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.
(Note: For a definition of GVT, Goals Versus Threshold, click here)
Summer Skate: Detroit Red Wings
Given that the Red Wings' amazing 112-point season in 2008-09 was their worst since the lockout, it makes sense to make few moves. The departure of Marian Hossa, Jiri Hudler and Mikael Samuelsson means a net loss of 35 GVT, 26 of which is offensive value. The Red Wings haven't made any notable trades or free-agent signings, so where do they hope to get the secondary scoring that left them a goal away from hoisting the Stanley Cup again?
Trending Up: LW Johan Franzen
Last Season: + 15.2 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 13.7 GVT
Hossa's departure paves the way for Franzen to join Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk at the elite level. His VUKOTA projection penalizes him for his age (he'll turn 30 in the middle of the season), but his scoring has gone up each of the last four years. Another leading indicator of a possible breakthrough season is an exceptional postseason. Given his amazing 41 points in 39 playoff games over the past two seasons, Franzen could definitely exceed VUKOTA's projection, and he could be Detroit's key to fighting off the Blackhawks for the division title this year.
Trending Down: C Pavel Datsyuk
Last Season: + 24.4 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 17.1 GVT
After two consecutive 97-point seasons, it's finally time for the 31-year-old Datsyuk to come back down to Earth. Just as exceptional playoffs can indicate breakthrough seasons, poor postseason performances like Datsyuk's (nine points in 16 games) can be a sign of a decline. Age, injuries and playing without Hossa are all reasons why it isn't realistic to expect Datsyuk to continue to play at an MVP level. While still an exceptional player, don't expect to see his name on any trophy ballots other than the Lady Byng.
For ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek's take on the Detroit Red Wings, click here.
Summer Skate: St. Louis Blues
A late surge was enough for the Blues to make a surprise appearance in the postseason for the first time since the lockout. Other than signing goalie Ty Conklin to back up Chris Mason, the Blues have not made any significant roster changes. With limited player movement, full, injury-free seasons from Paul Kariya and Andy McDonald and continued improvement from the Blues' core of young players are the keys to proving that last year's playoff appearance wasn't a one-time fluke.
Trending Up: C Alexander Steen
Last Season: + 0.9 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 3.9 GVT
Steen scored 45 points as a 21-year-old rookie in 2005-06, followed by 35- and 42-point seasons for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Then he slid to 28 points in 81 games in 2008-09, playing 60 of those in St. Louis after a midseason trade. Part of his decline was because he was playing with weaker linemates. Entering his prime at age 25, and with improved ice-time opportunities, there is every reason to believe that Steen will return to his previous form, and possibly even exceed it.
Trending Down: C David Perron
Last Season: + 11.1 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 9.5 GVT
With 50 points last season, Perron scored at a level far higher than what should be expected from a 20-year-old. This is particularly true given his rookie season (27 points in 62 games) and his final junior season (83 points in 70 games in the QMJHL, which translates to roughly 21 points in the NHL). Comparing the NHL's entire history for statistically similar forwards, players in his situation generally score at a rate of at least 10 points lower than Perron's 2008-09 campaign, and were nowhere near as effective defensively. Perron someday will exceed last year's performance, but history shows it probably won't be in 2009-10.
For ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek's take on the St. Louis Blues, click here.
Summer Skate: Chicago Blackhawks
Fueled by an enviable collection of talented young players yet to reach their prime, the Blackhawks have risen over the past three years from basement dwellers to Stanley Cup contenders. During the offseason they replaced Martin Havlat with Marian Hossa and Nikolai Khabibulin with last year's backup, Cristobal Huet. Will they take another step forward or will they disappoint this year?
Trending Up: D Brent Seabrook
Last Season: + 7.6 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 10.4 GVT
At 24, Seabrook is at the right age to have a breakthrough season, and he may peak just in time to assist Team Canada in the 2010 Olympics. His improved discipline and exceptional defensive play may be hard to find on the scoring sheet, but those qualities will be invaluable if the Blackhawks hope to catch the Red Wings for the division title. Expect Seabrook to be one of the key contributors to Chicago's success in 2009-10.
Trending Down: RW Marian Hossa
Last Season: + 19.7 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 13.9 GVT
It would be only natural for the 30-year-old winger to return to his 2007-08 form without Brian Rafalski's and Nicklas Lidstrom's breakout passes. A decline in playoff performance can indicate a decline in scoring the following season, and he produced only six goals and nine assists in 23 games last postseason. Even without his reported shoulder injury, the Blackhawks have signed a solid top winger, but based on VUKOTA projections, not an elite one.
For ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek's take on the Chicago Blackhawks, click here.
Summer Skate: Columbus Blue Jackets
Columbus, a perennial basement-dweller, finally had a pulse this past season. With an above-average offense and defense, by GVT's standards, and a rising young star in the net in Steve Mason, the Blue Jackets finally have the beginnings of a promising future. Coming off the first playoff round in team history, the Blue Jackets will need to find a way to help Rick Nash if they plan on going to the playoffs for the second consecutive year.
Trending Up: C R.J. Umberger
Last Season: + 4.8 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 8.5 GVT
Most forwards peak between the ages of 23 to 26, which makes Umberger a bit of an exception as a 27-year old. VUKOTA sees 73 games played with 50 points and 22 goals in the 2009-10 season for Umberger. However, he's not just breaking out on offense. That's because VUKOTA thinks the Ohio State alum will improve on defense as well, taking last year's plus-0.8 defensive GVT to plus-2.4 this year. VUKOTA sees a complete player next year after what many considered to be a disappointing start to his campaign in Columbus.
Trending Down: D Mike Commodore
Last Season: + 7.1 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 5.0 GVT
VUKOTA sees the age 30 mark as a negative indicator for the fourth-most productive skater on Columbus last season. While VUKOTA thinks his offensive GVT will only drop a notch, from plus-1.5 to plus-1.1, his defensive skills are likely to diminish a decent amount, with a plus-4.0 defensive GVT projection as opposed to last year's plus-5.6 defensive GVT. This could make Mason's life more difficult in the net, and possibly contribute to a sophomore slump for the goalie.
For ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek's take on the Columbus Blue Jackets, click here.
Summer Skate: Nashville Predators
The Predators, a team that was good on the defensive side of the puck last year with a plus-4.7 defensive GVT, are littered with blue-line talent. Shea Weber and Ryan Suter are in the NHL, and Puck Prospectus favorite Ryan Ellis is on the way to Nashville very soon. Time will tell if the team's offensive game will come together for a postseason berth in 2009-10, but time is not on the side of one veteran forward.
Trending Up: D Ryan Suter
Last Season: + 6.9 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 9.3 GVT
The 6-foot-1 southpaw has gotten better in each of his past four seasons, ending up with 45 points last season. VUKOTA sees more goals on the board -- nine as opposed to last year's seven -- and improvement at both ends of the ice with a plus-0.3 GVT bump in offense and a plus-2.2 jump in defensive GVT. It seems the Madison, Wis., native is beginning to peak, potentially giving Nashville two of the better defensemen in the league in Weber and Suter.
Trending Down: C Jason Arnott
Last Season: + 9.9 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 8.9 GVT
The Collingwood, Ontario, native is on record as saying that he expects Nashville's offense to be significantly better. Unfortunately, VUKOTA doesn't project any improvement over last year's minus-13.7 offensive GVT. The center's plus-6.4 offensive GVT is projected to increase to plus-6.5, which is miraculous for a 34-year-old forward, but his defense is beginning to deteriorate. Projections show his plus-3.5 defensive GVT falling to plus-2.4. VUKOTA thinks Arnott can net 24 goals, 29 assists and 53 points for 2009-10, which is a good sign, because someone other than Shea Weber needs to score if this team is going anywhere.
For ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek's take on the Nashville Predators, click here.
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .
Robert Vollman authored the Summer Skate previews for the Detroit Red Wings, St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks.
Andrew Rothstein authored the Summer Skate previews for the Columbus Blue Jackets and Nashville Predators.
Robert Vollman is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
You can contact Robert by clicking here or click here to see Robert's other articles.
Andrew Rothstein is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
You can contact Andrew by clicking here or click here to see Andrew's other articles.