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March 22, 2010
Howe and Why
Bounceback Players

by Robert Vollman

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Bad years - we all have them. After one or two disappointing seasons it can be hard enough for anyone to keep their ice-time, let alone bounce back to their previous level of performance. Let's take our helmets off to the players who managed to regain their edge this year.

The Method

I used GVT to determine who has had the best recovery in the NHL this year. I calculated the true depth of a player's slump by looking at the high point of their GVT in either of the two preceding seasons, throwing out players whose low GVT were merely due to temporary injuries like Marian Gaborik, Sergei Gonchar and Paul Stastny. Then I looked at the distance in GVT between either a player's current GVT and that slump-point, or the season prior to the slump, whichever was lowest. Here are the results.

Legend:

GVT: 2009-10 GVT as of March 22, 2010

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          Pos Age Team           GVT  LOW HIGH BOUNCE
Radim Vrbata     RW  28 Phoenix        8.8  0.4 11.1    8.4
Chris Pronger     D  35 Philadelphia  17.4  9.1 21.2    8.3
Jochen Hecht     LW  32 Buffalo        8.0  0.3  8.4    7.7
Vaclav Prospal    C  34 NY Rangers     8.2  0.5 15.8    7.7
Maxim Afinogenov RW  30 Atlanta        7.6  0.1 14.1    7.5
Daniel Carcillo  LW  25 Philadelphia   2.8 -4.3  4.5    7.1
Tomas Plekanec   LW  27 Montreal      13.4  3.2  9.8    6.6
Patrick Sharp     C  28 Chicago       14.0  7.7 15.3    6.3
Matt Carle        D  25 Philadelphia   9.7  3.4 12.8    6.3
John Madden       C  36 Chicago        4.0 -2.0  5.9    6.0

Fantastic Flyers

Despite a slow start and a coaching change, the Philadelphia Flyers are 6th in the East and poised to make the playoffs for the 14th time in the past 15 seasons. Give some of the credit to bounce-back seasons from Gold Medalist Chris Pronger, and his blue line partner Matt Carle.

After back-to-back Stanley Cup appearances with Edmonton and Anaheim, it seemed like age had finally caught up to the former Norris and Hart Trophy winner Chris Pronger. His penalty minutes shot up to new post-lockout highs, his plus/minus dropped from +27 to -1 and 0, and he failed to register his usual 40+ assists two seasons in a row. A change of scenery is apparently what he needed, as he has already produced 42 assists, and is a reasonable Norris candidate thanks to his team-leading +22 -- a whopping 14 points higher than anyone on the team other than his linemate.

Speaking of his linemate, Matt Carle has 32 points and is +19. Carle scored 42 points and was +9 in his rookie season with the San Jose Sharks in 2006-07 before signing a huge contract. Unfortunately he scored fewer points and was -5 for three different teams in the next two seasons combined, and the Alaskan was starting to appear to be a bit of a disappointment. Give Pronger some of the credit if you must, but you can't deny that Carle is back, and will be key to their postseason success.

You may have laughed when you saw their enforcer Daniel Carcillo on this list, but the 25-year-old winger scored 13 goals and 24 points in 57 games and was 3rd among forwards with a +1 for Phoenix as a rookie in 2007-08. Unfortunately he followed that up with only 14 points in 74 games and really hurt two teams on which he played in 2008-09. Fortunately the Flyers seem to have gotten the most out of his play, and he already has 10 goals, 19 points, and is 2nd among forward at +6. Not bad for a goon!

Phantastic Phoenix

I'm a big fan of what's been happening on the ice in Phoenix. We ranked them 28th in the league in our preseason piece, but they just grabbed the #1 Pacific seed, thereby throwing egg all over my face -- but I couldn't be more delighted. Despite the front office turmoil, GM Don Maloney managed to convince a lot of quality players to sign discount contracts, and Coach Dave Tippett has gotten the most out of practically everyone, including Radim Vrbata.

In 2007-08 Radim Vrbata was a force at both ends of the ice for Phoenix, scoring 27 goals and 56 points, 2nd to Shane Doan, with a +6 and 3 short-handers, tops among Coyote forwards. Despite earning a new 3-year contract worth $3 million a season, Vrbata reported to Tampa Bay the next season as a much different player. After a very poor stretch where he scored only 3 goals and 6 points in 18 games, he went home to finish out the season with two teams in the Czech league. Uninterested in having him back, the Lightning dealt him back to Phoenix, where he has re-discovered the magic, and currently leads the Coyotes with 23 goals and is 2nd among forwards with a +11 rating.

There may be a lot of Flyers on the top-ten list, but the Coyotes roster features a number of players that have had bounce-back seasons as well, like Vrbata, Vernon Fiddler and one of Maloney's major steals: Wojtek Wolski.

Skater          Pos Age Team           GVT  LOW HIGH BOUNCE
Wojtek Wolski    LW  23 Phoenix        9.9  3.9  8.7    4.8
Vernon Fiddler    C  29 Phoenix        4.9 -1.5  3.2    4.7

Could the franchise's first postseason series victory since 1986-87 be coming in the near future?

Hockey's Bret Saberhagen

Early in his career baseball's Bret Saberhagen was well-known for going back-and-forth from being the best in baseball, to pitching like his arm was underwater. The NHL equivalent of Bret Saberhagen is Vaclav Prospal of the New York Rangers.

Vaclav "Vinny" Prospal's entire career has been one giant game of Ping Pong. It's almost like the Star Trek movies -- every other movie is great, and the ones in between? Not so much.

Season  PTS +/-
2001-02  55 -11
2002-03  79  +9
2003-04  54  -9
2005-06  80  -3
2006-07  55 -24
2007-08  71   0
2008-09  45 -20

Looking at that list, you know there's only one GM in the league that would pick up this set of dice for a toss, and that's Glen Sather. The gamble has paid off, because for $1.1 million they have their 2nd leading scorer, with 53 points in 65 games, and 3rd on the team with +7.

Not Dead Yet

I was particularly pleased to see John Madden show up on this list because it can be harder to capture the contributions of checking-line players like him. After going from 20 goals and 43 points to just 23 and finishing 2nd to last on a fine New Jersey Devils team with a -7, there are those that thought the 35-year-old's career as one of the league's finest defensive centers was over, and Chicago had wasted $2.75 million on someone who shouldn't be spending it on any green bananas. Thankfully the former Selke Trophy winner has bounced back, has 10 goals, and could be the critical shutdown player the Blackhawks will need in the postseason.

Madden isn't alone. Scrolling further down my list I found several other defensive-minded veterans that appeared to be at the end of the line, but have really turned things around.

Skater          Pos Age Team           GVT  LOW HIGH BOUNCE
Bryce Salvador    D  33 New Jersey     5.1 -0.2  6.6    5.3
Travis Moen      LW  27 Montreal       1.0 -4.8 -0.8    4.0
Kris Draper       C  38 Detroit        2.2 -3.3  0.3    3.6 
Glen Metropolit   C  35 Montreal       5.1  0.7  4.2    3.5

Wrap Up

I have a great deal of respect for players who can identify that there's something wrong with their game and work hard not only to make the necessary adjustments, but to earn back those opportunities to prove their critics wrong, like Radim Vrbata and Chris Pronger.

In the coming weeks I'll be looking at the goalies, and also some of the players who have had seasons so disappointing that they'll hopefully be candidates to make this list next year, so stay tuned for that. In the mean time, I really enjoy hearing from you about your favorite bounceback players of 2009-10, so please keep those emails coming.

Robert Vollman is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Robert by clicking here or click here to see Robert's other articles.

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<< Previous Article
In The Crease (03/19)
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Howe and Why (03/11)
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Howe and Why (03/31)
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Dropping The Puck (03/23)

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