Patrick Kane: The Player Each Team Needs to Step Up in the Second Half
As the National Hockey League turns the corner and starts it's trek through the second half of the season, we can take this opportunity to look back at the first 50 games and figure out which of the underachievers need to step it up in order to help their team's push for the playoffs.
There is no question that certain players, up until this point, have not contributed as much as expected, and those players on each team are the ones that really need to find a way to kick their tails into shape and start doing what they were expected to do.
So here's my list of each team's top underachiever who needs to step it up to help their team out in this second half of the season.
Anaheim Ducks: Andy Sutton
For an Anaheim Team that went into this season unquestionably thin on the blue liners, Andy Sutton was expected to help take some of the extra minutes off the other defenders like Toni Lydman and Lubomir Visnovsky.
Honestly, Sutton has been a disappointment thus far in the season, and with a $2.125 dollar cap hit, this underachieving defender really needs to step up his game and learn to keep a handle on the puck, instead of having some inopportune turnovers in Anaheim's defensive zone.
Atlanta Thrashers: Nik Antropov
For having the second biggest cap hit on the Thrashers' rosters, Nik Antropov has been a disappointment on the offensive force in Atlanta.
This brawny center has, so far, posted 25 points in 46 games this season, putting him on track to be approximately 20 points below his 67 point total last season. If Antropov steps up his game, he can really help Atlanta hold onto their shaky 8th seed in the East, a spot that is really precarious, but it still puts Atlanta in the post-season.
Boston Bruins: Tuukka Rask
Tuukka Rask, who had a breakout year last year, has really fallen into the shadow cast by Boston's starting goaltender, Tim Thomas. Granted Thomas is an absolute star net minder in the league right now and his shadow is hard not to fall under, but Rask still has had a lackluster year.
In 16 games played, Rask has posted a disappointing 4-10-1 record with a single shutout, a mediocre.923 save percentage, and a 2.67 goals against average. On a pretty impressive Boston team, Rask could really add some depth to the goaltenders by stepping his game up and offering himself as a viable option for a backup goalie.
Buffalo Sabres: Tyler Myers
For last year's Calder Memorial Trophy winner as rookie of the year, Tyler Myers has fallen into the epitome of a "sophomore slump." This year has been anything but noteworthy for the young defender.
Myers is currently on track to come in 10 points shy of last year's point total of 48 in 82 games, and through the first 47 games of the season he has posted a terrible -11 rating, a little bit of a shock after ending last year with a +13. Myers needs to really pick up the pace and start playing like he was in his rookie year.
Calgary Flames: Miikka Kiprusoff
For the Calgary Flames, who have struggled in the Western Conference this year, some of their problems have been stemming from their inconsistent goal tending, specifically by their starting goaltender, Miikka Kiprusoff.
Kipper is having a substandard year, ranking him 32nd in save percentage with a .901, 30th with 2.75 goals against average, and 13th in wins with 20. On the other, less admirable side of the stat board, Kiprusoff is ranked 3rd with 18 losses, and 1st in goals against. There is no question that this net minder needs to step up his game.
Carolina Hurricanes: Erik Cole
The Carolina Hurricanes currently find themselves just a single point out of a playoff spot in the East, right now sitting 9th in the conference. The 'Canes do have a few things to celebrate, including the recent successes of the All-Star Game in Raleigh, and the stardom of players like Eric Staal and rookie Jeff Skinner.
However, there are a few underachieving players on the Carolina roster, including Erik Cole who has just 28 points in 50 games played. For a player who has a decent sized cap hit, like Cole does with a 2.900 hit, these numbers should not be on the low-side of his career statistics.
Chicago Blackhawks: Patrick Kane
Perhaps this is an unexpected name for this list, especially when you look at his contributions offensively, and the successes of his team at the All-Star Game, but when you calculate what his projected numbers are, that is why he makes this list.
Kane currently has 37 points in 41 games, meaning he is on track for about 63 points once the season ends, a career low for him since he entered the NHL. Also, Kane could really start contributing more goals since 24 of his 37 points being assists.
Colorado Avalanche: Craig Anderson
A case could be made that the reason that Colorado is currently out of the playoff spots because of the inadequate goalies on the Avs bench. Both Craig Anderson and Peter Budaj have at best mediocre numbers for their season totals right now.
Anderson currently has no statistics that rank him in top 10 in the league goalies, except one statistic: penalty minutes. When your goalie is ranked 8th in the league's goalies in penalty minutes, and that's his highest ranking, it's a sign that things are not going well.
Anderson has a .903 save percentage ranking him 30th in the NHL, and a 3.12 GAA, putting him in 38th in that category. Anderson absolutely needs to step up if Colorado wants to make the post-season.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Mike Commodore
Columbus is another Western team that is currently outside the playoff spots, and one player who really has room to grow and prove his value is defender Mike Commodore.
Commodore only appeared in 20 games with Columbus this year before he cleared waivers and was sent to the minor leagues. The 31-year-old really has not offered much to the Blue Jackets, however if he steps his game up and gets back to the big leagues, he could help their defense keep goals out of their net and push them into the post season.
Dallas Stars: Brendan Morrow
As unexpected as it is to find a Captain on this list, Dallas leader, Brendan Morrow, definitely can step his game up and lead this team into the late rounds of the playoffs.
For Morrow and his 4.100 cap hit, it is really important for him to lead by example and produce some impressive offensive numbers. Morrow only has 34 points in 50 games, and even though Dallas is currently in the playoff seats, the second half of the season can change lots of things, and Morrow needs to step it up to make sure Dallas stays safely in the post-season.
Detroit Red Wings: Jiri Hudler
For the Detroit Red Wings, their roster is so star-studded that one weak-link can be hidden pretty well; however if one player could step up and help this successful team flourish even more, it's center, Jiri Hudler.
Hudler currently has 18 points and a -5 rating in his 44 games played. Overall, Hudler is on track for a 33 points season, one of his lowest in his career, unless he finds a way to spark some improvements and step his game up.
Edmonton Oilers: Nikolai Khabibulin
For an overall lackluster Oiler's team, one person who can absolutely find some room for improvements is Edmonton's number one goalie, Nikolai Khabibulin.
This Russian goalie has only inadequate statistics when it comes to his rankings in the league. He holds a terrible 8-22-2 record, with his 22 losses ranking him 1st in the league in losses. He is 42nd overall with a .891 save percentage and 45th overall with a 3.45 goals against average.
With half the season to go, Edmonton doesn't have much hope for a playoff spot, but Khabibulin should still work to step it up.
Florida Panthers: David Booth
For having the biggest cap hit out of all the Florida forwards, David has been a disappointment in terms of offensive contribution. He has just 26 goals in 49 games played, and a -9 rating.
For how much Florida is paying him, he really should be contributing to the team more, however his lack of offensive production could help to explain why Florida is so far outside of a playoff spot.
David Booth, you really ought to step your game up.
Los Angeles: Drew Doughty
After Drew Doughty rattled the league by storming in and proving himself over the past two years, he has fallen silent this season.
The young blue liner still has some strong statistics to his name, however after he helped Team Canada win the Olympic Gold, and helped the Kings into the post-season last year, the expectations were high for him this year, and he has not lived up to them at all.
On top of everything, Doughty is a restricted free agent at the end of this season, and if he wants to make the money he showed he deserved over the past two seasons, he needs to finish the season strong and he can get some pretty substantial sized offer sheets this Summer.
Minnesota Wild: Antti Miettinen
The Minnesota Wild are, as of now, one of the six teams straddling the line between the top eight and bottom seven in the West, and just two points split the 7th seed from the 12th seed. So when it comes to these six teams, every player must be playing their best night-in and night-out.
For the Wild, Antti Mietinen is one of the team's biggest under-performers when he should be helping to carry the team into the playoffs. He currently has just 23 points in 40 games and a -7 rating, but he really needs to take his game up a few notches if he wants to help his team into the post-season.
Montreal Canadiens: Brian Gionta
Montreal Canadien, Brian Gionta, is the second team captain to fall onto my list of players to step up their performance in the second half of the season. Gionta currently has 25 points in 50 games, putting him on track for a disappointing 41 point season.
Gionta, who, as captain, should be leading the team by example and posting impressive numbers, is ranked sixth on the team in points, and 12th in assists. Gionta needs to step up his game if he wants to keep Montreal in the run for the playoffs.
Nashville Predators: JP Dumont
For a player who previously posted an impressive 72 points in the 2007-2008 season with Nashville, saying that Dumont's 17 points in 49 games is a disappointment is a major understatement. This right wing has previously had significantly more points than penalty minutes, however this season he is almost equal.
With Nashville posted second in the Central Division, just four points above Chicago, unless the individuals find ways to step up, like Dumont needs to, then Nashville could find themselves on the outside looking in.
New Jersey Devils
When it comes to the most underachieving team in the entire National Hockey League, how can you pick just one to step their game up? The answer is, the problems have too many roots to point at just one player as the solution, so the problem is across the entire roster.
Every player on the Jersey bench needs to find a way to step up their game, Kovalchuk and Arnott need to produce more numbers offensively, Tallinder and Greene need to work on back-checking, and Martin Brodeur needs to remember how to stop some shots.
Overall, there is only one player who is exempt from this slide and that is Patrick Elias, who was at the NHL All-Star Game. So, aside from Elias, the entire Devils lineup really needs to find some way to light the fire under their rear and get it together for the second half of the season.
New York Islanders: Blake Comeau
Blake Comeau is one of the younger, offensively-productive, forwards on the Islanders roster, and he really can put up some impressive numbers if he finds a spark and steps his performance up for this second half of the season.
Comeau has a disappointing -15 rating to go with his 30 points in 48 games played. Overall, this young right wing can really carry the Islanders in scoring if he sets his mind to it, and if the team has any desire to climb up the standings, then a lot of that burden will rest on Comeau's shoulders.
New York Rangers: Marian Gaborik
For a player who has ended the season with more than a point per game in each of the past five seasons, Gaborik's 31 points in 38 games is somewhat of a disappointment for him.
With the Rangers ranked 6th in the Eastern Conference, every player needs to find ways to contribute and so they can hold their post in the playoffs, and for Gaborik, that means strong offensive contributions, stronger than what he has contributed so far.
Ottawa Senators: Alex Kovalev
It's understandable that some players have off games, off weeks, even months, but when a player is being paid one of the three biggest salaries on his team, you expect them to produce good numbers even if they aren't playing their normal spectacular game.
Alex Kovalev has had a simply inexcusable year for his 5.000 salary hit. Kovalev has just 18 points in 44 games played and a -12 rating, which puts him on track for the lowest season point total he has had in the past five seasons. Kovalev needs to find a way to perform better under pressure because at this rate, the 37-year-old will have no job offers for next year once his contract expires this Summer.
Philadelphia Flyers: Sergei Bobrovsky
In my opinion, since the Philadelphia Flyers are such solid contenders for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, their case is a little different, and even though Sergei Bobrovsky has had an unbelievable year, this isn't a slide about him needing to step up, it's that he needs to keep growing.
"Bob" has really made an impression on the league, and has taken the starting job away from both Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher, and if the Flyers want to ride the momentum of this season long into the post-season, Bobrovsky needs to continue his growth and carry this team into the Finals.
Phoenix Coyotes: Scottie Upshall
Scottie Upshall has had a middle-of-the-road kind of year this year, and currently has a lower points-per-game average than he's had in the past four seasons.
With Phoenix being right on the cusp of making the post-season and missing it, they need all the help they can get offensively, that includes players like Upshall stepping up to the plate and contributing.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Marc-Andre Fleury
Possibly an unexpected name as the Penguin to step up his game, Marc-Andre Fleury needs to more stay away from slipping backwards. He started the season in a bit of a slump, and if he falls back into a rut, the Penguins could lose their reputation as Cup contenders again.
Fleury is coming away from the All-Star Game, where he did not perform his best, however he needs to shake off the Game and step it up again in order to drive the Penguins into the post-season.
San Jose Sharks: Antti Niemi
The main aspect of the San Jose Sharks' game that has been struggling this season is goaltending, meaning Antti Niemi needs to step his game up.
After Niemi carried the Blackhawks to their Stanley Cup Championship last year, he set the bar high for himself, and with the Sharks letting Nabokov walk, it showed they had high expectations for Niemi as well.
This season, Niemi has a 13-13-3 record, and a lackluster .912 save percentage and 2.69 goals against average. Overall, if the goalie steps up his game, he could help propel the Sharks into the post-season, however he needs a big spark to get to that point.
St. Louis Blues: Eric Brewer
Eric Brewer is currently ranked 4th on St. Louis defenders in points, and for the big money that the Blues are paying him, that is not really true success for him.
St. Louis's Captain has been a strong defender, however he needs to help lead this team on the forecheck as well and try to put up some good leadership by example.
Tampa Bay: Simon Gagne
In 33 games played this season, Simon Gagne has posted a disappointing 13 points, and a terrible -19 rating.
For the first-time Lightning forward, Gagne has got to step up his game especially because his contract expires at the end of this season. If Gagne wants teams to be interested in him for the upcoming seasons, in his own best interest he needs to step up his performance on the ice.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Jean-Sebastian Giguere
The Maple Leafs have a lot of offensive talent, and their defense, although not fantastic at least gets by, however their goalie situation has been a huge question mark all year. J.S. Giguere and Jonas Gustavsson have split this year, each playing in 23 games, and starting 21.
When it comes to the second half of the season, I think it is important for the veteran goalie, in this case, J.S. Giguere, to really step his game up if his team wants to make the playoffs. Giggy has some below-average stats with a 9-9-3 record, a lousy .896 save percentage and a 2.82 GAA.
Vancouver Canucks: Roberto Luongo
When it comes to a team that is excelling in every aspect of the game, it's hard to pick a player who needs to step their individual game up, but for Vancouver, the one that I think could use some improvements would be goalie Roberto Luongo.
Luongo is 7th best in the league in terms of both save percentage, with a .924, and in goals against average, with 2.27, both statistics that could hurt them in the playoffs. If Roberto Luongo figures out a way to take his game to the next level it could make Vancouver a serious contender for the Cup this year.
Washington Capitals: Alexander Ovechkin
The Washington Capitals are positioned in 5th, just below their Eastern rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins. Even though Ovechkin leads the Caps in points, and has an average of one point per game, with 51 points in 51 games, AO still hasn't lived up to the expectations that he has set up for himself.
Over the past five seasons in the NHL, Ovechkin has had a minimum of 92 points in a season, with four of the five seasons ending with him holding 100 points or more. With him on track for just 82 points this season, Ovie needs to step up and help push the Capitals further into the post-season than they went last year.