Slumping NHL Stars Most Likely to Rebound in 2016-17

Allan Mitchell@@Lowetide_Featured ColumnistOctober 28, 2016

Slumping NHL Stars Most Likely to Rebound in 2016-17

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    NHL teams spend big money on impact players, secure in the knowledge those elite players are capable of delivering quality each season. Long-term contracts bring great risks, and every year there are players who do not perform well enough to justify their cap hits or status.

    In some cases, injury has an impact. In others, a change in coach or usage derails the player's season. Most of the time, the team and player push on to the next campaign in hopes of recovery and a rebound. That is the situation for several well-paid veterans as 2016-17 begins.

    A player such as Marian Hossa is a big part of the Chicago Blackhawks team. A lot of team success is tied into his delivering a more substantial year. If the numbers slide for a second year in a row, we may see team and player at a crossroads.

    Here are nine established NHL players who are most likely to rebound in 2016-17.

Matt Moulson, LW, Buffalo Sabres

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Background: Matt Moulson of the Buffalo Sabres is a goal-scoring winger who has posted some impressive seasons. 

    Analysis: He delivered three 30-goal seasons from 2009-10 through 2011-12, then fell off to 15 and 23 goals the next two seasons. In 2014-15, he scored 13 and then just eight a year ago. Scoring wingers who score eight goals are not long for the NHL.

    Outlook: Moulson is in the middle of a contract that pays $5 million per season and has not come close to delivering on value so far in the deal. His early scoring in 2016-17—four goals in six games—suggests a recovery may be on the way. All four tallies came on the power play, doubling his total from one year ago.

Marian Hossa, RW, Chicago Blackhawks

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Background: Marian Hossa of the Chicago Blackhawks has been one of the best power forwards in the game. His two-way ability has value in every facet of his play, and he has been a difference-maker since 2000.

    Analysis: In 2013-14, Hossa posted .83 points per game and followed it up with .74 points per game the next year. That erosion is not unusual; luck and circumstances can impact a season in one way or another. However, the 2015-16 total—.52—represents a substantial fall from established levels. Hossa's contract does not expire until the summer of 2021, and it is important for him to deliver quality in these seasons.

    Outlook: Early in 2016-17, Hossa has four points in six games, and that represents a recovery in scoring totals. It is a long season, and his health at age 37 is a concern. Chicago needs him to deliver at previous levels to have any hope of getting back to the Stanley Cup Final next spring.

Kari Lehtonen, G, Dallas Stars

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    LM Otero/Associated Press

    Background: Kari Lehtonen of the Dallas Stars is a veteran goaltender who posted several quality seasons in a row before turning 30. Since then, his performance has been uneven, and he may be in some peril as a No. 1 goalie.

    Analysis: Since delivering a .919 save percentage in 2013-14, Lehtonen has posted seasons of .903 and .906—and is no longer the de facto starter in Dallas. The club brought in Antti Niemi and is running an expensive tandem in net.

    Outlook: For the Stars, this can't go on. Lehtonen, however, has shown signs of pulling out of his two-year tailspin. So far this season, he is at .924 in four games and playing well. Niemi continues his struggles, although this is a small sample size and should not be regarded as anything more than early results—for both goalies.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C, Edmonton Oilers

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Background: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Edmonton Oilers was the No. 1 overall selection in the 2011 draft. When healthy, he is a quality two-way center who posts 50 points and delivers strong checking.

    Analysis: Nugent-Hopkins suffered illness and injury last season, never able to play at previous levels. His role on the team was somewhat in question over the summer, as Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli was casting about for defensive help. Nugent-Hopkins remained with the team and performed well for Team North America at the recent World Cup of Hockey—giving him an edge entering training camp.

    Outlook: The Oilers are just seven games into the schedule, but Nugent-Hopkins has shown his range of skills and has four assists. His role may be less offensive—Connor McDavid is one of the best offensive players in the game—but that two-way ability will have high value for the young Oilers.

Dustin Brown, RW, Los Angeles Kings

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    LM Otero/Associated Press

    Background: Dustin Brown of the Los Angeles Kings is a rugged winger who plays the game at the edge of the rules. Between 2006 and 2013, he was also an effective offensive winger—but has been relegated to a checking role in recent seasons.

    Analysis: The Kings are a quality team with impact players such as Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar, and are inside the window to win another Stanley Cup. Brown has a cap hit of $5.875 million, and Los Angeles has lost some firepower with players such as Milan Lucic leaving via free agency.

    Outlook: Brown is more productive this season, posting five points in seven games. He is also having early power-play success, something he hasn't had in recent seasons. There is an opportunity for the captain to play a more substantial offensive role again, and the Kings need him to deliver.

Jeff Petry, D, Montreal Canadiens

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Background: Jeff Petry of the Montreal Canadiens established himself as a solid two-way defenseman with the Edmonton Oilers from 2010 through 2012. The Oilers missed on an opportunity to sign him long term. They instead traded him for picks and allowed Montreal to acquire a young defender heading into his prime.

    Analysis: Petry was effective after the trade, showing well down the regular-season stretch and in the 2014-15 playoffs. Last season, injuries impacted him and he did not get back to normal levels during a frustrating season for the entire organization.

    Outlook: In the first seven games of 2016-17, Petry has two goals and six points while also playing a feature role on the team. He is helping Montreal get off to a strong start, and things appear to be looking up for the two-way defender. Petry has earned his position on the team, and hopefully he stays healthy and gets a chance to show his abilities.

Rick Nash, LW, New York Rangers

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    Michael Reaves/Getty Images

    Background: Rick Nash of the New York Rangers is an established scorer who posted 42 goals as recently as 2014-15.

    Analysis: In recent seasons, Nash has been wildly inconsistent. He has scored 26, 42 and 15 goals in the last three complete seasons. With a cap hit of $7.8 million, Nash scoring 15 goals represents a poor return on investment.

    Outlook: Just seven games into the season, Nash has three goals. On a line with Derek Stepan and Jimmy Vesey, he is having early success. Nash's shooting percentage is also back to normal, having fallen to 8.2 percent in 2015-16. Nash is a strong percentage shooter; he is 12.7 for his career and 12.5 this season.

Jakub Voracek, RW, Philadelphia Flyers

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    Michael Reaves/Getty Images

    Background: Jakub Voracek of the Philadelphia Flyers is a terrific scoring winger who also possesses power forward skills. An outstanding playmaker, he is difficult to check.

    Analysis: Voracek peaked offensively in 2014-15, scoring 81 points and a career-high 59 assists. The next season, he could not get going for the entire year, posting only 11 goals and 55 points.

    Outlook: Voracek has been a man on a mission since the preseason and is ripping through opposition defenses early in 2016-17. He has eight points in eight games and is dangerous on every shift. He is playing with Sean Couturier and rookie Travis Konecny. That allows the Flyers to use Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds on another scoring line. Voracek could be a major piece in a potential Philadelphia resurgence deep into the playoffs, and that could come in 2016-17.

James van Riemsdyk, LW, Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

    Background: James van Riemsdyk of the Toronto Maple Leafs is an effective winger with speed and skill. He has carved out a successful—if uneven—NHL career since arriving in 2009.

    Analysis: Van Riemsdyk scored 30 goals in 2013-14 and appeared to be headed to impact-player status. He has not reached it yet, partly due to injury. He missed 42 games last season because of a foot injury, derailing his contribution to the Maple Leafs.

    Outlook: Early this season, Toronto appears to be a more dynamic offensive team and Van Riemsdyk is a big part of it. He has four goals in the first seven games of the season and is on track for a terrific beginning to the year. He is still a young player—27—and this could represent an upturn in fortunes for his career.


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