Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury has played subpar hockey during the last four postseasons.
He playoff save percentage was .834 two years ago and .883 last season, when he yielded his starting job to Tomas Vokoun. But the Penguins are still banking on him to be one of the NHL’s elite netminders.
“With a guy like Fleury, my decision to stick with him is, No. 1, it is really hard to find goaltending, so to just say get rid of him or buy him out, well, OK, that's a reaction, but who do I replace him with?” GM Ray Shero told NHL.com. “At 28 years old, there's not a goalie in the League who's won more games than him the last four years, the last three years, the last two years. He's won more games than anybody. You've got to win games to get to the playoffs.”
New goaltending coach Mike Bales will try to clean him up.
“For Marc, it is about taking the necessary steps to improve his game,” Shero said. “He is coming to an important part of his career. There's no doubt about it. In terms of trying to help and make him as good as he can be, there are still some parts of his game that he can improve upon and focus on. Those are things that we're going to continue to work on with him. He's serious about trying to improve his game, and he's got to do that.”
Here other veterans hoping to bounce back with better performances this season:
Jonathan Quick, GT, Los Angeles Kings: It took him a while to overcome a back injury last season. His overall ratios (2.45, .902) were dramatically worse than the season before (1.95, .929). But by April he looked like his old self, going 6-3-1 with a 2.25 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage. In 18 playoff games he posted a 1.86 goals-against average and a .934 save percentage.
The Kings traded Jonathan Bernier to Toronto, so Quick won’t have to fret about a time-share arrangement this season. Coach Darryl Sutter expects him to regain his workhorse status.
Scott Hartnell, W, Philadelphia Flyers: After scoring 37 goals in 2011-12, he struggled through an injury-marred, lockout-shortened campaign – scoring just eight times in 32 games. His power-play production dropped from 16 goals to just four.
Hartnell did his best work with Claude Giroux and Jaromir Jagr two seasons back. After Jagr’s departure via free agency, the Flyers struggled to replicate that offensive chemistry. Hartnell bounced around various line combinations and also missed 16 games with a broken foot.
Now the Flyers will try a new mix with Vincent Lecavalier replacing Daniel Briere on the front lines.
Travis Zajac, C, New Jersey Devils: From 2008-10, he scored 129 points while establishing himself as a true No. 1 center. But during the past two seasons, he scored just 26 points in 63 games while struggling to come back from Achilles tendon repairs.
Can he reemerge this season for a team that lost Zach Parise to free agency last summer and Ilya Kovalchuk to defection this summer? Zajac, who is in the second year of an eight-year, $48 million contract, will have to mesh with new teammates Ryane Clowe, Michael Ryder and Jaromir Jagr.
Carey Price, GT, Montreal Canadiens: His goals-against average has climbed from 2.35 to 2.43 and 2.59 the last three seasons. His save percentage has slipped from .923 to .916 and .905. He lost seven of his last 10 games during the regular season. He had awful ratios on the playoffs (3.36, .894) before getting hurt.
The Canadiens hired a new goaltending coach, Stephane Waite, to straighten him out. “His reputation is established,” Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin told NHL.com. “What he did in Chicago with two different goaltenders, winning two Cups; that speaks for itself.”
Jeff Skinner, W, Carolina Hurricanes: He produced 31 goals and 32 assists with a plus-3 rating as a rookie back in 2010-11. Last year he produced just 13 goals with 11 assists and a minus-21 rating in 42 games. Concussions have marred his last two seasons.
“I think for Jeff, it's a big year for him,” Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller told NHL.com. “He didn't get invited to the Team Canada, which I'm sure disappointed him. He knows that he's had stints of play that isn't at Jeff Skinner-caliber level. At times he didn't match up to where he probably should be. On a maturity level, it's around the time of his career where we're looking for consistency.”
Kevin Bieksa, D, Vancouver Canucks: He was outstanding two years ago, scoring eight goals, earning 36 assists with a plus-12 rating and 94 PIMs. Last season he played just 36 of the 48 games while battling a nagging groin injury. He produced just six goals and six assists.
He struggled through a pair of eight-game pointless streaks last season. But he figures to maintain his key role this season for new coach John Tortorella.
“He’s a proven Cup winner, very intense,” Bieksa told the Toronto Sun. “He’s Italian like myself, so that’s going to be great. We’re really excited to have a clean slate. We have high expectations. We’ve had the same core guys there awhile, but that’s the result of taking long-term deals at bargain rates because they want to be there. The guys left money on the table to stay. There is talk we’re getting older, but we’re as hungry as ever.”
Milan Lucic, W, Boston Bruins: After scoring 56 goals the previous two seasons, he scored just seven in 46 games last year. Then he sprang to life during the playoffs, scoring seven goals and earning 12 assists in 22 games. “There’s no worse feeling than losing in the Stanley Cup finals,” Lucic recently told the Boston Herald. “But on a personal note, I felt pretty good about where my game was, so you just want to pick up where you left off.”
Lucic is intrigued by the possibility of playing opposite of newcomer Jarome Iginla on one of Boston’s top two lines.
Milan Michalek, W, Ottawa Senators: After scoring 35 goals the previous season, he scored just four in 23 games during his injury-marred campaign. He played with chronic right knee pain and missed a chunk of games after undergoing arthroscopic surgery.
“It helped a little, but it didn't help with the pain and the swelling,” Michalek told the Ottawa Sun after last season. “It's been tough. You play with pain, you just want to think about the game, but there is a pain, it's been tough. My game is a lot about speed. If I can't use my speed it's tough for me. I just want to get 100% healthy and use my speed.”
The Senators coaching staff is eager to see if Michalek comes to training camp with his old jump.
Patrick Sharp, W-C, Chicago Blackhawks: After scoring 67 goals the previous two seasons, he scored just six in 28 games last season while struggling with a shoulder injury and other ailments. At one stretch he went 10 games without scoring a goal.
But Sharp put those frustrations behind him in the playoffs as he delivered 10 goals and six assists in 23 games. The Blackhawks lost some of their supplemental scoring to free agency, but they will graduate talent young forwards into key roles to keep the offense rolling.
Sharp will have every opportunity to regain his 30-goal form.
Mike Smith, GT, Phoenix Coyotes: After a breakout season – 39-18-10, 2.22 GAA, .930 save percentage – he returned to earth last season. He was 15-12-5 with a 2.58 GAA and a .910 save percentage. Was he just a one-hit wonder?
Coyotes GM Don Maloney believes not. That is why he signed him to a six-year contract extension. “We believe Mike can be one of the best goaltenders in the game. We believe we have the style and infrastructure that can put him in that category,” he told NHL.com. “That includes our style of play and Sean Burke's tutelage. We still have a lot of work to do, but at least I feel we've got the best coaching staff in the League and a goaltender I think can be as good as any. We just need to bring it out of him.”
Dan Boyle, D, San Jose Sharks: After scoring 213 points in his previous four seasons, he scored just 20 in 46 games last season. He is 37 years old and and entering the last year of his contract, although he is discussing an extension with the team.
Boyle is no longer the workhorse who ranked in the top 10 in ice time five times in a span of six seasons. But has he demonstrated in the playoffs (eight points in 11 games), he can still be major offensive force.