Blog Entry

Step-back players: Can Columbus' Wiz keep it up?

Posted on: September 21, 2011 12:05 pm
Edited on: September 21, 2011 12:11 pm

By Brian Stubits

We see it over and over again in sports. Player has a career year, player gets a fat new contract with new team, said player fails to live up to the new deal.

After an offseason of numerous exorbitant contracts, this description will likely apply to plenty of players this upcoming year. That includes the guy who received the biggest bounty on the first day of free agency, James Wisniewski.

Signed by the Columbus Blue Jackets for a robust six-year, $33 million, Wisniewski is the second-highest paid player on an annual basis on a team that includes Rick Nash and Jeff Carter. That's a lot of coin for a player who has one season on his resume worthy of such. In his defense it was last season, so he picked a good time for his best season.

But surely you can see the red flags here. Wisniewski would appear to be a prime target for a step-back season. Now it's possible that last season was the Wiz actually stepping into his prime, after all he is 27 years old now, the magical age in all sports. But when a guy scores 21 more points in a season higher than his previous career high, it is only fair to wonder if it can be repeated. Such a jump indicates likelihood to regress to the mean a little bit.

Throw in the fact that Wisniewski is coming to a new environment, joining players he has never played with before and in an organization that has not had much success to talk about and you have the making for much quieter year.

What could help Wisniewski replicate his 51 points from a season ago with the Canadiens would be getting a lot of ice time, especially on the power play, with Rick Nash and Jeff Carter. Depending on how quickly they jell up front could impact Wisniewski's play and numbers. He'll certainly share the ice with the two high- scoring forwards a bit, but the more (probably) the better.

Now is as good a time as any to explain the rationale here, because it always gets misunderstood. This is no way to say that Wisniewski or any of the other players below will have bad years. That isn't the object one bit. It's simply players who might see a regression. Think of it this way: If a player is great and he regresses, he can still be very good. That fit Alexander Ovechkin last season, despite still being one of the best players in the league, it can't be argued he didn't have as strong a season last year. Now, on to the ...

Step-back candidates

Michael Grabner/Taylor Hall/Logan Couture/Jeff Skinner/Tyler Seguin/Brad Marchand: We're just throwing all of last season's top rookies into one category and labeling this one the "sophomore slump" group. Chances are one of them won't continue to blossom or match their rookie outputs. If I had to pick one, it would be Grabner of the Islanders.

Teemu Selanne, Ducks: The guy is a wonder, recording more than a point per game last season with the Ducks at 40 years old. But his offseason knee surgery and subsequent wait to see if he'd be ready to go (and advanced age) would seem to indicate a player who doesn't seem likely to keep up his pace. Just playing the odds on this one. Then again, we are talking about Selanne here.

Danny Briere, Flyers: Somebody is likely going to suffer a setback in Philadelphia with the absence of Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, and Briere would be my best guess. He posted 34 goals and 34 assists last season, his highest point total in since 2007-08 and he's no spring chicken any more as he will turn 34 years old on the Flyers' opening day.

Christian Ehrhoff, Sabres: He is coming off a season where he posted 14 goals and 36 assists along with a plus-19. That in and of itself is tough to repeat. My colleague Adam Gretz wrote about the prospect of replacing Ehrhoff in Vancouver, noting that he was a bit protected. Now he will still be surrounded by a very good team in Buffalo, but it's looking like he will be paired with Jordan Leopold, the second defensive pairing behind Tyler Myers and Robyn Regehr. It's going to be very tough to replicate his excellent last two seasons.

Michal Neuvirth, Capitals: This is the gamble the Caps are taking by bringing in Tomas Vokoun. Neuvirth was very solid last season, posting a 27-12-4 record with a 2.45 GAA and .914 save percentage. They are risking him taking a step back in his growth as a player by relegating him to backup minutes, not to mention the possibility of a hit to the psyche of bringing in another goaltender and naming him the starter soon after the acquisition.

Sean Bergenheim, Panthers: He had the best season of his career with the Lightning a season ago, scoring 14 goals and 15 assists through 80 regular-season games. Where he drew plenty of attention for himself, though, was in the playoffs when he had nine goals for the Bolts. Coming up with the Islanders there had been plenty of hope and potential for Bergenheim, so perhaps he's just starting to break out. I'm expecting a point total in the low 20s, like his numbers in the days on the Island.

NHL season preview schedule
Wed., Sept. 21: Step-back players Tues., Sept. 27: Atlantic Division
Thur., Sept. 22: Breakout players Wed., Sept. 28: Central Division
Fri., Sept. 23: Southeast Division Thur. Sept. 29: Northeast Division
Mon., Sept. 26: Pacific Division Fri., Sept. 30: Northwest Division

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Since: Dec 2, 2011
Posted on: December 15, 2011 5:05 pm
This comment has been removed.

Post Deleted by Administrator

Since: Nov 5, 2007
Posted on: September 28, 2011 1:17 am

Step-back players: Can Columbus' Wiz keep it up?

Why would anyone have to ask wives or girlfriends about Pronger when we have Bogs10 reporting? Im sure he's been with Pronger all through Hartford, St Louis, Edmonton, Anaheim and now Philly and has all the facts. The rumors, and only rumors, I believe to have any rational thought behind them are that he and his wife had problems during his time in Edmonton; nothing relating to anything in the locker room, or anyone else's business for that matter. Its called marriage and its not always easy.

And please, labeling Carter and Richards cancers is just ridiculous.

Sean Avery is a cancer.

Milton Bradley is a cancer.

TO is a cancer.

Shall I continue?

You really have Richards and Carter in the cancer group?


I wonder if Simon Gagne feels that way now that he followed Richards to LA, or if Terry Murray and John Stevens really wanted to get involved with that cancer again by bringing Richards onto their team. Hmm... Or maybe Umberger had been tricked into agreeing to that extension with the CBJ after Carter's arrival? Hmmm.

Those 2 began to live the life of multi-million-dollar bachelors, and sure it got in the way of their focus at times. Agreed. But labeling them cancerous is something I will never agree to.

First off, the biggest issue with Carter over the past two years is the fact that he's gotten injured during the playoffs and the games he played in were unproductive. So you can't have a guy who isn't there 75% of the meaningful games the past 2 years be labeled cancerous. Invisible, but not cancerous.

And when people looked at Mike Richards to be the unfairly labeled "second-coming of Bobby Clarke," they doomed this kid forever in their own minds before his career ever played out. I highly doubt a kid who led his junior team to a championship, his AHL team to a championship, and contributed to a Canadian gold medal could be seen as a cancer.

These 2 are 26 year old single guys with a lot of money to spend. By the time they hit 30, they may realize that they let some long nights of partying prevent themselves to ever reach full potential, and that is ashame and something we Flyer fans have to debate whether or not it was a fair shake for us... but when you throw out the idea of these guys poisoning a locker room, thats absurd.

Since: Sep 17, 2011
Posted on: September 25, 2011 7:57 pm

Step-back players: Can Columbus' Wiz keep it up?

Agreed two cancers have left but still one there. Pronger is a bigger cancer than the other two. Ask the wives or girlfriends of his past team mates.

Since: Jun 7, 2010
Posted on: September 24, 2011 5:19 pm

Step-back players: Can Columbus' Wiz keep it up?

Agree with other posters,  Briere can sit the entire season as long as he shows up (like normal) during the playoffs.  His little 5 foot self was the only one to get past the B's big D last year and he's money in the post season.  I think everyone will step up an extra level with the 2 cancers gone from the locker room.

Since: Nov 7, 2010
Posted on: September 24, 2011 4:28 am

Step-back players: Can Columbus' Wiz keep it up?

Briere only problem is health..if he can stay helthy enough he'd produce  a lot..Giroux will be 1st team center..with Betts and Talbot on the team he'll not be used on penalty killings..making him a better source of points especially in PP because of the departure of Richards and Carter/Leino

Since: Nov 21, 2006
Posted on: September 23, 2011 4:56 pm

Step-back players: Can Columbus' Wiz keep it up?

Just because Briere wasn't on a line with Richards and Carter doesn't mean that his stats can't be affected by their departure.  By losing two of their top scoring players, an opposing team won't have to have their first d-man pairing going against Richards and Carter, leaving a 2nd or 3rd D pairing to face Briere's line.  More than likely, a larger pressure will be on Briere to produce because of the loss of Richards and Carter. He will more likely be on a line facing the opponents top defensive pairing, which could lead to lower production totals. 

Mind you, I say this having always been a fan of Briere. He is a Martin St. Louis type, viewed as too small to be able to excel and succeed in a league of large players.  He's a great player, but with so much change and turnover in the NHL due to free agency and the salary cap, there are bound to be players thrust into the situation that awaits Briere this season.

Since: Oct 10, 2006
Posted on: September 23, 2011 11:28 am

Step-back players: Can Columbus' Wiz keep it up?

How does the lose of Carter and Richards effect Briere.  He didnt play on a line with either of them.  Poor reasoning if u would of sd with the lose of Leino u have an arguement moron

Since: Oct 24, 2006
Posted on: September 22, 2011 5:47 pm

Step-back players: Can Columbus' Wiz keep it up?

Throw in the fact that Wisniewski is coming to a new environment, joining players he has never played with before and in an organization that has not had much success to talk about and you have the making for much quieter year.

Ummm, didn't the Wiz do this last year?? Twice?? Nonsense.

Since: Jul 1, 2010
Posted on: September 22, 2011 2:43 pm

Step-back players: Can Columbus' Wiz keep it up?

Aren't there about a 1/2 dozen players in FLA that could be on the list?

Since: Aug 19, 2006
Posted on: September 22, 2011 12:50 pm

Step-back players: Can Columbus' Wiz keep it up?

I agree that Briere should NOT be on this list and I personally do not think he'll miss Leino.  I actually think that Hartnell will do well this year (can't do much worse than last year) and we'll see who's their line mate, but it sounds like its going to be Voracek.  Although I would really like to see what Briere and Jagr could do together.  I personally still think Jagr has it and will make a big contribution to this team.

A lot of people are saying that the loses of Carter and Richards are going to cripple this team, but I think just the opposite.  Richie was my favorite player, but any fan could tell that there was something up.  With those two gone and Pronger as the captain I think everyone will be on the same page now and play more like a complete team than last year. 

Now to play devil's advocate, with the play of some of the young guys, Hartnell could end up being an 'AHL demotion to save cap space' casualty.  Not sure that it would be the right move, but if they needed to clear space, I have to think he could be it.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or