Ilya Bryzgalov and the 5 Most Scrutinized Players Heading into 2012-13
There are a lot of reasons to feel pressure in professional sports.
Fan environment, salary, expectations of the franchise, past failures, duplicating success, etc., are all part of being a professional athlete, and the criticism that they face can be absolutely brutal at times.
This list will explore five players who face different types of pressure headed into the season—if it ever gets played. All five will have to deal with this pressure if they and their teams are destined to succeed.
Cause of Pressure: Choking
Ilya Bryzgalov is not your typical goaltender. I mean this in more than one way.
If you look at his regular-season statistics over the past five years with the Coyotes and the Flyers, they would place him amongst the best in the game. He has averaged 32.6 wins, a .915 save percentage and a 2.53 goals against average over that time span. He has played for two teams who gave up a lot of shots and has done remarkably wel,l putting his teams in position to do damage in the playoffs.
Then the playoffs start and it's if some novice straps on his jersey and pads and lines up between the pipes.
In the last five years, he has made the playoffs three times. In those three playoff seasons, his numbers are brutal. He is 8-14 with a .890 save percentage and a gaudy 3.75 goals against average.
The phrase "choke artist" has been affiliated with Bryzgalov over the last five years, and he cannot seem to shake it.
When you make $6.5 million a year and are locked up until the 2019-20 season, you have a lot to justify to a fanbase. When you add in the fan-crazy environment that he plays in, you better perform, and Bryzgalov has not performed when it has most counted: the playoffs.
One of the major problems with Bryzgalov is his aloof attitude, which does not sit well with Flyers fans. There are times when the Russian netminder is misunderstood or read incorrectly by media and fans and that adds to their fury. He also does not help himself sometimes by playing along with his quirky reputation.
Bryzgalov is under tremendous pressure this season and will have to lead the Flyers deep into the playoffs to ease some of that pressure
Cause of Pressure: Huge Contract, Great Expectations
When Zach Parise signed with the Minnesota Wild, his financial future became secure. But huge contracts come with great expectations. The left wing signed a 13-year, $98 million deal with the Wild to become their offensive leader and to try to turn around a franchise that missed the playoffs by 14 points last season.
Parise is coming off of another good year in which he tallied 31 goals and 68 points with the New Jersey Devils. He led them to the Stanley Cup Finals as their captain and will hope to build the Wild back into playoff contenders.
Luckily for Parise, the pressure will also be heaped upon defenseman Ryan Suter, who inked an identical contract this offseason. But, in the NHL, the criticism tends to be thrust more upon offensive players and Parise will have to be in extraordinary form to help give Minnesota a chance to reach the playoffs next season.
The longer the Wild miss the playoffs, the more the pressure will mount on the 28-year-old American winger to justify the mega-deal he signed this offseason. The Wild have a rabid fan base and they will want results sooner than later. Parise will be expected to deliver.
Cause of Pressure: Contract Year, Lack of Playoff Participation
It has to be tough to be Jerome Iginla these days. For years, he has led the Calgary Flames in scoring and been every bit the leader that the fans in Calgary want him to be, but he has not made the playoffs in the last three seasons.
In the NHL, it is a "what have you done for me lately?" mentality, and after having a substandard season (for Iginla), many are beginning to question whether or not this is the beginning of a downward spiral for the 35-year-old winger regarding his numbers.
For many forwards, a year in which you amass 32 goals and 35 assists for 67 points would be one to hang your hat on. For Iginla, it marked a drastic drop in production from the previous five years in which in averaged 87.2 points a season and a drop of 19 points from the previous season.
When you add that it is Iginla's last year under contract with the Flames, you begin to see the heap of pressure that Iginla must be beginning to feel.
The rabid fan base in Calgary will always be behind their man, as he is one of the true class acts in hockey, but, can they also see that it might be the beginning of the end of an era for Jerome Iginla in Calgary?
I'm not certain that he can reach the previous statistical levels that he hit, but will need to play at the same level or better if they are going to reach the playoffs this season.
Cause of Pressure: Duplicating Previous Success
Jonathan Quick wrote his own fairy tale last season with his spectacular play for the Los Angeles Kings on their way to the Stanley Cup last season. His performances throughout the playoffs were remarkable, and without his stellar play in between the pipes, the Kings would have definitely fallen short in their quest.
Quick signed a 10-year, $58 million deal this offseason as a reward for his ridiculous display during the end of last season and the playoffs. What many don't recall is the struggle the Kings had last year to make the playoffs in a very difficult Western Conference. They started the playoffs as the eight seed and that was actually in doubt until the last week of the season.
Quick posted sublime stats during the regular season, winning 35 games while posting a .929 save percentage and a 1.95 goals against average. In the playoffs, it only got better, as he won 16 games while increasing his save percentage (.946) and lowering his goals against average (1.41). In my opinion, his stats are the most impressive goaltending statistics in the last decade.
Quick might not have to be as good as he was last season, but for the Kings to make the playoffs in the West, he will still have to play pretty darn well. If he falters, the fans in L.A. are quick to forget success, as they tend to be very loyal, but also very fickle at times.
Quick's greatest enemy is that he has set the bar so high, and therefore he will live under crushing expectations this season. For his sake, I hope he is up to the challenge, and if he duplicates his past success, I will call him the best netminder in the league sooner rather than later.
Cause of Pressure: Contract, Lack of Success (Team and Personal)
Alex Ovechkin is a superstar. His has been sensational over his career, but there are some warning signs if you are a Washington Capitals fan when it comes to Mr. Ovechkin.
First, he is 27 years old, and his style of play does not do him any favors when it comes to avoiding injury. One of the main reasons I like Ovechkin is because he plays with an edge and is not afraid to get physical even though he possesses so much skill. But while he has been relatively healthy over the years, your propensity to miss more games with bumps and bruises increases with age.
Second, his numbers are declining.
Ovechkin has scored over a 100 points four times in his career, the last time being three years ago when he also netted 50 goals. Two years ago, he scored 85 points, netting 32 goals and 53 assists.
Last season, he only scored 65 points. He did score 38 goals, but only dished out 27 assists, a career low. A decline of 44 points over two seasons (109 to 65) should frighten some people when it comes to his production moving forward.
Yes, there have been significant changes to the Capitals, but that lack of production when a player has performed so dominantly over previous seasons has to raise alarm bells.
Third, Ovechkin is going into the fifth year of a 13-year, $124 million deal that will pay him $9 million for the next two years and then $10 million for the duration of the contract through the 2020-21 season. It is going to be very hard to justify that type of pay if the numbers stay around what Ovechkin produced last season.
Finally, while "Alex the Great" has been close to sipping from Lord Stanley's Cup on two occasions, he has also bowed out of the playoffs earlier than anticipated the last two season for Capitals fans.
Last season they got to the second round after upsetting Boston in the first round, but many believed they underachieved during the regular season finishing seventh in the Eastern Conference. The Rangers took them out in seven games to end their campaign. The year before that, they were eliminated in the first round.
A lot of this was thrown at the feet of Ovechkin, even though he has always performed well in the playoffs. He has a ton of pressure on him for the aforementioned reasons, and he needs to have a banner year for the Capitals to have any chance of making waves in the Eastern Conference this season