October 20, 2009
It's early. Very early. Players that look like the weight of the world has crushed their spirits seven games into a season can end up leading their teams in points by the end of it. But scanning the stat sheets in the NHL, there are a few notable names that are off to sluggish starts.
Some are expected -- Jonathan Cheechoo(notes) (0-2-2 in seven games) struggling is as much as harbinger of autumn as pumpkin pie and postseason baseball -- but others are a bit unexpected. Here are 10 notable position players off to inauspicious starts this season.
A few players here are traditional slow starters, as is the case with Booth. But a hot preseason, and a spiffy six-year/$25.5 million contract that increases expectations, make Booth's clunky one goal, zero assists and a minus-5 in six games a tad surprising. He's been a minus player in his last four consecutive games.
A rising star defensively before this season, Burns has one assist in seven games for the Wild; but the real stunner is his minus-9, indicative of the awkward transition of Jacques Lemaire hockey to the new system of Todd Richards. If nothing else, the slow start produced a quote of the year candidate from Burns, when asked what he wants to improve on: "Not being on the ice when they score."
Another player who starts slowly, but one assist in nine games (along with 27 PIMs) is a snail's pace on a team with legit offensive firepower. The loss of linemate Joe Pavelski(notes) to injury no doubt contributed to this rough start, but it's also a mental thing for the young winger playing with a new contract.
Looking at the NHL offensive leader board, this is the most conspicuous absence. Datsyuk has two assists in five games, and missed two games with an "upper body injury." Reason for optimism that these numbers will turn around quickly: Coach Mike Babcock plans on reuniting him with Henrik Zetterberg(notes) and Tomas Holmstrom(notes), which is great news for the No. 1 center on the Puck Daddy fantasy team (cough, cough).
Not the most prominent name on the list, but certainly a surprise given the success of the Coyotes under Dave Tippett and the return of triggerman Radim Vrbata(notes) (three goals) this offseason. Hanzal has one assist in seven games and 23 PIM (19 in one game against Buffalo).
Another typically slow start for Legwand, but even worse than last season's five-game drought to start the year. Legwand has zero points in seven games, playing to a minus-5. His linemate Martin Erat(notes) has only one goal in seven games. On a team starved for offense, this is a punishing stumble out of the blocks for Legwand.
The smooth-skating defenseman has zero points in seven games and has played to a minus-7 with 12 PIM for the Devils. Is this a case of Oduya's style not meshing with that of new coach Jacques Lemaire? Or is Oduya finding it tough to skate under the weight of his new contract?
A player who went pretty high in many fantasy drafts, Ryan has two points in seven games while his linemates Corey Perry(notes) (seven points) and Ryan Getzlaf(notes) (three points) are off to intriguing starts of their own. Ryan leads the Ducks with 26 shots, for a putrid .038 shooting percentage. No need to worry: Ryan's showed what he can do in half a season.
Staal had a slow start last October (4 goals, 2 assists in 9 games), but that's looking torrid by comparison. He's off to a two-goal, zero-assist start in seven games, playing to a minus-2 for the slumping Hurricanes. Hurry back from the broken leg, Erik Cole(notes).
Our nominee for the worst start in hockey this season. Signed by the Bolts to be Vincent Lecavalier's(notes) wing man, Tanguay has one assist in seven games, playing to a minus-4. Lecavalier didn't score a goal with Tanguay on his wing, so the former Montreal Canadiens player was sent down to Jeff Halpern's line as Vinny and Marty St. Louis were reunited.