THW’s Big List of Comeback Candidates


Be sure to check out other instalments in our Big List Series

Every year at least a dozen players are written off only to rebound the following season.

There are several prime candidates for a bounce-back campaign in 2014-15 — even more than usual it seems. Perhaps that has to do with the amount of one-year contracts handed out this off-season, leaving plenty of players with something to prove. It’s put up or shut up time for those guys — now or never — and they will undoubtedly be hungry for success.

Then there’s another group of players who appear to be healthy after being derailed by injuries last season. A few of them have been prone to injury and could easily end up sidelined again, but they could certainly be productive if they manage to stay in the lineup.

Last but not least, there are those who simply find themselves in a better situation than in seasons past. Be it a new team or just an increased opportunity, it could translate into better results.

By my estimation, about 1 in every 7 players — or roughly 3 players per team — experience a resurgence of some sort each year. With approximately 25 players on each of the 30 teams over the course of the season, that is 750 total. So doing the math, I came up with this Big List of 109 players who fit that bill in one form or another for the upcoming season. Some will hit their stride again and others will continue their fade into oblivion.

This is the first of a four-part Big List series that will also cover Bust, Breakout and Rookie Sleeper candidates. Not necessarily designed to serve as a fantasy guide, those of you planning to join anything from box pools to live drafts to keeper leagues for the upcoming season may want to cross-reference these Big Lists before making your picks.

I’ll dive right in with a Top 10 Comeback candidates, followed by My 10 underdogs, and then elaborate further by expanding and categorizing the Big List.

(Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports) Nathan Horton of the Columbus Blue Jackets, seen here screening Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, tops the Big List of Comeback Candidates. Ironically, Fleury also earns a mention further down.
(Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports)
Nathan Horton of the Columbus Blue Jackets, seen here screening Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, tops the Big List of Comeback Candidates. Ironically, Fleury also earns a mention further down.

Top 10

1) Nathan Horton (F Columbus)

2) Pekka Rinne (G Nashville)

3) Loui Eriksson (F Boston)

4) Nail Yakupov (F Edmonton)

5) Henrik and Daniel Sedin (F Vancouver)

6) Michael Del Zotto (D Philadelphia)

7) Dany Heatley (F Anaheim)

8) Martin Havlat (F New Jersey)

9) Mike Green (D Washington)

10) Brad Richards (F Chicago)

My 10

1) Cam Ward (G Carolina)

2) Sam Gagner (F Arizona)

3) John-Michael Liles (D Carolina)

4) David Clarkson (F Toronto)

5) Nikolai Kulemin (F N.Y. Islanders)

6) Adam Larsson (D New Jersey)

7) Brooks Laich (F Washington)

8) Ryane Clowe (F New Jersey)

9) Derek Roy (F Nashville)

10) Keith Ballard (D Minnesota)

One-Year Wonders

Michael Del Zotto (D Philadelphia) — One man’s loss is another man’s gain in this case, as Kimmo Timonen’s health scare and uncertain future due to blood clots forced the Flyers to sign Del Zotto. He’s only 24 and had a 40-point season two years ago, so this seems like a low-risk, high-reward move that could have other GMs kicking themselves for not making Del Zotto the same offer sooner.

Dany Heatley (F Anaheim) — Bruce Boudreau plans to start Heatley alongside Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. It doesn’t get any better than that for linemates and opportunity. There’s some familiarity between them from winning gold together at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. Most feel Heatley’s lost a step, but in reality he’s only 33 and if fully healthy, this could be a new beginning rather than the end.

Martin Havlat (F New Jersey) — He’s likely to play with his buddy Patrik Elias and perhaps Jaromir Jagr on one of the oldest lines in the league. But that trio has the talent to dominate if they can stay healthy, something the 33-year-old Havlat has always struggled with.

Brad Richards (F Chicago) — He is 34 and coming off a buyout, but is in line to centre Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad. How’s that for a second (or third) chance?

Derek Roy (F Nashville) — He joined the Gary Roberts fitness program this summer and obviously understands the importance of 2014-15 on a personal level. At 31, he could still turn the corner in a positive way. New Nashville teammate Mike Ribeiro is in the same boat at 34 and is another candidate for drastic improvement, but I think Roy would be considered more surprising if he rediscovers his offensive game.

David Booth (F Toronto) — He’s battled injuries for years and didn’t mesh for whatever reason in Vancouver with his old childhood friend Kesler, but he’ll have a clean slate and change of scenery in Toronto. I wouldn’t hold my breath on Booth, but he did 31 goals and 60 points once upon a time in Florida and he’s still only turning 30 in November, so anything is possible.

Steve Downie (F Pittsburgh) — Reunited with Penguins assistant coach Rick Tocchet, Downie could get back to his 20-goal, 45-point, 200-penalty minute range, especially if he ends up on a line with Crosby or Malkin. He’s 27 so if he’s healthy, he’s a strong candidate for significant improvement.

Christian Ehrhoff (D Pittsburgh) — He didn’t have a bad year in Buffalo with 33 points but he has potential for much more on a much better team in 2014-15. If he’s paired with Letang on the top power-play unit, reaching 50 points again isn’t out of the question.

Andrej Meszaros (D Buffalo) — He flew under the radar on deep Philadelphia and Boston teams last season, but will have more opportunity to establish himself in Buffalo with hopes of cashing in again next summer.

Bigger Investment

Mike Richards (F Los Angeles) — He dodged the buyout bullet, but the Kings only kept him based on a commitment to off-season training. Providing Richards follows through on that front, he could anchor a third scoring line for the Kings behind Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter. Richards has 6 years remaining on his contract and will earn $7 million in 2014-15, so the 29-year-old needs to put up 50-plus points again.

Dave Bolland (F Florida) — Dale Tallon spent big on him thanks to their relationship in Chicago, but the 28-year-old Bolland only played 23 games, scoring 12 points, for Toronto last season. He’ll almost certainly be better than that, but he’ll have his work cut out for him to earn that $5.5 million annually for the next five years, considering he’s yet to have a 20-goal season and his career high is 47 points.

Nikolai Kulemin (F N.Y. Islanders) — A 28-year-old old who only had 20 points in 70 games with Toronto in 2013-14, Kulemin is slated to make $3 million in 2014-15 but that escalates to $5.25 million over the next four years. Unlike Bolland, Kulemin does at least have a 30-goal, 57-point season on his resume. Now it’s up to him to prove that potential is real and not an aberration. He’ll likely be on a line with his old buddy Mikhail Grabovski, so that could certainly help.

Nikita Nikitin (D Edmonton) — The Oilers turned heads by handing him a 2-year, $9-million deal, in other words paying $4.5 million annually for a guy who was a healthy scratch at times with Columbus and finished 2013-14 with only 2 goals and 15 points in 66 games. But the Oilers plan to give Nikitin a much bigger role and potentially a good chunk of power-play time, so he could return to his 32-point form from a few seasons ago.

Tyler Myers (D Buffalo) — The Sabres haven’t traded him yet and he did show signs of improvement towards the end of 2013-14. He has the size you can’t teach and skates extremely well for a big man, so there’s still reason for optimism.

Dmitry Kulikov (D Florida) — The Panthers are also paying for potential here, giving him an average of $4.33 million over the next 3 years despite only scoring 8 goals and 19 points in 81 games during 2013-14. He topped out at 28 points (in only 58 games) a few seasons ago, but 30-plus points is possible for 2014-15.

Kyle Quincey (D Detroit) — The Red Wings must believe in him because, after missing out on some bigger-name free agents, they extended him for 2 years at $4.25 million annually. That’s a lot of coin for a guy who only managed 4 goals and 13 points despite playing all 82 games last season. He has produced more offence in the past, including a career-high 38 points in 72 games with Los Angeles back in 2008-09. That was five years ago, but he just turned 29 this month, so something in between those totals, say around 25 points, sounds about right given his likely role with the Red Wings in 2014-15.

Ryan Miller (G Vancouver) — He had an up-and-down 2013-14, single-handedly winning bottom-feeding Buffalo a few games as he’s been known to do over the last decade, but Miller’s play dropped off after being traded to top-ranked St. Louis. He had a good run to start with the Blues, but the bottom fell out and he was just average in their first-round playoff loss to the rival Blackhawks. St. Louis didn’t bother offering him a new contract, but Vancouver’s rookie general manager Jim Benning had a history with Miller from Buffalo and was willing to put his trust in Miller over Eddie Lack as the Canucks’ starter. That trust came in a 3-year, $18-million deal.

Steven Stamkos
(Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)


Steven Stamkos (F Tampa Bay) — These guys would top the list if not for it being so obvious, and the fact that their point totals from 2013-14 pro-rate to their normal levels. Stamkos, for example, scored 25 goals and 40 points in 37 games before and after suffering a broken leg, which pro-rates to 55 goals and 89 points. That’s just slightly below his regular clip, having registered 95, 91 and 97 in years past. Stamkos also hadn’t missed a single game over the previous 4 seasons, so expect a return to form from the 24-year-old for 2014-15.

Evgeni Malkin (F Pittsburgh) — His 72 points in 60 games pro-rates to 98 in 82, which sounds about right for 2014-15 assuming he can avoid injury, which hasn’t been an issue for most of his career to date. Assuming he hits it off with new coach Mike Johnston, Malkin could top 100 points for the fourth time.

Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg (F Detroit) — They have typically stayed healthy throughout their careers, but they are getting to be past their prime now with Datsyuk at 36 and Zetterberg turning 34 as the season starts. The latter still managed more than a point-per-game in 2013-14, with 16 goals and 48 points in 45 games (29-87 in 82), while Datsyuk’s production was slowed by trying to play through his injuries and only scoring 17 goals and 37 points in 45 games (31-67 in 82). They should both be in that 80-point range again if they can suit up for 75-plus games in 2014-15.

Kris Letang (D Pittsburgh) — He suffered a minor-but-scary stroke in 2013-14 and has had a couple of concussions in recent years, but Letang is one of only a handful of defencemen with potential for 60-plus points when healthy. He’s surrounded by stars in Pittsburgh and is still the Penguins’ best option to quarterback the power play. His career high was 50 points in 2010-11 when he played all 82 games, but I could see the 27-year-old topping that total in 2014-15 if he can avoid injury again.

Bobby Ryan (F Ottawa) — With Jason Spezza gone, he’s kind of the biggest ticket in town as far as high-profile forwards go. Ryan had decent chemistry with Kyle Turris during his first season in Ottawa despite being hampered by a sports hernia that was fixed with surgery. He should return to 30-goal, 60-point territory and could challenge his career high of 71 points in 2014-15, a big improvement over 23 goals and 48 points in 70 games from 2013-14.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (F Edmonton) — He came back sooner than expected from off-season shoulder surgery, but wasn’t the player he’s capable of becoming in 2013-14. Another guy who could just as easily make the Big List for breakout candidates, Nugent-Hopkins should easily hit 20 goals for the first time in his career (he had 19 last year) and while the optimists will tell you he’s good for 80-plus points, I think 70 points is a reasonable expectation for 2014-15 (up from 56).

Healthy At Last

Nathan Horton (F Columbus) — Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen recently said they expect to see the player who helped Boston win a Stanley Cup and make it back to the final in recent years. If that Horton comes to play and stays healthy in 2014-15, then I’d expect 30 goals and 60 points.

Pekka Rinne (G Nashville) — He’s a top 10 goaltender in the league when healthy, and his performance for Finland at the world championship this spring indicates that is finally the case again, having recovered from hip surgery and a related infection. Rinne is Nashville’s key to a playoff push, even more so than captain Shea Weber.

Loui Eriksson (F Boston) — When the Tyler Seguin deal first went down, many thought the Bruins were winners because of Eriksson who had three 70-plus point seasons and had even scored 36 goals as a rookie with Dallas. But he didn’t jive in Boston to start and was then concussed, finishing with only 10 goals and 37 points in 61 games as Reilly Smith suddenly looked like the key piece in that deal by scoring 20 goals and 51 points in playing all 82 games. Reports have Eriksson starting 2014-15 on the top line, taking the departed Jarome Iginla’s place with David Krejci and Milan Lucic, so he should come close to doubling his point total from 2013-14.

Cam Ward (G Carolina) ­— He doesn’t have many believers left, but count me among that minority. I realize his 2006 Stanley Cup heroics were eight years ago and that his body has some hard miles on it from being such a workhorse in the years that followed, but if he can stay healthy and get into an early groove, Ward has the ability to win his starting job back and return to being a top 15 goalie in 2014-15. The Hurricanes have a new coaching staff, including a goalie coach David Marcoux who has worked in the past with the now 30-year-old Ward, so those changes could also be beneficial for him.

Zach Bogosian (D Winnipeg) — Last year was kind of a write-off for Bogosian, dealing with a nagging groin injury then a wonky back. But he’s only 24 years old and the third overall pick in 2008 (behind Steven Stamkos and Drew Doughty) has the potential for a big breakout or bounce-back campaign depending how he’s deployed by relatively new coach Paul Maurice. Bogosian scored 10 goals as a rookie and has a career high of 30 points, both totals that should be within reach for 2014-15.

Pascal Dupuis (F Pittsburgh) — He’ll be trying to bounce-back from knee surgery, but reports indicate he’s recovered and motivated for 2014-15. If that’s the case, Dupuis could return on a line with Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz, although new coach Mike Johnston may have other combinations in mind. Dupuis had 20 goals and 38 points in 48 games during the lockout-shortened 2012-13, which pro-rates to 34 goals and 65 points over 82 games. I’d be more cautious and say 25 goals, 60 points is a solid bet with those linemates, essentially matching his output from 2011-12 (25-59), while rebounding from just 7 goals and 20 points in 39 games during 2013-14.

Joffrey Lupul (F Toronto) — He hasn’t played more than 70 games since 2008-09, always sidelined by one injury or another, but if Lupul could finally stay healthy, he’s good for at least 25 goals and 65 points in 2014-15. He had 22 goals and 44 points in 2013-14 (in 69 games).

Stephen Weiss (F Detroit) — He was supposed to thrive thanks to a change of scenery from Florida, but a sports hernia prevented Weiss from doing much of anything with Detroit in 2013-14, tallying just 2 goals and 4 points in 26 games. That only projects to 6 goals and 12 points over 82 games, so it’s safe to say he should be better in 2014-15. He’s normally a lock for 20 goals and 50 points, but has career highs of 28 goals and 61 points, so I’d expect him to be somewhere in that range again.

Sam Gagner (F Arizona) — That Zack Kassian stick to the jaw really set him back and spelled an end to his time in Edmonton. Gagner is another breakout candidate, his career high still stuck at 49 points from his rookie season in 2007-08. His lockout numbers would have translated to 24 goals and 65 points over 82 games. Granted those totals were inflated by his improbable eight-point game against Chicago, but I do think Gagner’s capable of 20 goals and 55 points in 2014-15 (up from 10-37 over 67 in 2013-14).

Ryane Clowe (F New Jersey) — He was supposed to be a big free-agent signing, but concussions limited his impact to just 7 goals and 26 points in 43 games for 2013-14. Most were expecting 20 goals, 55 points and 100 penalty minutes, all obtainable numbers for 2014-15.

Lubomir Visnovsky (D N.Y. Islanders) — He’s super talented when healthy, having registered career highs of 18 goals and 68 points in 2010-11. That’s obviously unrealistic for 2014-15 at 38 years old, but 10 goals and 40 points sounds about right seeing as how Visnovsky should still be the Islanders’ best option for a power-play quarterback.

Paul Martin (D Pittsburgh) ­— He broke a leg then a hand in 2013-14, only registering 3 goals and 15 points in 39 games. That’s 6 goals and 32 points over 82 games, which is right around his career average and what should be expected in 2014-15, which also happens to be a contract year for Martin as a pending unrestricted free agent next summer.

Alex Tanguay (F Colorado) — Some of his best years were with Colorado, but 2013-14 wasn’t among them due to injuries and ultimately hip surgery. Tanguay only had 4 goals and 11 points in 16 games, but that small sample size equates to 20 goals and 56 points, so that sounds about right for 2014-15. He could easily top 60 or maybe even 70 points, especially being reunited with Jarome Iginla who helped Tanguay become a point-per-game player in Calgary (81 points in 81 games) in 2006-07.

Brooks Laich (F Washington) — He could start 2014-15 on the top line with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, so that would obviously translate into better numbers than his 8 goals and 15 points in 51 games from 2013-14. Laich has scored 20-plus goals three times in the past and also topped 50 points twice, so I think those should be targets for 2014-15.

Darren Helm (F Detroit) — Half of Detroit’s roster could be on this list after being decimated by injuries last season, but Helm stands out as a guy who just can’t seem to stay healthy. If he does in 2014-15, then Helm could score 20 goals and 40 points for the first time in his career. He had 12 goals and 20 points in 42 games last season, which impressively translates to 23 goals and 39 points over 82 games.

David Jones (F Calgary) — He’s a big winger who just turned 30 this month, but Jones was limited by injuries during his first season with the Flames, finishing 2013-14 with 9 goals and 17 points in 48 games. That’s roughly 15 goals and 30 points over 82 games, but I think he’s capable of 20 goals and 40 points in 2014-15.

Tomas Kopecky (F Florida) — He had a career year in the lockout-shortened 2012-13, with 15 goals and 27 points in 47 games (26-47 over 82), but injuries, including a concussion, amounted to just 4 goals and 12 points in 49 games for 2013-14 (7-20 over 82). Play it safe and expect Kopecky to be somewhere in between those projections for 2014-15, likely 15 goals and 35 points.

Niklas Backstrom (G Minnesota) — He and Josh Harding both fit the bill for this Big List, but Harding already had his bounce-back year in 2013-14 before multiple sclerosis sidelined him again. Backstrom had dealt with several lower-body injuries in recent years, but if healthy, he could still be a top 15 goalie in the league. That’s a pretty big IF for the 36-year-old, but Minnesota appears willing to take that chance with Backstrom still their projected starter for 2014-15.

Dennis Seidenberg (D Boston) — He’s a 25-point defenceman that was limited to just 10 in 2013-14 because of knee surgery, but he’s said to be ready for 2014-15 and a return to form should be expected.

Jordan Leopold (D St. Louis) — Ditto for Leopold, who only had 1 goal and 6 points in 27 games last season, but should be good for 20 points again in 2014-15.

Keith Ballard (D Minnesota) — He has some harder miles on his will-be 32-year-old body, which resulted in a buyout from Vancouver, but I think Ballard still has some gas left in the tank. Considering he had five straight seasons with 20-plus points, I don’t think that’s a stretch for 2014-15. He’s from Minnesota and played at the University of Minnesota, so he’ll be motivated to rebound.

Viktor Fasth (G Edmonton) — He fell out of favour in Anaheim largely because of groin injuries, but Fasth will be given a good opportunity to share the workload with Ben Scrivens in Edmonton for 2014-15. He could steal the starting role at some point.

Fitting In

Scott Hartnell (F Columbus) — He was a good fit in Philadelphia, but could be an even better fit in Columbus alongside Ryan Johansen or Brandon Dubinsky. He started slow and played through injuries in 2013-14 but still finished with 20 goals, 52 points and 103 penalty minutes in 78 games. He should be closer to 30 goals and 60 points in 2014-15.

Mike Cammalleri (F New Jersey) — This is a nice landing spot for him, and while I don’t expect Cammalleri to reach 80 points again, which he has done twice before, I don’t think 30 goals and 60 points is expecting too much for 2014-15. For reference sake, he had 26 goals and 45 points in 63 games with Calgary in 2013-14.

R.J. Umberger (F Philadelphia) — Acquired for Hartnell, he is returning to a familiar place although I’m not sure where he’ll slide into the Flyers’ lineup. Regardless, Umberger should see at least a slight increase from 2013-14’s numbers of 18 goals and 34 points in 74 goals. I’m thinking 20 goals and 40 points again, totals he has hit fairly consistently over his career and he’s only 32 years old.

Kris Versteeg (F Chicago) — He didn’t do much (of anything) in Chicago’s playoff run, but I’m thinking he must have been playing hurt. He’s still a good fit for the Blackhawks, so 20 goals and 40 points for 2014-15 should be in the cards for the 28-year-old. He’s twice reached 50 points, but I’m not that confident he’ll get there again.

P-A Parenteau (F Montreal) — A homecoming for him, you’d almost have to think 20 goals and 40 points is a lock for 2014-15 despite only putting up 14 goals and 33 points in 55 games for 2013-14. That actually pro-rates to 21 goals and 49 points over 82 games, so 50 points is a possibility and something the 31-year-old has already accomplished a couple of times.

Daniel Briere (F Colorado) — He’s obviously not the same player that topped out at 95 points in 2006-07 and he’ll be 37 when the season starts, but I think Briere was underutilized (or misused) in Montreal. He had 13 goals and 25 points in 69 games for 2013-14, but I could see him getting back to up to 20 goals and 40 points for 2014-15.

Martin Erat (F Arizona) — He was awful in Washington (1 goal in 53 games) and not a whole lot better in Phoenix (2 goals in 17 games) for 2013-14. But the 33-year-old was always good for around 20 goals and 50 points in Nashville, so I think he’ll find a role in Arizona and return to that range for 2014-15, which also happens to be a contract year for Erat.

Steve Ott (F St. Louis) — He seemingly didn’t fit in St. Louis (0 goals in 29 games), but the Blues are taking a second chance on him, which speaks to Ott’s character. He won’t be shutout again in 2014-15, and I could see about 15 goals, 30 points and 150 PIMs as per usual for the 32-year-old.

Devin Setoguchi (F Calgary) — I was somewhat shocked he went unsigned for as long as he did, but maybe Setoguchi was waiting on Calgary management and determined to play for the Flames in 2014-15. He is from Southern Alberta, so this is the 27-year-old’s hometown team. He’s a scorer who netted 31 goals and 65 points with San Jose back in 2008-09, but Calgary doesn’t have that Joe Thornton-calibre playmaker to set him up. Setoguchi managed only 11 goals and 27 points in 75 games with Winnipeg in 2013-14, but 15 goals and 35 points is a reasonable expectation for 2014-15.

John-Michael Liles (D Carolina) — He’s definitely one to watch, having been buried in Toronto but now likely to be counted on for offence in Carolina. He had 2 goals and 9 points in 35 games following that trade to end 2013-14, which only amounts to 21 points over the course of a season, but I personally think the will-be 34-year-old Liles can surpass 30 points in 2014-15.

Devan Dubnyk (G Arizona) — Last year couldn’t have went any worse for him, bombing out in Edmonton, then failing to find a home in Nashville or Montreal. But Arizona could be much kinder to Dubnyk and he’s paired with Mike Smith in the past at world championships, so I think he could re-establish himself as an NHL goaltender in 2014-15.

Martin Brodeur (G free agent) — If he plays, he’s going to pick his spot and then set out to prove people wrong, to prove he’s still a top 15 goalie. I wouldn’t bet against him, but I’m also not convinced he’ll sign a contract before Christmas.

Roberto Luongo (G Florida) — He’s back where he wanted to be and should be back to being a clear-cut No. 1 ahead of Al Montoya and Dan Ellis. The Panthers could surprise this season, perhaps even be the 2014-15 version of Colorado, and Luongo would be a big part of that turnaround if it comes to fruition.

Jonas Hiller (G Calgary) — He needed this fresh start and although he’s going from a top team in Anaheim to a projected bottom team in Calgary, Hiller will be out to prove he’s still a top 20 goalie in the league.

Teddy Purcell (F Edmonton) — He got lost in the shuffle in Tampa Bay and surpassed by some younger emerging talents in 2013-14, only scoring 12 goals and 42 points in 81 games, but Purcell had averaged 20 goals and 59 points the previous three seasons. In Edmonton, he should solidify a spot on the third scoring line, possibly even the second, and thus get back to 20 goals and 50 points for 2014-15.

Brad Stuart (D Colorado) — He’s headed back to the Avs in an unheralded trade, but I think this could be a good move for Stuart. He’ll play top-four minutes with Colorado and while I don’t see him getting back to his 30-plus point days, I think 20 points is reachable again in 2014-15 after only tallying 3 goals and 11 points in 61 games with San Jose in 2013-14.

Rob Scuderi (D Pittsburgh) — The Penguins didn’t bring him back for his offence, but they expected better all-around play than they got in 2013-14, with only 4 assists and 2 penalty minutes with a minus-8 rating in 53 games. He’s normally been in the 10- to 15-point range, but Pittsburgh would be fine with fewer points so long as he brings steady defence in 2014-15.

hurricanes news
(Photo by Andy Martin Jr)

Can’t Get Worse — Or Can They?

Henrik and Daniel Sedin (F Vancouver) — Torts and the twins didn’t jive from Day 1 despite the Sedins trying to be troopers by blocking shots and killing penalties. Their offence suffered though, only combining for 97 points, a total they have each achieved individually in years past with career highs of 112 (Henrik) and 104 (Daniel). It’s doubtful they ever hit triple-digits again, but there’s no reason the Sedins couldn’t get close to a point-a-game in 2014-15, between 75 and 85 points each under new coach Willie Desjardins.

Eric and Jordan Staal (F Carolina) — Likewise, with Bill Peters as their new coach, the Staal brothers should get 10-plus more points and Eric will almost surely score more than 1 power-play goal in 2014-15. They combined for 101 points in 2013-14 (Eric with 61 and Jordan with 40), but Eric is capable of 80 and Jordan of 50 assuming things go better under Peters than the fired Kirk Muller.

Drew Doughty (D Los Angeles) — Widely regarded as one of the league’s best defencemen, Doughty’s been a bit of a dud the past few seasons from a fantasy perspective, with only 36, 38 (pro-rated over 82 games) and 37 points. His career year came in 2009-10 with 59 points, including 16 goals. There’s no reason he can’t get back to that level in 2014-15.

Alex Edler (D Vancouver) — Another presumed Torts victim, Edler struggled mightily in 2013-14 with only 7 goals and 22 points in 63 games. That was a far cry from his 11-goal, 49-point breakout in 2011-12, but I think he’ll rebound for at least 35 points in 2014-15 as the Sedins and everybody else around them improve.

Evander Kane (F Winnipeg) — Trade rumours be damned, the 23-year-old power forward should be more successful with Winnipeg or elsewhere in 2014-15, coming off a 19-goal, 41-point campaign in 2013-14. He netted 30 goals and 57 points in 2011-12 and that’s more along the lines of what I expect from Kane in 2014-15, with 60 points definitely within reach.

Dustin Brown (F Los Angeles) — The Kings’ captain always brings the intangibles and continued to contribute away from the scoresheet in 2013-14, but with only 15 goals and 27 points in 79 games, it was the worst offensive showing of his 9-year NHL career. Prior to that, he’s been consistently good for about 25 goals and 55 points, so expect him to be back in that range for 2014-15.

Alex Burrows (F Vancouver) — Blame Torts again if you must, but Burrows was downright bad in 2013-14 and it likely cost his spot alongside the Sedins with the Canucks signing Radim Vrbata this off-season. He went 41 games without a goal last season, which is unheard of for a guy who scored a career-high 35 goals not that long ago. He finished with just 5 goals and 15 points in 49 games (8-25 over 82), so he’ll definitely do better than that and I would imagine he’ll be around 20 goals and 45 points in a supporting role for 2014-15.

Rick Nash (F N.Y. Rangers) — His playoff performance was pretty putrid (3 goals and 10 points in 25 games), but I wouldn’t write off Nash. He just turned 30 and is typically good for 30 goals and 65 points minimum. I think he’ll be in that range again for 2014-15 after recording 26 goals and 39 points in 65 games for 2013-14.

Vincent Lecavalier (F Philadelphia) — The Flyers shopped him to no avail this off-season, but that could be a blessing if Lecavalier can rediscover his offensive game in 2014-15. He still had 20 goals and 37 points over 64 games in 2013-14 and although it’s unlikely he’ll ever be a point-a-game guy again (he had 108 points in 2006-07), I could see 25 goals and 55 points for Lecavalier.

David Clarkson (F Toronto) — His homecoming didn’t go as planned (or expected) in 2013-14, finishing with a disappointing 5 goals, 11 points and 93 penalty minutes in 60 games. Pretty much everything that could’ve went wrong, did go wrong, including a bunch of injuries. He’ll be out for redemption in 2014-15 and I could see 20 goals, 40 points and 100 PIMs.

Rene Bourque (F Montreal) — He was a key performer in Montreal’s playoff run, with 8 goals and 11 points in 17 games, so it’ll be interesting to see if Bourque can carry that momentum into 2014-15 after only scoring 9 goals and 16 points in 63 games for 2013-14. Bourque has twice scored 27 goals and more than 50 points, but I’d think the Habs would be happy with 20 goals and 40 points for 2014-15, which is entirely possible.

Michael Grabner (F N.Y. Islanders) — He’s a bit of enigma and difficult to get a read on, but Grabner’s better than his 12 goals and 26 points in 64 games from 2013-14. He might not be as good as his career-best 34 goals and 52 points from 2010-11, but he should be somewhere in between for 2014-15, likely in that 20-goal, 40-point range.

Viktor Stalberg (F Nashville) — The thought was he’d breakout once he got out of Chicago, but that didn’t happen in 2013-14 with Nashville, tallying only 8 goals and 18 points in 70 games. With Peter Laviolette taking over as Predators coach and Stalberg more comfortable with his surroundings, I do think the 28-year-old could take a big step forward in 2014-15, something like 20 goals and 40 points.

Brandon Sutter (F Pittsburgh) — He’s never going to be a big scorer, but he showed some offensive upside in the playoffs with 5 goals and 7 points in 13 games after 13 goals and 26 points in 81 games during 2013-14. Sutter’s career-high is 21 goals and 40 points in 72 games with Carolina in 2009-10 and I think he’ll get back to that level with Mike Johnston as his new coach in Pittsburgh.

Sergei Gonchar (D Dallas) — Also apparently being shopped, I think Gonchar is still capable of much more than the 2 goals and 22 points in 76 games he registered in 2013-14. That was his first year with the Stars and he’s always been better in his second season with a new team, so I think the 40-year-old who twice reached 67 points will be good for half that total (around 35) in 2014-15.

Henrik Lundqvist (G N.Y. Rangers) — How can a Stanley Cup finalist goaltender who shone throughout the playoffs be a Comeback Candidate? Well, for those with short memories, Lundqvist was less than stellar to start 2013-14, plodding along with a .907 save percentage and 2.76 goals-against average (and a 12-16-3 record) from Oct. 3 to Jan. 6, before he and the Rangers righted the ship. Lundqvist rallied to finish 2013-14 with a .920 save percentage and 2.36 GAA, which still went down as his worst statistics in four seasons and ranked him 15th among league leaders in both categories. Expect a save percentage closer to .930 and a GAA closer to 2.00 for 2014-15, numbers that should put him back in the Vezina conversation.

Youth Movement

Nail Yakupov (F Edmonton) — He seemingly fell victim to the sophomore jinx while not hitting it off with new coach Dallas Eakins in 2013-14, resulting in just 11 goals and 24 points in 63 games. But he now seems to have bought in this off-season, returning to Edmonton ahead of schedule to train with his teammates and try to live up to his hype as the No. 1 overall pick in 2012. He can really shoot the puck, almost Stamkos-lite, so if the Oilers are able to better utilize Yakupov’s skill-set in 2014-15, he could easily double his totals and maybe even score 30 goals and 60 points.

Adam Larsson (D New Jersey) — This is a big year for him, with the Devils having plenty of defence prospects pushing for playing time. Larsson needs to establish himself as an NHL regular first and foremost in 2014-15 after only 26 games with 1 goal and 3 points in 2013-14. As a rookie in 2011-12, he had 2 goals and 18 points in 65 games, so Larsson should strive for those totals again. I could actually see 5 goals and 30 points in 2014-15 with a little bit of good fortune.

Sven Baertschi (F Calgary) — I’m not sure what the deal is with him because most expected Baertschi to challenge for the Calder heading into 2013-14, but then he only ended up playing 26 games with 2 goals and 11 points. He has the talent to be a 20-goal, 40-point guy in 2014-15, but he first has to work his way back into the lineup. If Baertschi makes the Flames out of training camp, I could see him coming close to 50 points.

(Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports)
(Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports)

Pay-Day Pending

Marc-Andre Fleury (G Pittsburgh) — Players tend to rise to the occasion and raise their game in a contract year, and Fleury is facing that situation as he enters 2014-15 on an expiring contract with the potential to be an unrestricted free agent next summer. It will be up to him to earn an extension with his play, both in the regular season and, more importantly, in the playoffs.

Antti Niemi (G San Jose) — Same deal for Niemi, who like Fleury has struggled in the post-season in recent years. They both have a Stanley Cup on their resume, so they are capable of winning the big games, but they need to get back to that form for 2014-15. Niemi has bounced back before, so it’s entirely possible he could do it again.

Mike Green (D Washington) — His days could be numbered in Washington, with the Capitals signing Matt Niskanen and already having John Carlson, among others, but Green needs to stay healthy and have a big year offensively regardless of what the future holds as a pending UFA. He only had 9 goals and 38 points over 70 games in 2013-14 and could find himself even further down the depth chart, but at the same time Green should be given good opportunities under new coach Barry Trotz, who seems to get the best out of all his defencemen. Green’s best was back-to-back 70-plus seasons and while that may be farfetched for 2014-15, I don’t think 55 points is totally out of the question.

Tomas Fleischmann (F Florida) — The Flash went flat in 2013-14, with only 8 goals and 28 points in 80 games. That was a strange step back from his career highs of 27 goals and 61 points in 2011-12. He’s only 30 and should rebound into that 20-goal, 40-point range under Gerard Gallant in 2014-15.

Chris Stewart (F Buffalo) — He was pointless in a 5-game audition with the Sabres following a trade-deadline move from St. Louis where he had 15 goals and 26 points in 58 games for 2013-14. Stewart should get ample playing time with Buffalo in 2014-15 and seems a good bet for 20 goals and 40 points.

Curtis Glencross (F Calgary) — It will be interesting to see how he fits into Calgary’s lineup this season, with a lot of talented prospects on the cusp of taking over offensive roles. Injuries limited Glencross to 38 games in 2013-14, but he still managed 12 goals and 24 points, which pro-rates to roughly 25 goals and 50 points over 82 games. If he can stay ahead of the kids on the depth chart, that sounds about right for 2014-15, but Glencross could reach 20 goals and 40 points even as a third-liner.

Jiri Tlusty (F Carolina) — He tore it up during the lockout year, then took a step back in 2013-14 and now has a new coach to impress for 2014-15. It’s tough to predict what Tlusty will amount to going forward, but I would think 20 goals and 40 points is realistic this year, coming off 16 goals and 30 points in 68 games.

Michael Ryder (F New Jersey) — He had better numbers in the lockout year than he did in 2013-14 (35 points in 46 games versus 34 points in 82 games), but Ryder is typically good for around 20 goals and 40 points. The Devils have added some forward depth and it’s uncertain where Ryder fits into picture for 2014-15, but assuming they run three scoring lines and he’s on one of them, then a slight improvement to reach 40 points again seems probable.

Erik Cole (F Dallas) — He hasn’t been a great fit in Dallas through two seasons, and as in Ryder’s case, it’s hard to tell where Cole will slot in for 2014-15. Dallas also has increased forward depth, but if he ends up on a line with newcomers Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky, then Cole should improve on his 16 goals and 29 points in 75 games from 2013-14. He’s been over 50 points five times in his career, but I think the Stars would be pleased to see 20 goals and 40 points out of him in 2014-15.

Tyler Kennedy (F San Jose) — He had trouble finding his groove in San Jose, with only 4 goals and 17 points in 67 games during 2013-14, his first season there. The Sharks have some young prospects ready to make the jump in 2014-15, so Kennedy best show up motivated for training camp or he could wind up on the outside looking in sooner than later. At the same time, providing he clicks with his linemates for 2014-15, Kennedy could get back to that 15-goal, 30-point level he established in Pittsburgh.

(Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports)
(Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports)

Deep Sleepers

Dmitry Orlov (D Washington) — He’ll be in tough to earn a roster spot out of training camp again, but I have a feeling Trotz might like Orlov’s style more than the former coaching staff headed up by Adam Oates. He had 3 goals and 11 points in 54 games for 2013-14 and a career-high 19 points in 60 games from 2011-12, so I don’t think 20 points is out of reach if he’s a regular from Day 1 in 2014-15.

Luca Sbisa (D Vancouver) — This is a good situation for him, even if he’s somewhat expected to fill the skates of Jason Garrison. His new coach will be familiar with him from their Medicine Hat-Lethbridge rivalry in the WHL, back when Sbisa was a top prospect and former first-round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers. His best season was 2011-12 with Anaheim when he had 5 goals and 24 points in 80 games, but Sbisa has been slowed by injuries ever since and was limited to just 1 goal and 6 points in 30 games with the Ducks in 2013-14. If he can manage to stay healthy, Sbisa should be closer to 20 points than 10 in 2014-15.

David Rundblad (D Chicago) — This guy was supposed to be the second-coming of Erik Karlsson, but that potential seemed to disappear when he crossed the Atlantic. Rundblad barely played in 2013-14, totaling 23 games between Phoenix, its AHL affiliate and later Chicago. He was pointless in 5 games with the Blackhawks and had only 1 assist in 12 contests with the Coyotes. His best season came as a rookie with Ottawa in 2011-12 and that was nothing special with 1 goal and 4 points in 24 games. But for some strange reason, I still have hope for Rundblad and feel like Chicago might give him more rope to run with in 2014-15, resulting in 10-plus points for the first time in his career.

Jonathan Blum (D Minnesota) — There was quite a bit of hype around him a few years back, but Blum hasn’t blossomed at the NHL level to date. He had another solid AHL campaign with Minnesota’s farm team in 2013-14, also playing 15 games with 1 assist for the Wild, but he could stick out of camp for 2014-15 if Blum can beat out Christian Folin and/or Mathew Dumba. That’s some pretty stiff competition, but he has experience on his side and Blum could flirt with 20 points in 2014-15 given the right opportunity.

Cory Conacher (F N.Y. Islanders) — Not sure I see the fit there, but if there is one, Conacher could pull a Nathan Gerbe from last season and not just because he’s another little guy. Conacher turned heads as a rookie with 9 goals and 24 points in 35 games with Tampa Bay, but after he was traded to Ottawa for Ben Bishop, that offence dried up and he was eventually waved, claimed by Buffalo and then cut loose again. He had 7 goals and 26 points in 79 game split between Ottawa and Buffalo in 2013-14, so I think 30 points would be considered a success for 2014-15.

Matt Frattin (F Toronto) — Back in Toronto where he’s experienced his most success as a pro, Frattin will need to work his way back into a deep forward group with the Maple Leafs. He had 8 goals and 15 points in 56 games there in 2011-12, so if he’s a regular in 2014-15, then Frattin could hit 10 goals and 20 points or possibly even better.

Blake Comeau (F Pittsburgh) — This seems like a good opportunity for him with the Penguins overhauling their bottom-six forwards. If the 28-year-old ends up on a line with Brandon Sutter and Nick Spaling or even Steve Downie by chance, then Comeau could kickstart his career again. His best year was 2010-11 with the Islanders, netting 24 goals and 46 points in 77 games, but 15 goals and 30 points would be welcomed by Pittsburgh for 2014-15.

Peter Mueller (F St. Louis) — He signed a two-way contract and will be hard-pressed to make the Blues in his return to North America after a successful 2013-14 in Switzerland. Mueller scored 22 goals and 54 points as a rookie with Phoenix way back in 2007-08, but the 26-year-old is still young enough to re-establish himself starting in 2014-15, where 15 goals and 30 points would have to be considered a step in the right direction.

Daniel Cleary (F Detroit) — He ended up staying in Detroit after almost signing as a free agent with Philadelphia, but his played dropped off in 2013-14, only recording 4 goals and 8 points in 52 games as the Red Wings were carried by their kids rather than their veterans. Cleary has career highs of 26 goals and 46 points and has reached 40 points three other times, but 15 goals and 30 points is likely what Detroit is hoping to get from him in 2014-15.

Jordon Schroeder (F Minnesota) — Just like Ballard, he’s from Minnesota, played for the University of Minnesota and returned home after failing to pan out in Vancouver. He’ll battle Cody Almond, back from Switzerland, and a couple other prospects for depth roles, but if Schroeder sticks, he has the offensive instincts to possibly put up 10 goals and 25 points in 2014-15.

Patrick Kaleta (F Buffalo) — If he finds his way back into the Sabres’ lineup and reinvents himself like Matt Cooke did prior to taking out Tyson Barrie, then Kaleta could be a serviceable player in 2014-15, providing physicality, energy and possibly 10 to 15 points.

Unemployed With Upside

Pierre-Marc Bouchard — Oddly enough a former 8th overall pick in 2002 just like Setoguchi was in 2005, Bouchard topped out at 63 points in 2007-08 with Minnesota, but he’s battle injuries including concussions in recent years with most of his statistics pro-rating to about 40 points over 82 games. If somebody signs him and he stays healthy, then 15 goals and 40 points would be a solid showing for 2014-15.

Ville Leino — He was a big-time bust in Buffalo, but he did score 19 goals and 53 points in Philadelphia back in 2010-11 before signing that dubious contract. He had zero goals and 15 assists in 58 games with Buffalo in 2013-14 prior to being bought out, but he could probably pot 10 goals and 25 points in the right situation for 2014-15.

Jordin Tootoo — He’s had some off-ice demons to deal with, but it appears those problems are behind him despite being bought out by Detroit. He’ll probably get a training camp invite and a chance to prove he’s still worthy of an NHL contract, which I think he will earn, but Tootoo shouldn’t be counted on for more than 20 points and 100 penalty minutes in 2014-15.

Tomas Vokoun — He might still get an opportunity somewhere come training camp after recovering from blood clots, but goaltending jobs are hard to come by (just ask Brodeur) and Vokoun is 38 years old now. When healthy, he’s always put up good numbers, so he might be a decent option for a team wanting a veteran backup.

Larry Fisher is a sports reporter for The Daily Courier in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. Follow him on Twitter: @LarryFisher_KDC.

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8 thoughts on “THW’s Big List of Comeback Candidates”

  1. I know its a long article, but man you’ve gotta watch your mistakes. Loui Eriksson’s 36 goal year was his 3rd season, and Sam Gagner’s 8 point game was 2011-12, so it didn’t inflate his lockout numbers, it wasn’t even the same year. Kinda stopped reading afterwards. Great idea for an article and a lot of these guys do have their place on these lists, but the mistakes made the it lose some credibility in my mind

  2. Wow, great list!

    My favorites for a comeback are Edler, the Sedins, E.Staal, Seidenberg, and I’m really looking forward to see how Weiss, Heatley and Booth do this season.

    On the other hand, some teams have way too much forwards and I have trouble seeing how some of these new acquisitions or depth guys can really make a dent. I’m thinking New Jersey (Clowe, Ryder, Havlat), Nashville (Roy, Ribeiro, Jokinen, Stalberg) and Calgary (Jones, Setoguchi)…

    Should be a fun season!

    • Thanks for the comment Pat, I totally agree with you on most/all those fronts. I think Vancouver’s team is going to improve drastically across the board after an “off” year under Torts. So Canucks players tend to figure quite prominently on a couple of these Big Lists. I’m a big Willie Desjardins fan and think he’ll get that roster trending in the right direction again.

      And I do share the New Jersey and Nashville sentiments, it’s going to very interesting to see who ends up playing with who this year, plenty of talent to go around but chemistry will be the big question mark on both fronts.

  3. Bouchard has already signed a contract. He’s on a one-year contract in Switzerland. Though I still really like him and think he should have found a home on a NHL team after last season. The concussion history has slowed him a lot, but he has great hands and is a heads up kind of player.

    • Apparently I missed that contract, wonder if Bouchard has an out-clause or if there was just no interest from NHL teams. He’s in a weird spot because his skill-set is almost limited to a top-six role and those jobs are extremely tough to come these days. If he has big year over there, he will get another chance. Just like Matthew Lombardi and Peter Mueller.

  4. Excellent post. One note about Bogosian. He was also feeling the effects of wrist surgery back in 2012 and there is concern that he may never fully recover from that. His name is starting to creep up in trade rumours although not nearly as often as Kane’s.

    • Thanks for the heads-up Jeremy, I was unaware that wrist is still bothering him…and I traded a draft pick that turned into Kevin Hayes for him in one of my keeper leagues this off-season, so here’s hoping for a FULL (and speedy) recovery haha. Glad you enjoyed the list, stayed tuned for Bust, Breakout and Rookie Sleeper!

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