Tag:Carolina Hurricanes
Posted on: October 7, 2011 9:11 pm
Edited on: October 7, 2011 9:55 pm
 

Vokoun's agent speaks out on goalie situation

TV1By: Adam Gretz

When it was reported on Friday afternoon that Michal Neuvirth, and not Tomas Vokoun, would be the opening night goaltender for the Washington Capitals you had to expect some sort of controversy to build, and it didn't take long for that to happen.

Allan Walsh, the agent for Vokoun, told Stephen Whyno of the Washington Times Friday evening that coach Bruce Boudreau's decision "could be perceived as a slap in the face" to the 35-year-old goaltender who signed a one-year, $1.5 million deal with the Capitals this summer.

It's been an interesting situation to watch from the start as it was widely assumed that Vokoun would be the No. 1 starter due to his recent track record with the Florida Panthers. Neuvirth, however, refused to concede the job that he perceived to be his and talked multiple times about how he planned to keep his spot as the starter. And for at least one night -- the first night of the season -- he did.

More from the Times:
To Vokoun’s agent, it was not only a surprise but it also could be “perceived as a slap in the face.” Allan Walsh told The Washington Times in a telephone interview Friday night that his client was “very disappointed” by the decision.

“He was told he was coming into Washington as the No. 1 goalie,” Walsh told The Times. “They were very public in their comments about that. … There’s a certain symbolism attached to who starts the first game of the season at home. It doesn’t mean he’s not a No. 1 goalie. But this can certainly be perceived as a slap in the face."

Walsh, who is no stranger to taking to Twitter and social media to speak up for his clients, also added that "all around the league, the No. 1 goalie on teams is starting on opening night." And that's how your controversy starts. For now, anyway. Earlier this week Boudreau said that he considers the two players to be "1 and 1B" when it comes to their standing on the depth chart, and anytime you're dealing with two players that are capable of being the starter -- and both of these guys are -- somebody is going to have to swallow some pride every now and take the occassional seat.

Plus, most teams like to get both goalies a start as early as possible at the beginning of the season, and the Capitals' next two games after the opener are against Tampa Bay, their top competition within the Division, and Pittsburgh, their top competition within the conference. It should be interesting to see which goalie gets the call in those two games.

If it's Vokoun, this whole thing likely blows over and becomes much ado about nothing. If it's Neuvirth? Things might get interesting.

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: October 7, 2011 1:44 pm
Edited on: October 7, 2011 4:03 pm
 

Neuvirth to start Capitals opener, not Vokoun

By Brian Stubits

Perhaps the biggest of the Capitals offseason acquisition was the steal of Tomas Vokoun for only $1.5 million. So naturally he's starting the season opener, right? Wrong.

The Capitals threw a minor curveball on Friday by announcing that Michal Neuvirth, not Vokoun, will start the season opener Saturday against the Carolina Hurricanes.

"I just found out after practice, and, yeah, I was a little surprised," Neuvirth said after Friday's practice. "I think I had a great training camp and had very good preseason games and probably that's why I'm playing tomorrow."

The news was actually broken by Vokoun himself. When asked if he was at all nervous about Friday's game, he responded honestly.

“No, I'm not really nervous because I'm not playing,” Vokoun said. “Supposedly I'm going to play the next game.

"Certainly, it's a surprise," Vokoun told CSN Washington. "It's not my decision. Sometimes you like [those decisions], sometimes you don't like them. We haven't even played a game yet, so it's premature to be upset. It's not a good feeling, but I've played hockey for 30 years. Things happen."

He says he's not upset about it yet, but it seems clear he's not happy.

Since the Caps signed Vokoun, coach Bruce Boudreau has made no bones about it: Vokoun is his starting goaltender. Neuvirth took a majority of the starts last year, splitting the duties with Semyon Varlamov, now with the Avalanche. But Vokoun has experience, a history of success -- but not in the playoffs -- and the endorsement from management on his side.

Dare we say this is the beginning of a controversy in Washington? It's still too early to answer that question. But it certainly seems unusual to start your backup goalie on opening night ... at home no less. Not the best way to start the relationship with Vokoun for Boudreau.

Neuvirth did play very well this preseason, going 2-1-0 with a .949 save percentage and 1.35 goals against average and perhaps Boudreau is just honoring for that. But that won't quiet the questions.

Bombshell? Not exactly. But surprising? For that it qualifies.

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: October 7, 2011 10:02 am
Edited on: October 7, 2011 10:05 am
 

Daily Skate: Deal or no deal to buy the Blues?

By Brian Stubits

There are 12 teams getting their season under way tonight in the NHL. Two of them will come early in Europe as the Kings-Rangers and Sabres-Ducks battle at 1 ET. Then tonight there are four more games back in North America, including the Rick Nash/Jeff Carter era beginning in Columbus. Scoreboard

DEAL OR NO DEAL? It recently came out from Jeremy Rutherford at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that Matthew Hulsizer, the Chicago man who nearly bought the Coyotes, has reached a verbal agreement to purchase the Blues. But Andy Strickland at True Hockey says not so fast, there is a lot of work that needs to be done, but at least things are promising.

EARLY RETURN: Nothing like a small sample size. Yes, the Flyers played solid defense on Thursday in beating the defending champion Bruins in Boston, but Ryan Bright says the plan of GM Paul Holmgren that saw sweeping changes this offseason already looks good. It very well could be, but remember; Matt Cooke is on pace for 164 goals, too. Time will truly tell. (Philadelphia Sports Daily)

HIS WAY OF HELPING: Ilya Kovalchuk is doing his part to raise money for the Yaroslavle Victims Families Fund. He is going to give away signed 8x10 photographs of himself to anybody who donates $17 dollars or more. To make a donation, contact PuckAgency, LLC at info@puckagency.com to say you want to donate. A response e-mail will be sent to you with instructions on what to do. (Fire and Ice Blog)

TWITTER TRASHTALKING: Speaking of good causes, the Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers are encouraging fans to engage in a Twitter battle for Friday's game in Sweden. The Kings have announced that for ever #GoLAKings hashtag, that follower will be entered in a contest for a free round-trip flight and the Kings will donate to the Children's Hospital in L.A. for 5,000. Safe to assume the Rangers have a similar plan. (Pro Hockey Talk)

HERE TO STAY: Last season, ballyhooed Hurricanes prospect Zac Dalpe got just a taste of the NHL, playing in just 15 games a season ago, scoring three goals and an assists. But this year he hopes to stay from beginning to end in Carolina and the 'Canes would love it if he could bring home a second straight Calder Trophy to Carolina. (News and Observer)

QUICK STARTS: The Colorado Avalanche will have No. 2 overall draft pick Gabriel Landeskog on the roster, getting meaningful minutes this season. So that begs the question: who are the best rookies in Avalance/Nordiques history? Here is a list of the Top 10. (Denver Post)

NEW AND IMPROVED: Things are finally feeling they are headed in the right direction in Columbus. The team has some Stars, the financial future seems fixed and there's real excitement for the team. Aaron Portzline previews the season that lies ahead, including one interesting cereal box. (Columbus Dispatch)

HE CAN BE YOUR HERO: Meant to include this in yesterday's Skate, but here is Kris Versteeg of the Florida Panthers being put on the spot at a preseason fundraiser after a bidding war (jacked up by GM Dale Tallon) buys a song from the crooner. Credit to Versteeg, who doesn't hesitate or shy away from a, um, rendition of Enrique Iglesias's Hero. The song starts right around the 2-minute mark.

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

Posted on: October 6, 2011 10:03 am
 

Daily Skate: EA simulation picks Pens to win Cup

By Brian Stubits

Today is a very special edition of the Daily Skate. We don't have to tell you why, but we will anyway: the season begins tonight! There are three games on tap, including the champion Bruins opening vs. the Flyers Canadiens-Maple Leafs and Penguins-Canucks. Scoreboard

SIMULATION SEASON: Two seasons ago, EA Sports' simulation using their hockey video game picked the Blackhawks to win the Cup and they did. Last season it predicted the Canucks would win the Presidents' Trophy and the Finals would be Vancouver vs. Boston. It was. This season? The Penguins are their champ. Feeling good Pittsburgh? (EA.com)

OPTIMISTIC START: The negotiations are still a few months away, but if you're like me, you're really starting to fear losing another season to labor strife. But new NHLPA boss Donald Fehr isn't. He's optimistic as the season gets under way that they can get a deal done. There will be plenty of time to negotiate, likely beginning around the All-Star break. (Winnipeg Free Press)

THE HEAT WILL BE ON: The over/under (more on that later today) for the number of coaches to be fired mid-season is 1.5 from bodog. The first could be Ron Wilson of the Maple Leafs. He begins the season squarely on the hot seat as expectations are as high as they have been in a while in Toronto. (Toronto Star)

HE COULD BE BACK: That was supposed to be in a Schwarzenegger voice. Anyway, "he" is Sean Avery, the recently waived Rangers forward who many assumed played his last game not only for the Blueshirts, but in the NHL as no team claimed him. Not so fast. GM Glen Sather says if Avery has earned it, no doubt he could be recalled from the AHL, where he was relocated on Wednesday. (New York Post)

PEACE AND QUIET: It's assumed that most players would prefer to play for a rabid fan base in a hockey-crazy city. Considering that qualifies for each of the seven Canadian markets and a majority of players are Canadian, it seems to be a perfect fit. But former Senators star Mike Fisher is enjoying life outside the spotlight with the Predators in Nashville. (Senators Extra)

SKINNER FEVER PART II: Jeff Skinner was a breakout star for the Hurricanes last season, winning the Calder Trophy as the top rookie. He was also a local star, especially among the swooning young girls of Raleigh. He talks about the craziness he went through last year, expectations for the coming season and much more. (Puck Daddy)

UNDERDOGS, EH?: First-year Dallas Stars coach Glen Gulatzan doesn't mind one bit that his team is considered an underdog. With players like Jamie Benn, Mike Ribiero, Brenden Morrow and Loui Eriksson, I can see why he wouldn't mind being below the radar. Oh, and his Canadian accent is pretty thick (just sayin').

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

Posted on: October 1, 2011 12:08 pm
Edited on: October 1, 2011 12:27 pm
 

Paul Maurice doesn't want to see Skinner fighting

SkinnerBy: Adam Gretz

The Carolina Hurricanes would rather see Jeff Skinner using his hands to score goals as opposed to punching people in the face, and for obvious reasons: he's much better -- and a lot more experienced -- at the former, and his goal-scoring brings his team significantly more value.

Skinner, the NHL's rookie of the year last season, was involved in his first NHL fight on Friday night when he dropped the gloves with Columbus defenseman Kris Russell early in the first period of Carolina's 3-2 loss. Seeing his 19-year-old forward in that situation -- one that he's not used to being in, of course -- and risking injury couldn't have been a happy time for Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice.

After all, Skinner is going to be relied on to be one of Carolina's top goal-scoring threats after finishing second on the team (trailing only Eric Staal) with 31 in his debut season. Not only do the Hurricanes not want to see him get injured in a fight, the fact it was a preseason game had to make it even worse.

Said Maurice after the game, "I like his enthusiasm but that's his one for the year for me."

In other words: Don't ever do it again.

Skinner admitted that it "wasn't much of a fight" and also joked that he was "lucky to come out of it with his face unscathed."

If he was going to pick an opponent for his first bout, he certainly could have done a lot worse. While Russel has a bit more experience when it comes to fighting, he's not exactly a heavyweight around the NHL (his opponents at the NHL level have included Skinner, Phil Kessel, Patrick Eaves and Vladimir Sobotka, according to hockeyfights.com)  and Skinner actually had the size advantage weighing in 5-foot-11 and 193 pounds, compared to the 5-foot-10, 172-pound Russell. So he had that going for him.

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: September 23, 2011 1:41 pm
Edited on: September 26, 2011 2:09 pm
 

Southeast Division preview: Still chasing Caps

By Brian Stubits

The days of the South-least Division are slowly fading away.

For the last half decade, the Southeast Division has been the Washington Capitals' playground with four teams chasing. Of course the Caps have been very good through that time, but fattening up on their division "rivals" undoubtedly helped them to four straight division championships.

Just take the 2009-10 season as an example. That year the Capitals had 18 more points than the next closest team in the East while no other team in the division finished even in the top nine of the conference standings. That's especially amazing when you consider there are only 15 teams in the East.

They stil finished atop the East despite a transformation. Head coach Bruce Boudreau changed the way the team plays, trying to lock down on defense. As a result, the league's highest-scoring team the past few years dipped all the way to 19th in scoring. Alex Ovechkin had a very good season by almost anybody's standards. Just not his own.

The trick for Boudreau is to find that happy medium. They showed defense is something they can and in the past they showed they can score. Now they need to show they can do both. If they don't, especially early, Boudreau will hear the calls for his firing. The most successful regular-season team hasn't done enough after it to satisfy the increasingly antsy and demanding fan base.

But the somewhat surprising emergence of the Lightning last year has beefed up the division's rep. Tampa Bay figured to be on its way back up the NHL ladder, but the boom that came out of last season seemed to be ahead of schedule. Now the division has two of the game's elite scorers in Steven Stamkos and Ovechkin. With the Bolts unceremoniously sweeping the Caps in the playoffs last year, we just might have the beginning of an actual division rival for Washington.

The division also features something new: the most amped up fan base in the league, at least for one season. The Winnipeg Jets are still stuck playing in a division that will have them being true fish out of water. To say the Jets will suffer from jet-lag isn't just a fun pun but a reality they face. With that said, what was one of the easiest road trips in the NHL just became one of the toughest, especially for the teams in the Southeast that should look into taking the Concord to Manitoba.

Southeast Division (in order of predicted finish)

Washington Capitals: The Caps have become one of the league's elite teams and have done a pretty remarkable job of keeping their core together. Well this offseason owner Ted Leonsis and crew decided it was time to shake up the roster a touch to try and find the missing recipe to move Washington deeper into the playoffs. Enter Joel Ward, Troy Brouwer and Tomas Vokoun among others. I don't think there was a bigger offseason addition in this division than the Caps getting Vokoun, especially when you factor in the salary he'll be getting. Vokoun's talents have been hidden in Florida in the past four seasons, but he's an excellent goaltender but he is (or at least was) prone to prolonged slumps. As for Ward and Brouwer, they considerably beef up the Caps' toughness up front along the boards who are very capable two-way players.

Strengths: They have shown they can do every facet of the game well. It is a challenge to find a more talented team in hockey, including on the blue line. That's not something you could say in the past, but John Carlson and Karl Alzner complement each other well enough to make one of the best young defenseman duos in the NHL.

Weaknesses: It is tough to pinpoint any with this team, it is very well-rounded. It will be interesting to see how they handle expectations and increased heat when they hit some rough patches. Also, from an organizational standpoint the team has very little room to maneuver under the salary cap. That could be worth monitoring if/when GM George McPhee decided to tweak the roster.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Everything came together for a great run to a seven-game series in the Eastern Conference finals last season under new coach Guy Boucher. He brought in the ol' 1-3-1 system that seemed to be a magic trick for the Bolts. Now the question becomes can they repeat or was last year lightning in a bottle (that pun really was not intended)? One thing strongly in their favor is that the return almost the entire roster intact from last season. They did lose a couple of players such as Simon Gagne, but not much in the way of being unable to repair. one player who is back is Eric Brewer, and he'll be better for having spent camp and beginning the season in Tampa Bay. It will be interesting to see how this team fares with expectations on their shoulders.

Strengths: They roll out two excellent lines at the top. The Ryan Malone-Stamkos-Martin St. Louis line is one of the best in the game and the second group of Nate Thompson-Vincent Lecavalier-Teddy Purcell isn't too shabby, especially if Purcell continues his growth. They also had excellent special teams last year, ranking in the top 8 of both power play (it helps to have Stamkos, who scores 17 on the PP last year) and penalty kill a season ago. I also love the man on their bench as Boucher is a star in the making among coaches.

Weaknesses: I am still not in love with the goaltending situation. Dwayne Roloson was very good after being picked up by GM Steve Yzerman (he would qualify as another strength), but he just doesn't inspire a lot of confidence in me to keep it up. The addition of Mathieu Garon to back him up is a good one, though. Moreover, consistency might be an issue, especially for Stamkos. He really slowed down last season, failing to score 50 goals when he appeared to be on his way to 60 midseason.

Carolina Hurricanes: If the playoffs were a night club, the Hurricanes have been the guy standing at the front of the line until the bouncer says they're full. Every year it seems they are squarely on the playoff bubble, including last season when it came down to Game 82, which was a sound defeat. This season figures to be more of the same for the 'Canes as they might just be the next-best thing to a playoff team the East has to offer. They had a very pleasant surprise in Calder Trophy winner Jeff Skinner last season and captain Eric Staal is still leading the show. Gone, though, is another Carolina long-timer in Erik Cole (now in Montreal). One thing you have to love about this franchise, though, is its consistency. GM Jim Rutherford has been there ever since they became the Hurricanes (and before). It seems like their best players don't leave the organization, either. Hopefully for them the consistency in their finishes doesn't stay the same, but instead they crack the postseason. But in a beefed up East, that will be tougher said than done.

Strengths: They have an excellent captain in Staal, both from a leadership standpoint and player quality. They also boast one of the better goalies in the league in Cam Ward, an All-Star last season. And there's that whole consitency thing they have going on, often helps in the old chemistry department.

Weaknesses: There is not much depth to talk about in Carolina. After Stall, Skinner, Jussi Jokinen and Tuomo Ruutu, they aren't likely going to find a whole lot of scoring. They also don't posses a ton of size among the forwards, hence the reason they brought in Anthony Stewert and Alex Ponikarovsky this offseason to help. There just doesn't seem to be enough to crack the postseason, but Rutherford admits to this being somewhat of a "rebuilding" phase. That's a pretty competitive team for one that's rebuilding.

Florida Panthers: The Panthers were incredibly active in the free-agent market in July, adding a slew of veterans to hold the tide while the youngsters develop. Undoubtedly the Panthers are better than they were last season, but how much better? They did lose arguably their best player in Vokoun and are replacing him with the combination of Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen, not exactly an exciting development. But it can't be denied that the Panthers now at least have NHL-quality players across their lines (and defensive pairings, led by Brian Campbell and Ed Jovanovski), but they still aren't high-quality players, not guys that you figure can get them into the playoffs, finally. The trick in Florida is not doing anything now to hinder the future, which is very bright as the system is loaded.

Strengths: I do like the defensive corps they are putting together, especially if 2010 No. 3 overall draft pick Erik Gudbranson makes the team as expected. It's very hard to say at this point with so many new faces coming together what kind of strenghts we're looking at, it's tough to predict how they will play together. But we do know something that isn't likely be a strength this year ...

Weaknesses: The aforementioned goaltender position. With Vokoun gone, the Panthers are relying on the combination of Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen. Now, both do have experience, Theodore more so than the Clemmer, but in no way do they make up for what Vokoun, Florida's best player in recent seasons, took with him. You also have to wonder about chemistry issues with this team having brought in so many new faces. We'll put new coach Kevin Dineen as an "unknown."

Winnipeg Jets: The virtue of such a home-ice advantage will likely make the Jets a little better than the Thrashers were last season, but not enough. Thankfully for them the new home crowd in Winnipeg will just be jacked to have hockey back. They will need to take advantage of the home crowd, especially with a stretch of 10 home games in 11 contests that stretches from the end of November through December. But they will need to find scoring punch, especially from the forward group. They have excellent point producers among the defensemen in Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom, but Ladd needs more help. Hopefully, that's where Evander Kane will fit in. In his third year since being drafted in the first round (all of his time spent at the NHL level) this could be the year he steps up his game and becomes a franchise fixture. He is already a popular figure partly by virtue of his Twitter account and the way he has taken to Winnipeg.

Strengths: They were above average on the power play last season, finishing 12th in the league thanks to Byfuglien and Enstrom. Thrown in the potential of Zach Bogosian as an offensive weapon and that's a lunch of firepower coming back the blue line. I like Ondrej Pavelec in net if he can get a little better support from his teammates. I will put one more in this category, and that's the patience of the front office. They have a lot of first-round talent on the roster and they don't seem willing to abandon the long-term plan for a quick fix to appease the riled up fans.

Weaknesses: The forwards need to show more. Outside of Ladd, nobody up front cracked the 20-goal barrier last season in Atlanta. They need to find a way to tighten down defensively after giving up the second-most goals per game in hockey last year at 3.20. The forwards doing a better job of creating scoring chances and possessing the puck will certainly contribute. The penalty kill was almost equally bad last year, clocking in at 27th in the NHL. Like the Panthers, we'll put new coach Claude Noel as an "unknown."

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.



Posted on: September 22, 2011 12:03 pm
Edited on: September 22, 2011 1:22 pm
 

'Canes sign GM Rutherford to four-year extension

By Brian Stubits

The Hurricanes signed general manager Jim Rutherford to a four-year contract extension on Thursday, keeping him in Carolina through the 2015-16 season.

“Jim is one of the premier general managers in all of sports,” 'Canes CEO, Owner and Governor Peter Karmanos said. “In the 14 years since the Hurricanes arrived in North Carolina, his leadership has allowed our franchise to host two Stanley Cup Finals, the NHL All-Star Game and the NHL Draft, bringing tremendously positive attention to the team and the area. This contract will take him through his 30th year with our hockey organization, and I am proud to have been associated with Jim for that long.”

That's right, Rutherford has held his position as the GM of the organization going back to their days as the Hartford Whalers. He is the second-longest tenured GM in the NHL behind only Lou Lamoriello in New Jersey.

Rutherford has had a good run leading the organization, highlighted by the team bringing the Stanley Cup to Carolina in 2006. He has done a good job keeping up a level of success as the 'Canes did make it back to the Eastern Conference finals two years ago and they have been in the playoff hunt every season.

Part of the staff's success in Carolina has been the ability to draft. It isn't as if Raleigh has been a location where players are breaking down doors to play or that they are winning by virtue of a big budget. Instead they are led by home-grown talent such as Eric Staal, Erik Cole, Jeff Skinner, Cam Ward and Chad LaRose.

Twice in his career in Carolina has he been recognized as the Executive of the Year by THN, both years the Hurricanes made it to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Photo: Getty Images

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

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

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

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.

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