It's that odd part of the hockey summer that feels just far enough from the coming season where standings projections or awards predictions feel perilously premature -- at least for any puckhead who worries about their favorite player blowing out a knee in camp. (Or, if you're the NHLPA, in Olympic sleepaway camp.) There's so much we don't know yet; heck, we're not even sure which arena will be blessed by the presence of Hilary Duff next season ... even if Duffrie is already training hard for the 2009-10 campaign.
It isn't too early, however, to discuss which players are tap-dancing on a landmine entering next season. John Kreiser of NHL.com this week chronicled the "hot seat" players for all 30 teams in the Eastern and Western conferences this week, and they're both good reads despite some obvious choices and reaches that come with covering the entire League.
For example, Chris Osgood(notes) of the Detroit Red Wings and Joe Thornton(notes) of the San Jose Sharks were probably the first names on this list for the last few seasons. Should Paul Stastny(notes) feel pressure on a lottery team? Should Steve Sullivan(notes) feel pressure after the hell he's been through? Should anyone on the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins feel under the gun? (Hence the selection of Chris Kunitz(notes) on the hot seat.)
In reading the pieces, three names stood out as being, perhaps, the three players who should feel the most pressure entering 2009-10. Naturally, all three play the most pressure-packed position on the ice as goalies. Two of them were on the NHL.com lists: Carey Price(notes) of the Montreal Canadiens and Cristobal Huet(notes) of the Chicago Blackhawks. One was inexplicably absent: Marty Turco(notes) of the Dallas Stars.
Is there anyone in the NHL will more pressure next season than this trio of netminders?
Here's Kreiser on Huet, on whom the Chicago Blackhawks' capped out fortunes may rest next season:
Cristobal Huet, Chicago -- The Blackhawks are Huet's team now that Nikolai Khabibulin(notes) -- who took Chicago to the conference finals last spring -- is gone. On a team loaded with talent, Huet is the big question mark. He has to improve on his up-and-down first season in Chicago for the Hawks to take the next step as they try to end the NHL's longest Stanley Cup drought.
The Hawks appear destined to be the next team afflicted by that Philadelphia Flyers "But Their Goalie Is ..." Syndrome with Huet between the pipes. He's in the second year of a four-year contract former GM Dale Tallon bestowed upon him, at a salary that makes him untradeable.
On the plus side, The Copper & Blue's interesting goaltending analysis of the last three seasons has him ranked seventh amongst goalies who have played at least 60 games over the last three seasons; and Huet played very well in that overtime loss to the Wings in the conference finals.
On the minus side ... well, the Blackhawks are putting their faith in a guy who needed Khabibulin to bail him out last season
and that has never started more than 40 games in a season. So yeah, pressure then ...
(Ed. Note: Dan in the comments points out we made what's the dumbest, most common mistake we make with stats: Failing to combine Huet's starting time with the Habs and the Caps in 2007-08, when he started 51 games total. And he was great down the stretch for the Caps.)
Here's Kreiser on Carey Price:
Carey Price, Montreal -- Program sales figure to be brisk in Montreal this season after GM Bob Gainey tore apart his team. The one constant figures to be Price, whose struggles during the second half of last season mirrored those of his team. For the Canadiens to make the playoffs, Price must revert to the player who was a sensation as a rookie in 2007-08 (24-12-3, 2.53 GAA, .920 save percentage), rather than the one who struggled as a sophomore (23-16-10, 2.83, .905).
There's no question that the centennial celebration took its toll on more than a few Habs last year, and Price isn't the only guy who needs to grow up. Unfortunately, he's the only guy who needs to grow up that also plays 60 minutes a game, which makes him a tad more important than, say, Sergei Kostitsyn(notes).
One imagines Jacques Martin's system will give Price some protection -- then again, Florida Panthers goalies would sometimes face more shots than an aluminum duck at a carnival -- and the additions of Jaroslav Spacek(notes) and the U.S.S. Hal Gill(notes) on the blue line will lessen the blow of losing Mike Komisarek(notes). But in the end, it's on Price to become the star some believe he's predestined to become. If he doesn't, at what point do the Habs consider a change in course?
Marty Turco's days as a star, if he ever was one, are over. But his days as a starter are not, even with Alex Auld(notes) as his understudy this season. Kreiser believes Brenden Morrow(notes) is under more pressure this season because "the Stars' season began to disintegrate when Morrow, their captain, went down with a season-ending knee injury in November."
True, but it all went hell when it became apparent that Turco's goals against average was going to look like Olympic diving scores during the first few months of the season. Long before a Sean Avery(notes) sex joke provided the exclamation point, the Stars' chances had disappeared through Turco's five-hole.
Dallas's official site did a Q&A with Turco this week that asked about his preparation for next year:
"I am looking forward to this coming season. I've been working out hard and I think the entire team has something to prove. I think we will be ready to go. Last season was a tough one for me and I am very confident that I will have a good season. It all comes down to a good start - that's my goal. This is my main focus and I am looking forward to it."
A good start, and the Stars are in business; another poor one, and Turco could sink them again. Oh, and kudos to the Stars Web site for getting Marty Turco on the record about the deaths of Michael Jackson and Farah Fawcett:
"It is unfortunate for both of their families. I think Michael is going to be dragged through the mud by the media, which is tough, especially for his family. It was big news though, two celebrities dying on the same day."
Hockey in the Summer: Catch the fever!