2007-2008 was a difficult season for many perennial stars in the NHL. Whether due to injury or merely poor performance, several players saw their numbers take a sizable hit.
This is a short list of players that I expect to regain their prior form and become mainstays on your fantasy roster:
Ryan Smyth (Left Wing, Colorado Avalanche)
The issue with Smyth has never been with his talent or attitude—merely his ability to stay on the ice. Injuries decimated Smyth's production last season, as he only put up 14 goals and 23 assists.
When healthy, Smyth is a top-15 LW with huge upside. The two seasons prior to last season Smyth scored 66 and 68 points—and he was a very prolific goal scorer, netting 36 in both years.
Smyth's health will always be a question until he proves otherwise—but I believe that he'll remain on the ice and play 75 games.
Maxim Afinogenov, (Right Wing, Buffalo Sabres)
No list about underachievers in '07-08 would be complete without a mention of Afinogenov. After the '05-06 season when he put up 51 assists, Afinogenov looked like he was poised to be one of the stars of the NHL. But after an injury-plagued '06-07 and a dreadful '07-08, Afinogenov has fallen on hard times and has become an afterthought on a young Sabres team.
I believe that Afinogenov's poor production has less to do with a decline in talent or stamina, and more to do with the key losses of several veterans from Buffalo last offseason. The departure of star centers Daniel Briere and Chris Drury undoubtedly affected Afinogenov negatively.
Now that he's had a year to mesh with his new teammates, expect Afinogenov to approach his '05-06 numbers—especially since Buffalo should also be a better team this year.
Patrice Bergeron (Center, Boston Bruins)
Bergeron has experienced a massive drop in fortune. A year ago he was viewed as one of the up-and-coming young stars of the NHL, and today he is virtually forgotten by all outside of Boston.
A concussion forced Bergeron to miss the majority of the '07-08 season. In '05-06 and '06-07, Bergeron notched 73 and 70 points, respectively, and it would not surprise me to see him surpass those numbers this season.
Bergeron is no longer a sexy name like Backstrom or Toews, but he is the kind of player who can win a fantasy league for you. Don't wait to long for Bergeron to drop—or you will be forced to watch some other member of your league reap the benefits
Michael Nylander (Center, Washington Capitals)
Nylander is another player whose lack of production came largely as a result of missing more than half of the '07-08 season, not form poor play. Nylander does not have a history of injuries, and there is no reason to expect that he won't return to his '06-07 form.
Nylander put up 79 points in '05-06 and 83 in '06-07, and I believe that come will come close to these numbers in '08-09. He is helped by the strength of his team, and the class of the players around him—namely Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Semin.
Miroslav Satan (Left Wing, Pittsburgh Penguins)
Satan has had the unfortunate experience of being stuck on a very bad team for the past several years. The Islanders haven't been relevant to the playoff picture for many years and Satan's numbers were affected by that.
Coming into Pittsburgh, Satan must have been salivating at the thought of playing with the likes of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Finally on a good team and playing games that actually matter, Satan will be rejuvenated—and vastly improve on the lowly 41 points he produced last season.
Patrick Marleau (Center, San Jose Sharks)
Many of the players on this list have the luxury of blaming injury or the lack of quality teammates for their poor performance. Marleau does not fall into this category. He played a full docket of 78 games on one of the best teams in the NHL, and was still a huge fantasy disappointment.
Marleau is still in the prime of his career at the age of 29, and it is difficult to believe that he is on the decline. He is far too talented of a player to repeat the 48-point disaster of last season. The addition of new coach Todd McLellan should only help Marleau to reach his old status.
Alex Tanguay (Left Wing, Montreal Canadiens)
Tanguay is fully cemented as my number-one sleeper for this season. He wasn't terrible last season, but he definitely failed to match his previous numbers.
Tanguay never truly caught his stride in Calgary and the move to Montreal will be a welcome change for the talented winger. He will immediately move to the featured role on Montreal's top line as well, as on the power play.
If he stays healthy, I honestly believe that Tanguay could come close to reaching the 90-point mark. Montreal's perennial prowess should benefit Tanguay greatly, as he'll be playing meaningful games late in the season.
Brian Gionta (Right Wing, New Jersey Devils)
'05-06 and 48 goals seem like a decade ago for Gionta. Injuries and poor production have served to effectively derail his promising career. Gionta's struggles have mirrored the offensive struggles of the entire Devils team, as they have consistently been unable to score.
Despite his difficulties, Gionta remains on the Devils' top line, and the infusion of young and exciting players like Zach Parise and Brian Rolston should only improve Gionta's production. While it is very doubtful that he has another 48-goal campaign in him, Gionta should flourish in an improved Devils offense.
Vyacheslav Kozlov (Left Wing, Atlanta Thrashers)
Kozlov is the definition of a high-risk, high-reward player. He is, by the same token, one of the most explosive and inconsistent players in the NHL.
Kozlov has had the unfortunate experience of playing on an awful Atlanta team for most of recent memory—however, on the '06-07 team he was able to put up very strong fantasy numbers. Kozlov tends to follow bad seasons with good seasons, so after a 41-point debacle last season, it looks like Kozlov is a strong candidate for a bounce-back year.
In reality, Kozlov isn't a guy that you would want to put the hopes of you fantasy team on—but if you're able to nab him late in a draft, there's a good chance you might find lightning in a bottle.
Rob Blake (Defense, San Jose Sharks)
Blake has the distinct honor of being the only defenseman on this list. He also has the distinct honor of being the oldest player on this list.
One might think it foolish to predict that someone of 38 years would be a good candidate for a bounce-back season, but I disagree. Blake has been stuck playing for a putrid Kings team for the past two years and hasn't produced good fantasy numbers.
The last time Blake played for a decent team (Colorado in '05-06), he was able to put up 51 points. Now Blake joins a very good Sharks team, and gets to patrol the power play with fantasy studs Joe Thorton and Dan Boyle. Expect Blake's numbers to take a significant jump up.
Mikka Kiprusoff (Goalie, Calgary Flames)
People reading this might think that Kiprusoff is a questionable choice to add to this list, as he was still very good last year. However, one has to look at the numbers to really see where Kiprusoff struggled.
Going from '06-07 to '07-08, he took a step back in wins, losses, shutouts, save percentage, and goals-against average. He was worse in essentially every category. This season, expect Kiprusoff to improve his numbers in all five of those categories.
Kiprusoff is still the netminder for one of the most dominating defenses of the past five years, and has the best defenseman in the NHL patrolling in front of him, Dion Phaneuf—sorry, Lidstrom fans.
I expect Kiprusoff to be the number-one fantasy goalie this season, and as a result Calgary will make a serious push for the Stanley Cup.
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