Ice time and opportunity, as well as health and happiness, are significant factors in a player’s productivity. For the eight players below, the stars haven’t been aligned the past few seasons and their dwindling output has reflected that fact. But, for a variety of reasons, we like their chances for a big rebound season in 2008-09.
Martin Havlat, Chicago
A bounty of skilled, maturing youngsters – Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and others – has resulted in high hopes for Chicago this season. But the most pivotal player for the Hawks might be Havlat, who can dazzle with his superior skating and elite offensive skills. If healthy, he’s the most dangerous player the Hawks have. And, as a seven-year NHL pro at age 27, he’s practically a grizzled veteran on the fresh-faced Hawks. But he has been on the sidelines as much as he has been on the ice since arriving in the NHL in 2000; since the lockout, he’s missed 137 of 246 games. The good news? He’s back on the ice and is up for unrestricted free agency next summer, so you know the motivation is there. With good health and some good luck in Chicago, Havlat has the ability to surpass 90 points.
Markus Naslund, Rangers
It wasn’t a lot of fun in Vancouver for the former Canucks captain the past few seasons – his offense slipped and so did the Canucks down the standings. Now Naslund has a fresh start on the Atlantic Ocean side of things and he’s more of a support player than the go-to guy, which should take the pressure off. Plus, he’ll be skating with Scott Gomez or perhaps Chris Drury most of the time, so the scoring opportunities should be a-plenty. A return to 35 goals and 70-plus points is within Naslund’s grasp.
Maxim Afinogenov, Buffalo
A blazingly fast skater who periodically has been compared to Pavel Bure, Afinogenov fell off the map last season. Probably had something to do with the fact the Sabres lost their top two centers in Drury and Daniel Briere to free agency. But still…10 goals and 28 points after putting up 73 points in 2005-06 and 61 points (in 56 games) in ’06-07? That’s not a drop-off; that’s a free-fall. Especially for a player who, at age 29, is supposed to be in his prime. There was talk Afinogenov might be on his way out of Buffalo, but the Sabres know he has 30-goal, 75-point potential.
Alex Tanguay, Montreal
In 2000-01, his second season in the NHL, Tanguay scored two goals in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final to lead the Colorado Avalanche over the New Jersey Devils. It was the beginning of a run of several 25-goal, 75-point seasons. Times were good. But after the lockout, the salary cap slapped the Avs and Colorado had to make some moves to appease the bottom line. Tanguay was shipped to Calgary, where he had one good season, in 2006-07, followed by a bad one last year under Flames coach Mike Keenan. Long story short, Tanguay was shipped out again, this time to his home province of Quebec to play for the Canadiens. No pressure, Alex, but the Habs need you to return to your scoring ways so they can claim their 25th Cup in their 100th anniversary season.
Mikko Koivu, Minnesota
Saku’s little brother – all 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds of him – has quietly ramped up his game in Minnesota the past couple of seasons. But Koivu missed about one-third of 2007-08 after Vancouver’s Mattias Ohlund broke his leg with a slash, so his breakout has stutter-stepped a bit. But he’s back, he’s the Wild’s No. 1 center, and his two-play has earned the trust of coach Jacques Lemaire. And at just 25 years old, the best is yet to come for Koivu. Twenty-five goals and 70 points is realistic, especially when you remember he’ll be dishing off to Marian Gaborik.
Patrik Elias, New Jersey
The Devils have lacked quality centers the past couple years, so Elias moved from his natural left wing position to the middle. It might have helped the Devils’ greater good, but it did little for Elias’s productivity or confidence. After averaging 35 goals and 70-75 points in the five seasons prior to the lockout, Elias has turned in campaigns of 16, 21 and 20 goals (and 45, 69 and 55 points). New Jersey added centers Brian Rolston, who was drafted by the Devils, and Bobby Holik, who used to play for them, in the off-season so Elias will slide back over to the left side. And, the Devils hope, he’ll slide back up to the 30-goal, 75-point range.
Miroslav Satan, Pittsburgh
The guy who carried the Sabres’ offense for so long managed just 16 goals in 80 games for the Islanders last season. Of course, he had the likes of Mike Comrie, Josef Vasicek and Mike Sillinger as his set-up men; in Pittsburgh, he’ll have Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. Big difference. Satan, at 33, should be able to score his age and take a run at his career high of 75 points.
Dan Boyle, San Jose
When your skate falls from your dressing room stall and cuts tendons in your wrist, you know it’s not going to be your year. That’s what happened to Boyle in Tampa Bay last season. When he did come back, he wasn’t 100 percent and ended up minus-29 in 37 games. That was a reflection of the last-place Lightning as much as Boyle, but it was a season to forget all around. This year, Boyle has a clean sheet in San Jose, where he’ll be the No. 1 D-man on a team with legitimate Cup hopes. In fact, the Sharks brought in Boyle – and Rob Blake – to be a veteran presence on the blueline and to help the team get over the playoff hump. Before that happens, though, look for Boyle to put up 60 points in the regular season.
Sam McCaig is The Hockey News’ senior copy editor and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears weekly.
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