1 Star on Each NHL Team in Decline Ahead of 2014-15 Season

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured ColumnistAugust 31, 2014

1 Star on Each NHL Team in Decline Ahead of 2014-15 Season

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    An old saying claims time and tide wait for no man. That phrase certainly rings true for NHL players. No matter how talented or well conditioned, no matter how brightly their star burns, at some point they all encounter the inevitable decline of their skills and performance.

    The players on this list enter this season facing a downturn in their play for a variety of reasons. For some, it's simply a matter of age, reaching the twilight years of their careers. Others are hampered by injuries. In some cases, it's a combination of both. Several have struggled after peaking early in their NHL careers.

    Factors such as a player's age, skill level, production and injury history were taken into account in the compilation of this list. Feel free to offer up your opinion or counterpoints in the comments section.

    Unless otherwise indicated player news and statistics via NHL.com, salary information via CapGeek.com and injury histories via TSN.ca.

Ryan Kesler, Anaheim Ducks

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    Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

    2013-14 statistics: 77 games played, 25 goals, 18 assists, 43 points.

    Why he's in decline: In recent years, Ryan Kesler's two-way style resulted in significant injuries. In 2011 he underwent hip labral surgery. A combination of shoulder surgery and a broken right foot limited Kesler to only 17 games during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign. A knee injury last season sidelined him for four games.

    His offensive production has suffered. After consecutive 70-plus point performances in 2009-10 and 2010-11, Kesler racked up 49 points in 77 games in 2011-12, 13 points in 17 games in 2013 and 43 points in 77 games last season.

    Prediction for this season: The wear and tear of Kesler's style of play appears to be taking its toll. While the 30-year-old remains a skilled second-line center, his best years are behind him. Expect around 45 points from Kesler this season.

Shane Doan, Arizona Coyotes

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    2013-14 statistics: 69 games played, 23 goals, 24 assists, 47 points.

    Why he's in decline: Since reaching a career-best 78 points in 2007-08, his numbers have slowly declined. While a durable and consistent performer, Doan turns 38 in October. A further decline in production is inevitable. A bout with Rocky Mountain fever, rather than injury, limited Doan to 69 games last season.  

    Prediction for this season: Given Doan's durability, he should be capable of around 75 games this season. He could reach 20 goals and 45 points, but is unlikely to attain much more than that.  

Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins

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    2013-14 statistics: 77 games played, 17 goals, 23 assists, 40 points.

    Why he's in decline: Though Zdeno Chara was a finalist for the 2014 Norris Trophy, time appears to be catching up with the Bruins captain. While still physically imposing (6'9”, 255 pounds), the 37-year-old Chara began to wear down late last season.

    His heavy workload prompted The Boston Globe's Fluto Shinzawa last March to suggest the Bruins distribute his minutes throughout the rest of the defense corps. Chara's struggles against the Montreal Canadiens in the 2014 playoffs were cited by Shinzawa's colleague Christopher L. Gasper as a factor in the Bruins' downfall.

    Prediction for this season: Chara remains the Bruins' top defenseman, but they must reduce his playing time to avoid burning him out by the postseason. Veterans Johnny Boychuk and Dennis Seidenberg, along with youngsters Dougie Hamilton and Torey Krug, should receive an increase in their ice time this season.

Brian Gionta, Buffalo Sabres

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    2013-14 statistics: 81 games played, 18 goals, 22 assists, 40 points.

    Why he's in decline: Brian Gionta will turn 36 in January, and it's clear his best seasons are in the past. He hasn't come close to equaling his 48-goal, 89-point performance of 2005-06. Since reaching 60 points in 2008-09, Gionta hasn't scored more than 46 in a season. His 40-point effort in 2013-14 was his lowest in a full NHL season since 2003-04. 

    Prediction for this season: After five seasons with the Montreal Canadiens, Gionta signed a three-year deal with the Buffalo Sabres. The rebuilding Sabres were the NHL's lowest-scoring team last season. Gionta won't have the experienced talent to play with in Buffalo that he had in Montreal. He could find it difficult to reach 40 points this season.

Curtis Glencross, Calgary Flames

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    2013-14 statistics: 38 games played, 12 goals, 12 assists, 24 points.

    Why he's in decline: Curtis Glencross' physical two-way style has taken a toll on the 31-year-old winger. He's never had an injury-free NHL season. TSN.ca indicates knee injuries have cost him 40 games since 2009-10, while an ankle injury sidelined him for 29 games last season. Glencross turns 32 in December and is approaching the end of his playing prime.

    Prediction for this season: Glencross will be eligible for unrestricted free agency next summer. He'll be motivated to step up his play in hopes of landing a lucrative new deal. Given Glencross' style of play, however, it's unlikely he'll be free of injury this season. He'll be fortunate to play more than 67 games and exceed 40 points.

Cam Ward, Carolina Hurricanes

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    2013-14 statistics: 30 games played, 10-12-6 record, 3.06 goals-against average, .898 save percentage.

    Why he's in decline: Once the Hurricanes' established starting goalie, injuries have proven costly for Cam Ward. An MCL sprain cost him 27 games during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. TSN.ca indicates he missed 23 games to lower-body injuries last season. Ward now faces a serious challenge as the Hurricanes' starter from Anton Khudobin.

    Prediction for this season: Since last season, Ward's been the subject of trade rumors. The Hockey News' Matt Larkin speculates an improved performance from a healthy Ward could get him dealt by the March trade deadline.

Brad Richards, Chicago Blackhawks

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    2013-14 statistics: 82 games played, 20 goals, 31 assists, 51 points.

    Why he's in decline: Brad Richards' production has steadily dropped since his 91-point performance in 2009-10. After tallying nine points in the opening two rounds of the 2014 NHL playoffs, the former Conn Smythe Trophy winner was held to just three points during the Eastern Conference Final and Stanley Cup Final. In late June the New York Rangers bought out the remainder of his contract.

    Prediction for this season: Richards, 34, signed a one-year, $2 million contract with the Chicago Blackhawks. It's expected he'll center their second line. While changing teams could provide a bump in Richards' regular-season numbers, it appears his days of reaching 70-plus points are over. 

Jarome Iginla, Colorado Avalanche

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    2013-14 statistics: 78 games played, 30 goals, 31 assists, 61 points.

    Why he's in decline: Though Jarome Iginla's proven to be a model of durability throughout his 17-year NHL career, the 37-year-old winger's production has slowly but steadily dropped in recent years. He's now over six seasons removed from his career-best 98-point performance of 2007-08. Iginla's 61 points last season were his lowest in a full NHL season since 1998-99.

    Prediction for this season: The Avalanche signed Iginla as a free agent to a three-year contract in July to provide leadership and bolster their offense. He could play alongside Matt Duchene or Nathan MacKinnon. Another 30-goal, 60-point performance is possible, but 25 goals and 50 points could be a more realistic expectation.

Nathan Horton, Columbus Blue Jackets

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    2013-14 statistics: 36 games played, five goals, 14 assists, 19 points.

    Why he's in decline: Though Nathan Horton is 29 and in his playing prime, his lengthy injury history limits his effectiveness as a scoring winger. Since 2008-09 he's played more than 67 games only once (2010-11). As per TSN.ca, his list of injuries include two concussions, shoulder and abdominal surgeries and a fractured leg.

    Prediction for this season: When healthy, Horton is capable of 20 goals and 50 points. If he can give the Blue Jackets 70 games this season he could reach those numbers again. Given his injury history, however, that's no longer a certainty. 

Jason Spezza, Dallas Stars

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    2013-14 statistics: 75 games played, 23 goals, 43 assists, 68 points.

    Why he's in decline: While Jason Spezza remains a skilled playmaking center, he's far removed from his career-best 92 points in 2007-08. As TSN.ca indicates, the 31-year-old center had had his share of injuries over his 11 NHL seasons. A back injury sidelined him for all but five games during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. 

    Prediction for this season: In summer 2014, the Dallas Stars acquired Spezza from the Ottawa Senators. As rising star Tyler Seguin centers the Stars' first line, Spezza is expected to play on the second line. He should reach 65 points again this season. 

Pavel Datysuk, Detroit Red Wings

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    2013-14 statistics: 45 games played, 17 goals, 20 assists, 37 points.

    Why he's in decline: While Pavel Datsyuk is among the league's best all-around forwards, he is also 36 and entering the twilight years of his playing career. His skills and conditioning remain strong, but in recent years he's paid a physical price for his style of play.

    Datsyuk last played more than 70 games during a lockout-free season in 2009-10. As per TSN.ca, he's suffered lengthy absences in recent seasons due to two knee injuries, a head injury and a broken right hand. Last season he played in only 45 regular-season games.

    Prediction for this season: Datsyuk's 80- to 90-plus-points seasons are well in the past. He last reached 70 points in 2009-10. Though he's averaged solid numbers in the past three years (67 points in 70 games in 2011-12, 49 points in 47 games in 2012-13, 37 points in 45 games last season) he's at the point in his career where production decline is inevitable. Age and further injury could limit him to 60 points. 

Teddy Purcell, Edmonton Oilers

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    2013-14 statistics: 81 games played, 12 goals, 30 assists, 42 points.

    Why he's in decline: Teddy Purcell's performance dropped noticeably last season with the Tampa Bay Lightning. He is only two years removed from his career-best 24-goal, 65-point season in 2011-12 and turns 29 in September. While still in his playing prime, it appears he's already peaked.

    In June he was dealt to the Edmonton Oilers as part of a three-team trade. Sportsnet.ca's Mark Spector noted Purcell saw fourth-line duty late last season with the Lightning. Despite Purcell's 6'3", 203-pound frame, Spector reports he doesn't play a physical game.

    Prediction for this season: Spector believes Purcell could start this season on the Oilers' second line. He could be challenged for that spot by promising Nail Yakupov. Considering Purcell's recent declining production and apparent reluctance to play a physical style, he's unlikely to reach 60 points again. Forty points could be more within his range.

Roberto Luongo, Florida Panthers

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    2013-14 statistics: 56 games played, 25-23-7 record, 2.40 goals-against average, .919 save percentage.

    Why he's in decline: Since backstopping the Vancouver Canucks to the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, Roberto Luongo's performance has slowly declined. Though Luongo's ranked among the NHL's top goaltenders for years, the 35-year-old netminder doesn't have many productive seasons left.

    Luongo last won 40 games in 2009-10. His goals-against average hasn't been below 2.40 and his save percentage over .919 since 2010-11. That was also the last season he played 60 games.

    Prediction for this season: Luongo was dealt to the Florida Panthers prior to last season's trade deadline. The Panthers will lean heavily on him this season, but they also added veteran backup Al Montoya to avoid burning out their starting goalie.

    Luongo also won't have as solid a defense in front of him in Florida as he did during most of his years in Vancouver. He could play in 60 games this season, but the Panthers shouldn't expect a significant improvement in his goals-against and save-percentage numbers over what he's posted in recent years.

Mike Richards, Los Angeles Kings

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    2013-14 statistics: 82 games played, 11 goals, 30 assists, 41 points.

    Why he's in decline: Though only 29, Mike Richards' production has steadily dropped since his career-best 80-point performance with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2008-09. The Hockey News' Ken Campbell reported the Kings weren't happy with Richards' physical conditioning and approach to the game.

    Kings general manager Dean Lombardi opted not to buy out Richards' contract. Lombardi informed the center he must improve his offseason training this summer.

    Prediction for this season: It remains to be seen how much Richards' conditioning improves this season. As he'll be turning 30 this season, the physical toll of his two-way style makes a return to 70-plus points unlikely. A 60-point performance could be the best to expect from him at this stage of his career.

Mikko Koivu, Minnesota Wild

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    2013-14 statistics: 65 games played, 11 goals, 43 assists, 54 points.

    Why he's in decline: Mikko Koivu is an excellent two-way center, but as with most two-way forwards, his playing style is wearing him down. The 31-year-old Finnish star last played a full NHL season in 2006-07 and hasn't played over 70 games since 2010-11. His career-best season (71 points) was in 2009-10. TSN.ca lists ankle, shoulder and hand injuries that have sidelined him for lengthy periods.

    Prediction for this season: Koivu isn't likely to change his style, making him susceptible to further injury. As he ages (he'll turn 32 in March), his playing style will continue to extract a physical toll. Barring serious injury this season, Koivu should reach the 50-point mark.

Andrei Markov, Montreal Canadiens

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    2013-14 statistics: 81 games played, 7 goals, 36 assists, 43 points.

    Why he's in decline: Age and the effects of a long NHL career could be catching up with Andrei Markov, who turns 36 in December. Though he's overcome serious knee injuries, the puck-moving Markov's best season (64 points) was in 2008-09. At this stage in his career, he won't surpass 50 points again.

    Prediction for this season: Markov will remain among the Canadiens' top four defenders, but with P.K. Subban blossoming into a superstar, he could see more time on the second pairing. The Habs could also reduce his playing time to ensure he's not burned out by the playoffs.

Mike Fisher, Nashville Predators

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    2013-14 statistics: 75 games played, 20 goals, 29 assists, 49 points.

    Why he's in decline: Over 14 NHL seasons, Mike Fisher has been a reliable two-way center. Age and injury, however, could overtake the 34-year-old this season. Fisher ruptured an Achilles tendon during the offseason. He isn't expected to return until late November at the earliest. Given Fisher's age, such an injury could hasten his decline. 

    Prediction for this season: Even if Fisher returns to action in late November, it will take him time to reach game shape. A 40-point season seems out of the question for Fisher. Time will tell if he ever reaches 45 points again.

Patrik Elias, New Jersey Devils

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    2013-14 statistics: 65 games played, 18 goals, 35 assists, 53 points.

    Why he's in decline: The performance of 42-year-old Jaromir Jagr last season overshadowed the fact that Patrik Elias is in the declining years of his NHL career. Though Elias was a reliable scorer for the Devils for years, he's reached the point where he's no longer a first-line forward. After 18 NHL seasons, the 38-year-old Elias is unlikely to reach or exceed 70 points again. Injuries last season sidelined him for 17 games. 

    Prediction for this season:  At this stage in Elias' career, staying healthy is a must. He should remain the Devils' second-line center this season. Forty-five to 55 points would be a reasonable expectation.


Lubomir Visnovsky, New York Islanders

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    2013-14 statistics: 24 games played, three goals, eight assists, 11 points.

    Why he's in decline: Since reaching 68 points in 2010-11, Lubomir Visnovsky's numbers have increasingly dropped, along with his effectiveness as a puck-moving defenseman. Injuries are also becoming an issue. A concussion sidelined him for most of last season. He's entering the final season of his two-year contract and reaching the end of his NHL career.

    Prediction for this season: Visnovsky's no longer an effective first-pairing defenseman. At this stage in his career it's questionable if he can remain a reliable top-four blueliner. Islanders fans should keep their expectations low. He should still be useful in power-play situations.

Martin St. Louis, New York Rangers

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    2013-14 statistics: 81 games played, 30 goals, 39 assists, 69 points.

    Why he's in decline: Martin St. Louis has spent his NHL career defying the odds, but he's now 39 and doesn't have many productive seasons remaining. He struggled offensively after joining the Rangers in March 2014 but regained a bit of his scoring groove in the postseason.

    What to expect this season: St. Louis should remain an effective playmaker this season for the Rangers, but his days of being among the league's top scorers are likely over. He should reach 60 points this season.

David Legwand, Ottawa Senators

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    2013-14 statistics: 83 games played, 14 goals, 37 assists, 51 points.

    Why he's in decline: David Legwand's 51 points last season mask a poor performance down the stretch and in the playoffs. Following his trade to the Detroit Red Wings, Legwand tallied only 11 regular-season points, and none in five playoff games. MLive.com's Ansar Khan noted Legwand finished the season on the Wings' fourth line.

    Prediction for this season: The 34-year-old Legwand inked a two-year deal this summer with the Ottawa Senators. Senators GM Bryan Murray hopes his rebuilding club will benefit from Legwand's leadership and experience. He could face a challenge from young Mika Zibanejad for the second-line center role. 

Vincent Lecavalier, Philadelphia Flyers

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    2013-14 statistics: 69 games played, 20 goals, 17 assists, 37 points.

    Why he's in decline: Once among the NHL's elite scorers, injuries have significantly affect Vincent Lecavalier's performance. He underwent shoulder surgery in 2008 and wrist surgery in 2009. He also suffered a broken right hand in 2010 and again in 2012.

    His numbers have tumbled since 2008. The Tampa Bay Lightning bought out his lengthy contract in 2013. NJ.com's Randy Miller reports the Flyers attempted unsuccessfully to drum up trade interest in Lecavalier this summer.

    Prediction for this season: Miller reports Flyers coach Craig Berube hopes the 34-year-old Lecavalier changes his game to become more defensively responsible. After trying him out at wing proved a failure, Berube could move Lecavalier back to his natural position at center. If Lecavalier adjusts his game accordingly for Berube, he could end up centering the Flyers' third line.

Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    2013-14 statistics: 37 games played, 11 goals, 11 assists, 22 points.

    Why he's in decline: Only 27 and one year removed from being a finalist for the Norris Trophy, health issues have become a concern for Kris Letang. A concussion in 2011-12 sidelined him for 21 games. Injuries sidelined him for 13 games during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. As per TSN.ca, a heart ailment (stroke), along with upper- and lower-body injuries, sidelined him for over half of last season.

    Prediction for this season: Letang made a successful return from his stroke late last season. He remains a highly skilled offensive blueliner. While his heart condition isn't expected to hamper his performance, his injury history casts a shadow of uncertainty over his career. It remains to be seen if he'll fully regain his Norris finalist form. 

Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks

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    2013-14 statistics: 82 games played, 11 goals, 65 assists, 76 points.

    Why he's in decline: Though Joe Thornton remains among the NHL's top playmakers, his numbers have been slowly dropping since his 100-plus-points heyday in 2005-06 and 2006-07. At 35 and after 16 NHL seasons, Thornton is entering the sunset years of his long NHL career.

    In the wake of the Sharks' epic first-round playoff loss to the Los Angeles Kings last spring, questions were raised about Thornton's leadership. Over summer 2014 the Sharks stripped Thornton of the captaincy.

    Prediction for this season: The San Jose Mercury News' David Pollak reports Thornton was the subject of trade speculation this summer, but the center insists on staying in San Jose. Sharks management appears intent on transitioning toward a younger core. Thornton's future could depend upon his performance this season, as well as that of the Sharks. Another 70-point season isn't out of the question. 

Alexander Steen, St. Louis Blues

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    2013-14 statistics: 68 games played, 33 goals, 29 assists, 62 points.

    Why he's in decline: Alexander Steen reached career bests last season in goals and points. That performance, however, seems to be an anomaly. Steen usually scores between 20-25 goals and averages around 45 points per season. It appears he enjoyed a rare hot streak in 2013-14.

    The bulk of that 62-point production occurred in the first half of last season before Steen was sidelined by a concussion. Following his return his offense declined, and he tallied only 24 points. TSN.ca indicates Steen also has a long injury history, which has limited his offensive output throughout his career. 

    Prediction for this season: Steen is an effective, but injury-prone, two-way winger who peaked last season. He'll likely return to his norm of 20-25 goals and 40-45 points this season. 

Ryan Callahan, Tampa Bay Lightning

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    2013-14 statistics: 65 games played, 17 goals, 19 assists, 36 points.

    Why he's in decline: Ryan Callahan is respected for his two-way skills and leadership. As the 29-year-old winger enters his 30s, however, he'll pay more of a physical price for that style of play. TSN.ca indicates Callahan has a long injury history. Given his tenacious forechecking and small frame (5'11", 190 pounds), injuries could continue to mount. 

    What to expect this season: Callahan should remain an effective two-way winger, but it's unlikely he'll ever reach his career high of 54 points again. Depending on his adjustment to a full season with the Lightning, he could play 70 games and reach 20 goals and around 45 points.

Dion Phaneuf, Toronto Maple Leafs

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    2013-14 statistics: 80 games played, eight goals, 23 assists, 31 points.

    Why he's in decline: Dion Phaneuf's been on a slow slide since becoming a finalist for the Norris Trophy in 2008. Phaneuf still logs big minutes with the Leafs (23.33 per game last season) as a hard-hitting offensive defenseman, but he's been frequently criticized for his defensive play. 

    When Phaneuf signed his seven-year, $49 million contract with the Leafs last season, the Toronto Sun's Mike Zeisberger noted Phaneuf's penchant for bad penalties and questionable on-ice decisions. At this point in Phaneuf's career, he's no longer considered a Norris candidate. 

    Prediction for this season: Given the youth on the Maple Leafs' defense corps this season, the 29-year-old Phaneuf will continue to get plenty of ice time. Phaneuf will likely put up between 35-45 points this season, but it remains to be seen if his defensive game will improve.

The Sedins, Vancouver Canucks

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    2013-14 statistics: Daniel Sedin: 73 games played, 16 goals, 31 assists, 47 points.

    Henrik Sedin: 70 games played, 11 goals, 39 assists, 50 points.

    Why they're in decline: Though the subject of this slideshow is one star from each team, the Sedin twins are an exception. They turn 34 in September, and after 13 NHL seasons time is catching up with them.

    While injuries and former coach John Tortorella's defensive system were largely responsible for the drop in the Sedins' numbers last season, their offensive production has declined in recent years. Daniel's career best (104 points) was in 2010-11, while Henrik's (112) came in 2009-10. Last season marked the first time since 2005-06 one of the twins wasn't among the NHL's top 30 scorers.

    Prediction for this season: A coaching change plus a new linemate (Radim Vrbata) should spark an improvement in the Sedins' numbers. Barring injury, both could reach 70 points. Their days of 80-plus points are probably over.

Mike Green, Washington Capitals

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    2013-14 statistics: 70 games played, nine goals, 29 assists, 38 points.

    Why he's in decline: Once a dynamic offensive blueliner with consecutive 70-plus-points seasons in 2008-09 and 2009-10, Green's production has significantly fallen in recent years. A two-time Norris Trophy finalist earlier in his career, injuries have had a significant impact on his performance. TSN.ca indicates that a series of groin injuries sidelined Green for lengthy periods.

    Prediction for this season: Barring further injury, the 28-year-old Green seems capable of between 35-40 points this season. With the Capitals signing Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik this summer, Green could become a trade candidate. Earlier this summer, CSNWashington.com's Chuck Gormley reported rumors linking Green to the Detroit Red Wings.

Tobias Enstrom, Winnipeg Jets

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    2013-14 statistics: 82 games played, 10 goals, 20 assists, 30 points.

    Why he's in decline: A skilled puck-moving defenseman, Tobias Enstrom's offensive production has tumbled since his career high of 51 points in 2010-11. As per TSN.ca, a broken collarbone in 2011-12 and a back injury during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign accounted for his lower numbers in those seasons. Though Enstrom played a full 82 games last season, his production was still down. 

    Prediction for this season: Enstrom, who turns 30 this season, seems to have peaked as an offensive blueliner. He should remain part of the Jets top-four defense pairing, though he could be challenged for playing time by young defenders Jacob Trouba and Zach Bogosian. Another 30-point season seems likely.