October 19, 2011
Say what you will about Jaromir Jagr's(notes) four power-play assists/no goals start for the Philadelphia Flyers, but at least he hasn't been dropped to the fourth line. Or scratched. Or had people wondering what sort of injury he's nursing, or questioning his contract. At least not yet, or not loudly enough to notice.
The five players highlighted here are under a little more scrutiny, in some cases because their teams are. This isn't a comprehensive list of all free agents that might have stumbled out of the gate; just a snapshot of some that have.
We begin with one of the more controversial signings of the summer:
Remember how everyone was saying the Ville Leino would struggle in Buffalo because of his "new" position and the weight of his contract? Those people are probably in a back-patting mood right about now.
Leino was benched in the third period on Tuesday night against the Montreal Canadiens, and has one goal in five games. On Wednesday, he was practicing on a fourth line with Cody McCormick(notes) and Brad Boyes(notes). Said Leino to WGR:
"I don't know if it's the system or whatever, but I'm sure that I'm not happy with how I've played. I'm sure Lindy isn't happy either. I'm just trying to work here and get things working."
One possibility: a move back to the wing. Which really isn't what the Sabres invested in last summer for six years and $27 million.
This signing was maligned by many before Cole even played a game for the Habs, and his performance thus far is just fuel on those embers. His 4-year, $18 million deal came after a career with the Carolina Hurricanes and one woeful part-of-a-season in Edmonton, which led to his trade back to Raleigh.
Now in Montreal, he has one assist in five games and the sharks are already circling. Corey Krakower of Pro Sports Blogging counts Coles contributions and writes:
When you signed Erik Cole, were you expecting that he wouldn't be getting poweprlay time and that he wouldn't be among the top 6 forwards in terms of total time on ice per game? If the answer is yes, my follow up would be: why are we the only team in the league that pays a guy like that $4.5 million dollars?
If the answer is no, my follow up would be: how is it possible that our pro scouts, who are supposed to be experts on our own team, completely miscalculated where he would fit in to our lineup?
It's unfortunate because if this continues, I can see fans getting on Erik Cole like they do on Scott Gomez(notes). I'll be the first to say that it's not deserved. Cole is a good player who will be useful to the team, but at this point, he seems to be a victim of bad pro scouting and poor cap management.
For what it's worth, he only had five goals in the first two months of last season and ended up with 26.
The veteran winger signed a 1-year, $2.5 million deal with Vancouver in the offseason. In his first five games, he was a minus-4 with no points, his ice time having dropped to under 11 minutes in two of those games.
"Anytime it's like this, you don't want (healthy scratch) to happen," he said. "But maybe it's a good thing. I've seen it a lot of times before and guys come back stronger. Whatever happens tomorrow I've got to be ready. I know I'm going to be better."
Sturm claims he's healthy; anyone who's seen him play might claim otherwise.
Langenbrunner surprised a few people by playing well enough in the preseason to earn a spot with David Backes(notes) on the Blues' top line. But in five games, Langenbrunner's had two assists, is a minus-3 in his last two games and has twice seen his ice time dip under 14 minutes. He brings much more to the table than numbers, but it's still a slow start; luckily, like Sturm, he's a 1-year, $2.5 million guy.
In five games, Upshall is a minus-4 and without a point for the Panthers, despite playing on the power play (2:59 per night) and the Panthers having scored 13 goals in five games as a team. He's been under 15 minutes of ice time in all but one of his games, skating with David Booth(notes) (zero goals) and Tomas Kopecky(notes) (one goal). Upshall signed a 4-year, $14 million deal with the Panthers in the summer.
He may not have made an offensive impact yet. But the man's a hell of a tweeter. Can't take that away from him.