It’s funny how an idea can come together or fall apart based on coincidences and random bits of good or bad luck.
Like eating a Reese’s peanut butter cup or skinning a cat,* there is no single road map to putting these columns together. I can say that even after having written more than 300 Doses since this feature began running early in the 2011-12 season. For better or worse, those Eureka! moments just sort of need to happen.
Coming up with today’s theme was a little odd, even for this already quirky creative process,** though.
For whatever reason, discussing Kris Versteeg’s many different follicle choices at PHT got me thinking about which players might make a surprise impact on the 2013-14 playoffs. Generally, I’ve noticed that many surprise success stories also tend to be guys who are in contract years, yet Versteeg’s deal won’t run out until after the 2015-16 season ... so I’m not sure where that came from.
Long story short, that idea was starting to germinate in the old noggin even before potential red-hot unrestricted free agent target Paul Stastny scored the game-tying and game-winning goals for the lucky/brilliant/lucky-brilliant Colorado Avalanche on Thursday.
Considering the notion that almost every year brings some kind of surprise playoff scorer, I thought it might be fun to handicap potential flashes in the pan (not really applicable to well-known Stastny) and guys who may mysteriously play a lot better in the next two weeks to 2.5 months (depending on their teams’ playoff runs) with a new contract on the line.
To keep things from being too unruly, I thought I’d split this bit up into conferences. I’ll start with the West since the East usually gets first dibs; expect an East look early next week.
Note: For reasons I hope are obvious, each version of this column will only feature eight West teams (today) and eight East teams (sometime next week)
Mathieu Perreault has a lot of money to gain or lose, even as a pending RFA instead of a UFA. He enjoyed solid work during the regular season (43 points in 69 games, or about 51 points if you projected that over a full 82-game campaign) and he already has a goal in the playoffs. There's an interesting mix of motivation, solid talent and under-the-radar potential for Perreault to be the Ducks' Chris Kontos if they were to make a big run.
Jonas Hiller would seem like a big contract year guy, yet Frederik Andersen grabbed the first start for Anaheim and even John Gibson might fight him for reps. Can't say I saw that coming, and it makes things confusing for negotiations in the future. Then again, it might help the Ducks keep Hiller's asking price down (although any goalie-needy team would be wise to whisk him away via unrestricted free agency, of course).
With his mammoth PIM output (209) and solid offensive numbers (14 goals and 29 points in 81 games played), prickly forward Antoine Roussel should already be on your fantasy hockey radar. He could very well make a name for himself if the Stars don't burn out rapidly in this series.
Tim Thomas - Pretty obvious choice here. The Stars have been stubborn about giving basically any and all starts to Kari Lehtonen, yet they might be forced to turn to Timmy if Kari has another bad game. Thomas has maybe his last NHL contract to fight for, so motivation should be in large supply.
The Avalanche's potential breakthrough guys should be fairly obvious. Stastny may unexpectedly improve upon his $6.6M salary cap hit after that figure had been ridiculed for quite some time. Ryan O'Reilly remains a strange cat to assess from a monetary standpoint, in his own right.
One dark horse candidate might be Jamie McGinn, who surely would like to make more than his current $1.75M mark despite being an RFA. Everyone else is of the likely retiring variety (Jean-Sebastien Giguere) or the how-are-they-not-already-retired variety (Cory Sarich), although there's a very outside chance Stefan Elliott would make a splash.
Plenty of motivation to go around Minnesota, so the real question is: who will get the opportunities? Dany Heatley remains a tough-to-pity punchline with his bloated $7.5M cap hit found as a healthy scratch. It wouldn't be outrageous to see him out of the NHL altogether after this season. Matt Moulson should be an obvious guy to target, much like Ilya Bryzgalov (who seems fairly in control unless Darcy Kuemper gets healthier or the Wild lose another heartbreaker).
There are all kinds of guys who can make big jumps. Nino Niederreiter and Jason Zucker stand out as guys who need deals while Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund are eligible for extensions this summer. If you believe in Minnesota - a mixed team, if you ask me - then there are a lot of interesting names to consider in the lower ranks of playoff pool drafts.
As much as the Blues have cleared up certain parts of their roster, they still have a significant amount of guys coming off of deals. It's difficult to be too excited about veterans like Derek Roy, Brenden Morrow and Steve Ott, but youngsters like Patrik Berglund and Vladimir Sobotka have a lot to gain. The crown jewel in the guys who could go in the mid-tier is Jaden Schwartz, however. Not only is his name fun to say; he's also a guy Ken Hitchcock loves (even before Thursday's game-tying goal).
Beyond youngsters and over-the-hill forwards, the Blues' biggest expiring deals should be especially obvious: both Ryan Miller and Brian Elliott are fighting for new contracts. I expect Miller to go through cycles of praise and blame throughout this postseason ... after all, that happened in Game 1 alone.
Chicago doesn't really enrapture me in terms of expiring contracts, but things get more interesting when you consider guys who could sign extensions sometime this summer. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews see their cap-friendly deals evaporate after 2014-15. Nick Leddy won't be so affordable any longer (RFA or not) after 2015-15. And so on.
The Sharks are largely locked up on offense, as I can't find myself too excited about the likes of James Sheppard. Things are more interesting in their own end, as they justifiably haven't given fading defenseman Dan Boyle the same treatment as they did in locking up Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. It's not like Boyle has been useless, it's just weird to see him be anything but dazzling.
Goaltending is interesting for San Jose; Antti Niemi's relative bargain $3.8M salary cap hit expires after 2014-15 while Alex Stalock could get a halfway decent raise after a strong backup season (after quite a journey to make lift his NHL career off).
Marian Gaborik is about as obvious as it gets (and I expect good things, especially if the Kings can make it through what I expect to be a tough fight with San Jose). Dwight King is already basically playing over his head with 15 goals and 30 points this season (easily topping his combined numbers from the previous scattered three campaigns). Much f this roster is locked up or fantasy-bland (Willie Mitchell and Matt Greene), with only guys with deals expiring after 2014-15 (like Justin Williams coming off an underwhelming regular season) bringing in any interest.
* - Full disclosure: I’ve never skinned a cat. I’m actually going to go out on a limb by saying that most of us are just flat-out fibbing when we claim any expertise in that area; for all we know, there may only be one way to skin a cat.
(Serious talk here, I know.)
** - Another beloved-yet-beguiling part of the creative process is observing the columns/jokes/etc. that people enjoy (that you expected to receive a more tepid response) and the personal favorites that produce can-hear-a-pin-drop indifference.
… At least it’s usually easy to figure out when you can troll people into a fury though, I guess.