Big Year or Bust

nhl alex semin free agency

Every year there are a small handful of players who need to have a tremendous year or risk losing every last remnant of public respect. Some guys stay in the same place their whole career, which indicates a focus on consistency. Others move on, and after a year or two the glitter is scoured away by the cold light of day. And for a few, their current stop could be their last NHL stop.  Here are four players who must have a big year or possibly risk a number of losing options: face the wrath of the hometown fans, miss the playoffs or risk getting traded.

Phil Kessel:
Objectively, it seems odd that a man who has scored 135 goals in the last four seasons should be on the list. Realistically, a guy who reportedly was disappointed to drop to fifth in a draft that had Jonathan Toews, Jordan Staal, and Niklas Backstrom, go ahead of him should probably either put up or just shut up. The criticism that has followed him since week one with Boston after being drafted is “he just doesn’t show up for long stretches”. He’s become Mr. October. He puts up completely silly numbers for four or five weeks, and then by December most years he’s an average third liner. Last year’s October pace would have given him a 134 point season stretched out to 82 games. The big picture for a guy who’s got 28 goals in 88 March games, and 30 goals in 51 career October games is that when you’re paid well, you’re expected to play consistently. He’s got this season and one more left on his contract–if he can’t focus and stay consistent, he’s looking at taking a possible pay cut in his next deal. No one doubts his talent, but talent alone does not make a superstar.

Alex Semin:
Like Kessel, Semin can be an extraordinary goal scorer. Unlike Kessel, he’s at the age where his production will start tailing off. He’s also been publicly criticized by former teammates, and will be starting the year on his third professional team since being drafted to the NHL. When the last CBA expiration led to a work stoppage, Semin spent two years in Moscow before returning to the team who drafted him, the Washington Capitals. Arguably, the ceiling for Semin is higher than it is for Kessel. Although, it may not be a good argument given that he’s never hit 78 games played in his NHL career.  His career high did come with a 40 goal and 84 point season in 2009-10. Unfortunately, a reputation for soft, lazy play and poor conditioning has dogged him of late. In the eyes of many fans in Raleigh, he’ll be the fourth best forward behind the Staal’s, and Skinner. But a salary that is topped by only Eric Staal’s won’t earn him much leeway with the local crowd if he doesn’t perform.

Zach Parise:
Leaving New Jersey in the manner he did means he’s already spent all his credit in that market.  Not to mention, the two or three other markets who were led to believe by irresponsible media that they were in the running for his services will have several fans hoping for him to fail. And then there’s the hometown crowd. He may have grown up in Minnesota, and he came home and signed a forever deal too which will earn him a lot of credit in Minny. But coming off a Stanley Cup run (which he didn’t perform well in) may see him experience the “cup hangover” that even the losing teams in the finals face. While his Olympic buddy and new teammate Ryan Suter signed an equally enormous deal, Parise is the sexiest signing of this summer’s offseason. The number of top notch or even legitimate top six forwards the Wild have had since coming into the NHL can probably be counted on one hand. If he doesn’t make the adjustment to a new system and new team where he’s going to be the #1 forward, at least as fast as Kovalchuk did, he’s going to want out long before the deal is over–but probably not before the home crowd is sick of him.

Ryan Miller:
Ryan Miller has two strikes against him coming into this, and when the season starts the next pitch will be inbound. His injury history is one. His declining stats is another. With new ownership, they won’t be nearly as attached to keeping him as someone with a longer standing relationship might be. With this and one more season on his contract, he like Derek Roy could find himself elsewhere on little notice. It is clear Pegula has a vision for the team, it is unclear if those plans will include retaining the services of someone who engages in publicly calling out their teammates, and making highly inflammatory comments about other players when mixed with substandard play. At 32 years old, Miller is arguably entering the prime years of his career as a goaltender, but much of the core of the Sabres is now two to four years away from theirs, so moving on and possibly passing the torch to Enroth might be in the organizations best interest.


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