Using the Puck Prospectus projection system, VUKOTA, PP and ESPN team up to take a look at one breakout and one declining candidate per team for the 2009-2010 season. This week we begin with the Atlantic division.
(Note: For a definition of GVT, Goals Versus Threshold, click here)
Summer Skate: Pittsburgh Penguins
After claiming the Cup and re-upping some of their own mainstay FAs, the Pens more or less stood pat during the offseason frenzy. However, that doesn't mean there won't be differences on next year's team. In fact, fans could see swings from a pair of Stanley Cup contributors … for better and for worse.
Trending Up: LW Ruslan Fedotenko
Last Season: + 9.4 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 7.0 GVT
The Penguins are already the fourth team for the inconsistent 30-year-old Russian, who has only topped 20 goals once in his career, hence the lower projected GVT. So why be optimistic? VUKOTA doesn't project linemates, and when Fedotenko was matched up with super-talented center Evgeni Malkin, he posted a career-high 0.60 points per game last season. Fedotenko lifts his game the most when his linemates are exceptional, and that's certainly the case now that he skates regularly with his Conn Smythe Trophy-winning countryman.
Trending Down: C Maxime Talbot
Last Season: + 2.3 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 5.7 GVT
His Stanley Cup heroics may have raised expectations for the blue-collar-sporting Maxime Talbot. The 24-year-old Talbot had a miserable regular season, even by his mediocre standards, not even reaching a level of 0.30 points per game. While playoff success would normally bode well for a potential breakout, labrum surgery on his left shoulder will shelve him for four to five months, likely dampening his production levels when he returns to the ice. If that weren't bad enough, increased expectations for the playoff hero could create an unrealistic view of the workmanlike forward.
For ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek's take on the Pittsburgh Penguins, click here.
Summer Skate: Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers are hoping Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen will provide the true No. 1 defensive pairing they have been sorely missing and that returning KHL exile Ray Emery can adequately replace the solid goaltending provided by Martin Biron last season. Philadelphia's strength still resides in its talented young forwards, and more reinforcements are on the way.
Trending Up: RW Claude Giroux
Last Season: + 5.5 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 7.5 GVT
Claude Giroux, the 22nd overall pick in 2006, is widely considered by scouts to have All-Star potential. Playing only 42 games in his age 21 season, Giroux was able to garner a solid stat line of nine goals, 18 assists and a plus-10. Over a full season, the young winger would have been worth + 11 GVT. Look for an impact of at least that level in 2009-10. One of the Flyers' most valuable contributors during the playoffs, the Hearst, Ontario, native registered a plus-0.8 goal differential per 60 minutes at even strength against the Stanley Cup-winning Penguins.
Trending Down: LW Simon Gagne
Last Season: + 19.6 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 12.9 GVT
Simon Gagne's career may have reached the down slope.Simon Gagne, the 22nd overall pick in 1998, has recorded points-per-game levels in the range of 0.84-1.10 since 2000-01 in seasons in which he played in at least 50 games; in three seasons in which he played less than 50 games, his points-per-game levels attenuated to the 0.56-0.72 range. Assuming a healthy season, one might expect high production levels for his age 29 season, but VUKOTA suggests a moderate downturn. An additional negative indicator is a poor showing in the postseason: Gagne was a team-worst minus-2.9 GD per 60 minutes at even strength.
For ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek's take on the Philadelphia Flyers, click here.
Summer Skate: New York Rangers
The Broadway Blues had the most anemic offense in the playoffs by a country mile. Rolling the dice on a healthy Marian Gaborik, the Rangers looked to fix that glaring deficiency by signing a forward with game-breaking skills. Now, will it pay off? Or will New York need to look elsewhere for its boost in production?
Trending Up: C Brandon Dubinsky
Last Season: + 3.1 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 6.2 GVT
Brandon Dubinsky was the only offensive performer with a pulse on a dreadful offensive team: he was a team-best 2.5 Goals For per 60 minutes at even strength against Washington in the playoffs. Expect some additional natural growth due to experience; he is entering his age 23 season. Then, match him up with Gaborik on the wing, and watch the points begin to accumulate.
Trending Down: LW Marian Gaborik
Last Season: + 5.8 GVT in 17 games (+ 21.1 in 2007-8) | VUKOTA Projection: + 8.7 GVT
Injuries have worn on Gaborik over the years, reducing his star-caliber impact.Gaborik was a superstar in Minnesota when healthy. In 2006-07 and 2008-09, the winger had impressive points-per-game rates of 1.19 and 1.35 for the Wild. The only problem was his 65 games played during those two seasons. Entering his age 27 campaign, the third overall selection in 2000 will be attempting to stay healthy after having another hip surgery last season. VUKOTA doesn't know about the effects of the bright lights of New York, but it is pessimistic based on time missed over the past seasons.
For ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek's take on the New York Rangers, click here.
Summer Skate: New Jersey Devils
As a team, the 2008-09 New Jersey Devils were pretty good at everything, and exceptional at very little. Now with Brian Gionta's departure subtracting a legitimate scoring threat from the mix, where are the reinforcements? The sole addition of note in the offseason has been the return of Jacques Lemaire to the Devils' bench, and there are few candidates to step up and fill the production void.
Trending Up: C Brian Rolston
Last Season: + 3.6 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 5.6 GVT
The happiest man to be seeing Jacques Lemaire back in New Jersey is … Brian Rolston. The veteran had posted GVTs of + 17.7, + 15.8 and + 12.2 during a three-year tour with Lemaire's Minnesota Wild. Upon returning to New Jersey this past season, Rolston saw Brent Sutter cut his ice time by five minutes, and consequently, he saw his production fall to 0.50 points per game, its lowest level since 1999-2000. While the 35-year-old Rolston is bound to lose a step to age, VUKOTA gives him credit for his recent success in Minnesota.
Trending Down: LW Patrik Elias
Last Season: + 18.7 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 11.2 GVT
Elias enjoyed a huge season last year. Don't expect him to match it in 2009-10. Patrik Elias had his best season since the lockout last year, tallying 31 goals and 47 assists for 88 points and 1.01 points per game. VUKOTA thinks Elias is due for some regression, taking into account his significantly lower GVTs before last season. The biggest difference for the 13-year NHL veteran next season will be the departure of linemate Gionta (+ 10.9 GVT), now a Canadien. Elias had a disappointing postseason compared to that of some of his frequent linemates, posting minus-0.7 goal differential per 60 minutes at even strength against the Hurricanes.
For ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek's take on the New Jersey Devils, click here.
Summer Skate: New York Islanders
Even with the drafting and signing of John Tavares, the New York Islanders are still a work in progress. Still, the 2009-10 campaign may be remembered as the first of a proud new era for the Isles. Who will prove worthy of remaining with Tavares as part of the solution?
Trending Up: RW Kyle Okposo
Last Season: + 4.9 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 7.3 GVT
Before the Islanders drafted Tavares, the Long Island organization had virtually no young talent, with the exception of the 11th selection in the 2006 NHL draft, Kyle Okposo. The young winger joined the Isles for 65 games last season, putting up respectable numbers (18 goals, 21 assists, minus-6 plus/minus, 0.60 points per game) for a 20-year-old. Okposo has the natural talent to improve upon last season. Being a fixture on Tavares' wing in the future will help him that much more.
Trending Down: G Dwayne Roloson
Last Season: + 19.3 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 9.2 GVT
Although Roloson is not nearly as old as Chris Chelios, a betting man still would say that his best years as a goaltender probably are behind him. Back in 2003-04 with the Minnesota Wild, Roloson posted a league-leading .933 save percentage. Since then, his best save percentage was .909 before a renaissance season with Edmonton last season (28-24-9, .915). VUKOTA believes that his performance will regress, based on age and recent performance.
For ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek's take on the New York Islanders, click here.
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .
Timo Seppa is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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