huberdeau and Tomas Fleischmann were the two regulars in their top six who managed to stay healthy all season and they led the way in points. For a kid as young as he is, Huberdeau handled it all with aplomb. After a summer and preseason filled with changes, it’s up to him to just not be a complementary player, but a leader.

After putting up 31 points last season in 48 games, Huberdeau will have those injured guys back to surround him and with that his production will pick up. Now that Weiss moved on to Detroit, he’s now the top guy on the top line which means we should get more opportunities to see goals like this:

Huberdeau will need to have a John Tavares-like evolution of his play and become the superstar the Panthers haven’t had since Pavel Bure played there. Without that kind of improvement, Florida won’t be able to take that next step.

He should have more help this season, but it’s up to him to make the Panthers a playoff contender in the Atlantic Division.

For all of our Under Pressure series, click here.

Under Pressure: Valtteri Filppula

Filppula 2
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“Under Pressure” is a preseason series we’ll be running on PHT. For each team in the NHL, we’ll pick one player, coach, GM, mascot or whatever that everyone will be watching closely this season. Feel free to play the song as you read along. Also feel free to go to the comment section and tell us we picked poorly.

For the Tampa Bay Lightning we picked… forward Valtteri Filppula.

The Lightning made the difficult decision to use a compliance buyout on Vincent Lecavalier’s contract and free up roughly $7.7 million annually in cap space. Not too long after that, they inked Filppula to a five-year, $25 million deal.

Is it fair to compare those two? Of course not. Filppula isn’t a substitute for Lecavalier and the Lightning certainly didn’t want out of Lecavalier’s contract for the express purpose of grabbing Filppula. Lecavalier is 33 years old and was signed through 2019-20, so that cap hit was only going to look worse as time went on.

Unfortunately, those comparisons might end up being made anyways.

“Because they play the same position, they shoot the same hand, of course they are going to be compared,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper conceded to the Tampa Tribune.

It doesn’t help that, taken on its own merits, Filppula’s contract is still a big risk for Tampa Bay. He had 66 points in 2011-12, but was coming off a knee injury when the lockout ended and he struggled throughout the 2013 campaign.

That drop off in 2013, especially with the injury factored in, might have been easy to dismiss if not for the fact that he’s 29 years old and has only had one career season with more than 40 points. So to give him $5 million annually for the next five years seems like a stretch.

The man inking him to that deal was Lightning GM Steve Yzerman. Given Yzerman’s long tenure with the Detroit Red Wings, he would know Filppula better than most and he clearly believes in him. At the same time, that adds to what’s at stake for Filppula.

It won’t just be the unfair comparisons to Lecavalier that threatens to hang over him or the normal pressure that comes from being a big summer signing. If Tampa Bay has a bad season and Filppula doesn’t live up to expectations, then his signing will be used as a primary example in any potential argument against Yzerman.

In other words Filppula is also playing to prove Yzerman right for trusting him.

For all of our Under Pressure series, click here.

Under Pressure: Bryan Bickell

Bryan Bickell #29 of the Chicago Blackhawks celebrates after defeating the Boston Bruins in Game Five of the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Final at United Center on June 22, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. The Chicago Blackhawks defeated the Boston Bruins 3-1.
(June 21, 2013 - Source: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America)
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“Under Pressure” is a preseason series we’ll be running on PHT. For each team in the NHL, we’ll pick one player, coach, GM, mascot or whatever that everyone will be watching closely this season. Feel free to play the song as you read along. Also feel free to go to the comment section and tell us we picked poorly.

For the Chicago Blackhawks we picked… forward Bryan Bickell.

Let’s be honest. Chicago just won the Stanley Cup for the second time in four seasons. Expectations are high, but as a team, they could fall short this season and there wouldn’t be a lot of anger or calls for change.

There are players though that are out to prove that they can replicate their personal success from last season and then there are players that will be asked to do far more in 2013-14. Bickell fits into both categories.

Bickell has averaged just 12:39 minutes per game over the course of his career and he didn’t get much more playing time than that during the 2013 regular season, but he had a solid campaign and then took things a step further in the playoffs. He finished second on the Blackhawks and fifth in the league with 17 points in 23 postseason contests.

The timing couldn’t have been better for him because he was set to become an unrestricted free agent, but Chicago couldn’t let their playoff hero go so they inked him to a four-year, $16 million deal. That’s quite a step up from his previous three-year agreement that paid him an average of $541,667 annually.

Still, with all that money comes more responsibilities. Or, as Patrick Kane put it…

“[Bickell is] one of our key parts of our lineup now. He’s got to know that going into this season and realize he’s not counted on being a third-line player or a checking-line guy.

“He’s got to do what he did in the playoffs. That’s what’s expected from him now.”

And Bickell seems to understand that.

“I need to have that same mind-set I had in the playoffs all year,” Bickell told the Chicago Sun-Times. “I felt I was focused and really learned what I needed to do to be the player I want to be.”

It’s a lot to ask of Bickell, who had just 67 points in 172 NHL games before the 2013 campaign, but the Blackhawks are taking a significant chance. If he regresses and performs as a third liner, then his $4 million cap hit will look pretty bad on a team that’s trying to make the most of their glory years.

The Blackhawks didn’t want to lose significant pieces of their team like they did 2010. Now Bickell needs to show that they were right to count him among the players that they couldn’t part with.

For all of our Under Pressure series, click here.

Under Pressure: Jonas Hiller

Jonas Hiller
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“Under Pressure” is a preseason series we’ll be running on PHT. For each team in the NHL, we’ll pick one player, coach, GM, mascot or whatever that everyone will be watching closely this season. Feel free to play the song as you read along. Also feel free to go to the comment section and tell us we picked poorly.

For the Anaheim Ducks we picked… goaltender Jonas Hiller.

To be sure, Hiller hasn’t suffered a fall from grace, but his job is on the line all the same. When he struggled early in the 2013 campaign, Viktor Fasth rose to the occasion and while Hiller eventually bounced back, in the interim Fasth went from being a relative unknown to a viable starter.

Fasth is kicking off a two-year contract that comes with an affordable $2.9 million annual cap hit. On top of that, the Ducks have a couple strong goaltending prospects in John Gibson and Igor Bobkov. All three of those netminders are still question marks, but if Fasth in particular doesn’t regress this season, then Hiller will be in a very difficult position going forward.

This is a contract year for Hiller and presumably the 31-year-old netminder will be seeking a lucrative long-term deal. That won’t happen in Anaheim unless he can assert that the Ducks need him despite their other options.

The best way for Hiller to accomplish that would be to step up in the playoffs. So far, he’s only participated in 20 postseason contests and has never led the team past the second round. That’s by no means solely or even primarily his fault, but by the same token, it will be much harder for the Ducks to rationalize moving past him if he pulls off some timely heroics.

They do have the pieces around him to make a respectable run this season, although they are by no means a favorite to win the Stanley Cup. They need players to find another level for that to happen and Hiller’s one of them.

Even if he isn’t able to pull that off, it’s still vital for him to compete for time with Fasth and find a way to be at the very least solid. The free agent market isn’t always kind to goaltenders and if Hiller has to enter it, he’ll want to do so as a clear-cut starter. This would be a horrible year for him to struggle as far as his long-term career goals are concerned.

For all of our Under Pressure series, click here.

Under Pressure: Evgeni Nabokov

Evgeni Nabokov
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“Under Pressure” is a preseason series we’ll be running on PHT. For each team in the NHL, we’ll pick one player, coach, GM, mascot or whatever that everyone will be watching closely this season. Feel free to play the song as you read along. Also feel free to go to the comment section and tell us we picked poorly.

For the New York Islanders we pick… Evgeni Nabokov.

Many people didn’t pay attention to how Nabokov played during the Islanders’ run into and during the playoffs mainly thanks to the extreme poor play of Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury. That’s probably a good thing for the 38-year-old Kazakhstan native because he was as bad, if not worse, than Fleury.

Now that the Islanders have a taste of what the playoffs are like and have a rising superstar in John Tavares to lead the way, it’s on Nabokov’s shoulders to make sure they get to return to the postseason. Fortunately for them, doing his job in the regular season hasn’t been an issue.

The past two seasons with the Islanders, he’s been steady. He hasn’t been a world-beater in goal but he’s done well enough to lock down the job. Last season saw him put up numbers similar to what he had in his final seasons with San Jose. If you’re trying to predict when his game is going to slip away, good luck.

In the postseason, however, it’s always been a different story and last year’s run with the Isles saw him have his worst playoff output in his career. That’s worrisome, but they’re fortunate he puts this stuff behind him quickly.

The Isles have enough talent up front and their defense should be a little better, but it’s up to Nabokov to be strong as they don’t have much help backing him up. If he falters at all, the Islanders will have it tough in the Metropolitan Division.

With teams like the Penguins, Rangers, Flyers, Devils, and Blue Jackets pushing for the postseason, they can’t afford to see him have an off year.

For all of our Under Pressure series, click here.