10 NHL Stars Who Could Decline in 2017-18

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured ColumnistAugust 31, 2017

10 NHL Stars Who Could Decline in 2017-18

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    All NHL players reach a point in their careers when their skills begin to deteriorate. For some of the league's stars, such as Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin and New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, the decline could become noticeable in 2017-18.

    Some, such as Ovechkin and Anaheim Ducks winger Corey Perry, saw a surprising decline in production last season that perhaps signals the inevitable downturn in their respective games. Age could be taking a toll on 35-and-older stars such as Lundqvist and Ottawa Senators netminder Craig Anderson.

    Here's a look at the 10 NHL stars who could decline in 2017-18. You can express your opinion on this topic in the comments section below.

10. Andrew Ladd, New York Islanders

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Left wing Andrew Ladd struggled through his first season with the New York Islanders. While his production increased over the second half of the season following a coaching change, the 31-year-old might not see a significant improvement in 2017-18.

    Ladd is an experienced physical forward. The former Winnipeg Jets captain has reached the 20-goal plateau six times and 40 points seven times during his 12 NHL seasons, including four 50-plus point campaigns. Despite his offensive inconsistency in 2016-17, he still finished third among Islanders goal scorers.

    The bad news is Ladd's production was in decline before signing with the Isles as a free agent last summer. After tallying a career-best 62 points in 2014-15, he managed 46 points in 78 games split between the Jets and Chicago Blackhawks in 2015-16.

    Ladd turns 32 on Dec. 12. His physical style of play could be taking its toll. While another 20-goal, 40-point campaign isn't out of the question, it's unlikely he'll reach 50 points again.

9. Craig Anderson, Ottawa Senators

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Since 2011, goaltender Craig Anderson's been a reliable presence in the Ottawa Senators net. But at 36, he's at the stage when his skills could start to degenerate.

    Anderson persevered through a difficult 2016-17 season, taking time off to be with his wife, Nicholle, who had throat cancer. He returned to action and backstopped the Senators to within an overtime goal of reaching the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. For his efforts, Anderson was awarded the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy.

    But in recent years, Anderson has also been plagued by various injuries that limited his playing time and affected his performance. Since joining the Sens in 2011, his stats have significantly fluctuated. He posted a 2.28 goals-against average and .926 save percentage last season but had a 2.78 GAA and .916 SP in 2015-16.

    Anderson enters this season entrenched as Ottawa's starter, but he's at the point in his career when decline is inevitable. The coaching staff could reduce his workload, handing more starts to backup Mike Condon.

8. David Krejci, Boston Bruins

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    Between 2008-09 and 2015-16, Boston Bruins center David Krejci exceeded 60 points five times. Entering his 11th full NHL season, several factors could prevent him from reaching those heights again.

    Krejci tallied 54 points in 82 games in 2016-17, marking his lowest output over a full season since his 52-point effort in 2009-10. The season prior, he netted 63 points in 72 games. Hip surgery in April 2016 factored into the decline.

    A lack of skilled offensive linemates this season could also be an issue. Should Krejci be relegated to second-line duty, his wingers could include the 33-year-old David Backes and the 23-year-old Frank Vatrano. One is past his prime; the other has yet to establish himself as a scorer.

    Krejci rebounded from a previous dip in production earlier in his career. Potentially skating with less talented linemates and possibly still affected by his hip surgery, a bounce-back performance could prove difficult to achieve for the 31-year-old center. He should still be an effective playmaker, but his point totals could hover around 50 this season.

7. Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Since 2009-10, defenseman Mark Giordano has been the anchor of the Calgary Flames blue line. The two-way rearguard's offensive numbers dropped off last season, signaling a possible ongoing decline in 2017-18.

    Giordano reached the 40-point mark four times between 2010-11 and 2015-16. In that latter season, he enjoyed a career-high 23-goal, 56-point performance. While his defensive game remained sound in 2016-17, his point total fell to 39 points in 81 games.

    The improvement in the Flames' defensive game under head coach Glen Gulutzan could be one reason for the drop in Giordano's offense. Blueliner Dougie Hamilton, 24, also shouldered some of the offensive load last season. He led all Flames defensemen, tallying a career-best 50 points.

    Age is also a factor for Giordano, who will turn 34 on Oct. 3. With the addition of Travis Hamonic and the re-signing of late-season acquisition Michael Stone this summer, the Flames could attempt to lighten their captain's workload. His 40-point seasons could be in the past.

6. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    Following hip and abdominal surgery in May 2016, Philadelphia Flyers center Claude Giroux struggled last season to regain his scoring form. It remains to be seen if the 29-year-old will ever return to the torrid offensive pace he enjoyed earlier in his career.

    Between 2011-12 and 2013-14, Giroux averaged a point per game. That included a career-best 93 points in 77 games during the 2011-12 campaign. Though his production dipped slightly in 2014-15 to 73 points in 81 games it wasn't considered a significant issue.

    However, Giroux's points total tumbled to 67 in 2015-16 and 58 last season. On March 19, he acknowledged recovering from surgery affected his game, per Adam Kimelman of NHL.com. A healthy offseason could help improve his production in 2017-18. At this stage in the 29-year-old's career, that's not a certainty.

    Giroux remains a power-play threat, finishing fourth in the league last season in points (31) with the man advantage. He also led Philadelphia in faceoff wins (977). While he should still be an effective offensive forward for the Flyers, his point-per-game days are likely behind him.

5. Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Since 2010-11, center Joe Pavelski has been a model of consistency for the San Jose Sharks. But at 33, he's reaching the stage in his career when his offensive production could drop.

    Pavelski exceeded the 60-point plateau in six of the last seven seasons, including three consecutive campaigns with at least 70 points, from 2013-14 to 2015-16. He also plays a solid defensive game. In 2016-17, he was their faceoff wins leader (449) and led all Sharks forwards in hits (130), blocked shots (73) and time on ice per game (19 minutes and seven seconds).

    The wear and tear of that physical two-way style could catch up with Pavelski this season. His production dropped to 68 points last term, in part because the offensive output of aging linemate Joe Thornton also declined. The lack of a suitable scoring forward on left wing didn't help, either.

    Pavelski's stats could decline again this season, especially if Thornton's numbers continue to deteriorate. How the Sharks address that left-wing issue on the top line could also be a factor.

4. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Last season marked the first time since 2006-07 center Anze Kopitar wasn't the Los Angeles Kings' leading scorer. His 52 points in 79 games made up his lowest total in a non-lockout season in his 12-year NHL career. That decline suggests his best days offensively are behind him.

    Kopitar has earned a sterling reputation as one of the NHL's best two-way centers. Between 2013-14 and 2015-16, he was a three-time finalist for the Frank J. Selke Trophy as the league's best defensive forward, winning the award in 2016.

    While Kopitar's offense dropped last season, he still played a strong defensive game, leading the Kings in takeaways (29) and faceoff wins (892). He also led all L.A. forwards in blocked shots (59) and time on ice per game (20 minutes and 45 seconds).

    A lack of quality scoring talent on Kopitar's wings last season contributed to his drop in points. It's unlikely to improve this season, as he could be saddled with aging wingers Marian Gaborik and Michael Cammalleri. He could be relegated to the second line in favor of giving scoring forwards Jeff Carter, Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson more playing time.

3. Corey Perry, Anaheim Ducks

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Since 2007-08, right wing Corey Perry has regularly finished each season among the Anaheim Ducks' top-three scorers. Over the last two seasons, however, his point totals have dropped. His numbers could continue fading in 2017-18.

    Perry, 32, has overcome previous point declines earlier in his career. After reaching a career-high 98 points in 2010-11, he managed only 60 points the following season. But in 2013-14, he netted an impressive 82 points in 81 games.

    In 2015-16, Perry tallied 34 goals and 62 points. Last season, those numbers fell to just 19 goals and 53 points. While he had 11 points in 17 playoff games last spring, he was held scoreless in nine contests.

    Perry has enjoyed bounce-back performances before, but he's at the stage in his career when his scoring skills could be in an unavoidable downturn. He saw some second-line duty in 2016-17 and could spend more time there this season, further hindering his offensive output.

2. Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Since his NHL debut in 2005-06, Henrik Lundqvist has been the New York Rangers' undisputed starting goaltender. While he will retain that role in 2017-18, the 35-year-old could see his time among the league's elite stars drawing to a close.

    For most of Lundqvist's career, he's regularly ranked among the league's top netminders. He won the Vezina Trophy in 2012 and backstopped the Rangers to the 2014 Stanley Cup Final. His career numbers (405 wins in 742 games, with a 2.32 goals-against average, a .920 save percentage and 61 shutouts) are impressive.

    Last season, however, was memorable for the wrong reasons. Though Lundqvist won 30 games for the 11th time in 12 NHL seasons, his 2.74 GAA and .910 SP represent the worst numbers of his career. While he outdueled Carey Price in backstopping the Rangers to a first-round playoff series victory over the Montreal Canadiens, he was inconsistent in their six-game defeat by the Ottawa Senators.

    Lundqvist is at a point in his career when he needs a lighter workload. Injuries could also start becoming a factor. He missed seven games last season with a hip injury and nursed a sore knee through the offseason. To save wear and tear on Lundqvist, the Rangers could give more starts to backup Ondrej Pavelec.

1. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

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    Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin is one of the greatest goal scorers in NHL history. But as he approaches his 13th NHL season and 32nd birthday (Sept. 17), his best days could be behind him.

    Ovechkin has seven 50-goals seasons on his resume. Only Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy (nine seasons each) have more. He's won the Maurice Richard Trophy as the league's leading goal scorer six times, more than any other player, including four straight seasons from 2012-13 to 2015-16.

    Last season, however, saw Ovechkin's scoring plummet to just 33 goals in 82 games. It was his lowest output over a full season since his career-low 32 goals in 2010-11. At that time, the drop-off was due to the Capitals' attempt to play more defensively, crimping Ovechkin's wide-open scoring style.

    The drop in Ovechkin's 2016-17 numbers was attributable to improving his two-way play and putting more emphasis on setting up linemate T.J. Oshie. Still, Ovechkin's reached an age when pure scorers usually see their production deteriorate. He will remain a dangerous sniper, but his 50-goal days could be over.


    Stats via NHL.com and Hockey Reference.


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