NHL Feature: Big Year Or Bust by @PuckSage
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Big Year Or Bust
Every year there are a small handful of players who need to have a tremendous year or any last remnant of public respect will disappear. Some guys stay in the same place their whole career and this happens. Some guys move on and after a year or two the glitter is scoured away by the cold light of day. And for a few, their current stop could be their last NHL stop.
Objectively, it seems odd that a man who has scored 135 goals in the last four seasons should be on the list. Realistically, a guy who reportedly was disappointed to drop to fifth in a draft that had Jonathan Toews, Jordan Staal, and Niklas Backstrom, go ahead of him should probably just put up or shut up. The criticism that has followed him since week one with Boston after being drafted is “he just doesn’t show up for long stretches”. He’s become Mr. October. He puts up completely silly numbers for four or five weeks, and then by December most years he’s an average third liner. Last year’s October pace would have given him a 134 point season stretched out to 82 games. The big picture for a guy who’s got 28 goals in 88 March games, and 30 goals in 51 career October games is that when you’re paid well you’re expected to play consistently. He’s got this season and one more left on his contract, if he can’t focus and improve his game he’s looking at taking a pay cut in his next deal. No one doubts his talent, but talent alone does not a superstar make.
Like Kessel, Semin can be an extraordinary goal scorer. Unlike Kessel, statistically he’s at the age where his production will start tailing off. He’s also been publicly criticized by former teammates, and will be starting the year on his third professional team since being drafted into the NHL. When the last CBA expiration led to a work stoppage Semin spent two years in Moscow before returning to the Capitals who drafted him. Arguably, the ceiling for Semin is higher than it is for Kessel. It may not be a good argument given that he’s not once hit 78 games in his NHL career, but he did put up 40 goals and 84 points in the 2009-10 season. Unfortunately a reputation for soft, lazy play and poor conditioning has dogged him of late. In the eyes of many fans in Raleigh he’ll be the fourth best forward behind the Staal’s, and Skinner. A salary that is topped by only Eric Staal’s won’t earn him much leeway with the local crowd if he doesn’t perform.
Leaving New Jersey in the manner he did means he’s already spent all his credit in that market, and two or three other markets who were led to believe they were in the running for his services by irresponsible media will have several of them waiting for him to fail. And then there’s the hometown crowd. He may have grown up in Minnesota, and he came home and signed a forever deal too which will earn him a lot of credit. But coming off a Stanley Cup run (which he didn’t perform well in) he’ll have that “cup hangover” even the teams that lose in the finals face. While his Olympic buddy and new teammate Ryan Suter signed an equally enormous deal, Parise is the sexy signing. The number of top notch or even legitimate top six forwards the Wild have had since coming into the NHL can probably be counted on one hand. If he doesn’t make the adjustment to a new system and new team where he’s going to be the best forward at least as fast as Kovalchuk did, he’s gonna want out long before the deal is over but probably not before the home crowd is sick of him.
Ryan Miller has two strikes against him coming into this, and when the season starts the next pitch will be inbound. His injury history is one. His declining stats is another. With new ownership they won’t be nearly as attached to keeping him as someone with a longer standing relationship might be. With this and one more season on his contract, he like Derek Roy could find himself elsewhere on little notice. It is clear Pegula has a vision for the team, it is unclear if those plans will include retaining the services of someone who engages in publicly calling out their teammates, and making highly inflammatory comments about other players when mixed with substandard play. At 32 years old, Miller is arguably entering the prime years of his career, but much of the core of the Sabres is now two to four years away from theirs and moving on might be in the organizations best interest.
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@PuckSage frequently wonders if having a grip on reality is a disqualification to be an pro-sports team owner. It would explain much if it were. He also wants to know why you don’t comment on HockeyThisWeek, it isn’t that hard, and it’s free (for a limited time only!).