Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Celebrating Halloween with the all-scary-start team

It’s​ Halloween, so it’s​ time​ to​ think​ of​ something​ scary. You​ could go with​ zombies or vampires​ or​ werewolves, but that’s​​ amateur hour. Let’s get really frightening. How about some big-name hockey stars who came into the year with high expectations but are off to disappointing starts?

OK, maybe my version of scary is different than yours. And some of these guys shouldn’t worry us too much. After all, there’s still five months to go, and even the scariest horror story usually wraps up with some sort of happy ending. But for now, let’s get into the Halloween spirit by putting together a full roster of scary starts and attempt to figure out which players should have us huddled in genuine fear.

Like a parent rationing out Halloween candy, we’ll limit our picks to one player per team so that nobody hogs all the good stuff. (Looking at you, kid dressed up as a King.) Also, with 21 roster sports available, some teams won’t be represented. If that’s your team, assume they’re either doing really well, or were already expected to be bad enough that failure doesn’t even rank as disappointment. It’s either a mortal insult or a compliment, you get to choose.

On to the house of early-season horrors …


Forwards

The player: Patrik Laine, Jets

The start: Through 12 games, Laine is stuck at just three goals and five points. He’s been held pointless in his last five, and has only had one multi-point game on the season, which came on opening night. Even more concerning, his assist in that first game remains his only even-strength point all year.

Odds it ends well: Very good. The key thing you look for when a goal-scorer is slumping is his shot volume – if that’s dropping, there’s reason for concern. But Laine is actually outdoing his career average when it comes to getting pucks on net. Consistency is an issue for Laine — like it is for most young players — and this early slump could ultimately cost him the Rocket Richard Trophy we all had him penciled in for. But this still feels like more of a percentage thing that will even out over time.

The player: Steven Stamkos, Lightning

The start: While the Lightning have been winning, Stamkos is out of the gate with just two goals through eleven games.

Odds it ends well: His shots-per-game are steady with last year, although that was down from his career average. Stamkos is 28, and in today’s NHL that might mean his peak is already behind him; he’s looked more like a 30-goal guy over his last few full seasons more than the 50+ sniper we still think of him as.

All that said, let’s not oversell this like we did when we all decided Alexander Ovechkin was done a few years ago just because his coaches were making him play backup goalie. Besides, if the Lightning are already this good without their captain chipping in at his normal rate, maybe the story here is how scary they might be when everyone is rolling.

The player: Anze Kopitar, Kings

The start: Last year’s Hart Trophy finalist has struggled offensively, with just four points in ten games. He’s good enough in his own end that, unlike most of the forwards on this list, he doesn’t have to score to help his team win. But the Kings aren’t winning, and as their captain and highest-paid player, Kopitar has to wear some of that.

Odds it ends well: At 31 years old and with five more years left on a deal that carries a $10-million cap hit, we don’t even want to think about what it would mean if he’s already starting a decline. But Kopitar has been good enough for long enough that he’s earned some benefit of the doubt. Last year’s 92 points already seems out of reach, but the Kings have bigger worries right now.

The player: Sean Couturier, Flyers

The start: After last year’s breakout, this was supposed to be the year that the 25-year-old Couturier locked in his status as an elite, two-way forward. Instead, he’s managed just four points (all goals) while the Flyers can’t keep the puck out of their own net.

Odds it ends well: Couturier himself says it’s “not time to panic here.” But it sure is getting close in Philadelphia, where Couturier is far from the only one off to a slow start.

The player: Casey Mittelstadt, Sabres

The start: The 19-year-old rookie was pegged by some for the Calder Trophy, including myself. But he’s limped out of the gate with just a goal and three points in his first 12 games.

Odds it ends well: The Calder hype may have been asking too much from a teenager who’s never played a full NHL-style schedule. Still, his October was a disappointment, as even he admits. The good news is that the Sabres are off to a decent start, so he’ll get a chance to play out of it without dealing with all the doom and gloom that usually descends on Buffalo by November.

The player: Milan Lucic, Oilers

The start: One scary number: Just a single goal in 11 games. Another scary number: Four more years after this one at a $6-million cap hit.

Odds it ends well: The Lucic free agent deal has been criticized from pretty much the moment it was signed, and no doubt Oiler fans are sick of hearing about it. After seeing his production fall off a cliff in the second half last year, at some point we may have to accept that this is just what Lucic is now – a guy who can contribute physically and as a leader, but whose days as a 30 or even a 20-goal force are over.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic




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