In the NHL, pressure comes in many different forms.
Players in a contract year could be playing for a deal that sets them up for generational wealth. Young bubble players are playing to just stay in the big leagues. And for those who struggle in the wake of a blockbuster trade or contract extension, sometimes external pressures make your seat warmer.
Heading into the 2023-24 season, these five players should be feeling the heat, one way or another.
When you re-sign with a team that traded an abundance of assets for you at the deadline — only for you to struggle immensely once acquired — expectations are bound to be heightened.
There’s no way around it, the price that the Tampa Bay Lightning paid for Tanner Jeannot — consisting of Cal Foote, a 2025 top 10 protected first-round pick, a 2024 second-round pick, a 2023 third-round pick, a 2023 fourth-round pick and a 2023 fifth-round pick — was hefty. And with the 26-year-old winger recording just four points in 20 regular season games with the Bolts, followed by zero points in three playoff games, that decision is going to be scrutinized until Jeannot can turn things around.
Make no mistake, when Jeannot is on his game he’s one of the NHL’s best energy players. He’s exceptional at forechecking, hitting and tipping pucks net front. While counting stats aren’t the most indicative of his value, it’s fair to expect a player like Jeannot — who recorded 24 goals and 41 points with the Nashville Predators during the 2021-22 season — to score at a better clip than last year (18 points in 76 games).
Ultimately, the real bread-and-butter of Jeannot’s game is the playoff style of play he was known for in Nashville that we’ve yet to see in Tampa Bay. If Jeannot can help form an elite shutdown third line alongside Nick Paul and chip in some secondary scoring, the price Tampa Bay paid is much more palatable.
However, if he continues to play like a fourth-liner while carrying a cap hit of $2.665 million for the next two seasons, this trade could go down as one of the biggest misses in the cap era.
Following a down-year where his point total dropped to 55 after scoring 115 the year before, Jonathan Huberdeau sure has a lot to prove in 2023-24 — the first year of his mega eight-year, $84 million contract extension.
Given how badly Huberdeau, a key piece in the Matthew Tkachuk trade, struggled last season, you can’t blame Flames fans for being weary of a contract that retains the Quebec native into his late thirties and carries the 10th largest cap hit in the league ($10,500,000) next season.
If you look at last season through a glass-half-full lens, however, you can make a solid argument that Huberdeau’s struggles were more a byproduct of playing under Darryl Sutter than age curves.
For whatever reason, Sutter placed the left-shot Huberdeau on his off-side for large portions of last season. Given that Huberdeau — who recorded the third most assists of any NHL skater in the previous five NHL seasons — is an elite passer, it made no sense to have him on his weak side. Unsurprisingly, Huberdeau was brutal in 31 games as a right winger last season – scoring below half a point-per-game.
The Flames can’t afford to have Huberdeau just okay next season. They need him to be great. That’s why it’s no surprise that in the early stages of training camp, Calgary has been encouraging Huberdeau to utilize his shot more. The two-time 30-goal scorer, averaged just 1.59 shots per game last year — a massive dip from the 2.78 he averaged during the 2021-22 season, let alone his career average of 2.36.
Of all things Calgary GM Craig Conroy has to figure out during a pivotal year for the Flames, getting Jonathan Huberdeau back to an elite level trumps all.
Jacob Markstrom, Calgary Flames
Sticking with the Flames, Jacob Markstrom is surely feeling the heat following an abysmal 2022-23 campaign.
Before last season, Markstrom — who finished second in Vezina Trophy voting for the 2021-22 season — posted a .912 save percentage through 376 career NHL games.
But in 59 games last season, Marstrom recorded an abysmal .892 save percentage while only facing 27.13 shots against per 60 minutes — the eighth least of any goaltender who played a minimum of 1000 minutes, per NaturalStatTrick.com. To make matters worse, Markstrom was one of the NHL’s worst goaltenders during 5-on-5 play last year, ranking 45th in GSAA per 60 minutes, according to MoneyPuck.com.
Even if last year was an outlier, there’s no guarantee that the 33-year-old will return to being an upper-echelon goalie. But what’s really cranking up the heat on Markstrom’s seat is goalie prospect Dustin Wolf, who is coming off back-to-back spectacular campaigns in the AHL.
Over the last two seasons with the Calgary Wranglers, Wolf, 22, has posted a 75-19-6 record and a league-high .928 save percentage. He also posted the best single-season GSAA, by a landslide, of any AHL goaltender from the past decade last year.
Markstrom’s $6,000,000 cap hit ties him for the seventh highest-paid goalie in the league, while Calgary has him under contract until the end of the 2025-26 season, meaning they'll need him to get going to avoid an albatross on their hands.
Before we get into Lucas Raymond’s well-documented sophomore slump, we have to keep something in mind. He’s scored 102 points in 152 career NHL games and he just turned 21 in March.
“The fact that he’s never seen the American Hockey League — he jumped right into the National Hockey League — I don’t think people respect how hard that is,” Red Wings coach Derek Lalonde told reporters back in April.
But despite all of that, there’s no denying Raymond’s dip in production during his second NHL season. After scoring 23 goals and 57 points as a rookie in 82 games — finishing fourth in Calder Trophy voting — Raymond recorded 17 goals and 45 points in 74 games. He was more trigger-shy, too — averaging 1.81 shots per game last season after recording 2.24 per game the year prior. He also recorded a paltry 42.60 Expected Goals-for percentage during 5-on-5 play. Mind you, this is a player who played alongside Dylan Larkin for most of the year.
Yes, the Swede is still young, but he’s also entering the final year of his entry-level contract. If Raymond wants to cash in on a long-term deal, or even a comfortable bridge deal, he’s going to have to show that he’s capable of more and able to bring something to the table every night – even when he’s not scoring points.
Entering camp 12 pounds heavier this year and on the Red Wings' top line alongside Alex Debrincat and Larkin, the stars appear to be aligning for Raymond's season. But what if they don’t and Raymond repeats another empty calorie 40-50 point season? It’ll undoubtedly affect his next payday, and there's little doubt he’s well aware of that.
There’s a lot riding on the 2023-24 season for Matt Dumba.
The 29-year-old defensemen's stock has steadily declined over the last few years and the one-year, $3,900,000 contract he signed — $2,100,000 less than his previous cap hit — with the Arizona Coyotes was indicative of that.
Dumba, who had been at the center of trade rumors for the past few seasons, is coming off a career-low 14 points in 79 games with the Minnesota Wild. But last year wasn’t an outlier. It was the culmination of a few really tough years in Minnesota.
The seventh overall selection at the 2012 draft, Dumba was a highly regarded defenseman in his early days. After recording 76 points in his first three full NHL, Dumba exploded for 50 points during the 2017-18 season and promptly earned himself a five-year, $30,000,000 contract. He carried forward that momentum into the following year, leading all defensemen with 12 goals through his first 32 games before a torn pectoral muscle cut his season short.
Ever since, his scoring touch — and collective offensive output — has faded. To his credit, he's evolved and played more of a defensive role with the Wild over the last few years — even carving out a spot for himself on the teams’ penalty kill.
But if he’s going to have any shot of earning close to what he made on his last contract, he’s got to revive his offensive game. In Arizona, he’ll get a chance to do just that, as there’s lots of opportunity for a veteran like himself on a Coyotes blueline that’s quite green in experience.
If Dumba can hike up his offensive production while continuing to demonstrate steady defensive ability, he could make himself an attractive trade target for a contending team at the deadline. Especially if the Coyotes retain half his cap hit — which could really open up the door to more suitors.
A strong 2023-24 season could ensure Dumba doesn’t have to wait until August to sign a deal again.