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Kudos to any 2007-08 fantasy hockey owners who anticipated center Mike Ribeiro coming through with a 56-assist and 83-point season in Dallas, 11 assists and 18 points better than his previous career highs three years earlier in Montreal.
Bonus points if you grabbed Tampa Bay (and briefly Philadelphia) forward Vaclav Prospal before anyone else put in a claim for him and nabbed his 33 goals and 71 points, which were improvements of 19 goals and 17 points from the previous season.
And who saw Brad Boyes' 43-goal season coming? The Blues right winger bettered his previous season's output by 26 goals and smashed his career high from 2005-06 by 17 goals.
Even if you drafted Chris Osgood to be your backup or third-stringer, the safe move turned serendipitous as the Red Wings goalie had a career-best goals-against average (2.09), his second-best season for save percentage (.914) and his most victories in three seasons (27).
All four players proved some former employers wrong and got their careers back on track through a combination of working hard, seizing opportunities, finding some luck and gaining confidence.
Ribeiro, 28, and Boyes, 26, matured in their prime years and took advantage of bigger roles presented to them by their respective teams. Prospal, 33, and Osgood, 35, showed they still had a lot left in their tanks.
So which reclamation projects will be worth the risk this season and which ones will continue to see their careers slide downward? Numerous players are at this career crossroads, but here's a look at 12 who will make a move in one of those directions:
|Naslund will try to recapture his offensive prowess in New York.|
He definitely won't return to that sort of output, but the change of scenery and reduced pressures of leaving the captaincy behind in Vancouver should mean an improvement from last season's 25 goals and 55 points in 82 games if he can find linemates to open up room for him to get off his dangerous wrist shot. A huge reduction in travel will also have a positive impact on Naslund's 35-year-old body.
Draft him in the mid-to-late rounds.
Wade Redden, New York Rangers: Redden probably won't approach the 50 points he scored in his career year of 2005-06, but he's had a positive plus/minus in all but one of his 11 seasons.
Although he won't have as talented a cast of forwards to feed as he had in Ottawa, Redden figures to be in the same role as a top-two defenseman who plays on the power play and short-handed.
Any problems fantasy owners had with the 31-year-old were from overestimating his value. Don't draft him high, expecting him to rank in the top 10 in defense scoring. Top 20 is more likely.
Michael Ryder, Boston Bruins: Ryder averaged 28.33 goals and 58.67 points in his first three seasons before he dipped to 14 goals and 31 points last season.
Prolonged slumps, lost confidence and benchings led to his ice time dropping by more than three minutes per game last season in Montreal.
The Bruins are gambling that coach Claude Julien, who coached Ryder in juniors, the AHL and the Canadiens, will help the 28-year-old rediscover his scoring punch. Renewed opportunity and meshing with one of the Bruins' talented centers, Marc Savard or Patrice Bergeron, should bring Ryder's production back to his old levels.
Tuomo Ruutu, Carolina Hurricanes: The former first-round pick by Chicago was dealt to the Hurricanes at the trade deadline. He won't have the pressure of being a centerpiece to build around, but he still has a lot to prove.
He overcame some injury trouble early in his career and now needs to shake the underachiever label by showing some consistent scoring ability to go with his physical style. His best season was his rookie campaign of 2003-04, when he scored 23 goals and 44 points.
He's playing on a one-year contract and will have to work hard to earn time on the top two lines. The 25-year-old had 11 points in 17 games with the Hurricanes after coming over before the trade deadline.
|Wellwood will try to shed a bad rep and injuries for the Canucks.|
Injury problems and a reputation for poor work habits aren't a good combination, so this is a make-it-or-break-it season for the 25-year-old in the last year of his contract.
He's showed good hands in the past (42 points in 48 games in 2006-07). That's a trait the low-scoring Canucks have sorely needed, so Wellwood will be given ample opportunity to rediscover his scoring.
Depending upon his desire -- and whether the Canucks can lure free agent Mats Sundin -- Wellwood could be a late sleeper pick or free-agent prize in fantasy.
Sergei Fedorov, Washington Capitals: Odds are pretty slim that a 38-year-old can produce nearly a point per game in today's NHL. But if Fedorov can earn the extra ice time that would come with assignments on one of the top two lines, he could be an exception like Carolina's Rod Brind'Amour.
Fedorov has averaged just 42 points the past three seasons, and his ice time has been dropping (to an average of 17:28 per game last season). But the trade from the Blue Jackets to the Capitals seemed to revive the former Hart Trophy winner, who had 11 assists and 13 points in 18 games with Washington.
Washington's glut of centers might present a problem, but Fedorov should benefit if a rumored trade of Michael Nylander becomes true.
Lubomir Visnovsky, Edmonton Oilers: An upgrade from a bad team in Los Angeles to the revamped and improving Oilers should boost Visnovsky's output back to the 60-point range he averaged in the two seasons before last season's 41 points.
Visnovsky, 32, will quarterback the power play and should thrive in the Oilers' up-tempo attack. He and the Oilers have a lot to prove and Visnovsky is certainly worth drafting as a top-four fantasy defenseman.
Jarret Stoll, Los Angeles Kings: Stoll went the other way in the Visnovsky trade, but his production is far less certain.
Stoll's best season was 2005-06, his second full season, when he had 22 goals and 68 points in 82 games. Moving from the Oilers to arguably the worst team in the league won't help him improve on 2007-08's 14 goals, 22 assists and minus-23.
At 26, Stoll still has the potential to turn his career around. But if he drops off the second line, he'll be hard-pressed to put up good numbers with the likes of Matt Moulson, Teddy Purcell, Brad Richardson and Matt Ellis on his wings.
Miroslav Satan, Pittsburgh Penguins: Satan has a great opportunity to play alongside center Sidney Crosby if he doesn't squander it. Satan, 33, gets this prize more or less by default because Marian Hossa signed a free-agent deal with the Red Wings.
Satan's production has fallen from 66 to 59 to 41 points the past three seasons with the Islanders, so the move to the Penguins figures to at least get him back in the 60-point range and perhaps in the neighborhood of his career high of 76 from 2002-03.
To deserve to stay on Crosby's wing, Satan will have to shed his soft label because Penguins GM Ray Shero won't be afraid to go out and get someone else to do the job.
|Morrison could find some value as a second-line center.|
A good two-way player who will fit in well with the Ducks, Morrison will have essentially the same role as in Vancouver: second-line center who gets power-play and penalty-killing time. The key change is playing with defensemen Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger on a more puck-possession style team and a better cast of linemates to whom he can feed the puck.
Like fellow ex-Canuck Naslund, Morrison's production has dropped since career highs for goals (25), assists (46) and points (71) in 2002-03. That was as a No. 1 center, so there's little reason to expect the 33-year-old to exceed those totals in Anaheim.
Owen Nolan, Minnesota Wild: Nolan takes his aging body to Minnesota after he failed to rediscover his scoring touch during one-season stops in Calgary and Phoenix.
Nolan, 36, hasn't been a valuable fantasy player since 2002-03, when he had 29 goals and 54 points with the Sharks and Maple Leafs.
It's hard to imagine Nolan improving much on the 16 goals and 32 points he scored while averaging 16:33 in ice time in 77 games with the Flames last season.
Andrew Raycroft, Colorado Avalanche: Peter Budaj's grip on the No. 1 goalie job with the Avalanche is hardly secure. Especially considering Colorado would have rather kept Jose Theodore, who got a better offer from the Capitals through free agency.
Raycroft was horrible for the Maple Leafs last season (2-9-5, 3.92 GAA, .876 save percentage), but that came with little support. The former Calder Trophy winner is still just 28, and can get his career back on track if he works hard. Just look at the example Theodore set last season in Colorado after he was nearly washed up at 30.
Raycroft still isn't worth taking in a fantasy draft, even as a third-stringer, but keep an eye on him if Budaj falters.