Monday, October 3, 2005
Players to watch, for better or worse
By Scott Burnside
Special to ESPN.com
Players who will make a difference
Adam Foote -- Columbus Blue Jackets
The veteran defenseman won't show up on the nightly score sheet, but his warrior-like approach to the game brings instant credibility to a Columbus team short on results and long on excuses. The team's first playoff spot is now a possibility, not a pipe dream.
Kari Lehtonen -- Atlanta Thrashers
Considered one of the top goaltending prospects of this generation, Lehtonen is a definite rookie of the year candidate and should lead the Thrashers to their first playoff berth.
Paul Kariya -- Nashville Predators
|After two seasons in Detroit, CuJo looks to jump-start his career with the Coyotes.|
Yes, we know, just 36 points in an injury-riddled campaign for Colorado in 2003-04. But if anyone can return to elite status under the new rules, it's Kariya, who should enjoy playing in the relative anonymity of Nashville with a team that is a lot more talented than people think.
Vincent Lecavalier -- Tampa Bay Lightning
The man with the superstar contract is finally on the superstar arc that's been predicted for him since he was a teen. On a very good Tampa team, the bulked-up Lecavalier will stand out as its brightest star.
Mike Knuble -- Philadelphia Flyers
Lost in the hype surrounding all the big names acquired by the Flyers, the hard-working Knuble will emerge as a go-to guy in the trenches. A 40-goal campaign is not out of the question.
Jason Allison -- Toronto Maple Leafs
First off, Allison wasn't suffering from a concussion when he went down in January 2003, it was nerve damage in his neck. Second, if he's as healthy as his trainers say, the talented center will lead the Leafs in scoring and into the playoffs.
Curtis Joseph -- Phoenix Coyotes
Quiet to the point of aloofness, Joseph nonetheless has a fiery determination and a strong skill set to guide the Coyotes into the middle of the Western Conference playoff race, if not the postseason itself. A possible comeback player of the year.
Jocelyn Thibault -- Pittsburgh Penguins
Top goaltending prospect Marc-Andre Fleury isn't ready for a starting role in the NHL, but Thibault is far better than many have given him credit for. He'll provide a nice comfort zone for a slicked-up Penguins team that seems destined for the playoffs after finishing dead last in 2003-04.
Jarome Iginla -- Calgary Flames
It sounds like a no-brainer, but with his strongest supporting cast yet, watch for Iginla to challenge for the scoring title as the Flames set their sights on the Cup.
Todd Bertuzzi -- Vancouver Canucks
The jury will forever be out on Bertuzzi and his cowardly assault on Colorado's Steve Moore. But under the new rules, the rugged Bertuzzi will be almost unstoppable. Watch for him to return to the top five in league scoring as the Canucks shed their pretender label for that of contender.
Who might not
Dominik Hasek -- Ottawa Senators
Too old, too brittle and too long away from it all. Unless Hasek has found the goaltending equivalent of the fountain of youth, the Senators might be in the market for a proven NHL netminder before Christmas.
Dany Heatley -- Ottawa Senators
New environs, same baggage. Heatley isn't yet over the mental hump of the accident that claimed the life of teammate Dan Snyder (if he was, he wouldn't have asked for a trade out of Atlanta), and the verdict is still out on his physical recovery from an eye injury sustained during the lockout. Until those twin obstacles have been laid to rest once and for all, superstardom will have to wait.
Martin Lapointe -- Chicago Blackhawks
|Mike Modano will continue his captaincy in Dallas, but does he have anything left?|
Didn't the Blackhawks look at the scoring summaries from Lapointe's three-year meander through Boston before lavishing the third-line center with $2.4 million? In six of the last eight seasons, Lapointe has potted between 15 and 17 goals. He is what he is, a third-line bruiser. No more, no less.
Mike Modano -- Dallas Stars
After a bizarre back-and-forth frenzy that saw the longtime Star (and North Star for that matter) end up back in Dallas, GM Doug Armstrong may be sorry he won the battle. Scouts say he's lost more than a step, new rules or not.
Nikolai Khabibulin -- Chicago Blackhawks
The highest-paid goalie in the league may well wish he'd taken less money to stay with a better team in Tampa. The Hawks are not nearly as good as people think, and the same may be said of Khabibulin when all is said and done.
Derian Hatcher -- Philadelphia Flyers
Hatcher doesn't so much check people as maul them. Under the new rules, that will mean a lot of time in the penalty box, which could then lead to more tentative play on the ice. Either way, it won't be good for the Flyers, especially given Hatcher will miss all of training camp with a left knee sprain.
Brian Leetch -- Boston Bruins
Even with the new rules and open ice, the aging Leetch's contributions figure to be modest at best for a team that has high aspirations.
Teemu Selanne -- Mighty Ducks of Anaheim
Like his longtime pal Kariya, Selanne has seen his stock plummet. The former sniper had just 16 goals in Colorado in 2003-04. Although he claims his bum left knee is now 100 percent after surgery last fall, it's hard to imagine Selanne's being a factor in any renaissance in Anaheim.
Keith Tkachuk -- St. Louis Blues
No truth to the rumor Tkachuk spent most of the lockout buying up Blimpie franchises instead of working out. Ha, ha, ha. Get it? Blimpie? Oh, never mind.
John LeClair -- Pittsburgh Penguins
A non-factor during the Flyers' run to the 2004 Eastern Conference final (two goals, four points in 18 games), LeClair still somehow ended up getting $2.1 million to join the star-studded Penguins. With his injury history and lack of foot speed, it's hard to imagine how he figures in with Sidney and the boys.
Scott Burnside is a freelance writer based in Atlanta and is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.