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

8 Comments

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.

***

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.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

austonmatthews
Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

caufield surgery
David Kirouac/USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

matty beniers
Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.

Kuzmenko signs 2-year extension with Canucks

Andrei Kuzmenko
Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Forward Andrei Kuzmenko signed a two-year contract extension with the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.

The deal has an average annual value of $5.5 million.

The 26-year-old Kuzmenko has played in 47 games for the Canucks this season with 21 goals and 22 assists, four penalty minutes and a plus-4 defensive ranking.

Kuzmenko ranks second on the team in goals and power-play goals (nine) this season.

His 43 points are also tied for third on the team in overall scoring, while his 32 even-strength points (12 goals, 20 assists) are second on the Canucks.

Kuzmenko leads all Vancouver skaters in shooting rate (24.7%) and ranks third in the NHL in that category (minimum of 20 games).

He leads all first-year NHLers in almost every offensive category, including goals, assists, points, points per game (0.91), power-play goals, and power-play points.

He has also had 14 multi-point games so far this season (second most on the Canucks), highlighted by his first-career NHL hat trick and season-high four-point game against Anaheim on Nov. 3.

A native of Yakutsk, Russia, Kuzmenko spent his first eight professional seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) with CSKA Moscow and SKA St. Petersburg, getting 200 points (85-115-200) in 315 regular-season games. He set career highs in goals (20), assists (33), and points (53) last season, ranking second in the league in scoring.

Kuzmenko has also represented his country on the international stage on multiple occasions, totaling 16 points (10-6-16) and six penalty minutes in 37 games played. He was originally signed by Vancouver to a one-year, entry-level contract on July 13, 2022.