NHL Players Most in Need of a Christmas Gift This Year

Carol Schram@pool88Featured ColumnistDecember 24, 2013

NHL Players Most in Need of a Christmas Gift This Year

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    As the NHL starts its Christmas break, players will all be enjoying a minimum of three days away from the rink thanks to a new clause in the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

    During an 82-game grind, the time off should be much appreciated.

    But why stop there? With today's salaries, most NHLers aren't wanting for much when it comes to electronics, clothes, vehicles, even houses.

    Here's a look at 10 players who wouldn't mind finding something extra-special under the tree on Christmas morning.

    All stats courtesy of NHL.com, through December 23. All salary and contract information from capgeek.com.

Shawn Thornton: Boston Bruins

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    The Perfect Gift: A time machine

    Why He Needs It: Just a few days before slew-footing Brooks Orpik to the ice then knocking his defenseless foe unconscious, Thornton told ESPN.com (via Sean McIndoe at Grantland.com) that "If you’re one of those guys that suckers someone when they’re down or you go after somebody that doesn’t deserve it or isn’t the same category as you, that will come back and bite you at some point, too.”

    Prior to the December 7 incident, Thornton was viewed to be an enforcer who knew right from wrong. He saw red when he went after Orpik, definitely crossing the line. Thornton is appealing his 15-game suspension but isn't expected back in the Boston lineup anytime soon.

Ryan Miller: Buffalo Sabres

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    Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Spor

    The Perfect Gift: A one-way ticket to anywhere

    Why He Needs It: In the last year of a contract with a cap hit of $6.25 million, 33-year-old Ryan Miller is looking to get paid next summer—and needs a better situation than Buffalo to show his stuff. Despite the Sabres' abysmal record, Miller's numbers have slipped only a bit from his best years. His .922 save percentage suggests that he would not be leading all goalies in losses if he were stopping pucks for a different franchise.

    Since both the Anaheim Ducks and the Los Angeles Kings seem to have an infinite supply of talented young netminders, Miller's dream of heading to SoCal probably won't become reality anytime soon. His list of acceptable trade destinations may grow as the season continues, simply for a chance to prove that he's still among the best in the league.

Marian Gaborik: Columbus Blue Jackets

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    Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sport

    The Perfect Gift: Good health

    Why He Needs It: Health and prosperity are two of the most traditional Christmas wishes around. Marian Gaborik is plenty prosperous—he's in the last season of a five-year deal that pays him $7.5 million per season—but the 31-year-old could use some help when it comes to his well-being.

    According to CBSsports.com, Gaborik has missed 10 or more games to injury in six of his 13 NHL seasons and has played a full 82 games just once, in 2011-12. This season, he was sidelined with a sprained knee on November 14, then broke his collarbone in his first game back on December 21. He managed just 2:45 of ice time over four shifts before once again being sidelined indefinitely.

    In addition to being a blow for the Blue Jackets, Gaborik's injury could spell big trouble at the Olympics for Team Slovakia. If Gaborik can't participate in Sochi, the Slovaks will have a much harder time repeating their impressive fourth-place finish from 2010 in Vancouver.

P.K. Subban: Montreal Canadiens

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    Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports

    The Perfect Gift: A phone call from Team Canada GM Steve Yzerman

    Why He Needs It: Despite his 2013 Norris Trophy win for best defenseman in the NHL, P.K. Subban has been painted as a fringe player for Canada's 2014 Olympic roster. As a right-side defenseman, there's concern that he'd slot in below Drew Doughty, Shea Weber and Alex Pietrangelo, and that he's not defensively sound enough for the international game on the big ice.

    With a nation paying attention to his every move, Subban has stayed out of the limelight while playing a solid two-way game for the Montreal Canadiens. He's currently third in the league in points among defensemen while also holding a solid plus-11 ranking, playing top-pairing minutes on a successful Montreal team.

    On December 9, Darren Dreger of TSN suggested that Subban's stock is on the rise. He deserves a chance to show his stuff in Sochi.

Cory Schneider: New Jersey Devils

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    The Perfect Gift: A real role as a starter

    Why He Needs It: Schneider kept his cool during three complicated seasons with the Vancouver Canucks, where his role shifted from backup to starter despite the presence of Roberto Luongo and his 12-year, $64 million contract.

    Schneider played 30 of 48 games for the Canucks in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, but was blindsided when he was abruptly traded to New Jersey at the 2013 draft.

    Now, 38 games into the Devils' season, Schneider's stats are solid, but he has managed just four wins all year. Schneider has appeared in 17 games so far—if that division of labor with Martin Brodeur continues, he'll barely squeak past his previous career high of 33 appearances from 2011-12. 

    Schneider signed a three-year deal in Vancouver that will make him an unrestricted free agent after the 2014-15 season. Would another team be willing to trade for him to become a true starter? Would the Devils be willing to move him?

Henrik Lundqvist: New York Rangers

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    Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

    The Perfect Gift: The gentle coaching touch of John Tortorella

    Why He Needs It: Lundqvist went out of his way to deny it, as this piece from TSN.ca makes clear, but there was plenty of speculation that he helped force the New York Rangers' hand when they fired John Tortorella last spring. As Greg Wyshynski of Yahoo.com points out, Lundqvist got plenty of back-end help but not much run support from Torts' defense-first system.

    Nearly halfway into the 2013-14 season, Torts is enjoying surprising success in Vancouver while the Canucks' old coach Alain Vigneault struggles to keep the Rangers on a winning path. Compared to last season, New York has dropped from fifth to 15th in goals against per game, while also falling from 15th to 27th in goals scored per game. Hardly a recipe for success.

    Lundqvist signed a lucrative seven-year contract extension in early December, but Vigneault has uncovered a gem in unheralded netminder Cam Talbot, who just recorded wins in back-to-back starts for the first time in his young NHL career.

    Torts' time in New York was tense, but Lundqvist and the rest of the team could be in for an even bumpier ride as this season plays out. They may already be wishing that Tortorella was still in charge. 

Steven Stamkos: Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Brian Babineau/Getty Images

    The Perfect Gift: Medical clearance to play

    Why He Needs It: Steven Stamkos has exceeded our wildest expectations in his comeback from a broken leg suffered on November 11. Long regarded as one of the fittest players in the game—Men's Health named him to a list of the 25 fittest men in the world in 2011—medical advances and Stamkos' superhuman physique seem to have him on the fast track to play at the Winter Olympics in Sochi in February.

    Stamkos stunned the hockey world when he appeared in a walking boot, without crutches, just two weeks after suffering his injury. By December 14, he was already back in skates.

    If his rehabilitation continues at its current rate, Stamkos deserves to have his name called when Team Canada announces its roster for Sochi on January 7. Ideally, he'll squeeze in some game action with the Lightning to assess his true readiness before heading to Russia.

David Clarkson: Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    The Perfect Gift: Anger-management counselling

    Why He Needs It: David Clarkson, meet pop star Chris Brown. The two of you have some impulse-control issues that are seriously impacting your respective careers.

    Brown was ordered into anger-management rehab by the court in November after a series of incidents. Clarkson's indiscretions have been confined to on-ice activities, but he has already been suspended twice by the NHL since signing a juicy $36.75 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs last summer.

    The Toronto native put his hometown team in a terrible hole when he received an automatic 10-game suspension during preseason for leaving the bench during an altercation. When he returned to action, Leafs fans tried to wait patiently as he struggled to find the offensive side of his game.

    With just three goals and eight points in 17 games this season, Clarkson received another two-game ban on December 14 for a hit to the head of the St. Louis Blues' Vladimir Sobotka.

    To survive another six-plus seasons under the magnifying glass in the center of the universe, Clarkson needs to start making better decisions—pronto. A little professional counseling might not be the worst idea in the world.

Daniel and Henrik Sedin: Vancouver Canucks

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    Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

    The Perfect Gift: A right-winger with decent hands

    Why They Need It: Earlier in their careers, the Sedins could play with anyone. They made a 33-goal man out of Anson Carter. Trent Klatt was an offensive force. They even helped three-year NHLer Jason King score the only 12 goals of his career as part of the "Mattress Line" (two twins and a King).

    Alex Burrows has ridden shotgun with the Sedins for the past few seasons, and the relationship has worked for all three players. Burrows peaked at 35 goals and 67 points in 2009-10, while Henrik and Daniel won successive Art Ross Trophies as the league scoring leaders in 2010-11 and 2011-12.

    After breaking his foot in Vancouver's season-opener, Burrows struggled to find his groove when he returned to the lineup, then got knocked out again with a broken jaw on December 1. Burrows had just three points in his 17 games this season, but the twins miss him. They've cooled off significantly since Burrows has been on the shelf. 

    Despite ample opportunity, fill-in Jannik Hansen has not been able to take advantage of his quality ice time. Burrows will be welcomed back to the top line with open arms as soon as he's ready to return from his injury.

Alex Ovechkin: Washington Capitals

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    Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

    The Perfect Gift: 20 goals in 13 games

    Why He Needs It: It has been more than 20 years since an NHL player scored 50 goals in his team's first 50 games of an NHL season. Brett Hull accomplished the feat in back-to-back years, the last time in 1992-93.

    Ovechkin leads the NHL this year with 30 in his first 35 games, six ahead of second-place Alex Steen. After Washington's slow start following the lockout last season, critics wondered if Ovechkin had lost his offensive touch, but he stormed back to capture the Rocket Richard Trophy and is on his way to repeating this year.

    Ovechkin missed two games earlier this season due to injury, but if he can hit 50 in his first 50 games, he'd be the first player in the new millennium to reach the milestone. Mario Lemieux was the last to score 50 in his first 50 games in 1995-96; it was the 59th game for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

    The NHL wants to see more spectacular goal-scoring in its game. Ovi is doing everything he can to deliver.