A cost-effective way for NHL teams to compete is to sign players coming off one or more bad seasons at a bargain rate, and then hope they bounce back to an earlier level of performance. What do these players look like and how do you find them?
To answer this question, we created the Bounceback Index (BBI), which calculates the largest return to a previous level of performance. A player's BBI can go back up to four seasons, so the slump in between can be one, two, or three seasons in duration. There's no extra credit for going beyond that previous level of performance, so a player's BBI is capped by the size of the original drop.
Players who lose all or part of the season to serious injuries are fair game, but not players who competed in other leagues, like Nikolai Zherdev and Anton Babchuk.
A player's BBI is calculated in terms of our favorite overall metric, Goals Versus Threshold (GVT), which allows us to compare high-scoring forwards to defensive-minded blueliners and everybody in between. Since BBI is therefore measured in terms of goals, remember that every three goals gets you one point in the standings and is worth roughly a million dollars of cap space.
2010-11 Bounceback Player of the Year
Last year's BBI leader is young winger Blake Wheeler. Though he missed out on the Stanley Cup in a deal that sent him from Boston to Atlanta, he ended the season in fine form, scoring 17 points in the final 23 games, similar to his great 22-year-old rookie season where he scored 21 goals, 45 points, and was +36. So far this season, he has only six goals but a whopping 22 assists and a team-leading 10 in 38 games with the Winnipeg Jets this year.
LOW: The maximum GVT in the slump period
HIGH: The GVT prior to the slump period
BOUNCE: Difference between either current or high-point GVT, and the low-point.
Skater Team GVT LOW HIGH BOUNCE
Blake Wheeler Atlanta 11.3 1.9 11.2 9.3
Lubomir Visnovsky Los Angeles 19.2 10.6 18.7 8.1
Patrik Berglund St. Louis 9.1 1.4 12.6 7.7
Brent Burns Minnesota 12.3 5.3 13.9 7.0
Alex Tanguay Calgary 17.6 2.5 9.3 6.8
Johan Franzen Detroit 10.1 3.3 15.2 6.8
Teemu Selanne Anaheim 17.6 10.9 24.7 6.7
Daniel Briere Philadelphia 16.1 9.7 18.8 6.4
Daniel Cleary Detroit 10.1 3.7 10.2 6.4
Dave Bolland Chicago 8.9 2.1 8.3 6.2
Jarome Iginla Calgary 19.8 14.2 24.7 5.6
Milan Lucic Boston 15.4 1.4 7.0 5.6
Jeff Halpern Montreal 6.3 0.9 7.9 5.4
Mike Ribeiro Dallas 14.5 7.0 12.3 5.3
Cory Sarich Calgary 7.0 1.7 7.4 5.3
Maxime Talbot Tampa Bay 4.5 -0.7 4.3 5.0
Minimum 5-goal bounceback
Like Wheeler, there are a couple of other young players who once struggled but are refinding their legs, like Patrik Berglund and Milan Lucic. The former is unfortunately struggling again this year, but last year's 30-goal power forward is going strong with 26 points in 34 games.
There are only three defensemen on the list, all of them veterans. There's high performing Lubomir Visnovsky and Brent Burns in the top four, and depth option Cory Sarich near the bottom. Burns, the youngest at age 26, found himself in San Jose this year and has been used more in a defensive role, currently placing third on the team with a +10. Unfortunately, 35-year-old Visnovsky has struggled with injuries, and last year might have been a last hurrah for 33-year-old Sarich, who is barely being used this year at all, and has just a single point in 25 games.
There are plenty of other older players who temporarily climbed up close to the level of success they enjoyed in their primes, likeTeemu Selanne, Daniel Briere, and Jarome Iginla, and to a lesser extent those more dependent on their linemates like Alex Tanguay, Johan Franzen, and Mike Ribeiro.
The ageless Selanne (actually, he has an age; it's 41) has 36 points in 37 games and is one of Anaheim's lone bright spots. Johan Franzen is lighting it up in Detroit, currently placing second to Datsyuk with 33 points, and leading all forwards with a +20. The other veterans have cooled off this year, but could rally back as we enter the season's second half.
Finally, there are a few defensive-minded role players on the list, like Daniel Cleary, Dave Bolland, Jeff Halpern, and Maxime Talbot. It's harder for them to make the list because they don't reach the same heights as the stars, but these four really went through some tough struggles, so it was great to see them return to form, earning spots on new teams in the case of Halpern and Talbot.
What happens to players with high BBI the next season? According to last year's list of bounceback players,they do just fine, for the most part.
Throughout the 2010-11 season, Patrick Sharp, Matt Carle, Radim Vrbata, John Madden, and Tomas Plekanec all continued to play a strong game, while the others like Chris Pronger, Jochen Hecht, Vaclav Prospal, and Daniel Carcillo regressed somewhat (due to injury or otherwise). Maxim Afinogenov left to play with Evgeny Nabokov, Alexei Yashin, and Denis Grebeshkov in St. Petersburg of the KHL.
Keep your eyes on all these players as the season progresses, and as always feel free to contact me if you'd like a copy of the raw data to play with yourself.
Robert Vollman is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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