Ice Cold: NHL Players Who Have the Offseason Flu?

Sebastien TremblayCorrespondent IJanuary 6, 2009

First of all, let me just say this is for fun and shouldn’t be taken too seriously. I have no grief against any of the players mentioned.

Something has been happening in the last few years. It happened before but it seems to be a real nuisance now more than ever with the growing player salaries. It’s not sophomore jinx, it’s something else. It’s a sickness a few players get at some point in their career. Still, players, coaches, and general managers are unable to explain it!

It’s a bit like a flu you get during summer. For hockey players, it sticks with them maybe half, maybe all season long, and sometimes even for two years and screws up their stats and playing abilities.

Basically, this "slump flu" or "offseason flu" happens when a player can’t do what he did best the years before. Whatever it is they did.

As an example, Michael Ryder was coming off a 25-goal season and two consecutive 30-goal seasons before falling miserably to 14 goals last year. He had the same linemates with him, Saku Koivu and Chris Higgins. So what happened? Even Ryder has no idea.

You could also call it a curse. It’s up to you really!

So this epidemic spreads to some players every year. So who has the off-season flu right now?!

Maxim Afinogenov

What’s happening to Afinogenov? Is he cursed? He looked ready to become the new Russian Rocket with 61 points in 56 games but dropped badly the last two years and has just two goals and 12 points in 34 games this season.

He has the speed, the skills and the linemates but he’s no longer the player he once was. I admit losing centers like Brière and Drury doesn’t help but Pominville and Roy are very adequate replacements. So where is the problem?

My idea : He’s trying too hard and wants to do too much. He’s one of those players who is such great a skater that he sometimes out-skates the puck and the play!

He needs to slow down and not try to be so dominant. He should leave the pressure to Pommer and Roy and concentrate on bringing that secondary scoring. Right now he’s barely providing that.

Solution: He desperately needs a change of scenery. Afinogenov is good but he always plays the same game based on his speed, so of course teams and defensemen caught on, and now it doesn’t work anymore.

Send him west where they don’t know him much. It might spark his offensive touch. I don’t know why but Colorado or Minnesota sound right.

Thomas Plekanec

Have you seen Plekanec lately? He did get 29 goals last year, second on his team! He had 69 points, second on his team as well. So what’s happening? I think our dear Thomas, back in Czech Republic last summer, caught the flu.

Thomas works hard and plays gritty, which is what made him successful last year. He was marked down as the team's No. 1 center with Alex Kovalev and Andrei Kostitsyn at his side but has produced a tiny 16 points in 38 games and only seven goals. At this pace, he’ll end up with just 15 goals and 34 points.

The worst part is that his present statistics are not even representative of his play so far. He has three multi-point contests after 38 games. He has two two-point games and one four-point game. So basically, half of his points came over only three games.

So apart from those multi-point games, it means Pleky produced only eight points in 35 games. These are very weak stats for a guy marked as a first- or second-line center…

My idea: Expectations are simply too high for Plekanec. To me he’s the perfect third line center. Last season, he centered the revitalized Kovalev and the "breaking-out" Andrei Kostitsyn.

So he obviously took advantage of their production. Both his linemates have become targets by other teams and are struggling a bit early on, so Pleky can’t take advantage anymore, so he’s struggling as well.

Plekanec is good but not a dominant player. Centers need to be dominant on the ice and control the play so maybe he’s better fitted as a third-line center.

Solution: Get a legitimate first-line center, which would drop Koivu as the second center and Plekanec as the third. I think he has the ability to get 40 to 50 points even from a third line and is an awesome defensive player.

If not, he could fit great as a second-line winger? But with a third-line center able to get you 50 points and play great defensively, maybe he could be up for a Selke eventually?

Chris Drury

Chris Drury as well seems to be dropping, although his production is far less problematic as he brings more than just goal scoring to the team. But Drury is also on pace for an unimpressive 20 goals, after being on a scoring tear in Buffalo with 30 and 37 goals.

He got a big deal with New York thanks to those 37 goals. He was brought in to bring leadership and scoring. His leadership is fine but scoring is not. So do you think 20 goals is worth $7 million? I don’t care how much leadership you bring, it’s never worth that much money unless you bring statistics with it.

My idea: Drury has never really been an outstanding scorer. He’s known as a "clutch player" mostly. Drury can bring around 60-65 points in optimal conditions. He had those conditions in Buffalo.

Now they want him to be dominant on the ice but I’m just not sure he has enough left to be a scoring leader. Maybe $4 million is a more appropriate price for Drury?

My solution: There is none, just wait for his deal to be over. He’s still a great leader and a guy I would love to have during the playoffs and important games.

But as far as scoring goes, my guess is it will keep dropping slowly and settle around 20 goals and 50 points until he retires.

Vaclav Prospal

Vaclav Prospal is such a special player. Take a close look at his production over the last five or six years. He keeps having a bad year after a good one. What am I talking about? Simple!

I'll start in 2001-02 with Tampa Bay. That year he was 26 years old and had 55 points. Then the next year, still with Tampa, in 2002-03, he rose to 79 points.

He then went to play for Anaheim in 2003-04, and fell back to 54 points. So after the lockout, in 2005-96, he went back to the Lightning and posted 80 points!

Tortorella was happy to have him back, but then he dropped to 55 points again in 2006-07!

He started the 2007-08 season very well with the Lightning so he got traded to Philly before the deadline and ended up with 71 points, so he's back up again!!

So now take a wild guess and tell me what do you think he’s on pace for this year? Yeah you got it! About 50 points again! This is the strangest thing! What’s going on?!

My idea: Prospal is simply not always playing at top level. He could be getting lazy and his production drops, then realizes he needs to do more or impress to get a bigger deal?

Maybe he gets tired after playing hard for a year?! I don’t know. Obviously he’s not a bad player, being able to post around 70 points…but he’s just incredibly inconsistent.

My solution: Simple, wait for him to have a bad season before you take a chance on him! He’ll bounce back and give you 70 to 80 points.

But never sign him for more than a year at a time! I would not rely on such an inconsistent guy although he has proved he can produce. It’s just not worth paying him $4-5 million for 50 points.

Jonathan Cheechoo

And what about Jonathan Cheechoo!? It’s quite a free fall he’s on! Do I really need to detail his problems?! What a drop!

From 56 goals in 2005-06, he dropped to 37 goals the next year. Although it is a drop, it’s still very good.

But the Cheechoo train is still crashing! He dropped again in 2007-08 to 23 goals and right now, he’s on pace for 18. On a team like the Sharks, he should have much better statistics.

It’s easy to assume that the arrival of Joe Thornton helped Cheechoo greatly, as the duo was unstoppable in the second half of the 2005-06 season. Since, teams have caught on and the duo stopped working. So they were split up.

Thornton still does an awesome job. What I can’t understand is how come Cheechoo is still dropping. He managed 28 goals during the pre-lockout season and there was no Joe Thornton back then. So he can obviously score on his own. So why is he still dropping?

My idea: Maybe Cheechoo thinks he can rely only on his shot. He has a great shot from the slot but the problem is he has no clue how to position himself.

Thornton has the uncanny ability to find anyone on the ice through traffic, so he would find Cheechoo pretty much anywhere he was. Now that they don’t play together, those great passes don’t come anymore and Cheechoo can’t score.

That’s my theory. He relies too much on other players to give him the puck.

My solution: He’s already on the fourth line as it is so he can’t drop further unless they waive him. At this point, I think he’s one of the only downsides to the Sharks' roster. His salary means they expected him to be at the top of the goal-scoring charts.

There is always the solution of waiting, because he’s 28, so he could always bounce back. Just look at Patrick Marleau for an example. But for the Sharks, the best option could be either to waive him but preferably, a trade.

There are probably a few goaltenders that have the few as well. I can think of Manny Legace, who has a .888 save percentage and 3.23 goals against right now after posting .911 and 2.41 last year. At this pace he could also give up 200 goals, which is about 50 more than last year.

But obviously, I can’t mention everybody! So feel free to comment and mention those you think could have the off-season flu!


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