If there’s one thing we can count on, it’s that nothing lasts. That’s particularly true in sports where a player’s role can and often will change from year-to-year. Sometimes these changes are for the better and other times…not so much. This week we’ll take a look at five players who are poised to improve upon their 2010-11 numbers, thanks to their new circumstances.
Martin Havlat-RW-San Jose Sharks
Havlat managed to play in 151 of a possible 164 games in two seasons with the Wild, but even still, his tenure there was a disappointing one. At his best, Havlat can be a near point-per-game player, but there was only so much he could do on the offensively challenged Minnesota Wild. His ice time per game might not increase much with the move to San Jose, but the quality of his linemates will. He’s likely to spend the vast majority of his minutes with the likes of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, and Logan Couture, which is a huge step up from his linemates in Minnesota, who had only one other 50-plus point player in Mikko Koivu.
Havlat recorded 29 goals and 77 points in 81 games with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2008-09 and we wouldn’t be surprised if he puts up similar numbers in his first campaign with the Sharks. His plus/minus rating should also significantly improve after posting a minus-29 rating over the course of his tenure with Minnesota.
Brian Campbell-D-Florida Panthers
Campbell’s massive eight-year, $57 million contract didn’t look particularly good when he signed it prior to the start of the 2008-09 season, and it certainly doesn’t look any more appetizing after he recorded just 27 points in 65 games in 2010-11. Campbell was starting to look untradeable, but the man who had originally inked him – then Blackhawks GM Dale Tallon – was interested in taking Campbell to help his new team reach the cap floor.
It’s hard to see Campbell living up to that contract, but there is reason to be optimistic about his chances of rebounding in Florida. Part of his decline can be attributed to the rise of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook in the years since his signing. Campbell averaged 4:28 power-play minutes per game in 2008-09 and he rewarded the Blackhawks with 24 power-play points and 52 points overall. Last season, Campbell ranked eighth on the team with just 2:02 minutes per game with the man advantage, and as a result he had just six power-play points. However, at the same time, his even strength points barely declined over that span, from 28 in 82 games in 2008-09 to 20 in 65 contests.
In Florida he’ll get another opportunity to quarterback a team’s power-play and while the Panthers don’t have as many offensive weapons as the Blackhawks, he should reach the 40-point mark if he can stay healthy. Of course, you should also note that his plus/minus rating, which stood at plus-28 last season, will take a big hit with his new club.
Niklas Kronwall-D-Detroit Red Wings
Slowly but surely, Kronwall is becoming one of the leaders of the Detroit Red Wings. Kronwall’s ascension towards the top of the Red Wings’ defensive depth charts was accelerated over the summer when Brian Rafalski decided to retire. Nicklas Lidstrom decided to stay on for at least one more season, so the pressure on Kronwall won’t be tremendous, but he’s still expected to play a much bigger role with the man advantage now that Rafalski is gone.
Kronwall had 37 points last season with 13 of them coming on the power play. However, he was averaging 2:35 power-play minutes compared to Rafalski’s 3:32. It stands to reason that Kronwall’s ice time with the man advantage could jump up by as much as a minute per game, which might be enough to help him reach the 50-point milestone for the first time since 2008-09.
Jamie Benn-LW/C-Dallas Stars
After recording 41 points in 82 games in 2009-10, Benn only got better in his sophomore campaign with 56 points in 69 contests. Benn is one of the main players that the Dallas Stars are looking to step up in Brad Richards’ absence. That could mean a shift to center and it will almost certainly mean more playing time with the man advantage, as Richards led the league in power-play ice time with 384:18 total minutes.
Even if Richards was still around, we would expect Benn to put up new career-highs in 2011-12, but now that he could serve on the team’s top line, we wouldn’t be surprised if he gets 65-70 points. The only condition is that he has to stay healthy, and to that end we’re a little concerned by the fact that he missed time last season due to a concussion in October and then a shoulder injury in February.
James van Riemsdyk-LW-Philadelphia Flyers
JVR only has 75 points in 153 career games, but is that really surprising? Over the past two seasons, he has been buried in what was once a ridiculously deep group of forwards. Despite his potential, he averaged just 12:58 minutes in 2009-10 and 14:32 minutes last season. However, with Jeff Carter and Mike Richards gone, that will change.
If you needed any proof that the Philadelphia Flyers intend to lean on van Riemsdyk now that they’ve shed several members of their old guard, you got it when they inked him to a six-year, $25.5 million contract extension. That’s a lot of money to invest in a player who hasn’t proven himself yet, but he is certainly talented enough to grow into that paycheck. JVR should see a noteworthy jump in production this season and record close to 60 points.