NHL: 10 Players Bound to Underachieve in 2012-13
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Apologists can make up all the excuses they want for Alex Ovechkin. However, no matter what they say, it's clear that Ovechkin has not been the premier goal scorer during the last two seasons that he was in his first five years with the Washington Capitals.
On many nights, he has appeared to be just another guy in uniform. On other nights, he has appeared lost in Washington's defensive system.
Will he recapture his old magic under new coach Adam Oates? Perhaps, but he has been a disappointing underachiever the last two years.
Underachieving is a fact of life in the NHL. Here's a look at 10 players who are bound to underachieve—compared to their potential—during the 2012-13 season.
Cory Schneider, Vancouver Canucks
The pressure on Cory Schneider will increase dramatically in 2012-13
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Cory Schneider has been more than solid in a backup role for the Vancouver Canucks.
That is about to change. If Vancouver general manager Mike Gillis is successful in moving No. 1 goalie Roberto Luongo, Schneider will move into the starting position without any impediment.
If Gillis is unsuccessful, Schneider is likely to become the No. 1 goalie anyway—but he will have Luongo looking over his shoulder.
No matter which way it turns out, Schneider will be under significant pressure. The Canucks are still trying to fulfill their Stanley Cup promise and that means Schneider is going to have to stand up to the pressure that all but crushed Luongo.
Schneider had a 1.96 goals against average last season and a .937 save percentage. If he can't come close to matching those figures and the Canucks slip from their perch at or near the top of the Western Conference, he will be viewed as an underachiever.
Marian Gaborik, New York Rangers
Marian Gaborik has to recover from a torn labrum.
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When the Rangers added Brad Richards in 2011 as a free agent, that was good news for Gaborik. While he remained a talented player and a solid scorer, there were signs that the pressure of playing in New York was starting to get to him.
Gaborik seemed rejuvenated throughout much of the 2011-12 season and he scored 41 goals for the Rangers. However, when their season ended following their loss to the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Finals, it was revealed that Gaborik played much of the postseason with a torn labrum in his left shoulder.
The injury required surgery and he could miss the first two months of the season. That alone would be a problem for Gaborik, but he is not supported wholeheartedly by head coach John Tortorella.
The Ranger coach said on a New York radio show (cited by New York Post columnist Larry Brooks) that Gaborik and a few of his teammates did not step it up in the series against the Devils.
With his coach's words stinging his soul, Gaborik may have a difficult time getting back to form.
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks
Can Patrick Kane stay focused on becoming a star for the Hawks?
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Patrick Kane is a dazzling player for the Chicago Blackhawks who has experienced the highest of highs when the Hawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010.
It was his overtime shot in the sixth game that eluded Philadelphia Flyers goalie Michael Leighton and gave Chicago its first Stanley Cup since 1961.
However, Kane has not developed the same kind of persona and drive to improve that has enveloped teammate Jonathan Toews. While teammates and fans refer to Toews as "Captain Serious" because of his dedication to the sport, Kane has developed a reputation for partying.
The Chicago Sun-Times displayed pictures of Kane enjoying himself at the University of Wisconsin during the offseason in a manner that drew his training methods into question.
On the ice, Kane has scored 30 goals once in his career. The Blackhawks expect more from the player who was the No. 1 pick overall in the 2007 NHL draft.
Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins
It may be difficult for Malkin to repeat his succes in 2012-13.
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Evgeni Malkin is coming off a brilliant 109-point season in which he led the league in scoring and won the league's Hart Trophy as the NHL's most valuable player.
He is a remarkable talent who can score from any number of angles and is capable of carrying the Penguins' offense for long stretches.
However, Malkin will not be the top dog next year as Crosby will be back for a full season and should be healthy. While that should ease Malkin's burden, he may slip back a notch or two as he allows Crosby to take a leadership role.
Head coach Dan Bylsma can't allow Malkin to let down at all, but he's done that before. Malkin followed up his league-leading 113-point season in 2008-09 with a 77-point season in 2009-10.
Thomas Vanek, Buffalo Sabres
There is no doubting Thomas Vanek's skill level.
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Thomas Vanek is one of the most skilled forwards in the Eastern Conference. He has the ability to get himself in the proper position in the offensive zone to score on tips, rebounds and a wicked wrist shot that he can twist into the top corner of the net.
He also has an array of moves that make him a dangerous player. However, while Vanek has the ability of a 40-plus goal scorer, he has not scored more than 32 goals the last three seasons.
Vanek will disappear for long stretches and play like an ordinary player. His motor does not rev at full speed often enough for Buffalo head coach Lindy Ruff, and that's why he was limited to 26 goals last season.
Until he feels the need to play at top speed every night, Vanek will continue to underachieve in 2012-13.
Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks
Despite his talent level, Thornton does not come through in clutch situations.
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To whom much is given, much is expected.
That's been the case with San Jose Shark center Joe Thornton since he was selected with the No. 1 pick in the draft in 1997 by the Boston Bruins. That's still the case 15 years later.
Thornton's script has been a familiar one for many years. He scores at a high level during the regular season, but his production level dips dramatically in the playoffs. He started that pattern with the Bruins in 2004 when he followed a 101-point regular season by getting blanked in seven games against the Montreal Canadiens.
He received a new lease on NHL life when he was traded to the Sharks in 2005. Since then, he has performed better in the playoffs. But, he has never led the Sharks out of the Western Conference playoffs.
As he prepares for the 2012-13 season, it doesn't seem likely that it's about to happen any time soon. Thornton has never risen to the occasion to this point, so why would he start now?
Mike Green, Washington Capitals
Mike Green has been one of the NHL's top threats from the blue line.
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Green comes into the 2012-13 season with what should be a great state of mind after signing a three-year, $18.25 million deal July 16.
Green has been one of the top offensive threats from the blue line, scoring 31 goals in the 2008-09 season and following that up with a 19-goal season in 2009-10.
Green has fallen on hard times in recent years. He scored a combined 11 goals in 2010-11 and 2011-12, as both of those seasons were riddled by nagging injuries.
While he still has a booming shot from the point and will move into the soft spots to make himself an offensive threat, it seems that Green can't stay healthy enough to remain consistent.
Jeff Carter, Los Angeles Kings
Carter played a key role in helping the Kings win their first Stanley Cup.
The Los Angeles Kings started to come together after the Columbus Blue Jackets traded Carter to Los Angeles at the trade deadline.
The Kings had a strong team prior to the deal, but struggled when it came to goal scoring. Carter brought a quick release and a knack for getting free in the offensive zone, and that allowed the Kings to improve offensively.
Carter was one of the key performers in the playoff run. He tied for the league lead in postseason goals with eight and one of them was an overtime winner in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals against New Jersey.
Perhaps that will spur Carter on to become a consistent regular season player, but he is coming off a 21-goal injury-plagued season with Columbus and Los Angeles.
Carter may turn it on in the postseason, but an overwhelming regular season does not seem likely given the Kings' penchant for playing low-scoring games.
Michael Ryder, Dallas Stars
Can Michael Ryder repeat his goal-scoring success in 2012-13?
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Michael Ryder was something of an enigma during his three years with the Boston Bruins.
After scoring 27 goals in the 2008-09 season, he was held to 18 goals in the next two regular seasons. However, Ryder proved to be a big-time threat during the Stanley Cup playoffs. He scored 17 postseason goals—in three playoff seasons—for Boston, including eight in the team's 2011 Stanley Cup run.
The Bruins didn't try to stop Ryder from leaving the team through free agency. They realized he was a valuable postseason performer, but they didn't want to see him waltz through the regular season again.
The Dallas Stars were not deterred. They saw Ryder's goal scoring talent as something they needed badly and they brought him on board, according to Blackout Dallas.com. He responded with a 35-goal season for a team that did not finish well enough to earn a postseason berth.
In year two, it seems more likely that Ryder will end up in the 20-to-25 goal range and wait for the Stars to make the playoffs where he can turn it on again.
P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens
Subban has yet to establish his consistency with the Canadiens.
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The Canadiens want to believe that P.K. Subban can be a top-tier defenseman capable of shutting down opponents, then unleashing his fearsome shot.
Subban has had his moments, including a late third period goal in the seventh game of the Canadiens' 2011 playoff series with the Bruins that sent the decisive game of the series to overtime.
While it would end in disappointment for the Canadiens on a Nathan Horton blast that got through Carey Price, Subban's slapper served notice that he had could put his formidable talent to great use at key moments.
However, Subban followed his 14-goal 2010-11 season with seven goals last year. Subban seemed to regress both offensively and defensively. The Canadiens need to see him step up once again, but he's going to have to show he can cope with the pressure and become a dependable player again.
It seems quite unlikely.