I started this column by doing research on how players headed into free agency did. The thought being that with the added motivation, they would be primed to do as well as they possibly could in order to have the numbers to support a big contract. What I found were a bunch of players who broke out in their third year. It’s typically been a player’s fourth NHL season that we see them breakout offensively. Is this a new trend developing or just a blip on the screen?
The following are some examples of Eastern Conference pending free agents that had a breakout in their third NHL season:
Defenceward Mark Streit bettered his previous career high of 36 by 26 points, ending up with a lofty 62. Streit finished tied for third in defenseman scoring with another pending unrestricted free agent, Brian Campbell. Streit should say a silent thank you for his upcoming big pay day to being on one of the top ranked power plays and the departure of Sheldon Souray. The question is will Streit re-sign with Montreal? All his fantasy owners are crossing their fingers hoping he’ll stay, as he won’t find a better fantasy situation than the one he is currently in.
That Andrei Kostitsyn broke out in his third year shouldn’t really have come as a great surprise, last year’s 11 points in 22 games were an indication of his talent. This year he flashed beaucoup skills in recording 53 points in 78 games. More will be expected from him next year and he should deliver. It will be interesting to see if the brothers Kostitsyn can play on the same line next season.
Mike Green scored only 12 points in 70 games last season. This season though, Green was a revelation. Don’t think that it’s only the coaching change, Green was lighting it up at training camp and had four points in five games to start the season. Coach Boudreau is definitely a big believer in Green and has given him major ice time which was a big confidence boost for the young defenseman. Green continued scoring into the post-season with seven points in seven games. It’s safe to say that Green will be among the top scoring defensemen for years to come. If you don’t believe me, try to trade for him now in your keeper pool and see what type of response you get.
Brooks Laich scored 21 goals in 82 games, up from the eight goals he scored in 73 games last year. His shots on goal and ice time were all very similar in each of his first three seasons. I’m not as confident that Laich can repeat the feat next season, but he scored at a 56 point pace from after the All-Star break on and he finished the playoffs on a positive note with six points in seven games. Don’t forget about Laich in your draft next season, in the right situation he could score 50 points.
R.J. Umberger saw a nice bump in points this year, moving from 28 to 50 points. The jump in points wasn’t expected due to the Flyers depth at forward. The jump in points can partially be attributed to the Gagne and Richards injuries, allowing Umberger to average almost three and a half more minutes of ice time than the previous season. The fact that he was seventh in ice time among forwards two seasons in a row should tell you where he fits in the team’s pecking order. Umberger’s great playoff run could force the Flyers to take another look at which forwards will play next season.
In the next article, I’ll take a look at players who are heading into the same situation as the above players were.