1 Player on Each NHL Team in Need of a Bounce-Back Season in 2014-15
Every NHL team begins a season with one or more players who must rebound from disappointing performances from the previous campaign. Such players face various obstacles in their quests to justify their value to their respective clubs.
Several on this list are well-known stars. Some are promising young players trying to regain momentum in their development. Others are veterans hoping to overcome the perception that their best seasons are behind them.
Other reasons factored into the compilation of this list. Some players were hampered by injuries. A few are entering the final year of their contracts and need an improved effort to ensure a lucrative new deal. Some face the pressure of adjusting to a new team.
Jakob Silfverberg, Anaheim Ducks
2013-14 statistics: 52 games played, 10 goals, 13 assists, 23 points
Synopsis of last season: Silfverberg netted 10 goals and 19 points in 48 games with the Ottawa Senators during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. Dealt to the Ducks in the Bobby Ryan trade, he began last season with seven points in 10 games until he was sidelined for 24 games with a broken right hand. Upon his return he struggled to regain his scoring touch.
Outlook for 2014-15: The 23-year-old Silfverberg has potential as a sniper, as he possesses a strong wrist shot. However, he must use that shot with more effectiveness this season. He could be jockeying with the promising Devante Smith-Pelly for the second-line right-wing position.
Mike Smith, Arizona Coyotes
2013-14 statistics: 62 games played with a record of 27-21-10, 2.64 goals-against average, .915 save percentage, three shutouts
Synopsis of last season: Smith's struggles stretch back to the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, as injuries and inconsistency hampered his performance. A late-season knee injury sidelined Smith for the final 10 games of last season, crippling the Coyotes' playoff hopes.
Outlook for 2014-15: At the end of last season, Smith told The Arizona Republic's Sarah McLellan he was confident of regaining his once-stellar form. For the Coyotes to contend this season in the very tough Western Conference, they'll need Smith to be at his best.
Loui Eriksson, Boston Bruins
2013-14 statistics: 61 games played, 10 goals, 27 assists, 37 points
Synopsis of last season: Acquired from the Dallas Stars as part of last summer's Tyler Seguin trade, Eriksson's first season with the Bruins was marred by injuries. He missed a total of 20 games due to concussions. Though he played in all of the Bruins' 12 playoff games last season, he tallied only two goals and five points.
Outlook for 2014-15: NHL.com's Dan Rosen reported last month that Bruins coach Claude Julien said Eriksson will be given an opportunity to replace the departed Jarome Iginla as their first-line right wing. If the 29-year-old playmaker can avoid serious injury this season, he could regain his former 70-plus-point form.
Chris Stewart, Buffalo Sabres
2013-14 statistics: 63 games played, 15 goals, 11 assists, 26 points
Synopsis of last season: After tallying 26 points with the St. Louis Blues, Stewart failed to scored in five games with the Buffalo Sabres, missing much of the remainder of the season to an ankle injury.
Offensive inconsistency has plagued Stewart, a two-time 28-goal scorer, throughout his career. During the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season he scored 18 goals and 36 points in 48 games, but the season prior he managed only 30 points in 79 games.
Outlook for 2014-15: Stewart recently told Sabres.com's Chris Ryndak he was optimistic about the Sabres' rebuilding process and his role with the club. The 26-year-old winger is entering the final season of his contract. A return to his 28-goal form should improve his chances of a lucrative new contract, either with the Sabres or another club via free agency.
Jonas Hiller, Calgary Flames
2013-14 statistics: 50 games played with a record of 29-13-7, 2.48 goals-against average, .911 save percentage, five shutouts.
Synopsis of last season: Though Hiller posted respectable numbers last season, he was eventually unseated as the Anaheim Ducks' starting goalie by Frederik Andersen. He only saw four starts during the Ducks' 13 playoff games last season. Hiller signed a two-year, $9 million deal this summer with the Calgary Flames.
Outlook for 2014-15: Hiller told the Calgary Sun's Wes Gilbertson he's looking forward to a fresh start with a new team and a chance to prove he's still capable of being an NHL starter. At the very least, the 32-year-old will provide the Flames with experienced goaltending, something they lacked last season.
Hiller suffered an appendicitis attack last month, but the Calgary Herald's Scott Cruickshank reports Flames general manager Brad Treliving expects he will be ready for training camp in September.
Eric Staal, Carolina Hurricanes
2013-14 statistics: 79 games played, 21 goals, 40 assists, 61 points
Synopsis of last season: Several Hurricanes could use bounce-back seasons (Cam Ward, Alexander Semin, Jiri Tlusty, John-Michael Liles) but Staal, the Hurricanes captain, is the most notable.
Last season's numbers were his lowest in a full NHL season since his rookie year of 2003-04 (11 goals, 31 points). The lack of offensive depth on the Hurricanes last season was partially responsible for Staal's decline, allowing rival clubs to put more focus on neutralizing his line.
Outlook for 2014-15: NHL.com's Davis Harper reports new Hurricanes coach Bill Peters expects Staal to rebound this season, as Peters intends to lean on his captain “in all different areas,” including power-play and short-handed situations. Staal recently underwent surgery to repair a core muscle injury but is expected to be ready for the start of the season.
Brad Richards, Chicago Blackhawks
2013-14 statistics: 82 games played, 20 goals, 31 assists, 51 points
Synopsis of last season: Richards posted respectable numbers with the New York Rangers through the regular season and the first half of the 2014 NHL playoffs. Throughout the Eastern Conference Final and Stanley Cup Final, however, the 34-year-old center managed only three points.
The Record's Andrew Gross cited Richards' lack of speed and propensity for turnovers during the Final against the Los Angeles Kings. After being bought out by the Rangers, Richards signed a one-year, $2 million deal with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Outlook for 2014-15: While no longer a top-line center, Richards hopes to prove himself a worthwhile second-line pivot with the powerhouse Blackhawks. Doing so could earn him a longer-term deal with the 'Hawks or with another club via next summer's free-agent market.
Alex Tanguay, Colorado Avalanche
2013-14 statistics: 16 games played, four goals, seven assists, 11 points
Synopsis of last season: Tanguay returned to the Avalanche, where he began his NHL career, last summer in a four-player trade with Calgary. Sadly, the homecoming wasn't a happy one, as he suffered season-ending hip and knee injuries.
Outlook for 2014-15: Tanguay could begin the season playing left wing on the Avalanche's second line, perhaps with Nathan MacKinnon or Ryan O'Reilly as his center. Provided the 34-year-old suffers no lingering effect from last season's injuries, he could reach 50 points this season.
Nathan Horton, Columbus Blue Jackets
2013-14 statistics: 36 games played, five goals, 14 assists, 19 points
Synopsis of last season: After inking a seven-year, $37.1 million deal with the Blue Jackets last summer, his debut was postponed by offseason shoulder surgery, followed by season-ending abdominal surgery in April. The Jackets made the playoffs without Horton but missed his offense and experience during their first-round elimination by the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Outlook for 2014-15: BlueJackets.com's Alex Busch recently reported Horton's put his surgeries behind him. A full season with a healthy Horton as their first-line right wing should significantly boost the Jackets' hopes of returning to the playoffs next spring.
Ales Hemsky, Dallas Stars
2013-14 statistics: 75 games played, 13 goals, 30 assists, 43 points
Synopsis of last season: Hemsky's 75 games last season were the most he's played in a full NHL campaign since 2008-09. A slick playmaker who struggled with the rebuilding Edmonton Oilers, Hemsky collected 17 points in 20 games playing alongside Jason Spezza following a late-season trade to the Ottawa Senators.
Outlook for 2014-15: Hemsky, who turns 31 this month, signed with the Stars soon after Spezza was dealt to Dallas on July 1. If the pair are reunited on the Stars' second line this season, Hemsky's numbers could spike toward the 60-point mark for the first time since 2008-09. A strong performance by Hemsky will help the Stars return to the playoffs next spring.
Johan Franzen, Detroit Red Wings
2013-14 statistics: 54 games played, 16 goals, 25 assists, 41 points
Synopsis of last season: Franzen wasn't the only Red Wings star sidelined by injuries last season, as Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg each missed 37 games. His 41 points were his lowest in more than 54 games since 2007-08.
MLive.com's Ansar Khan noted the 34-year-old winger's tendency to float and lengthy scoring droughts frustrated Red Wings fans. However, Kahn also reported GM Ken Holland opted not to use his remaining compliance buyout on “The Mule,” who has six more seasons remaining on his contract.
Outlook for 2014-15: Wings management may be sticking with Franzen, but Detroit fans will expect more consistency from him. At this stage in his career, the Wings probably can't teach an old mule new tricks. A healthier season, however, should see him reach over 20 goals and 50-plus points.
Nail Yakupov, Edmonton Oilers
2013-14 statistics: 63 games played, 11 goals, 13 assists, 24 points
Synopsis of last season: After leading all NHL rookies in goals (17) and tying with Florida's Jonathan Huberdeau for the 2012-13 rookie points lead (31), Yakupov struggled through his sophomore season. He was a healthy scratch in several games and suffered a season-ending foot injury.
There was speculation of bad blood between Yakupov and head coach Dallas Eakins last season, but Sportsnet's Kristina Rutherford reported Eakins denied this in an interview with Sportsnet The Fan 590.
Outlook for 2014-15: Yakupov recently told NHL.com's Derek Van Diest he's hoping to put last season's struggles behind him. If the 20-year-old winger can regain his scoring touch it could improve the Oilers' chances for playoff contention.
Dave Bolland, Florida Panthers
2013-14 statistics: 23 games played, eight goals, four assists, 12 points
Synopsis of last season: Dealt to the Toronto Maple Leafs by the Chicago Blackhawks last summer, Bolland had a promising start with the Leafs, netting nine points in 15 games. Unfortunately, a severed ankle tendon sidelined him for most of the season. This summer he inked a five-year, $27.5 million contract with the Florida Panthers.
Outlook for 2014-15: Panthers GM Dale Tallon cited Bolland's leadership, toughness, all-around skills and championship pedigree as reasons for signing the 28-year-old center, per NHL.com's Alain Poupart.
Bolland will face considerable pressure to play up to the expectations which come with his new contract. His best season (47 points) was in 2008-09. A more reasonable expectation is he will center their third line, where he could hit 15 goals and 30 points.
Mike Richards, Los Angeles Kings
2013-14 statistics: 82 games played, 11 goals, 30 assists, 41 points
Synopsis of last season: Richards exceeded 23 goals and 66 points four times in his career, so the decline of his production (combined with his $5.75 million annual salary) was cause for concern.
Despite Richards' spending the second half of last season playing on the Kings' fourth line, general manager Dean Lombardi declined to buy out the struggling center. Lombardi instead spoke to Richards about improving his offseason training in hopes that will bolster his play, per NHL.com.
Outlook for 2014-15: Though Richards' two-way style is physically demanding, the 29-year-old center should still have several productive seasons ahead of him. If he adheres to Lombardi's call to improve his offseason training, Richards should return to second-line status this season.
Niklas Backstrom, Minnesota Wild
2013-14 statistics: 21 games played with a record of 5-11-2, 3.02 goals-against average, .899 save percentage
Synopsis of last season: Lower-body injuries hampered Backstrom, eventually sidelining him in January for the remainder of the season. In May the Star-Tribune's Michael Russo reported the 36-year-old goaltender's injuries prevented the Wild from buying out the remaining two years of his contract.
Wild GM Chuck Fletcher stated last month via Twitter Backstrom was rehabbing well and felt better than he did at any part of last season.
Outlook for 2014-15: As Josh Harding's struggle with multiple sclerosis raises questions over his future, the Wild could use an experienced netminder to split the duties with promising Darcy Kuemper if Harding remains sidelined. With Backstrom set to earn $3.75 million this season, it will be better for all concerned if he can return to form and help tutor young Kuemper.
Lars Eller, Montreal Canadiens
2013-14 statistics: 77 games played, 12 goals, 14 assists, 26 points
Synopsis of last season: Following a strong performance during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign (30 points in 46 games), Eller struggled through most of last season. During the 2014 NHL playoffs, however, the 25-year-old center regained his offensive touch, tallying 13 points in 17 postseason games.
Outlook for 2014-15: NHL.com's Arpon Basu reports Eller's goal remains becoming a top-six NHL forward. The Canadiens avoided arbitration with Eller this summer, re-signing him to a four-year, $14 million contract. This move suggests management sees the Danish center playing a bigger role starting this season.
Mike Ribeiro, Nashville Predators
2013-14 statistics: 80 games played, 16 goals, 31 assists, 47 points
Synopsis of last season: Though Ribeiro posted decent numbers last season with the Phoenix Coyotes, it proved a short, unhappy relationship.
Coyotes general manager Don Maloney cited the 34-year-old center's behavioral issues as justification for buying out the remaining three years of his contract. Ribeiro subsequently signed a one-year, $1.05 million deal with the Predators.
Outlook for 2014-15: The Tennessean's Josh Cooper reports Ribeiro claims he and his wife sought counseling for their personal issues. Predators GM David Poile suggests Ribeiro could center the club's first line with recently acquired sniper James Neal. Poile also told NHL.com's Dan Rosen this could be Ribeiro's last chance to prevent his off-ice issues from affecting his play.
Damien Brunner, New Jersey Devils
2013-14 statistics: 60 games played, 11 goals, 14 assists, 25 points
Synopsis of last season: Following a solid NHL debut during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season with the Detroit Red Wings (26 points in 44 regular-season games, nine points in 14 playoff games), Brunner inked a two-year, $5 million deal with the Devils. He struggled to adjust to his new club, while injuries also affected his play.
Outlook for 2014-15: The 28-year-old Brunner will have to compete with recently signed Martin Havlat for the second-line right-wing position this season. Eligible for unrestricted free agency next summer, Brunner must regain his scoring form if he hopes to land another contract with the Devils.
Cory Conacher, New York Islanders
2013-14 statistics: 79 games played, seven goals, 19 assists, 26 points
Synopsis of last season: Conacher had a promising NHL debut during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, netting 29 points in 47 games split between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Ottawa Senators. He struggled last season, managing only 20 points in 60 games with the Senators, followed by six points in 19 games with the Buffalo Sabres.
He signed a one-year, $600,000 deal this summer with the Islanders as an unrestricted free agent
Outlook for 2014-15: Conacher will have to work hard this season to establish himself as a scoring forward with the young Islanders. The 24-year-old's lack of size (5'8”, 180 pounds) means he'll have to use his quickness to his advantage.
Rick Nash, New York Rangers
2013-14 statistics: 65 games played, 26 goals, 13 assists, 39 points
Synopsis of last season: In his first season with the Rangers, Nash netted 42 points in 44 games during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign. A concussion sidelined him for 17 games early last season, and it took time for Nash to regain his offensive form.
His 39 points were his lowest since his rookie season in 2002-03. He also struggled offensively during the 2014 NHL playoffs (10 points in 25 games) and was held scoreless in the Stanley Cup Final by the Los Angeles Kings.
Outlook for 2014-15: At 30, Nash should have several productive seasons ahead of him. If he can avoid serious injury this season, a 40-goal performance isn't out of the question. Given how much he's earning ($7.8 million per season over the next four years), Nash needs a big year to dash any doubts about his effectiveness as a power forward.
David Legwand, Ottawa Senators
2013-14 statistics: 83 games played, 14 goals, 37 assists, 51 points
Synopsis of last season: A skilled two-way center for years with the Nashville Predators, Legwand was dealt to the Detroit Red Wings late last season. He struggled with the Wings, tallying only 11 points in 21 regular-season games. He was held pointless during the Wings' five-game opening-round elimination by the Boston Bruins. Legwand signed a two-year, $6 million deal this summer with the Senators.
Outlook for 2014-15: The Ottawa Citizen's Ken Warren reported Legwand should take some pressure off young centers Kyle Turris and Mika Zibanejad. Expect the 33-year-old to be keen to put his short, unproductive tenure with the Red Wings behind him. Given Legwand's skills and experience he could center the Senators' second line.
Vincent Lecavalier, Philadelphia Flyers
2013-14 statistics: 69 games played, 20 goals, 17 assists, 37 points
Synopsis of last season: Lecavalier's first season with the Flyers wasn't a productive one. His 37 points were his lowest since 2001-02. Injuries also hampered Lecavalier's performance.
CSNPhilly.com's Tim Panaccio reported in late June the Flyers nearly had deals in place to ship Lecavalier to the Florida Panthers and Nashville Predators. His contract (which has four more years remaining at an annual cap hit of $4.5 million) could prove difficult to move unless the Flyers are willing to pick up part of his salary.
Outlook for 2014-15: Assuming Lecavalier returns with the Flyers this season he'll have to re-establish himself as a second-line center. Given the Flyers' depth down the middle (Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn) that won't be easy.
Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins
2013-14 statistics: 37 games played, 11 goals, 11 assists, 22 points
Synopsis of last season: Letang had shaken off injuries which plagued him during the first half of the season when a stroke sidelined him for 26 games. He recovered in time for the playoffs, collecting six points in 13 games.
Following the Penguins' second-round playoff elimination, Letang became the subject of trade speculation. Jim Rutherford, the club's new general manager, told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Rob Rossi he would retain the 27-year-old defender.
Outlook for 2014-15: A skilled puck-moving blueliner, Letang achieved a career-best 50 points in 2010-11, which was the last time he had an injury-free NHL season. If he can put his health issues behind him this season, he could exceed 50 points. It could also justify his eight-year, $58 million contract, which starts this season.
Antti Niemi, San Jose Sharks
2013-14 statistics: 64 games played with a record of 39-17-7, a 2.39 goals-against average, .913 save percentage and four shutouts
Synopsis of last season: Despite being tied for second last season among NHL goalies in games played and wins, Niemi struggled in the playoffs. He registered a bloated 3.74 goals-against average and a woeful .884 save percentage as the Sharks blew a 3-0 opening-round series lead to fall in seven games to the Los Angeles Kings.
Following that upset, CSN Bay Area's Kevin Kurz speculated over Niemi's future with the Sharks. Kurz suggested the possibility of backup Alex Stalock supplanting Niemi as the starting goalie.
Outlook for 2014-15: It appears the Sharks will return with Niemi and Stalock as their tandem this season. It's a contract year for Niemi, who becomes eligible for unrestricted free agency next summer. He'll need a stellar season to remain in San Jose.
Patrik Berglund, St. Louis Blues
2013-14 statistics: 78 games played, 14 goals, 18 assists, 32 points
Synopsis of last season: After netting 17 goals and 25 points in 48 games during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, Berglund's numbers in 2013-14 were disappointing.
The 26-year-old was the subject of trade speculation last season. While the Blues re-signed him in June to a three-year deal worth $3.7 million per season, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Jeremy Rutherford speculated Berglund could still attract interest from other clubs. GM Doug Armstrong, however, told Rutherford he wants to retain Berglund.
Outlook for 2014-15: Berglund's versatility as both a center and winger makes him a valuable asset for the Blues. Despite his new contract, he'll need a better effort this season to keep his name out of the trade rumor mill.
Jason Garrison, Tampa Bay Lightning
2013-14 statistics: 81 games played, seven goals, 26 assists, 33 points
Synopsis of last season: A top-four defenseman with a big shot, Garrison struggled at times throughout last season. All but 10 of his 23 points came between October 3 and December 20. On June 27 Garrison was dealt from Vancouver to the Tampa Bay Lightning for a second-round draft pick in 2015.
Outlook for 2014-15: The Tampa Tribune's Erik Erlendsson reported Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman believes Garrison's size (6'2", 218 lbs), strength and shot makes him a good addition to his blue line. A 40-point season isn't out of the question for Garrison, especially with a teammate like the high-scoring Steven Stamkos on the power play.
David Clarkson, Toronto Maple Leafs
2013-14 statistics: 60 games played, five goals, six assists, 11 points
Synopsis of last season: After signing a seven-year, $36.75 million deal with the Maple Leafs last summer, his first season in Toronto was a major disappointment. It began with a 10-game suspension for leaving the bench during a preseason game to get involved in an on-ice altercation.
In December Clarkson received a two-game suspension for an illegal hit, and he missed another 10 games with elbow and foot injuries.
Outlook for 2014-15: Clarkson should be motivated to atone for his poor showing last season. It's unlikely the 30-year-old will reach his career-high of 30 goals from two years ago, but with a more disciplined effort he could reach 20 goals and 40 points this season.
Alex Burrows, Vancouver Canucks
2013-14 statistics: 49 games played, five goals, 10 assists, 15 points
Synopsis of last season: Burrows' struggles through an injury-ravaged season was among the low points in a miserable campaign for the Canucks. He suffered a broken foot, broken jaw and hand injuries, sidelining him for lengthy periods and limiting his effectiveness.
Outlook for 2014-15: After several seasons playing alongside the talented Sedin twins, Burrows admitted to Ben Kuzma of The Province he could end up with new linemates this season. Burrows has three more years at an annual cap hit of $4.5 million remaining on his contract. It's hoped the 33-year-old can regain the form which saw him score 20-plus goals four times in his NHL career.
Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals
2013-14 statistics: 48 games played with a record of 23-15-4, 2.85 goals-against average, .915 save percentage, four shutouts
Synopsis of last season: Having established himself as the Capitals' starter with an outstanding performance in the 2012 playoffs, the 24-year-old found himself relegated at times to backup behind rookie Philipp Grubauer through December and late-season pickup Jaroslav Halak down the stretch.
Outlook for 2014-15: Despite Holtby's struggles last season, CSN Washington's Chuck Gormley reports new Capitals GM Brian MacLellan wants Holtby as his starter this season. A change in the coaching staff, including new goalie coach Mitch Korn, should help Holby regain his form.
Evander Kane, Winnipeg Jets
2013-14 statistics: 63 games played, 19 goals, 22 assists, 41 points
Synopsis of last season: Kane struggled through a season in which various injuries sidelined him for 18 games. He was also a healthy scratch for a late-season game. Trade rumors about Kane arose this summer, which the Winnipeg Sun's Paul Friesen reports Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff declined to address.
Outlook for 2014-15: Assuming the Jets retain Kane, they'll expect significant improvement in his performance this season. Only 23, Kane has considerable offensive skills. He reached career highs in goals (30) and points (57) in 2011-12, and possesses the talent to surpass those numbers.