Deb Placey and E.J. Hradek preview some of the action on tap in the NHL.
Deb Placey and E.J. Hradek preview some of the action on tap in the NHL.
Two months into the campaign, some of the players who were expected to be difference makers haven’t been able to find their scoring touch. These five scorers are still looking to break through.
If you would have said before the season that the top of the league’s scoring charts would feature the likes of Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby and Patrick Kane, no one would have batted an eye. Those three are the usual suspects and players expected to dominate the score sheet.
What some would consider unexpected, however, is that the Jets’ Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine find themselves in the top 10 in scoring, placing sixth and tenth, respectively, through roughly two months of the campaign.
For all the familiar faces and surprising scorers topping the charts, though, there are a handful of notable names who haven’t been able to find their offensive game quite yet.
Here are five key players still looking to find the scoring touch this season:
Patrick Marleau, San Jose Sharks
Despite the fact he’s getting up there in age, Marleau, 37, has consistently been a big time contributor for the Sharks. He potted 25 goals and 48 points in 82 games while skating top-line minutes in San Jose in 2015-16, but this season is looking like a trying one for the veteran winger.
Through 25 games, Marleau has six goals and eight points, and he’s on pace to have the worst overall scoring season of his entire career. He’s had a decreased role this season, skating less than 17 minutes per game, but that can only be blamed so much for his lack of production to this point.
He’s still staring down another 20-goal campaign, because of course he is, but if he can’t start picking up some helpers along the way, this could be a sub-30-point year for Marleau.
Tomas Plekanec, Montreal Canadiens
From 2006-07 to 2014-15, Plekanec, 34, only had one full campaign in which he didn’t notch 20 goals. Then his goal scoring slipped to 14 in 2015-16, and it could be headed for a new, ugly low in 2016-17.
It’s still really early in the year, to be sure, but through 24 games, Plekanec has only found twine once and his seven points put him on pace for just 24 on the year. That’s fewer points than he had goals during the 2014-15 season.
However, even if his scoring touch is falling off a cliff this season, Plekanec’s skill in his own end is more than enough to make him a valuable asset for the Canadiens. In tight games, he’s an incredibly reliable player for coach Michel Therrien to have at his disposal.
Bobby Ryan, Ottawa Senators
Ryan was a bonafide sniper when he was acquired by the Senators ahead of the 2013-14 season. For three straight years, he had posted 30-plus goals for the Anaheim Ducks and only eight players in the entire league scored more goals from the start of 2009-10 to the culmination of the 2011-12 campaign. His goal scoring has dipped in Ottawa, though.
In the three seasons since becoming a Senator, Ryan has two 20-goal campaigns and one with 18, and it’s looking like it could hit new lows this season.
He has managed just three goals and eight points in 21 games, has been skating middle-six minutes and finding offense hasn’t been easy for the 29-year-old. It’s worth mentioning, of course, that he’s been hampered by a hand injury at times this season. Even still, an 11-goal pace? Not great, Bob!
Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
No one would ever deny that Bergeron is one of the single most important players to his team in the league. The Bruins without Bergeron aren’t the same team, and not enough can be said about the impact Bergeron’s ability at both ends of the ice can have on a game.
That said, he’s having a tough time finding the score sheet this year.
The 31-year-old has only scored four goals this year and his seven points put him into a tie with Tim Schaller, a player non-Bruins fans haven’t likely given a seconds’ thought to all season. With the skill Bergeron possesses, his whole year could turn around at the drop of a hat, but right now he’s on pace to have a 14-goal, 25-point year. That would see him finish seven points back of his point total during the lockout shortened season.
Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington Capitals
The Washington Capitals winger was one of the biggest and most pleasant surprises of the 2015-16 campaign. After a 37-point rookie campaign, Kuznetsov’s sophomore season saw him post 20 goals and 77 points, good for 10th in league scoring and the best mark on a Capitals squad that features Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. That’s no small feat.
But it’s starting to seem like the sophomore slump was simply delayed until the third year of Kuznetsov’s career. Through 23 games, the 24-year-old has three goals and nine points. By comparison, he had hit the 10-point mark seven games into the 2015-16 season and he could almost do no wrong with the puck on his stick.
If this keeps up, Kuznetsov would finish the season with fewer points this year than he had during his rookie season. Not exactly the encore the Capitals were expecting.
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Craig Cunningham’s recovery is progressing but “there's a lot more progression and healing to be done,” according to friend and former teammate Milan Lucic, who visited Cunningham recently.
Tucson captain Craig Cunningham has remained in the thoughts of the hockey community since the moment he collapsed on the ice ahead of an AHL contest between the Roadrunners and Manitoba Moose on Nov. 19, but information regarding the health of the 26-year-old has been sparse.
The Arizona Coyotes, the parent club of the Roadrunners, have updated Cunningham’s status from time to time, often saying only that there has been little or no change, which is to say that Cunningham remains in critical but stable condition.
However, a promising update has come along regarding Cunningham from his friend and former teammate, Milan Lucic. The Oilers winger, who played with Cunningham with the WHL’s Vancouver Giants and again as a member of the Boston Bruins, said he couldn’t get into too much detail, but offered some positive news.
"The good news is he's progressed a lot from the state he was in last weekend," Lucic said, according to NHL.com’s Jerry Brown. "He's heading in the right direction, but obviously there's a lot more progression and healing to be done.”
Even with the good news, though, Brown reported that Cunningham “has not regained consciousness since collapsing.”
No cause for the collapse has been given by either the Coyotes or Roadrunners, but Tucson GM Doug Soetaert told the Arizona Daily Star on Nov. 21 that Cunningham was “critically ill.”
Cunningham was a fourth-round pick, 97th overall, of the Bruins in 2010, and has played 63 NHL games over the past several seasons. He was acquired by the Coyotes via waivers in 2014-15, finishing the season by playing 19 games with the Coyotes and recording one goal and four points. He skated in 10 games with the Coyotes in 2015-16, picking up an assist.
Cunningham was named the captain of the Springfield Falcons, then the Coyotes affiliate, in 2015-16 and had arguably the best AHL season of his career, posting 22 goals and 46 points in 61 games. He held on to the captaincy with the newly minted Roadrunners this season and had four goals and 13 points in 11 games.
The Roadrunners postponed two additional games following Cunningham’s hospitalization, but returned to action this past Saturday.
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Rumors of the Flames looking to trade defenseman Dougie Hamilton for some scoring help just won't go away.
Nearly two months into the NHL season, Calgary Flames defenseman Dougie Hamilton is now a hot topic of trade speculation among the hockey punditry.
Hamilton, 23, got off to a slow start with the Flames this season. The puck-moving blueliner went pointless during a 10-game stretch from Oct. 30 to Nov. 18, and netted only six points in his first 19 games.
The Hamilton rumors initially surfaced in late October, when TSN's Pierre LeBrun reported of talk he could be available. LeBrun said one team made inquiries but didn't get far.
As Hamilton and the Flames struggled through November, the trade chatter only grew. On Nov. 12, Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos expressed doubt that the Flames were shopping the rearguard, but claimed the Arizona Coyotes and Pittsburgh Penguins were “kicking tires.” Two days later, Kypreos' colleague Elliotte Friedman said he'd heard Hamilton's name come up in trade discussions back in June.
Hamilton subsequently told the Calgary's Sun's Wes Gilbertson he'd heard the trade rumors but wasn't paying attention to them. He insisted he was happy playing in Calgary and wanted to help the Flames improve.
Entering Wednesday's match-up with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Flames have posted a 5-3-1 record in their last nine games. With 22 points, they're only three behind Los Angeles for a wild-card berth. Hamilton's production also improved, with six points in as many games. However, the trade talk persists.
But Flames president of hockey operations Brian Burke is not happy about those trade talks.
During an appearance on Leafs Lunch Wednesday Burke shot down the rumors, lashed out at the team that leaked the idea, and made it clear the Flames intend to keep Hamilton.
“We expended a tremendous amount of assets to get this player. We’re really happy with him. He’s a quality guy. ... He’s a right shot. He skates like a deer. He’s a good hockey player. Yeah, let’s move him. Let’s get rid of him. It’s not hard to get guys like that."
USA Today's Kevin Allen last week made the case for the New York Rangers to pursue Hamilton. He believes the youngster can fill the Blueshirts need for a mobile defender with a right-handed shot.
On Monday, NHL analyst Bob McKenzie was asked by Toronto's TSN 1050 if the Toronto Maple Leafs could be interested in Hamilton. McKenzie speculates they probably are, though he doesn't know if Hamilton's available. He said the Flames are “definitely listening” on Hamilton, but that doesn't mean they intend to trade him.
McKenzie subsequently noted recent speculation linking the Maple Leafs to Hamilton, reporting no substantive talks between the two clubs. Some observers believe the Leafs should offer up promising winger William Nylander for Hamilton, but McKenzie claims they're not keen to do that. If the Leafs decide at some point to shop a winger for a defenseman, he believes James van Riemsdyk could be the likely trade candidate.
With scoring star Johnny Gaudreau sidelined indefinitely by finger surgery, the Flames are mired in the league's bottom third in goals-for per game (2.20). Even when Gaudreau returns later this season, the Flames could probably use more scoring punch.
Hamilton is the perfect trade chip to add another scoring forward. He's big (6-foot-6, 210 pounds), moves the puck well, has consecutive 40-plus point performances on his resume and his best seasons are ahead of him. It's assumed he could improve his overall game with better coaching.
All of those factors, however, are also good reasons why the Flames shouldn't part with Hamilton. He's still young with considerable upside. By trading him, there's a real risk he could reach his full potential elsewhere.
It'll take a substantial offer to pry him away from the Flames, probably a very good young forward. That could mean someone like Nylander or Coyotes left winger Max Domi, or perhaps an experienced physical scorer such as Chris Kreider of the Rangers.
Hamilton's contract is also a sticking point. At $5.75 million per season through 2020-21, there simply aren't many teams able to take on that salary right now. If the Flames do move Hamilton, it'll likely happen in the off-season, when teams have more cap space and a willingness to trade.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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Brendan Gallagher talks about his favourite players growing up, and the bizarre Montreal "squirrel hat."
Favorite team and player growing up?
I was an Edmonton Oilers fan. My favorite player was Mike Comrie for a bit, then it became Raffi Torres. Those were my favorite players. I was young and I didn’t know.
Who was your mentor?
My Dad, Ian, always coached me when I was young. When I was 12 or 13 he stopped coaching, but he is always someone I could talk to. He understood my game. He’s my strength coach and trains me in the summer. He’s someone who really understands me and my body. He also helps me when I don’t play well and tells me things to help me improve when I’m going through a slump.
Who did you model your game after?
I always liked watching Martin St-Louis. He’s a smaller guy that I could look up to and just see little tricks that he did. I was able to play against him a little bit as well. The thing you always noticed is how hard he competed. Never took a shift off, loved to win. When I watched him play, it stuck with me.
Memories from your NHL first game?
My first game was against Florida at home. ‘Chucky’ (Alex Galchenyuk) scored his first goal in that game. I got an assist. I don’t know how they gave me an assist on it, but that was my first point. I don’t think I deserved it, but they gave it to me. It was special to share that with Chucky. Two rookies playing together. It was pretty cool.
Best thing about being an NHLer?
The food we get on the road. The Canadiens staff treats us pretty good. Whether we’re on the plane or in a hotel, they always have food ready for us.
Worst thing about being an NHLer?
The lack of sleep some nights. After we play and fly to a new city, sometimes we get in at three or four in the morning and we have to get up the next day for practice. It’s probably the worst thing.
First major purchase after signing an NHL contract?
A golf cart. That was pretty sweet. I live on a course, so it’s easy to get around.
Most important skill to work on?
A lot of my game is being in tight to the net. So I like to work on tipping pucks. Being in tight to the crease flipping pucks in the top corner, since that usually is where I find myself. I find when I practise this it helps me in the games.
What’s your craziest fan interaction?
We’ve got a fan in Montreal that makes everyone put on this squirrel hat. Apparently when you put it on, he takes a picture. He always says when you put it on you’re going to score a goal or something the next game. I don’t really believe it. It’s a pretty gross hat. He got me on it too. I bit. I don’t remember if I scored or not, but I put on the hat.
Best advice for a young player?
Don’t get caught up in all the talk around you. Enjoy it. Everyone remembers their minor hockey days. Everyone is always looking too many years in the future. Think about your team and how you can become a good player to help your team win. Also have fun doing it.
– With Murray Pam