Ten candidates for a bounce-back season
Here are 10 players who, for a variety of reasons, didn't have their best seasons in 2010-11 but are good candidates to bounce back in the upcoming campaign:
Marian Gaborik, Rangers -- Gaborik dropped from 42 goals in his first season in the Big Apple to 22 -- and even that wasn't as good as it seemed because 10 came in three games against non-playoff teams. Gaborik is healthy after missing 20 games last season, and the Rangers have brought in playmaker Brad Richards to get him the puck. Barring injuries, there's no reason the two-time 42-goal scorer shouldn't have another big year.
Nicklas Backstrom, Capitals -- Part of Alex Ovechkin's drop from superstar to mere mortal can be laid at the skates of Backstrom, his center, who had the worst season of his four-year career while missing five games due to a broken thumb -- the first injury ever to keep him out of the lineup. Backstrom dropped from 33 goals to 18 and from 101 points to a career-low 65 in the first season of a 10-year deal -- a major reason why Washington struggled to score. The Caps in general and Ovechkin in particular need him to play the way he did in his first three NHL seasons.
Steve Sullivan, Penguins -- If ever there were a player who could bounce back with a big season at age 37, it's Sullivan, who’s healthy again and going from the offensively-challenged Predators to Pittsburgh -- where he figures to wind up on a line with either Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. Injuries limited Sullivan to 44 games last season, and he finished with just 10 goals and 22 points. If he's healthy, there's no reason he shouldn't have at least 25 goals and 50 points with the Penguins.
SOG: 105 | +/-: -17
Duncan Keith, Blackhawks -- Keith's 45-point showing in 2010-11 would have been acceptable for most defensemen, but for the reigning Norris Trophy winner, it was a major comedown. The dropoff in Keith's play from the previous season mirrored the Hawks' plunge from Stanley Cup champs to a team that barely made the playoffs. Keith looked like the best defenseman in hockey only on rare occasions, and the Hawks need him to revert to his '09-10 form if they hope to return to being Cup contenders.
Sergei Gonchar, Senators -- Ottawa laid out big money last summer to bring in Gonchar as a free agent after he had 50 points in 62 games for Pittsburgh, only to see him slump to 7 goals, 27 points and a minus-15 rating in 67 games. The Senators have a major investment in Gonchar and need the 37-year-old to return to the form that generated an average of nearly 60 points in his nine previous full seasons.
Mark Streit, Islanders -- It wasn't that Streit had a bad season in 2010-11 -- he had no season. A shoulder injury on a seemingly harmless play during a preseason scrimmage ended the Swiss defenseman's season before it began. Streit and the Isles both say he's healthy, and with the nucleus of a young team starting to mature, the Islanders need their best defenseman to return to top form if they hope to end a four-year playoff drought.
Martin Brodeur, Devils -- The 39-year-old future member of the Hall of Fame enters 2011-12 as the NHL's all-time leader in wins and shutouts -- but he's also coming off the first losing season in his 17-year career. Brodeur's save percentage dropped to .903, his worst since 1995, and he missed significant time with an injury for the second time in three years. He did look sharper in the second half but wants to prove he's still an elite goaltender for a full season.
Niklas Backstrom, Wild -- The NHL's "other" Backstrom didn't have a great year, either. Minnesota's starting goaltender is coming off the first losing season of his career (22-23-8) and missed substantial time with hip injuries. The Wild made several offseason moves to juice up their offense, and they need Backstrom to return to form if they hope to avoid a third straight early summer.
Author: John Kreiser | NHL.com Columnist