Some Big Name Players Who May Prove Underwhelming in 2012
“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” –Seneca, ~50 AD
He may not have been a hockey fan, but two thousand years after the ancient Roman philosopher uttered the most famous of his musings, Seneca’s logic still rings true. For every break-out rookie performance, there is a disappointed veteran grinding his teeth on the bench. For every open ice toe-drag that leads to a highlight reel goal, there is an embarrassed defenseman lying face down in a pile of snow.
Such is the nature of sport. Such is the nature of life.
In my last piece, I examined a few of the players who have the potential to reinvent themselves this season; players who, for whatever reason, have been overlooked in terms of their potential impact and could come from nowhere to take the league by storm in 2012.
In this article, I will examine a few of the players who I believe could be poised for disappointment this year. Fantasy owners take heed; the past does not necessarily reflect well upon the future, and not all that glitters is gold.
Martin Brodeur- G, New Jersey Devils
As a fan of the game, it pains me to make this prediction, but the planets are simply not in alignment for hockey’s all-time winningest goaltender. Coming off a dismal 2010-11 season that saw the Devils finish below the .500 mark for the first time since 1991, not much has changed in New Jersey over the summer months.
At 39 years of age and coming off a season plagued by injury, Brodeur should see significantly more rest than he is accustomed to this winter, as new head coach Pete DeBoer is expected to lean a little more heavily upon journeyman back-up Johan Hedberg. Even with the added rest, however, Brodeur figures to be in tough against a division that features the newly reloaded Philadelphia Flyers, a perennial contender in the Pittsburgh Penguins, and two New York teams that are both on the rise.
Even if Brodeur is able to defy age and injury to return to form as an elite level goaltender, don’t expect the team in front of him to offer much support.
First round draft pick Adam Larsson has a decent chance of making the club’s opening day roster, but the odds of him becoming an impact defenseman in just his first year in league are relatively slim. Left-winger Zack Parise is back after missing all but 13 games due to injury last year, but with Travis Zajac already nursing an Achilles injury and Ilya Kovalchuk coming off his worst offensive output since his rookie campaign in 2002, depth could be a problem on all fronts in New Jersey this year.
Factor in the learning curve of a brand-new head coach, lack of scoring depth, and a defensive core that offers mid-range defenseman Anton Volchenkov as its number one option, and 2011-12 looks like a perfect recipe for disaster in New Jersey. The days of having Scott Stevens, Brian Rafalski, and Scott Niedermeyer in front of him are long gone, and Brodeur will be lucky to find himself in the hunt for 30 wins; a mark he has failed to reach only once when making at least 50 appearances in an NHL season.
Ville Leino- W, Buffalo Sabres
When the Sabres signed Ville Leino as an unrestricted free agent this summer, fans of the organization breathed a deep sigh of relief. Proof positive of new owner Terry Pegula’s commitment to building a winner was finally at hand. But Leino’s 6-year, $27M contract could prove riskier than anyone in upstate New York is willing to admit.
Detroit Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock once referred to Leino as “the best player I’ve ever sent to the minors.” High praise from a coach who is surrounded by arguably the league’s deepest talent pool, but the fact remains that Leino was, nonetheless, sent to the minors.
The streaky Finn has shown flashes of brilliance during his short NHL career, recording 21 points in just 19 games during the 2010 playoffs. However, $4.5M per year is an awful lot of cash for a player who has never posted 20 goals and has only one full NHL season under his belt. The highly skilled winger has shown the capacity to put up points, but has never played the role of go-to player at the NHL level. In both Detroit and Philadelphia, he was surrounded by a wealth of offensive talent; a luxury he will not be afforded this year in Buffalo.
GM Darcy Regier has done his fair share of spending this off-season, but the bulk of his acquisitions have focused on bolstering his blue line in an attempt to relieve some of the pressure on star goaltender Ryan Miller. With the departure of unsung hero Tim Connolly to Toronto, the Sabres offense will rely heavily upon Leino and Thomas Vanek, along with undersized forwards Nathan Gerbe and Tyler Ennis, each of whom are entering their sophomore campaign and will undoubtedly face some bumps in the road as they continue to acclimatize to the NHL game.
Ville Leino is a solid big-league player, but look for him to struggle this season as he is forced to take on the opponent’s top defensive pairing on a nightly basis. Unless Buffalo can pull the trigger on a deal to bring some grit and depth up-front, open ice will be hard to come by in the offensive zone. He has the potential to grow into his paycheque, but fans in Buffalo shouldn’t expect $27M worth of results from Ville Leino just yet.
Alex Semin- LW, Washington Capitals
Despite being a former 40-goal scorer, Alex Semin’s career has been plagued by inconsistency. The enigmatic winger has missed 65 games over the past four seasons, and twice this summer, former teammates have openly questioned his commitment to competing at the highest level.
Semin has all of the tools to be an elite offensive force in the National Hockey League, but his work ethic and propensity for injuries have cast a dark shadow over a player that should be (and still could be) one of the sport’s brightest stars. If the Capitals continue to falter on the defensive side of the puck, as they have in recent years, “The Other Alex” could easily find himself a tradable commodity partway through the season as the Capitals continue to search for that elusive deep playoff run.
And perhaps a change of scenery would do Semin some good. Being one of the most talented players on the planet, but not even the best left-winger on his own team must present a uniquely frustrating situation for the young Russian.
With coach Bruce Boudreau continuing to preach a philosophy of improved defensive responsibility, Washington should find themselves in a higher percentage of one-goal games this season, which usually equates to more late-game ice time for top line talent; and less ice time for players like Alex Semin.
Simply put, less ice time = less results.
Barring a mid-season epiphany that sees him turning a completely new leaf, don’t expect Alex Semin to replicate his 40 goal performance from two seasons ago. Instead, he might just find himself as...
Well, a new Leaf.