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 2010-2011 season. This week we begin with the Atlantic division.
(Note: For a definition of GVT, Goals Versus Threshold, click here)
Summer Skate: Pittsburgh Penguins
The offseason brought about a major change for the Penguins, namely the departure of cornerstone defenseman Sergei Gonchar. General manager Ray Shero moved to replace the talented but aging Gonchar with two men: two-way Devils defenseman Paul Martin and Phoenix's Zbynek Michalek. The supporting cast around centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin looks to change as well, with veterans Ruslan Fedotenko, Alexei Ponikarovsky and Bill Guerin departing, and with top prospect Eric Tangradi being called to step into the breach.
Trending Up: C Evgeni Malkin
Last Season: + 13.1 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 17.1 GVT
When you take home the Art Ross Trophy for most points and the Conn Smythe Trophy for postseason MVP in addition to having your name engraved on Lord Stanley's Cup, you don't have much of anywhere to go but down. Still, Malkin's dipping down to a mere 77 points, including only 13 even strength goals, made many observers question the Russian pivot's focus and competitive fire, even to the point of starting up the odd trade rumor or two. The young centerman is too good not to bounce back though, and a bit of extra rest from his first short postseason in years can't but help recharge his batteries, mentally and physically.
Trending Down: C Sidney Crosby
Last Season: + 30.0 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 22.1 GVT
While Malkin may be excused for his Stanley Cup hangover, it's clear that Crosby was cracked out of a different mold -- sans hangovers. Crosby returned not weaker, but even stronger from the post-championship offseason: as an elite faceoff man, as an elite shootout performer and impressively, as a 51 goal scorer. Yet never having scored more than 39 goals previously, you'd have to figure that the Penguins captain will return to a more historical mix of goals and assists, while also falling off a smidge in the shootout department. 51 goals and 30 GVT is just awfully hard to sustain, even when you're Superman.
For ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek's take on the Pittsburgh Penguins, click here.
Summer Skate: Philadelphia Flyers
With a hodgepodge of largely puzzling trades, signings and re-signings, general manager Paul Holmgren has certainly put his stamp on this season's Philadelphia Flyers, last season's runners-up. For instance, gone is popular and long-tenured winger Simon Gagne, essentially making cap room for Tampa Bay's disappointing third pairing defenseman Andrej Meszaros. On the other hand, Holmgren didn't see fit to upgrade the goaltending tandem of Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher, while finding the cash to sign aging tough guy Jody Shelley to a three-year deal.
Trending Up: LW Scott Hartnell
Last Season: + 5.0 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 7.6 GVT
Not managing more than a meager six even-strength goals -- versus eight on the power play -- it's amazing that Scott Hartnell's dreadful 2009-10 campaign even registered a positive GVT. Fortunately, Hartnell recovered from his season-long funk for a highly memorable playoffs, posting 17 points in 23 games and physically punishing the opposition for good measure. He clicked well with a rejuvenated Danny Briere and the enigmatic Ville Leino. Expect this trio to stick together to exploit their new-found chemistry.
Trending Down: D Matt Carle
Last Season: + 10.5 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 7.8 GVT
While Matt Carle of Anchorage, Alaska, clearly benefited from his pairing with future Hall of Famer Chris Pronger, much of his 2009-10 stat line is a mirage. An overall plus-2 for his career going into the season, Carle miraculously put up plus-19 in his first 19 games, to help get him into the early Norris Trophy discussion. But after going plus-0 over the next 61 games, where do you think Carle's actual talent level lies? We're guessing that 19-game run was the aberration, not the rest of his career.
For ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek's take on the Philadelphia Flyers, click here.
Summer Skate: New York Rangers
General manager Glen Sather's biggest move to date this offseason was the signing of talented but inconsistent ex-Kings winger Alexander Frolov, albeit to an innocuous one-year, $3 million deal. But what should be the biggest move of the offseason is hopefully still to come, and that's the re-signing of 23-year-old rearguard Marc Staal, who's on the verge of becoming a legitimate No. 1 defenseman for the Rangers. Unfortunately, by playing in front of elite goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, New York's fine young defense corps generally doesn't get the credit it deserves.
Trending Up: G Martin Biron
Last Season: - 7.8 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 2.6 GVT
Veteran netminder Martin Biron wasn't fully appreciated by Flyers fans and management for very solid seasons in 2007-08 and 2008-09 -- last we checked, .915 and .917 were above-average save percentages. After a dismal campaign in a backup role on Long Island, look for the 33-year-old veteran to bounce back to a solid performance level with the Rangers, while getting a chance to spell Lundqvist on a regular basis. Biron's experience and quality should entice head coach John Tortorella to lean on Lundqvist's backup more frequently than in recent campaigns, when only lesser options were available.
Trending Down: C Vinny Prospal
Last Season: + 9.1 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 6.4 GVT
After his third tour of duty in Tampa Bay ended very poorly -- his 0.4 GVT tells you just how dismal it was -- Prospal got a chance to redeem himself in New York. Though many observers figured the Czech centerman would benefit from lining up with high-scoring winger Marian Gaborik on a regular basis, the fact is that large portions of Prospal's bounce-back season were spent with lesser linemates, so kudos to the 13-year veteran for producing anyway. Unfortunately though, Prospal tends to be highly inconsistent from one campaign to the next, so don't be surprised if 2010-11 is another dip on the roller coaster.
For ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek's take on the New York Rangers, click here.
Summer Skate: New Jersey Devils
Yes, the ultimate resolution of the Ilya Kovalchuk saga is still in limbo, but general manager Lou Lamoriello has already moved decisively on other fronts. Lamoriello set out to remake his defense this offseason, replacing talented but injury-prone two-way defenseman Paul Martin and economy rearguard Mike Mottau with top pairing Sabres blueliner Henrik Tallinder and shutdown Senators defenseman Anton Volchenkov -- gambling by further strengthening New Jersey's team defense while unfortunately further weakening its already pathetic blue line scoring.
Trending Up: RW Vladimir Zharkov
Last Season: + 0.9 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 2.0 GVT
Zharkov brought a little bit of everything to the table in his rookie season: speed, vision and defensive instincts. Now if he only had an NHL-caliber shot, New Jersey would really be onto something. Alas, Zharkov isn't going to set the world on fire, but he might just turn into a fine complementary piece for the next Devils championship squad. While he's admittedly got a popgun of a shot, we're pretty sure that Zharkov's luck will turn around a bit -- at least some of his shots are bound to start going in, and that's all he needs to improve on zero goals in 40 games.
Trending Down: D Henrik Tallinder
Last Season: + 8.3 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 5.3 GVT
The Buffalo Sabres must have felt like they won the lottery last season with 19-year-old phenom Tyler Myers emerging as their top skater by GVT in only his rookie season. But it wasn't just the Sabres that should have been counting their lucky stars, but Myers' veteran defensive partner Tallinder. Yet after inking a four-year deal with New Jersey, not only will the defensive-minded Swede now be called upon to help pick up the slack of Martin's missing production, but he'll undoubtedly be matched up with a decidedly less dynamic partner than Myers. Therefore, look for a combination of age and no-Myers to knock Tallinder's counting stats down a notch. The perception may be even worse, as Devils fans may be expecting the veteran blueliner to be something he is not. Don't hate the player, blame the team's construction.
For ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek's take on the New Jersey Devils, click here.
Summer Skate: New York Islanders
The Long Island faithful certainly hope that 2009-10 was year one in the rebuilding of the next great Islanders contender. The rookie season of franchise center John Tavares certainly fueled those hopes, as the first overall draft pick in 2009 ended up leading the team with 54 points despite a second-half slump.
Trending Up: RW Kyle Okposo
Last Season: + 2.8 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 8.8 GVT
While the sophomore posted 52 points -- good for second on the Islanders -- the truth is that 2009-10 was an utterly forgettable season for the 2007 first-round pick, who posted a team-worst minus-22 rating. While many see Okposo as having great leadership potential, the Minnesota native will clearly need to get his own house in order before he sets out to lead others. But VUKOTA remains bullish on the 22-year-old winger, looking for a modest defensive improvement and new heights as far as offensive production.
Trending Down: LW Matt Moulson
Last Season: + 10.3 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 7.4 GVT
Signed to a one-year deal by GM Garth Snow after developing in the Kings organization, it's fair to say that New York was pleasantly surprised by what it got out of late-blooming Moulson, who became the first Islander since Jason Blake in 2006-07 to score 30 or more goals. Without much of a track record to back up that output, VUKOTA looks skeptically upon the chances of a repeat performance for the Cornell alum, though his willingness to play in the paint should still factor into his contributing solidly again to the Islanders' cause.
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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