10 NHL Players Who Need to Pick It Up Before It's Too Late
The NHL season is a long one, but too slow of a start can doom even the best teams and the biggest stars. So far the 2011-2012 NHL season has been chock full of surprises that few could have predicted—some really good players have been really bad.
There are guys scattered across the 30 teams that are not performing well, and if they don't pick up the slack soon it may be doom and gloom for their respective squads moving forward.
Phil Kessel of the Toronto Maple Leafs has led the scoring race since the opening days of the season and has yet to relinquish the spot. His team is currently sitting atop their division and could open up a decent point gap in the coming weeks.
The Edmonton Oilers, Dalls Stars and Colorado Avalanche have all outperformed expectations so far (just to name a few).
Of course there is a flip-side to the better-than-expected coin. The side no one wants to see their favorite teams or players on. The faltering side.
Right now the NHL has as many negative surprises as it does positive ones. Here are 10 players that need to reverse their fortunes soon or face the prospect of long seasons.
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Fans of the New Jersey Devils must be losing sleep over Ilya Kovalchuk's contract by this point. His first season was a forgettable one, but most thought that Kovie was just too talented to play another year of sub-par hockey.
Sure he has nine points in 11 games so far. Not a bad start at first glance. However, the two goals scored total is glaring to say the least. The team isn't paying Kovalchuk to put up helpers. They are paying him to finish. So far he just hasn't done that.
The Devils are still trying to find a center to help gel Kovalchuk with fellow winger Zach Parise, but nothing has worked throughout the first month of the season.
Despite their best players being anything but, New Jersey is still in contention in the Eastern Conference. They are only two points outside of eighth place. Yet things will continue to feel forced until Kovalchuk can earn at least half of what he is being paid.
The minus-four rating isn't pretty either, but fans in New Jersey are more than likely used to that by now.
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The Detroit Red Wings just snapped a five-game losing streak that could largely be contributed to the team's best players not producing at any level.
Pavel Datsyuk has not been awful by any stretch. He's put up nine points so far this season, but his shot total would suggest that he should be finishing chances much more than he has been. Pav hasn't been on the right side of the highlight reel too many times this season either.
Detroit's offense centers on, and is spurred on by their more creative players. None are more important to the attack than Datsyuk. In short, he just hasn't been noticeable enough for the right reasons.
More startling than anything though is Datsyuk's sudden prescience as a minus player. He is a collective minus five on the season—something that is way off the beaten path for a guy who is constantly in the running for the Selke Trophy. He'll have to be better on both sides of the puck if Detroit is going to push out of this slump with any kind of authority.
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The Anaheim Ducks came out of the gates hot, but have cooled off considerably over the last 10 games. They've only won two contests over that span, and their scoring seems to have dried up a bit. Teemu Selanne hasn't slowed down after last season, but the dreaded RPG line has been pedestrian so far.
Ryan Getzlaf centers the top line in Anaheim, and that line is depended on to do the bulk of the heavy offensive lifting. Getzlaf and his linemates haven't done that so far in 2011. Bobby Ryan and Corey Perry join Getzlaf as underachievers who have yet to break the 10 point barrier.
This team's success hinges greatly on Getzlaf's ability to create and lead. He needs to find his A-game quickly before it's too late, and before I look silly for naming him a dark horse to win the Hart this year.
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Shea Weber could possibly be playing himself out of an extra million dollars or two at his current rate. The generally consistent defender has had a hard time finding the right timing to his game so far this season. The Nashville Predators don't seem to be the worse for ware while their captain struggles, but it is still a bit worrisome.
Through 13 games played, Weber has posted seven points and only one goal. Two of his assists came in a single outing at the end of last week, and he didn't score his first goal until the end of October. Progressing through nearly four weeks of play with only four helpers and no goals isn't the way to show that you're worth over $7 million dollars.
History says that Weber will find his offensive game—at least he's still been very steady in his own zone.
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Over the summer I questioned if Drew Doughty was worth the money he was demanding. I wrote several articles along those lines, and accumulated around 170 comments worth of feedback. For the most part it seemed like LA Kings fans were on board with the deal, and believed him to be worth his paycheck.
It's far, far too early for me to say I told you so. However, Doughty is making me look a little less foolish in questioning his ability to play up to his pay-grade.
Things couldn't have got off to a worse start for Doughty and his shiny new contract. Through eight games played he's only notched two assists.
That isn't going to cut it for long in LA. Could you imagine if this guy were playing in Toronto? Yikes.
He's also a minus three and has notched 12 shots on goal. Something is afoul for Doughty, and if the Kings want to seize their chance to make some noise in the West it'll begin and end with their cornerstone defender.
Semin has not been scoring goals for the Capitals. I think this shows why.
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There's been a lot of noise coming from the Washington Capitals lately. Something about Alexander Ovechkin starting slow? If 13 points is slow then by all means send the guy overboard. I am sure an offensively shaky team like the Detroit Red Wings could use his six goals.
Frankly, all the negative mojo has been aimed at the wrong Alex.
Alexander Semin is the guy that should be on the receiving end of all this hooting and hollering. He's a guy that is relied on to score goals. That's it. He doesn't kill penalties or take important defensive zone draws.
Semin is regarded as a sniper who makes his many millions by putting the puck in the net.
So far Chris Neil has scored one more goal than Semin's lousy two. If he plans to stick with the Caps team that seems bound to do something big this season then he better start finding ways to tickle the twine, and fast.
Blake Wheeler and Bryan Little
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No goalless drought in the NHL is more perplexing than that of Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler. The logic was that this pair—along with Evander Kane—would lead the offensive charge for the newly anointed Winnipeg Jets.
While Kane seems to have finally shaken his slow start, Little and Wheeler continue to struggle despite ample time on the power play. They should be good for 50 goals or so between them (Little is a former 30-goal scorer, Wheeler has put up 20) but as of yet they've been invisible.
Wheeler in particular has been disappointing because he was viewed as a young guy with a decent upward range. Yet neither of these guys have managed to click for a single goal. Not one. That just can not be the case through the first month of play for two forwards that are getting the lion's share of minutes.
Especially not for a team like Winnipeg that really doesn't boast the guns to pick up the slack.
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The New York Rangers have been playing some solid hockey lately, and Brandon Dubinsky seems to be getting on the right track after a pretty horrendous start.
Still, the Rangers need more from Dubinsky than six points and zero goals through the first month of play. New York has had to deal with nearly constant line shuffling, and as such chemistry might be a little hard to come by.
But this is a guy that is going to be relied on for secondary scoring regardless.
Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik are there to do the heavy lifting, and they have been. Dubinsky needs to score more than none for the Rangers to truly reach their potential as a team.
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If you would have told me at the beginning of the season that Eric Staal would be tied with a Phoenix Coyotes defenseman named David Schlemko I would have balked. After all, didn't Schlemko used to wrestle in the WWF?
For Staal to be outside of the top 200 scorers in the league is nasty. It doesn't matter who he is tied with or what the excuses are. This guy is under-performing badly, and his team is suffering because of it. The Carolina Hurricanes need Staal to produce but so far the only thing he's produced is an awful minus-16 rating.
He only has three goals and five points 13 games into the season and he's currently being outplayed on a nightly basis by a teenager by the name of Jeff Skinner. That kid can flat out play, but Staal shouldn't be irrelevant on a nightly basis. So far he has been.
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The Detroit Red Wings have had one of the most turbulent starts in recent memory. After being the second-to-last remaining unbeaten team in the NHL they absolutely tanked. They lost five games in a row—their worst winless streak in three years—and just couldn't find a way to score goals.
Pavel Datsyuk was at least putting up points. The same can't be said for the generally reliable Henrik Zetterberg who has only posted five points over the first month of the season. The Wings count on Z to be one of their two best players, but so far he's been scoring at the same rate as Ian White.
If Detroit is going to climb back into contention for the Central Division then they'll need to find a way to get Zetterberg pointed in the right direction pronto.