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NHL season preview: Seven players facing fallback seasons

By Brian Stubits | CBSSports.com

It's probably asking a little much of Tlusty to near 40 goals. (USATSI)
It's probably asking a little much of Tlusty to post 40 goals. (USATSI)

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There were those players who were hit by the short season and saw numbers below what we're used to from them, guys who should see upticks in their production this year. We dubbed them the bounceback players.

The big factor for many of those guys was the short season and the inability to catch up, if you will, with their numbers over a full campaign as opposed to a lockout season. The same phenomenon worked the other way for some guys last season, allowing them to put up excellent 82-game paces that likely would have been tough to maintain to the finish. Or will likely be hard to maintain over 82 games this season.

It's important to note the players here aren't being labeled busts or disappointments. If a player is here it doesn't mean it's a forecast for a bad season. It just means that they're likely to experience regression in their numbers and what we saw out of them last season (stretched out to a full season, of course) was likely a flash in the pan. These would be the fallback players (in no particular order).

Jiri Tlusty, Carolina Hurricanes

Last season: 48 games, 23 goals, 15 assists. 82-game projection: 39 goals, 26 assists

Tlusty definitely enjoyed the proverbial breakout campaign last season, surpassing his best single-season goal total by six despite the short schedule. His 38 points also marked a career high. It was a welcome party for Tlusty, no doubt about that.

There are some factors to keep in mind here to help explain his massive jump last season; he was still just 24 years old last season and saw an increase in playing time of nearly 3 1/2 minutes per game. Simply put, you get more opportunity, you're likely to get more results. Especially with some of the firepower he got to play with last season in Carolina's top six, that's not all that unusual.

What was unusual, though, was his shooting percentage that was bordering on 20 percent at 19.7. That's an awfully high number that any player would be hard-pressed to maintain. Even Steven Stamkos, a player who converts on more shots on net than any other in the league it seems, has topped 19 percent in a season just once before.

So in other words, Tlusty would be hard-pressed to approach 40 goals this season as he would have potentially done a year ago.

Nazem Kadri, Toronto Maple Leafs

Last season: 48 games, 18 goals, 26 assists. 82-game projection: 31 goals, 44 assists

As Maple Leafs GM Dave Nonis found out this summer, assessing Kadri at this point is difficult. He only has one full NHL season under his belt, and really it wasn't full, it was just this truncated campaign thanks to the lockout. What he did in that one season, though, was pretty special.

Now look, if you listen to Don Cherry (does anybody really?) you know that there are a lot of people who think very highly of Kadri. Frankly, I do, too, and think he's going to be an excellent player for many years. The question is, can he be a near point-per-game player again? I'd say something has to give.

His 16.8 shooting percentage was high last season, well above league average, but perhaps he's going to be a player capable of sustaining a percentage higher than normal. We just haven't seen enough yet to know. I'd say the best chance of Kadri repeating the performance of last season, though, will come with a great role. Keep in mind what makes his numbers look that much more impressive (and unsustainable) is that he did it with just 16:03 of ice time per game. If that goes up substantially, perhaps it's not out of the question to see a repeat at all.

The other slightly troubling aspect for Kadri is how he tailed off at the end of the season. In the final 12 games he had only one goal and four assists. He followed that up with a goal and three assists in the seven-game series with Boston in the playoffs. Over an 82-game season, it would have been interesting to see where Kadri would have gone last season. He's going to be good; I'm just not convinced he's a point-per-game good yet.

Jeff Carter, Los Angeles Kings

Last season: 48 games, 26 goals, 7 assists. 82-game projection: 44 goals, 12 assists

To be clear here, Carter didn't do much that we haven't seen before, and being a sniper is exactly why the Kings acquired him. Even though his statline was odd (who ever has that many goals with that low of an assist total?), it wasn't an uncharcteristic performance. You'll recall he once scored 46 goals in a season for the Flyers.

What he never did was convert on 19.5 percent of his shots as he did last season in LA. Never before had Carter posted a shooting percentage above 13.5 percent, so he saw a massive jump in that department last season, well above his career average. It's worth noting that despite playing the fewest minutes per game since he was a rookie, Carter had a 44-goal pace.

That shooting percentage is going to come back down this season, you can bank on that. If there were an over/under on goals for Carter set at 43.5, I'm definitely taking the under. None of that is to say that Carter can't still be a big scorer and top the 30-goal mark and that would be just fine for the Kings. Expecting 40-plus, though, is likely too much.

Jussi Jokinen, Pittsburgh Penguins

Last season: 43 games, 13 goals, 9 assists. 82-game projection: 25 goals, 17 assists

On the whole, Jokinen's numbers from last season don't seem that unusual. In 2009-10, he had 30 goals and 35 assists, but his production had waned significantly before and then into last season for Carolina. That eventually led to his placement on waivers, where the Penguins snatched him up.

Like many players who go to Pittsburgh to play with arguably the best top-six in the league, Jokinen took off. In only 10 games with the Penguins, Jokinen had seven goals and four assists. In those 10 games he only took 13 shots on goal, equaling a 53.8 shooting percentage. Now that's a very small sample size that we're talking about, and that had a big effect on the overall scheme of things for Jokinen's season.

I think everybody outside the most delusional of Penguins fans understands it was a hot streak and don't Jokinen to become their next big scorer and put up monster numbers again. Despite that Pittsburgh showing, he's seen his role reduced to a bottom-six guy in Pittsburgh, so they're asking for more than scoring. Maybe he's able to have Jordan Staal success as the third center in Pittsburgh, but I wouldn't hold out hope for that. I'd be surprised if he approached 25 goals.

Tomas Kopecky, Florida Panthers

Last season: 47 games, 15 goals, 12 assists. 82-game projection: 26 goals, 21 assists

This probably says more about the Panthers than anything else, but did you know last season that Kopecky was the leading goal-scorer for Florida? Crazy to think, isn't it?

At 30 years old and more than 400 games going into last season, it wasn't as though there was no track record on Kopecky. He had never been a big scorer. Only one other time had he surpassed 10 goals, and that was in 2010-11 while with the Blackhawks when he had 15. So in 34 fewer games last season, Kopecky tied his career high in goals and was on pace to shatter it over 82 games.

So either Kopecky became a different player during the lockout (doubtful) or he was the beneficiary of a fortunate season in an otherwise dreadfully unfortunate season for his team. I mean, his shooting percentage was double his career average last season, converting on 16.3 percent of his shots compared to the 8.5 percent over his career (a mark that was naturally pulled up with last season's numbers). On the other side of 30 now, it's probably asking too much for Kopecky to put up those numbers again, especially considering he's never done it before. Granted, he was given a bigger role last season than he's ever had but still, it doesn't look like a repeatable performance.

Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets

Last season: 38 games, 21-11-6, .932 save percentage, 2.00 GAA

If it felt like the Blue Jackets and Bob sort of came out of the blue last season, it's because they did. Sure, people knew of Bobrovsky from his first two seasons in Philadelphia, but considering the season before the Flyers had basically given up hope on Bob with his .899 save percentage in 2011-12, to see him have a Vezina Trophy season was more than a surprise.

The Blue Jackets are going to rely very heavily on Bobrovsky again as they did last season. They don't come close to sniffing the postseason -- remember, they tied for eighth in the West -- without Bobrovsky in net. He was really out of this world and that's why it's so hard to expect that level of play again, especially with a team in front of him that is still not the strongest you'll see across the league.

Based on past goalies who hit the .930 save percentage level, they fall back pretty hard the next season. There's no reason not to expect the same from Bobrovsky. That's not to say he'll return to a sub-.900 save percentage like his last season in Philly, but some regression has to be counted on.

Ray Emery, Philadelphia Flyers

Last season: 21 games, 17-1-0, .922 save percentage, 1.94 GAA

The simplest explanation for Emery's presence on this list? We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto. There's just a slight difference playing behind the Blackhawks defense as opposed to the Flyers defense, and Emery is going to find that out.

Is that to say Emery will tank as the presumed starter in Philadelphia? If we were just answering based on their history with goalies, I'd say yes but not necessarily. I just wouldn't expect anything approaching a sub-2.00 goals against average or a save percentage above .917 and probably no more votes for the Vezina like he had last season.

The thing is, they don't need last season's level of production in Philly. Oh sure, it would be awesome if Emery could somehow do it again, but based on where they were the last two seasons with subpar goaltending, just bringing the team's netminding up to league average should make a world of difference. Emery is capable of doing that.

 
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