The start of fall is just around the corner now that we’ve officially hit Sept. 1 on the calendar. Though fall isn’t usually the season associated with renewal and rebirth, for hockey fans and NHL players alike it’s the beginning of a new year. A fresh start, if you will.
Last NHL season was, at times, a bizarro version of the league we all know and love. The Columbus Blue Jackets went on a 16-game win streak. Auston Matthews scored four goals in his first career NHL game. If there was something deviant from the norm you could think of no matter how big or small, it likely happened last year.
Which is why this season feels like an even better time to hit the refresh button. It’s time to get back to basics, especially for those players who had a bit of a tough ride last season.
More than a handful of NHL stars are likely ready for the start of a new season and the chance to get back on the horse. One way or another, last season wasn’t their best. They certainly aren’t done, but these five stars definitely need to up their game if they want to get back in the conversation.
2016-17 stats: 82 GP, 14 G, 44 A, 58 P
The 29-year-old captain for the Philadelphia Flyers was just one of many players on the team to have a down 2016-17 season. Giroux, especially, suffered quite a slide as the Flyers fell to sixth in the Metropolitan Division.
It’s quite spectacular how disappointing Giroux’s last season was. His 58 points in a full 82-game stretch were his lowest since he put up 47 points in 2009-10. Excluding the lockout-shortened season, Giroux previously put up five straight seasons of 65-plus points as the Flyers’ top line center before putting up a campaign where he hit just 14 goals on the year and shot at a career-low 7 percent.
It’s a trend that’s caused many Flyers fans to worry, and for good reason. Giroux was never going to be the “best player in the world” but he’s been one of the team’s top playmakers for years. Considering he holds the NHL’s 11th highest cap hit at $8.275 million for the next five seasons, fans are right to worry that their superstar center is going to underproduce for the rest of his contract.
The good news for Flyers fans is help is likely arriving this season. Giroux was often a do-it-all man for the Flyers, and with the additions of Nolan Patrick, Jordan Weal, and Jori Lehtera down the middle, he won’t have to be.
2016-17 stats: 82 GP, 19 G, 34 A, 53 P
The aging curve has most definitely hit the Anaheim Ducks’ 32-year-old winger. After eight straight seasons, minus the recent lockout-shortened year, of consistent 25-plus goals, Perry dropped to only 19 in a full 82-game stretch.
Though the Ducks were able to place first in the Pacific Division and make it all the way to the Western Conference Finals, Perry’s performance last year was quite a blemish on a strong 105-point campaign. After maintaining an average shooting percentage of 15 over the last six seasons, Perry had no such luck in 2016-17, where he bottomed out at a mere 8.8 percent.
Much like Giroux, however, the real concern is where the money lies. The Ducks are paying Perry $8.625 million for the next four seasons as the NHL’s eighth highest cap hit. While Perry was able to stay within the Ducks’ top three scorers last season, his inconsistencies stood out far more against his peers.
2016-17 stats: 60 GP, 20 W, 27 L, .908 SV%
While the Devils slid into the NHL’s basement at the right time, one of the biggest surprises from their slump was how Schneider fared in net. After six straight years of a save percentage above .920, Schneider put up a career-low .908 save percentage in 60 games played.
New Jersey, as a whole, was a weaker team because of Schneider’s performance. With one of the worst offenses in the league and a patchwork defense to match, Schneider’s career-low year came at an extremely bad time for the Devils. If you believe in the law of averages, however, New Jersey got its due with selecting Nico Hischier at the No. 1 overall spot in the recent draft.
The Devils have done a lot of work this offseason to try to offset their fifth straight season without a playoff appearance. It might not matter much, however, if Schneider continues to trend as one of the worst starting goaltenders in the entire league. Given his track record and a career save percentage of .922, it’s very possible this past year was just a blip in the radar for Schneider.
2016-17 stats: 72 GP, 18 G, 15 A, 33 P
The more we talk about the Colorado Avalanche, the more we hope they really find a way out of their funk. Colorado’s last season was one for the record books, and not in a good way. Everyone on that team suffered, but maybe most of all is team captain Landeskog.
The 24-year-old winger had a career-low season across the board, and he’s slowly dropped off from a 65-point campaign in 2013-14. Between the 2015-16 season and last year was Landeskog’s worst drop in point production, as he suffered a 20-point loss in only three fewer games played. While Landeskog played top-line minutes with the Avalanche last season, his point production scaled to that of a third-line winger despite his high average time on ice.
Given Colorado’s cap situation, it can handle Landeskog’s $5.571 million cap hit for the next four seasons. But paying your captain over $5.5 million to produce just 33 points on a season at the age of 24 is quite a disappointment. It’s hard to say how much better the Avalanche will be this season, but Landeskog has to find a way to break out of this slump.
2016-17 stats: 76 GP, 12 G, 40 A, 52 P
Another player coming off a 20-plus point drop in production from his previous season is Kopitar. The Kings’ current captain has been heralded as one of the league’s top two-way centers for years, but his 2016-17 season was anything but a dominant showing.
Excluding the lockout-shortened season, Kopitar had never produced fewer than 60 points in a season, averaging more toward the mid 70s over his career. Last year was Kopitar’s worst by far, with only 52 points and 12 goals in 76 games. Though Kopitar has hit the wrong side of 30 now as a veteran in this league, his trajectory should not have put him at that low of a pace.
Especially since Kopitar had just come off an eight-year, $80 million deal signed back in January 2016 to keep him into his late 30s. While the Kings as a whole had a down year, their worst since before their two Stanley Cups in the early 2010s in fact, Kopitar will be looked upon this season to right the ship in Los Angeles, and he’ll need to get back on track to do so.