Thursday, November 12, 2015

Panic Watch: Should we be worried about any of the NHL's slumping stars?

Don’t panic.

That phrase once appeared on the cover of a famous book. And it should probably appear on the cover of programs in NHL arenas, because it’s good advice for hockey fans who like to overreact to slow starts and small sample sizes. Most of the time, an early season slump is just a slump, and the right answer it to shrug it off and move on.

And yet… Sometimes a slump is more than that. Sometimes it’s the start of something bigger, the sort of long-term downturn that changes the way we view an NHL star. A seemingly minor slump might end up being that first blinking light on the dashboard, warning us that a player could struggle through the rest of a season, or even a career.

The problem, of course, is that we don’t really know when that’s the case; we have to wait and see how it all plays out. But that doesn’t mean we can’t take a wild guess carefully analyze the situation in an attempt to figure it out. So today, let’s look at eight names from around the NHL world who are off to a rough start, and try to answer the question: Is it time to panic?

Jakub Voracek, Flyers

The season so far: One year after enjoying a breakout season (and signing a $66 million extension), Voracek has no goals. That’s bad, right? I think that’s bad.

Panic time?: You could forgive Flyer fans for being nervous here – after all, no franchise has a longer track record of seeing big money contracts blow up in its face. And Voracek’s lack of goals isn’t exactly a new development – even during last year’s breakout, he had only six in the season’s second half. And while he’s never been a pure goal scorer, even his five assists on the year are well below expectations.

All that said, a look beyond Voracek’s boxcar stats shows some positive signs. He leads the team in shots on goal by a wide margin, and his possession numbers are as strong as ever. Voracek himself sounds like he’s getting frustrated, and guy carrying cap hits north of $8M don’t often get much benefit of the doubt. But Voracek deserves at least a little bit of patience here, because his numbers say he should get on track soon. So don’t throw any batteries at him, Flyer fans. Or at least, no more than usual.

Ryan Getzlaf, Ducks

The season so far: I’m not saying it’s been a tough year for the Ducks, but we also would have accepted “Corey Perry”. Also, “Jakob Silfverberg”. And “Ryan Kesler”. And also, “pretty much everyone who plays for Anaheim and isn’t a goalie”.

But Getzlaf gets the nod, based on a season-long goalless slump. Granted, he missed a few games due to an appendectomy. But he’s just looked off at times, and doing stuff like this doesn’t help.

Panic time?: Getzlaf is on the wrong side of 30, so anything approaching a long-term slump is cause of concern – age comes for everyone eventually, and when it does the downturn can often be sharp and brutal. But this slump hasn’t quite hit “long-term” status quite yet, and Getzlaf has looked good playing with Perry in recent games. The Ducks are slowly but surely shaking off their awful start, and since they’re in the Pacific, they haven’t exactly been left behind by the rest of the division. They should be OK, and their captain should too.

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