Professional athletes make their money on the performance of the vehicle that they have been blessed with and choose to maintain as they see fit. Fit being the operative word. While inherent talent can take a player to an elite level, practice and conditioning will help preserve and prolong an athlete's career.
With the lucrative rewards that are prevalent in sports like money, endorsements and the trophies that come along with team and individual achievement, it is easy to get lazy. With fans, teammates and coaches telling you how great you are, a player can lose the focus and determination that got them to the elite level. There is a reason that the urban legend of the "Stanley Cup hangover" has prevented a repeat champion since 1998.
Teams take a little bit of time to pat themselves on the back and reflect on their achievement. It may take a little bit longer to get all of the engines fired back up in the fall, and there can be a natural emotional letdown after reaching the summit in your profession.
There are over a hundred NHL players that have loaned out their talents to other leagues and organizations. With almost 700 active players in the NHL, only a small portion qualify to play for the club's AHL affiliate and stay in North America. Simple math will tell you that there are a lot of NHL players that are not currently skating at a (relatively) high competitive level.
If your local ice rink has a new guy working the snack bar, or a particularly aggressive skate guard, he might be a Blue Jacket or a Coyote looking for a few extra bucks. On the plus side, if your beer-league team is having some trouble, you might be able to rope in a ringer for at least a few games.
Here's a list of 12 players that may have some trouble getting their game legs underneath them just in case the NHL happens to play this season. Some of these guys have a history of reporting to camp out of shape, and others are notorious slow starters for various reasons.
Hopefully we'll see them playing at some point this year, and if not.....my team could really use an upgrade in goal. You'll get lots of practice since no one likes to back check. I'm talking to you Jonny Quick. Seriously.
After a year that really couldn't have started and ended much worse, Ilya Bryzgalov stayed optimistic about his second year in a demanding city. Instead the NHL lockout allowed him to return to his native land and stop (in theory) some pucks for CSKA Moscow of the KHL.
The Flyers colorful backstop has inspired little confidence from his Russian employer and Flyer fans alike with a dismal showing so far (2-4-0. 2.92 GAA, .891 save percentage). He is currently the backup to Rastislav Stana, and his stats rank him third among CSKA's three netminders.
When photos of Winnipeg defenseman Dustin Byfuglien surfaced this summer it appeared that the big defenseman was again battling some conditioning issues. The snapshots from former teammate Dave Bolland's wedding showed a clearly overweight Byfuglien.
Legal wranglings in Minnesota might have caused some stress eating, but a picture from Andrew Ladd's Twitter account shows a slimmer Byfuglien. Hopefully the burly blueliner can get to game shape when it's "Game On."
All pancake jokes aside, Dustin Penner has had fitness issues since his days in Edmonton. The big bodied winger will always be a larger player given his height (6'4"), but will probably not get another long term contract with any NHL team until he shows a concerted interest in fitness and conditioning.
After holding out for a long term contract upgrade last year, Drew Doughty, or a facsimile thereof reported to Los Angeles Kings' camp out of shape and overweight. He had to re-take the team's fitness test, and eventually played himself into shape. He was a key part of the Kings' run to the Stanley Cup this past summer (that seems oh, so long ago right now).
He's only 22, so chances are his nutrition and fitness have probably not matured yet. Add in a long-term, multi-million dollar deal, and a Stanley Cup and you have a recipe for complacency.
Kyle Wellwood's fitness troubles appear to be a thing of the past, but with the lockout reaching 60 days, has the Winnipeg Jets center been able to stay focused on training in lieu of labor resolution?
Wellwood hit career highs in goals and points last season and just resigned with the Jets. Hopefully older and more productive means wiser and better prepared.
Has the Washington Capitals sniper seen his career arc go from the top of the league to serviceable top six forward? He went to Russia to play some KHL hockey with Dynamo Moscow, but hasn't exactly lit it up like he could. Ovechkin has produced at a point-per-game pace, but doesn't look like the explosive player that burst on the scene with 52 goals in 2005.
His statistics have exponentially decreased over the last three years and Ovechkin's physique has noticeably changed. He looked good in the playoffs this past season, but looks far from dominant with Dynamo.
The Detroit Red Wings top goal scorer last season, Johan Franzen has decided not to play in Europe during the lockout. For a player that appears (at least outwardly) to lack desire in around half the games he plays in, this should come as no surprise.
The "Mule," as he is called for his size and strength, possesses some of the best hands in hockey and can turn on the talent at will. Why he chooses not to play with this determination with regularity is a question I don't know the answer to. Franzen doesn't have a history of being out of shape when he reports to camp, but I have to wonder why he chose not to head to his home country to play competitive hockey during the lockout.
I'm sure that this isn't an issue exclusive to Winnipeg, but Evander Kane is the third Jet player to show up on the list so far. After signing with Dinamo Minsk of the KHL, Kane had a less than inspiring stat line after three games: 0 G, 0 A, 14-PIM and a minus-three rating.
Throw in a comment by his coach that Kane "is in bad shape and not ready to play on KHL level." I make no promises to Winnipeg fans that this will be the last Jets' player on the list.
Let's just get this out of the way and get it over with. Ondrej Pavelec just signed a contract for five years and $19.5 million with the Winnipeg Jets. What the Jets didn't realize at the time was that Pavelec was just one month removed from receiving a DUI while in the Czech Republic. Oops.
Smash cut to the NHL lockout and the Jets' goalie taking his talents to Bílí Tygři Liberec in the Czech Extraliga. After a month with the club Pavelec appears to be headed back to Winnipeg, hockey or not. His stats with Liberec (4-10, 3.50 GAA, .896 save percentage) hardly impressed, and might have the Jets second guessing his big contract.
I'll take off my Red Wing tinted glasses for a minute here. I felt that during the first half of last season, Jimmy Howard was every bit as good as any goaltender in the league. He was largely responsible for the league's best record at the All-Star break, and had Vezina-worthy numbers.
Then it all went south. A series of injuries and a first round playoff exit had Detroit golfing early in the postseason. The lockout hurts Howard because he needs to get his confidence back. He is reluctant to head abroad to play but has been working out with other locked out players. Physically Howard should be fine, but the extended lockout hurts a young player looking to restore his confidence.
Bobby Ryan had an odd off-season this summer, at one point asking to be traded saying that he didn't feel wanted in Anaheim. Ryan has stayed local as the lockout has dragged on playing in a couple of charity games. Ryan has said that he won't play abroad and will work out near his home in New Jersey as the lockout progresses.
He has since recanted his statement about the trade prospects, but it's still a possible red flag about Ryan's commitment to Anaheim. His desire to stay home while others play abroad could adversely affect his game readiness if the season starts this year.
It probably doesn't matter to Islanders fans anyway, but Rick DiPietro was probably going to get injured some how, some way in Germany or at home. His newest "alleged" groin issue occurred overseas while wearing gear for SC Reisersee. While DiPietro denies the injury, his play has been less than stellar for the second tier German club.