The first one who will tell you that Seth Jones had a disappointing 2020-21 campaign is Seth Jones.
“I didn’t have the greatest season. I’m not sure why,” the Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman said.
After garnering so much attention for his iron-man defensive play in the 2020 postseason bubble, when he averaged 32:40 in ice time per game, Jones’ game had a massive drop in quality in 2021. His minus-5.8 goals scored above average was worst on his team. His minus-18 was the worst plus/minus of his career since his rookie season in Nashville. Jones scored one point in his first 10 games. He scored one goal in his first 30 games.
“I wasn’t putting the puck in the net very much early on. As a team, it was a tough year to get it going. We had Pierre-Luc Dubois traded early on. That didn’t help anything, starting with that drama in training camp,” he said.
“It’s tough to have great stats when your team’s not playing the greatest. Missing Zach [Werenski] for a while in the middle of the season, I had to find another way to play with the team struggling. So I had to dig deep and try to do more than I wanted to. So maybe that could have been another reason.”
There were other factors, too. Ones that had nothing to do with deployment or locker room adversity. The kinds of factors we’ve all been dealing with for more than a year now. Feeling disconnected. Feeling isolated. Feeling the interruption in routine and relationships due to the pandemic.
Ask around the NHL, and you’ll hear general managers explain that poor performances in the 2020-21 season aren’t to be judged too harshly. Especially when it comes to traditionally strong players who had absolute clunkers this season.
Is some of that excuse-making or providing cover to struggling players? Perhaps. Is some of that an honest assessment of a freak season played in the time of COVID-19? Absolutely.
“I think you have to give them a fresh start. A new opportunity to show what they can do in a normal year. I think that’s the best way to put it,” Jarmo Kekalainen, Jones’ general manager with the Blue Jackets, told ESPN. “We have some players we’ve seen for a long time that we believe in. If they have a down year, you have to give them a bit of a hall pass. It’s been a demanding year in many different ways, for all of us.”
Here are a few players we believe will bounce back from their bad 2021 seasons, proving them anomalous.
There’s no chance Hart is this bad. None. Even with decades of Flyers goaltending hexes having turned their crease into a revolving door, Carter Hart is not an .877 save percentage goalie.
“Carter Hart has been a really good model of a modern-day goalie. I use him a lot in my coaching. However, this year was off,” said Steve Valiquette, former NHL goalie and the CEO of Clear Sight Analytics. “What I do with my stats company is categorize 42 different chance types so that I can trace back to deficiency. This year, he performed below expected on virtually every chance type that we track.”
That’s not good. But it’s also uncharacteristic.
Hart’s bum year seems like a textbook pandemic swoon. His GM Chuck Fletcher talked about how difficult this has been for young players who live alone. Hart, 22, lives alone. He hadn’t seen his family in Canada for months.
“You kind of go home and you’re just in your own thoughts the whole time because you just sit and sit in your apartment alone,” he said. “But things were a lot better at the end [of the season]. I was feeling a lot happier and hanging out with the boys more, and I think that that was kind of a big part of my play toward the end — just enjoying the game more.”
He had a .910 save percentage in April, his best month of the season. Life started getting back to normal. So will Carter Hart.
The Sabres were a disaster in 2021, and there aren’t many players who didn’t get caught in the swirl as the season went down the tubes. Dahlin, 21, is a prime example, going from a strong sophomore season in the NHL (0.68 points per game) to a horror-show 2021 (0.41 points per game). He was a minus-36, the worst plus/minus rating in the NHL. He was at a minus-2.6 goals scored above average.
He saw an uptick in confidence when Don Granato took over as interim head coach, because Granato showed confidence in him. Dahlin started playing top-unit minutes, exposing him to top defensive assignments for the first time in his career.
“I felt that I took the next step defensively and I really learned how the best players in the league play,” Dahlin said.
I think Travis Yost had a good take on Dahlin in the Buffalo News, both expecting him to bounce back next season and wondering how high that bounce will take him for an NHL career.
“His perceived value is still significant, the byproduct of a prevailing notion that a bad team has submarined his performance for some time now,” he wrote. “The Sabres are going to get a bounce-back season from Dahlin at some point, very likely next season, and that will smooth out some of the ugly goal-differential numbers. But the rest is up to Dahlin. Whether or not he develops into a high-end first-pairing player, as he was projected, is still up in the air.”
I mentioned to someone that Silfverberg was going to make this list, and they said, “Why not John Gibson?” The answer is easy: The Ducks’ goalie actually had a good season analytically (10.5 goals saved above average in 35 games) vs. last season (6.8 in 51 games). He already bounced back. (Before bouncing to Pittsburgh next season, perhaps?)
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Silfverberg was a much more curious case. He has been a model of consistency his entire career in Anaheim. Seriously: From 2014-15 through 2019-20, he had between 39 and 43 points in every season save for his 49 points in 79 games in 2016-17, which is still a high watermark. No matter the season, no matter the total games, he’s in that range.
Until this season. He played 47 games and had a 0.34 points-per-game average, the lowest of his career. He was a minus-17, mostly due to his offense cratering: His minus-3.4 even-strength offensive goals above average was higher than only Ben Hutton on the roster.
This one is easy to diagnose, it turns out. Silfverberg underwent season-ending hip surgery in April and could miss the start of training camp due to the four- to six-month rehab. It’s an injury that impacted him for two seasons. Said coach Dallas Eakins, “He’s a tough kid and wanted to do everything he could do to help his teammates and the organization, and it just got to a point where it was the right decision to get it done and to get it done now with the hope he’s ready to rip for the start of next season.”
Healed up properly, chances are he will.
As one of those people who marked the Canucks down for a playoff spot only to watch them come unglued this season … I still believe.
There was no recovering from that 8-14-2 start, which was a product of bad health, bad goaltending and bad luck. That was before the COVID outbreak fully turned the season into a lost cause.
There’s so much talent here. I realize putting this team in the “bounce-back” category is putting a tremendous amount of faith in GM Jim Benning to make the necessary additions to the Vancouver blue line and other augmentations to the roster. But hey, if Travis Green believes enough to sign on for another two years, sign us up, too.
This past season was supposed to be a bounce-back campaign for Laine, whose goal-scoring totals have declined each season since he hit 44 goals in 2017-18. Instead, he was traded after one game with Winnipeg for Pierre-Luc Dubois of the Blue Jackets. Things didn’t exactly get better there, as his offensive totals on the season were the lowest of his career on a per-game average.
He’ll have a new coach, thanks to the mutual parting of ways between John Tortorella and Columbus. He’ll probably have a new bridge contract, as a restricted free agent this offseason. Jones is confident he’ll also have a bounce back.
Postgame analysis and highlight show airing each night throughout the season from Barry Melrose and Linda Cohn. Watch on ESPN+
“I think he’ll be OK. I think he’ll be just fine. We all struggled this year, myself included. I think Patty had to get comfortable this year with Torts being the coach, new faces in the locker room. With the Finnish/U.S. quarantine, he wasn’t able to have any family in town,” Jones said.
“We want to make his life easy at the rink. We want him to come to the rink, enjoy it and score goals. That’s what he does best. He’s already scored 30, 40 goals in this league multiple times. We know he’s capable of doing it. We just have to put the right guys around him. And talking to him, he knows he can be better too.”
What kind of teammate is Laine?
“He’s a quiet guy. Doesn’t say much. Has little one-liners here and there. But most of the time he puts his head down and plays hockey,” Jones said.
So essentially, he’s the Finnish Phil Kessel?
Jones laughs. “There you go. Just scores goals.”
Jones enters the offseason looking to train hard for redemption. Part of that training: a CBD product from Uncle Bud’s Hemp that he uses before and after workouts. He started using it last summer after his trainer introduced him to it, and he swears by it now, bringing roll-on pain relief in his travel bag.
“It does me wonders. It really gets into the joint. You don’t get that post-workout soreness as bad as you would if you don’t put it on,” said Jones, who’s a brand ambassador for the product. “Over time and with consistency, it helps you perform at a better level.”
He’s looking forward to next season as a potential return to normalcy. Jones is 26. The NHL he has known is not the NHL of the past two seasons, with the daily testing and the isolation and the empty buildings.
“The whole thing with the no fans, I’m not sure we could get up for every game. A lot of teams were in the same situation. It’s no excuse. But we’re a young team that I’m not sure was ready for that,” Jones said. “[Pandemic life] could have been a factor. I’m not going to completely blame my season for that. I obviously pride myself on taking responsibility for my play.”
There is something else weighing on him, though: his next contract. Jones is an unrestricted free agent after next season.
1. For years, I’ve threatened to send SEAL Team Six into Edmonton to rescue Connor McDavid from the Oilers in order to place him on a (presumably U.S.-based) team that can actually win a playoff round. I think after this season, we’re at DEFCON 2.
I’m easier on Oilers GM Ken Holland than most because he took over a broken team. He couldn’t be anything but methodical given the state of the roster. But now he has $22.1 million in cap space this offseason. He has options. He can chase free agents or absorb contracts from capped-out teams. Being anything less than aggressive is unacceptable. I don’t want to hear about building through the draft or some extended plan. You have two generational talents — McDavid and Leon Draisaitl — dying on the vine because when they’re not on the ice, the team is replacement-level.
The obvious solution, given the way of the NHL these days: The Oilers should sit McDavid for the entire season with an “injury,” create a super team of players on one-year contracts, make the playoffs and bring Connor back for the postseason with said super team.
2. Sidney Crosby isn’t infallible. But how many times can you remember him being a liability? Lost in the Tristan Jarry spite-fest was that Sid, by his own admission, played a terrible Game 6 against the New York Islanders, which ended up being Pittsburgh’s last game of the season. He was scoreless — for the fourth time in those six games — and skated to a minus-3. All three times the Islanders rallied to erase a Pittsburgh lead, Crosby contributed to the defensive failings.
“I was on the ice for all three of those lead changes. On two of those, I’m right beside the guy and I don’t make a play,” he said.
Crosby was also critical of his performance in the series. “I feel like I didn’t make a big play. Whether it’s overtime or adding to a lead when we’re up 2-1. Those are so important,” he said.
He’s completely right, and it’s admirable to see that kind of accountability from a franchise player. But it’s still jarring to see Sidney Crosby say things along the lines of “this one’s on me, fellas.”
3. The Battle of Florida proved to be anticlimactic, with the Lightning doing Lightning things in Game 6 to close out the Panthers. But, mission accomplished: These teams hate each other, their games next season are now must-see, Aleksander Barkov’s a star, Spencer Knight is the future and … the right team won. The Lightning are just better. For now.
Winners and losers of the week
Winner: Ilya Sorokin
Barry Trotz does a lot of things right as a coach, but occasionally he outthinks himself when it comes to goalies. Sorokin deserved the crease after Game 1. Instead, Trotz went to Semyon Varlamov for two losses before going back to Sorokin in Game 4, which started his three-game winning streak to end the series. Sorokin has a .943 save percentage, a 1.95 goals-against average and this chant echoing through the Nassau Coliseum, borrowed from Russia:
— Rick (@6inchRick) May 27, 2021
Loser: Tristan Jarry
Jarry arguably lost three games in the Penguins’ series on his own, including the last two: his Game 5 double-overtime gaffe followed by a series of soft goals in Game 6. With Ron Hextall sitting in the general manager’s chair, it’s hard to imagine Jarry returns as the Penguins’ primary goaltender next season. In the sense that Hextall will want to upgrade the position, not that he’ll put on the pads himself. We think.
Winner: John Hynes
The Hurricanes tie the game, but John Hynes and the #Preds challenge for goaltender interference. Hynes didn’t challenge any goals in the 2020-21 season, and this is his first of the 2021 playoffs. The goal is overruled after review. pic.twitter.com/giM085YXO4
— Shayna (@hayyyshayyy) May 26, 2021
Hynes didn’t have a single coach’s challenge as Nashville Predators head coach until he challenged for goalie interference in Game 5 of their series against the Carolina Hurricanes. And knowing that goalie interference is such an amorphous blob of a concept, he guessed correctly, and got a Jordan Staal goal wiped away.
Loser: Goalie interference
The overhead look at the goaltender interference call on Tuch and Tuch saying “What do you want me to do?” pic.twitter.com/Pecvar85dQ
— CJ Fogler #BlackLivesMatter (@cjzero) May 27, 2021
At this point in my life as a hockey fan, I recognize that goalie interference is unsolvable, like rush-hour traffic or the Saturday New York Times crossword. There’s no way to define it in the rulebook in a satisfactory way, because it’s inherently subjective. What I hope, like with other rules, is that the guiding principle is to not take good goals off the board in a sport that constantly needs more of them. Like the one the Golden Knights scored here.
Winner: Joel Quenneville to Seattle
The rumor and innuendo is that Joel Quenneville could be eyeing the Seattle Kraken job and that the Kraken are waiting to make coaching hire to see whether he’s their guy. There are more reasons this might not happen than why it would — starting with the $15.75 million he’s still owed from the Panthers — but as rumors go, it’s a fun one.
Loser: T.J. Oshie to Seattle
Oshie is a Washington state guy. There’s now a team in Seattle. He’s got a contract that runs through 2024-25. It all adds up to Oshie on the Kraken, right? Wrong, according to the man himself! “I guess I’ve given thought to the possibility [of playing in Seattle], but my allegiance is here,” Oshie said in his Capitals exit interview. “I’ve done, I feel like, as much as I can to prove that this is where I want to be. So I’ve got family out there, you know, that’s great, but Washington [D.C.] is where I want to be. This is where I’ve bled and cried, everything here. And this is where I want to stay for the long term.”
Winner: Appealing Leafs
After the shock, grief and concern for John Tavares after his horrific injury in Game 1, the next natural reaction was whether this was how the Toronto Maple Leafs were going out this time. Instead, they pushed through their emotions, focused on “winning for John,” played remarkable defense and found their stride. In the process — dare we say it? — Toronto went from the team whose defeats opposing fans relish to the team that opposing fans … kinda want to see win?
Loser: Appealing suspensions
Nazem Kadri deserved his eight-game suspension for his hit on Justin Faulk. He deserved it because it’s his sixth career suspension, and as the Department of Player Safety passive-aggressively reminded the Avalanche, the 18-month expiration date on “repeat offender” status is used to “determine the amount of salary forfeited should he receive another suspension.” They still take the other suspensions into account on the length of the newest ban.
The thing I keep coming back to: The hit to the head that Kadri delivered — in 2021 — is the hit that the league has spent a decade trying to eradicate. Yet the NHLPA, which also represents Faulk, has stepped up to defend Kadri on appeal. Again: If you’re concerned about the state of player safety, don’t forget to rage at the enablers, too.
Crushing news for NCAA hockey, as Robert Morris is dropping its men’s and women’s programs. “I’m saddened for our players, staff, incoming players and alumni who have put so much into our program.”
Why the Maple Leafs and Canadiens have had a “Freaky Friday” switcheroo as franchises.
Really terrific story by Dom Luszczyszyn of The Athletic on playoff officiating. “McDavid somehow drawing zero penalties in back-to-back postseasons should be the final straw. The league’s best and brightest player, its most marketable star, allowed to be manhandled against the rules every night and every shift, forced to fight through something he shouldn’t have to.”
Ron MacLean offers a clarification and apology for a joke that many felt was homophobic.
Oilers step up to defend Ethan Bear from racist trolls. Ken Holland: “He’s a tremendous role model for all young athletes, especially in the Indigenous community. He gives time to the community. He’s popular in the locker room. … I feel sick for him. I feel disappointed for him that he would he would get this kind of abuse. I think we’ve made strides, but there’s a long way to go to create a world where we’re where everybody feels safe, and they don’t get this kind of racism and abuse.”
What the Oilers are squandering with McDavid.
Why Bills have built a championship contender, and why Sabres have not.
Hey, Carolina haters: Raleigh’s actually awesome for hockey. “The Hurricanes have a truly passionate fan base, one that has suffered more than it should have in the past 10 years. They have a good hockey team — a very good hockey team — with a bright future.”
In case you missed this from your friends at ESPN
My exclusive interview with the Vancouver Stanley Cup riot “kissing couple,” 10 years after their iconic photo.
Published: 2021-05-27 13:35:46
Tags: #NHL #players #rebound