Seven Players With A Point To Prove
Heading in to any new season there are always question marks surrounding certain players.
Are they fit? Can they rebound from a bad year? Will they ever be the same again? These questions intrigue fans and pundits alike, and help drive conversations during the season.
Here I look at seven players who will be out to answer their critics over the next 8 months:
Brad Richards – Chicago Blackhawks
Richards joined Chicago on a one year, $2m deal after being bought out by the Rangers during the offseason.
The former Conn Smythe winner scored at more than a point per game in his final two years in Dallas, but struggled on Broadway following his big money move in 2011.
His post season performances were of particular concern – scoring just 1 goal in 10 games during the 2013 post season, and stumbling to 5 goals and 12 points last spring.
With the Blackhawks, Richards will get the opportunity to be the clubs second line centre and play along side at least one of Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa or Patrick Sharp.
If he can’t rebound in the windy city surrounded by the talent they have, chances are he really is finished as a top level player.
Chris Stewart – Buffalo Sabres
Toronto native Stewart scored 28 goals in his sophmore year with Colorado, and looked set to become one of the NHL’s next great power forwards.
Controversially traded to St Louis in February 2011, he scored 15 goals and 23 points in 26 games with his new club to finish the season – but has largely struggled since.
A brief return to form during the truncated 2012/13 season, in which he scored 18 goals and 36 points, did not stop the Blues sending him to Buffalo as part of the trade that took Ryan Miller to Missouri.
Entering the final year of his present deal, Stewart still has time on his side – but needs to recapture the fire, and scoring touch, he showed in Denver during his early career.
Rich Nash – New York Rangers
The Brampton native may have two Olympic gold medals to his name, but is yet to inspire an NHL club to glory.
After years as Columbus only real star, he was traded to the Rangers in 2012 and scored 21 goals and 42 points in his first 44 games for the club, as the lock out shortened his first year in the Big Apple.
But a concussion sidelined Nash for 17 games last season and seemed to rob the 30-year old of some of his former bite.
With just 3 goals in the Rangers run to the Stanley Cup Final last year, Nash is under pressure to bounce back this year and live up to his $7.8m per year contract.
Sam Gagner – Arizona Coyotes
At just 25, Gagner is already closing in on 500 games and 300 points – but there is a feeling he never truly flourished in Edmonton, as the Oilers lurched from one poor season to the next.
A fresh start in Arizona gives the centre a golden opportunity to resurrect his career, and he could be the best acquisition of the summer if he can gel with his new Coyotes team mates.
Kris Letang – Pittsburgh Penguins
Letang has gained a reputation as one of the best puck moving D men in the NHL, helping the Pens win a Stanley Cup and earning himself an 8-year contract last summer.
He’s also gained a reputation as someone who has frequent injury issues (one full season in eight years) and suffered a stroke last season.
At 27, and signed through to 2022, the Montreal native can still be a key contributor for years to come on a team whose offence can still be among the best in the league when at its best. But health concerns are now likely to follow Letang, the clubs third highest earner, for the rest of his career.
Mike Ribeiro – Nashville Predators
After a strong year in Washington during 2012/13, Ribeiro signed a four year deal with Phoenix as the Coyotes looked to get back to the play-offs.
But a turbulent relationship, underpinned by Riberio’s personal problems, led to the franchise buying out the former Montreal and Dallas forward after just one season.
With a one year deal in Tennessee, the 34-year old has the opportunity to get his career back on track and be a key player on the new look Predators.
Cam Ward – Carolina Hurricanes
Ward back stopped Carolina to a Stanley Cup in 2006, but has struggled with injuries and form over the past two seasons.
The 30-year old has two years remaining on his current deal, at $6.3m a piece, but is under increasing pressure from Anton Khudobin – who impressed on a struggling Canes last season – and has been the subject of numerous trade rumours throughout the summer.