How some of the mighty fell in 2017-18.
None more so than Montreal superstar goalie Carey Price.
He went on record recently saying that there won’t be a repeat of the miserable campaign he turned in last year. For his sake and his team’s, he better hope so.
“At the end of the day, I know how I feel about my game and I know I could have played better,” Price said, according to Kevin Woodley at NHL.com. “I always feel like that regardless, but I know I can play better than that and I know my teammates will be looking to perform better this season as well. It’s all intertwined, it’s all connected and when you can iron out those details, it’s all about chemistry.”
These carefully worded platitudes will mean nothing if the Canadiens end up in a lottery position at the end of the 2018-19 season.
Price, like a slew of other NHL stars, should bounce back in the upcoming season. Here are a full team’s worth of players (two goalies, six defencemen and 12 forwards) who are due to rebound from forgettable seasons (or multiple seasons).
G Jaroslav Halak – Boston Bruins
He will in all likelihood be a back-up in Boston, but Halak escapes a New York Islanders team that will suffer from the upheaval caused by the loss of team leader John Tavares to Toronto. In Beantown, Halak takes over reserve duties from Anton Khudobin (now in Dallas) and will probably suit up for between 25 and 30 games in relief of Tuukka Rask. It wasn’t all misery for the former Jennings Trophy winner with the Isles last year, but neither was it rosy. First, the Bratislava native posted a losing record for the first time in his career, going 20-26-6 in 54 appearances (49 starts). Halak also had his lowest save percentage since his rookie year at .908 and his goals against average ballooned to over 3.00 for the first time ever, clocking in at 3.19. He ended up tied for 33rd in save percentage and owned the sixth worst GAA. Those numbers should sort themselves out with better defence in front of him this season.
G Carey Price – Montreal Canadiens
Things certainly can’t get any worse than Price’s horrid output in 2017-18. Or could they? Everything about the former Vezina winning superstar’s season was terrible, from his eighth worst goals against average of 3.11 to a very un-Carey Price like save percentage of .900 (fifth worst overall). Now, some of his mediocre play could be explained away by the indifferent play of the defence in front of him and the absence of Shea Weber for all but 26 games, but he has to shoulder a good part of it. We say that because Habs brass invested $84 million and eight years in him last summer. That’s a $10.5 million cap hit for the next seven seasons, and Price is already 31. And, Weber won’t be back until mid-December, at the earliest. However, we believe that Price’s game should normalize to something between his 2014-15 Vezina winning season (1.96 GAA, .933 save percentage) and the turd he laid in 2017-18.
D Travis Hamonic – Calgary Flames
The honeymoon is over in Calgary, at least where Travis Hamonic is concerned. Highly regarded enough for the Flames to surrender a first round and two second round draft picks for, Hamonic didn’t knock anyone’s socks off with his play last year. As late as 2014-15 with the New York Islanders, Hamonic had 33 points and was +15, his best season in the bigs. After three years of steady offensive decline, he had but 11 points and was -9 for the Flames last year. Those numbers should improve, based on a couple of factors heading into the 2018-19 season. First, he is in his prime at 28 and has gone through this downturn before, so there is precedent (from 26 points his rookie year to 18 in 2013-14). Second, with Dougie Hamilton departed to Carolina, Hamonic looks to assume Hamilton’s top pair minutes with Mark Giordano. We see a turnaround.
D Nathan Beaulieu – Buffalo Sabres
There was change aplenty this off-season in the Queen City. Through trades, the draft and free agent acquisitions there may be seven new faces in the Sabres starting line-up. One existing player due a renaissance and who suffered through a bit of an injury-plagued campaign for the last-place Sabres in 2017-18 is Nathan Beaulieu. He has to be excited about the roster shift and the presence of no. 1 pick Rasmus Dahlin. Beaulieu was new himself at the start of the 2017-18 season, acquired for a third round draft pick after having a career year in Montreal. In 2016-17 the Strathroy, Ontario native logged four goals and 24 assists in 74 games, along with a +8. But, he missed 23 games last season, played nearly four fewer minutes when he was in the line-up and regressed to nine points and a -19. On a revamped — and improved — Sabres team Beaulieu should see an uptick in his game.
D Calvin de Haan – Carolina Hurricanes
Another refugee from the topsy turvy New York Islanders, D Calvin de Haan, should improve with a move to Carolina. After missing much of the 2017-18 season with a shoulder injury that required surgery, de Haan gets a fresh start with Carolina after signing a four-year, $18.2 million contract. And, the former first round pick joins a dynamic defensive corps in Carolina that could see him paired with fellow newcomer Dougie Hamilton. After playing in just 33 games last year (11 points, +8), a full season with Hamilton could see him easily eclipse career best numbers posted in 2016-17, when he had 25 points and was +15 in 82 games (the first year in five he played an entire slate). What makes the Carp, Ontario native even more valuable is that he scores most of his points even strength and does the little things well. It’s going to be a much better year for a healthy de Haan.
D Nikita Zaitsev – Toronto Maple Leafs
We’ve seen this movie before, sort of. It’s starts with a “rookie” like Zaitsev, who comes into the NHL as an unkown and lights it up, at least offensively. Then, when he can’t sneak up on anyone, and suffers an injury to boot, he falters in his sophomore season. That is exactly what happened to Moscow native Zaitsev. After percolating for a few years in the KHL, the undrafted rearguard signed with Toronto in 2016 and then played all 82 games the following season, scoring four goals and 32 assists, while recording 176 hits and 136 blocked shots. All around, a very nice year. But, in 2017-18, the 26-year-old defender suffered a broken foot, coincidentally by blocking yet another shot. He missed 22 games and while his plus-minus improved to +8 in 60 games, he wasn’t as effective offensively, with five goals and 13 points. A full slate of games should see Zaitsev get closer to his first year totals again.
D Nick Holden – Vegas Golden Knights
Team Cast Off, aka the Vegas Golden Knights, did a superb job amalgamating a slew of players no one else really wanted into a Stanley Cup challenging team. Which can only mean good things for offensively gifted and well-traveled defenceman Holden. After a breakout offensive year with the New York Rangers in 2016-17 (his third NHL team), the undrafted rearguard couldn’t retain the mojo in a 2017-18 season split between the Rangers and Boston Bruins. He recorded a personal best 34 points and a +13 with the Blueshirts in 16-17, but could only muster 17 points and a -5 in 73 games with New York/Boston last year. The Bruins benched him for all but two games in the playoffs and didn’t offer him a contract in the off-season. Enter Vegas, home of wayward hockey players. Holden joins a pretty dynamic defensive corps in Sin City and with a little patience and regular ice time should have a decent year.
D Ryan McDonagh – Tampa Bay Lightning
Armed with a fresh new contract extension that will see him play seven seasons beyond the 2018-19 season with Tampa Bay, Ryan McDonagh should rebound from an injury plagued 2017-18 campaign. After a 42-point, +20 season with the New York Rangers in 2016-17, McDonagh played his fewest games since his rookie year (63) and slipped to 29 points and +8 with New York and Tampa Bay. His pace in New York last year, 26 points in 49 games, slowed dramatically after being dealt to Tampa in a trade deadline blockbuster, with just three points in 14 games. However, he was just coming off a shoulder injury, so we see a big rebound for the veteran D-man, who may be paired with stalwart Anton Stralman heading into the 2018-19 season.
F Jeff Skinner – Buffalo Sabres
It’s going to be a lot better year in Buffalo, mark our words. Maybe even a playoff bound season, given all the changes — and good ones — on the roster. The Sabres will have five new faces in their forward lines, chief among them Skinner, who was acquired for minor league Cliff Pu and three draft picks. Not a small price to pay, but none of the draft picks are first rounders, while the Sabres get the services of a dynamic scorer who had 204 goals and 379 points in 579 games with Carolina. And, Skinner is still just 26 heading into his ninth NHL season. It’s a good bet he will skate on the top line with Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart, so you better believe he will improve on the 24-goal, 49-point, -27 season he had with the ‘Canes in 2017-18. This followed a superb year in 2016-17, when the 2010 seventh overall pick scored a career high 37 goals (his third season of 30 or more tallies) and added 26 assists to match his rookie season output. We think 30 goals and 60-plus points will be entirely within his reach this year.
F Wayne Simmonds – Philadelphia Flyers
After four seasons of net gains in a Flyers uniform, Simmonds value — in just about every category — took a turn for the worst in 2017-18. For four seasons between 2013-14 and 2016-17, the Toronto native averaged 56 points (30 goals), while taking the body hard, including a career high 192 hits in 2015-16. Last year, which had to be frustrating, Simmonds scored 24 times and had 46 points and recorded 129 hits. All his possession metrics experienced a downturn, too. Heck, even the nasty edge to his game went south, with the noted tough guy sitting in the sin bin for just 57 minutes after two straight seasons of over 100 PIM. The playoffs turned out to be less than savory as well, with the 10-year veteran recording just two assists in six games against heated rival, the Pittsburgh Penguins. Simmonds, who will be 30 on Aug. 26, is in a contract year, which should give him greater motivation to amp up his game.
F Patrick Maroon – St. Louis Blues
Patrick Maroon actually eclipsed a career high points total he achieved in Edmonton in 2016-17 (42), by one point last year in a season split between the Edmonton Oilers and New Jersey Devils. But there is more to the stats than meets the eye. After scoring 27 goals with the Oilers, he tallied just 17 with Edmonton/New Jersey. While he did play seven fewer games, his shooting percentage went down from 15.2 percent to 12.1. His strength, using that big body of his, is scoring even strength goals, of which he had 16 after 24 in 2016-17. The key, then, for the former sixth round pick will be complementing his prospective new linemates in St. Louis, namely playmaking center Tyler Bozak and equally adept passer David Perron, who recorded 50 helpers with Vegas last year and gets a second go around with the Blues. Not hard to imagine, then, that Maroon should see a whole lot of passes come his way in 2017-18.
F Jeff Carter – Los Angeles Kings
Rumor has it that the Kings are going to get “That 70s Line” back together in time for puck drop this season. And that should bode well for Carter, who spent 57 games on the disabled list last season — after missing just 15 games in the previous five campaigns. Carter played six games at the start of the 2017-18 season, recording three assists before a lacerated ankle tendon sidelined him until late February. After that, the veteran center went on a tear, firing 13 goals over the final 21 games and adding six assists to finish the year with 22 points. Therefore, reuniting Carter with linemates Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli will give the Kings a great no. 2 behind a line including Anze Kopitar-Ilya Kovalchuk-Dustin Brown. The Kings, who bowed in four games against Vegas in the first round of the playoffs, are banking on another 60-point season from Carter.
F Max Pacioretty – Montreal Canadiens
Not only do the Habs need a rebound year from superstar goalie Carey Price, but a bounce back from team captain and chief sniper Max Pacioretty would be welcome too. So many things dogged Pacioretty in 2017-18, including injury (he missed 18 games after losing just three games in three previous seasons), lack of production (just 17 goals, after averaging 35 in four straight years) and questions about his leadership. Just one year after recording a career high 67 points and a +15, Patches sank to 37 points and -16 in as miserable a season as has been seen in Montreal in a long, long time. The 2017-18 season is a big one for Pacioretty, too, as he is a free agent at year’s and still in his prime at 29. He will still skate on a top line that could also get better years out of center Jonathan Drouin (46 points last year) and RW Brendan Gallagher (54 points).
F Chris Kreider – New York Rangers
For the first time in eight years and only the second time since 2003-04, the Rangers missed the post-season. It was a lackluster campaign that saw the team off-load veteran players like Ryan McDonagh (Tampa), J.T. Miller (also Tampa), Michael Grabner (New Jersey) and Rick Nash (Boston) when it was deemed all was lost. A youth movement and a rebuild has followed, leaving a guy like 27-year-old Chris Kreider as an “old hand.” His 2017-18 season was marred by a blood clot issue that limited him to just 58 games, where he tallied 37 points and a -2. It was a bit of a miserable year for the normally robust winger. Previous to that, he had enjoyed three straight years of moderate gains, to the point he recorded a career high 28 goals and 53 points in 2016-17. A healthy Kreider will skate on the top line with Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich this season.
F Brandon Saad – Chicago Blackhawks
It was not a good year for two thirds of the Original Six teams, Chicago included. Like New York, Detroit and Montreal, the Blackhawks failed to reach the playoffs. In the Hawks case, it marked the first time in 10 seasons, causing a lot of off-season soul-searching in the Windy City. Underachievement was the order of the day in Chicago, with several veterans putting in less than stellar campaigns. Chief among them was $6 million man Brandon Saad, who had his worst full season ever in his return to Chicago. He did play in all 82 games, but logged just 35 points (18 goals) and was an uncharacteristic -10 after being +68 in five previous seasons. Contrast that output to consecutive career high 53 point seasons in Columbus and the numbers look even worse. However, Saad is still just 25 and penciled in on the first line with Jonathan Toews (who also needs a bounce back year) and rookie sensation Alex DeBrincat.
F Nick Foligno – Columbus Blue Jackets
If stats really do mean anything, Nick Foligno should recover from a pretty crummy 2017-18 season. In 2013-14, he recorded just 39 points, then followed it up with a career best 73 in 2014-15. A season later, he slipped to 37 points and a -14 rating, only to recover and put up a respectable 51 points (-4) in 2016-17. Last season, the only thing that improved was his plus-minus in 72 games, coming in at +1. Otherwise, Foligno’s 33-point output (15 goals) was nothing to write home about. The 30-year-old Buffalo native picked it up a notch in the first round of the playoffs against Washington, scoring two goals and an assist, but that didn’t help Columbus’ fortunes, as they fell in six games to the eventual champs. This could be a make or break year for Foligno, who should skate on the second line with Alexander Wennberg and Oliver Bjorkstrand. He is in the fourth year of a six-year contract ($5.5 million cap hit) with a no movement clause, but he may be asked to waive it if his season and that of his team doesn’t go the way it should.
F Sam Bennett – Calgary Flames
Being a fourth overall pick has been mostly a curse for 22-year-old three-year veteran Sam Bennett. Taken at that spot in the 2014 draft, his offensive output hasn’t been what many thought it would be. In his first full season, 2015-16, it wasn’t bad, as Bennett clocked in at 18 goals and 18 assists in 77 games, with a -11 rating. While his defensive shortcomings could be overlooked, he did slip to 13 goals and 13 assists in 81 games during the 2016-17 campaign, with a -16 rating. Then came 2017-18 and no signs of real improvement, statistically speaking. He had just 11 goals and 15 assists in 82 games and plunged to -18. One need look no further than 2015 fourth overall selection Mitch Marner (who has 130 points in 159 games) to see that Bennett has underachieved since that decent first year. But, he is in the last year of an inexpensive two-year, $3.9 million contract and will want to have a big year to garner a long-term pact. We see it happening.
F Nick Bonino – Nashville Predators
In his nine-year journeyman career, Nick Bonino has never been a first liner or a marquee name, yet he’s been very valuable as a source of secondary scoring and face-off acumen. Now on his fourth team, the Nashville Predators, Bonino was inked to a four-year, $16.4 million contract last summer to do his thing. He did have great success on draws, winning a career high 54.3 percent of them in 71 games, but his offensive numbers were lacking as he registered only 25 points, his lowest total since the lockout shortened 2012-13 campaign (13 points in 27 games). A valued member of two straight championship teams in Pittsburgh, which beat his new team in the 2017 finals, Bonino did chip in five points in 13 games during this year’s playoffs, but all in all his entire season was a wash. There is hope for 2018-19, though, as Bonino should again anchor the third line, with exciting new prospect Eeli Tolvanen on his left side and relative newcomer Ryan Hartman on his right.
F Zach Parise – Minnesota Wild
Most of what has ailed Parise’s game in the last couple of seasons has been injury-related. He sat out 40 games of the 2017-18 season with a back injury and in two seasons previous he missed 25 games due to leg ailments. His days of scoring 80-plus points may be well behind him, but the expensive 34-year-old forward is capable of at least 60, like the 62 points he logged in 74 games during the 2014-15 season. Even though he appeared in just 42 games last year, Parise tallied 15 goals and nine assists for 24 points, then added three goals in three games of the Wild’s limited run in the post-season against Winnipeg. Parise still has seven years of a giant 13-year, $98 million contract he signed in 2012 and you can bet if healthy, he will produce on the top line with Eric Staal and Jason Zucker. Count on it.
F Marcus Johansson – New Jersey Devils
Health — or lack thereof — played a major role in Marcus Johansson’s injury shortened 2017-18 season. The former Washington Capitals playmaker was acquired last off-season to augment an up-and-coming New Jersey team’s top six, but suffered through a laundry list of injuries. He ended up appearing in just 29 games, scoring a respectable 14 points. Contrast that, though, to his previous four seasons, where he missed just 10 total games and averaged nearly 48 points a season. In his last season with Washington, 2016-17, Johansson established career highs in goals (24), assists (34) and points 58. The 27-year-old Swede is in the last year of a three-year, $13.75 million contract ($4.583 million cap hit), so rest assured he will be playing for his next deal. We see him bouncing back, but re-signing with the frugal Devils may not be in the cards, if he isn’t traded before his contract is up anyway.